When Your Ex Japanese Inlaws Call

img_0141My phone rarely rings.  My family is small and not very chatty.  Friends tend to message me.  Just as I was about to turn in for the night my phone buzzed.  I’d forgotten to take it off silent again.  I was lucky to have even noticed.

“Call from Tokyo Japan” flashed on the screen.

“Oh boy.” I thought, “here it goes.”

I knew it was my former sister-in-law.  It had been a couple of years.  Her occasional letters and phone calls were the only reason I needed my Japanese language skills at all.  I channeled my past.

“Konbanwa.”  I answered.

Although it was morning for her I emphasized it was the end of my day.

“Did you get my letter?” She asked.

“I did.  But I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to my son about it.  He works afternoons most of the time and a lot of weekends.”

This call, like most others I received was about the only grandson of the ancient line returning to Japan to visit his grandmother, my ex-MIL, who is now in her 90’s.  Naomi, the only sibling of my ex, the monkey in the middle of her brother’s selfish destruction, was being pressured by her mother to produce my precious son in the flesh.  Time was of the essence.

As the story goes, my ex, by immigrating to the US and later landing himself in prison, left his sister in a lurch and the 500-year old legacy estate destined for ruin.  Naomi belonged to her husband’s family but by default was forced to deal with her deranged mother who somehow believed my son could moved to Sado and save it all.  At this point, however, he was no longer a citizen and could speak only rudimentary Japanese.  Moreover the twenty-six year old couldn’t make a living on Sado Island– let alone take on the responsibility of an estate the size of Jinzo.  Add to this the fact that everything is fundamentally more difficult in Japan.

“I think he will visit this year, but what Satoko is asking is impossible.”

“Yes impossible.”  She agreed.  “And as for your daughter, well…of course we would like to see her too but it’s a little dusty if you know what I mean…”

Dusty?”  I thought through the expression. She must have meant complicated.  I didn’t think it was fair at all for Japan to say this, to put anything on the victims, but “old people…old ways.”  My mother-in-law was not forgiving even though it was her own son who caused it all.

I asked if her mother was aware of her own son’s fate?  That his prison release would be delayed another couple of years or more. It surprised me that she did not know. Apparently correspondence had stopped two years back due to the incarcerated losing his translation help.  All incoming and outgoing correspondence had to be in English.

“But my mother has given up…written my brother off.” Naomi replied.  Her attention is set on her grandson.  “She’s imbalanced in the head.  Everyday she can’t stop talking about it.”

Within seconds our connection was interrupted and we said our goodbyes between the static that had taken over.  Although I understood everything she expressed and had managed to successfully communicate our situation despite forgetting some of the required vocabulary, I hated dealing with the past. More than this, I hated the thought of my son dealing with it.



10 thoughts on “When Your Ex Japanese Inlaws Call

  1. Perhaps a symbolic transfer of birthright would be acceptable to ex-MIL and Naomi (or her husband). Maybe even the govt if it’s involved in property transfer. Help your son draft a formal letter stating to whom he wants the property rights transferred; have it caligraphied and scrolled, maybe even with a stamp of a local notary if you think it would carry any weight; and then deliver it to Naomi. She can share it with her mom. Otherwise, perhaps your son can accept and turn it into some kind of small national or local park.

    Obviously I don’t know anything about property transfer rights in Japan, but these are just my immediate thoughts. I’m sure it’s much more complicated than this.

    Phone calls from the past make my heart pound and I begin to shake. That dread… ugh.


  2. Actually it very complicated. My guess is that Naomi has already taken this property over from an inheritance standpoint and she deserves it. She’ll never live there and preserve it because of her obligations to her husband’s family and so it will fall into ruin. “T” can’t have that burden. It is way too much to handle and he’s very much a hippie kid (they just don’t know that…). Some other farmer will take over the land and the house is too old and large to maintain. Sad I know.


  3. Not understanding every nuance of the situation I can only comment from personal experience in that the past more than the future can be filled with potholes that could swallow our present everyday life. But family is family and a son must at the very least acknowledge his heritage.


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