Midlife as a Westerner in Japan

by Christopher

I presume that most posts I read here are written by people who live in an Anglo-Saxon country, and it is my opinion that the way a midlife crisis is lived depends enormously on the physical and especially the cultural environment.

I am a 49 year-old Canadian professional who has lived in Japan for more than 15 years, working as a professor in a university (I am a scientist by training).

Owing to various constraints, I have to live separately from my Japanese wife and our 11 year-old daughter, who live in a large city several hundred kilometers away from my university, which, though quite well known in Japan, is isolated, located in the countryside near the Japanese Alps. This separation has been going on for several years. At first, I thought I could manage, and went back for week-ends twice a month on average (5 hours by train one way).

However, the sense of isolation and frustration has worsened recently, and is complicated by several factors:
1) my wife and I have not had a sex life in years (quite common in Japan, I should say, especially considering that children are "in the middle of the equation", so to speak - they usually sleep in the same "futon" as the mother),

2) my freedom is limited by the fact that the vast majority of my salary goes to my wife, without any control on my part (a typical Japanese tradition in which the wife controls the money - it is still deeply anchored in Japanese society - the husband typically gets "pocket money", and that applies to foreign husbands as well), and the 20% I get also must pay for the train fare for visits (I should mention, by the way, that my wife does not work),

3) putting in 70 hours a week in my work does not give me much time to do something else.

Here is now the heart of the story. In recent months, I started experiencing what looks like a "fairly typical" midlife crisis: loss of energy, of focus in my life, increased anxiety (I should mention that I also have a general anxiety disorder - but yes, even with that, you can manage life in Japan :-) ), increased irritability, sleeplessness, self-reflection, etc..., but also increased sexual desire for other women (all Japanese, there are very few foreign women around here).

I have talked to my wife about the fact that I should visit more often (hence my "allowance" should be higher), but she answers that "once a month is enough", since we need to "save money for old age", since "life is hard", "we can enjoy life later"; that she should come and visit me from time to time, but she absolutely does not want to, since "she hates the countryside".

I could go on. I finally find myself in a foreign land (which I still like very much), separated from my family most of the time, and working like a robot while getting pocket money that does not allow me much freedom (of travel, for example). Plus the fact that I have not had a sex life in years.

This is leading me to seriously look for female companionship out of marriage here, even though it is not easy given the cultural barriers (my Japanese language abilities being adequate). Sad to say, because I love our daughter, and I still love my wife, although now I feel only "brotherly love" for her.

I do believe that the "midlife crisis" I am beginning to go through now acts as a catalyst for some hard decisions I will have to make in the near future. In particular, I am seriously contemplating separation from my wife (at least, I would be telling the truth to other women I might meet, even though my wife and I have been separated "de facto" since several years). Since I live alone most of the time anyway, might as well be free...

I do not know what eventual readers of this post might make of this story, but at least, as far as I know, the contributors whose stories I read on this web page face their problems in their own cultural environment, with a wife whose mother tongue is the same as their own, and they would certainly not put up with the wife controlling the money "because it is the tradition" and "you cannot do anything against it".

Imagine the reverse situation, whether here in Japan or in a western country, applying to a middle-aged professional woman.

In any case, maybe this midlife crisis is a wake-up call, leading to painful periods, but there must be a way out of this mess...

I only hope I can report here some positive results of this crisis some time from now.

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by: Ian

i have been living in japan for 10 years. I can understand what you are expressing. I have been married for 6 years with 1 daughter. I feel isolated in my own home with my wife and daughter communicating in Japanese all the time.

I suggest to change jobs nobody can work 70 hrs a week and expect to have a normal life.

Go home to your wife, live with her together try to build your marriage/ family life together and get a job where you can return home each day and have weekends with your family. request your wife to get a part time job too. its normal in Japanese culture for the wife to work part time too after having children. all the best Ian

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