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Estranged family 2021/5/4 11:07
My Japanese mother passed away five years ago. Her family in Japan has slowly stopped answering letters from our family in America. In the latest response her sister basically told my father that it was too difficult in her old age and poor health to continue corresponding. This upsets my father greatly. It doesn't upset me so much because no one in the family ever responded to my correspondence. Most of the family there does not speak English and all of us do not speak Japanese.
My mother once told me that one of her sisters moved to another part of Japan and she never saw her again or kept in touch. She said this was not unusual for Japanese families. This has stayed in my mind and I see it as a very different way of seeing family. So many things are so different and sometimes mysterious between American and Japanese culture, I have found it very hard sometimes. Does anyone have any thoughts on this dilemma? I think we should respect their wish to discontinue our connection but it is sad.
by Annette (guest)  

Re: Estranged family 2021/5/4 13:51
I don't think it's a cultural thing. Anyone would find it difficult to write letters or have someone dictate for when the person grows old. And some siblings lose contact while many keep in touch, regardless of their nationality or the country they live in. I don't think that the percentage of that differs between Japan and America.

I gradually lost contact with an American acquaintance of mine. Her letters became shorter, and I think she has passed away by now. I've tried to write to her family, but I got no reply. I don't know what else I could have been done.

What does your father hope to do specifically? I can understand that it's sad to lose contact, but what exactly does he want to do to prevent it? I hope to help you grant that idea.

For example, I'm sure he knows the family's address in Japan. Perhaps he can try to visit them as well as their family grave, once the pandemic is settled. Also, he can keep a copy of your mother's old koseki while you all know where it is. That would make it easier for anyone to trace her history whenever they want to.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Estranged family 2021/5/4 15:53
I agree that it is not a cultural thing – if you donft speak/write the language, it would naturally be quite difficult to stay in touch.
And siblings drifting apart (not in a bad sense, but simply each living their own life), and getting together again when their parents get old and have to discuss taking care of them, or meeting each other at, well, relativesf weddings, or funerals and memorials, or only exchanging new year greeting cards, is not unusual either.

I donft have any brother or sister, so I canft speak about my experiences, but this is what I know from my friends/acquaintances.
by AK rate this post as useful

Re: Estranged family 2021/5/5 11:09
uMy mother once told me that one of her sisters moved to another part of Japan and she never saw her again or kept in touch. She said this was not unusual for Japanese families. v
Siblings moving away from each other and no longer keeping in touch isn't any more or less common in Japan than it is in the U.S. It's not unheard of, but it is unusual. Still, such things happen in some families.

uDoes anyone have any thoughts on this dilemma? v
You mention that you and your in-America family do not speak Japanese, and that most of your Japanese relatives do not speak English. Odds are this is a factor, since not having a common language makes it difficult to directly interact, which can sometimes make personal bonds a little looser.

It sounds like your mother was the communicative link between you and your relatives in Japan, and without her to fill that role, that responsibility gets passed to someone else. It sounds like your aunt has been doing some of that, but if her English is at a level where it's putting a strain on her in her current health condition, it's understandable that she would not want to do it anymore.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, it sounds like your/your father's desire to keep in touch has more to do with wanting to maintain familial bonds more than individual personal connections. More "We should stay in touch because we're family" than "I want to ask Aunt Hanako about some specific, complex situation." There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it also makes me think that the letters your father wants to write are probably pretty simple, and not super frequent. If so, it would probably be a nice gesture for the American side of the family to start doing a little more of the work in bridging the language gap.

A basic "We hope you are all doing well," and a few sentences about what the American side of the family has been up to shouldn't be too hard to translate into Japanese, either using online translation tools, or an English-to-Japanese dictionary. If your father is really committed to keeping in touch, he could even hire a translator.

I realize that might sound like a lot of hassle, but again, I'm assuming your father isn't wanting to send letters every week. Since Japan has a tradition of sending greetings at New Year's and in mid-summer, those might be good opportunities. "Happy New Year! Here are some photos from our family Christmas party" or "We hope you are all doing well. This summer vacation, we are planning to go to `", written in Japanese so your Japanese relatives can easily read them, might be a way to stay connected, and they might decide to return the favor by sending your family a nengajo/New Year's card.
by . . . . (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Estranged family 2021/5/5 13:07
Hi again,

I think it's a great idea to send photos without expecting responses. Actually, a lot of elderlies even stop exchanging season's greetings. I can understand that very well, because people commonly end up handwriting dozens if not hundreds of cards during December if they continue to follow the universal tradition of card-exchanging.

That's how the American friend I mentioned about stopped writing me. Another aging American friend has stopped writing me, too, but we're connected through social media, so I can see her "like" things once in a while. As for my aging Japanese relatives here in Japan, I try to phone them instead of writing. A professional caregiver would connect/disconnect the smartphones for them.

Another thing is that, as you grow older, you start getting season's greetings with the comment, "I'm afraid the receiver who and who has passed away," which can be a very sad way to start the holiday season. To avoid this, some prefer to fade away sooner.

Annette, has your dad thought about connecting with a younger relative through social media? Again, social media is something that elderlies are very reluctant to do, because they never had that until they grew very old. (For me, social media became common after I reached the age of 40.) But perhaps your dad can ask if any of his Japanese relatives are doing Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and maybe you can help him use his smartphone or computer. By being social media "friends" you'd at least know how or even where they're doing.

Of course, you can still try to learn Japanese or hire an interpreter to make things a bit easier. Meanwhile, Deepl is a relatively "better" automatic translation tool.
by Uco rate this post as useful

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