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The Too-Good Wife

The Too-Good Wife: Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance in Postwar Japan

Amy Borovoy
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 251
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  • Book Info
    The Too-Good Wife
    Book Description:

    Social drinking is an accepted aspect of working life in Japan, and women are left to manage their drunken husbands when the men return home, restoring them to sobriety for the next day of work. In attempting to cope with their husbands' alcoholism, the women face a profound cultural dilemma: when does the nurturing behavior expected of a good wife and mother become part of a pattern of behavior that is actually destructive? How does the celebration of nurturance and dependency mask the exploitative aspects not just of family life but also of public life in Japan?The Too-Good Wifefollows the experiences of a group of middle-class women in Tokyo who participated in a weekly support meeting for families of substance abusers at a public mental-health clinic. Amy Borovoy deftly analyzes the dilemmas of being female in modern Japan and the grace with which women struggle within a system that supports wives and mothers but thwarts their attempts to find fulfillment outside the family. The central concerns of the book reach beyond the problem of alcoholism to examine the women's own processes of self-reflection and criticism and the deeper fissures and asymmetries that undergird Japanese productivity and social order.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93868-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “Dirty Lukewarm Water”
    (pp. 1-41)

    Each week a group of housewives gathered at “the Center,” a public mental health facility in a middle-class district of Tokyo, to participate in what was called a “family meeting.” The meeting was, in fact, a support group for families of substance abusers. Despite the inclusion offamilyin the title, the group attracted only women: either wives of alcoholics or mothers of teenagers abusing drugs—usually inhalers of paint thinner, an extremely destructive type of hallucinogen. In 1992, when I first considered doing a year of research at the Center(Sentā),the support group for families of substance abusers...

  6. Chapter 1 ALCOHOLISM AND CODEPENDENCY: New Vocabularies for Unspeakable Problems
    (pp. 42-66)

    Fukuda-san’s husband began to drink heavily when he was working as a long-distance truck driver delivering coal. At the end of a long day of hard labor, the workers regularly went out drinking to relax and enjoy some camaraderie. In 1970, when Japan cut back on its use of coal, he switched jobs and went to work for a painting business. The paint thinner weakened the effect of the alcohol, and he steadily increased his consumption. As Fukuda-san tells the story, “By 1980, he was completely addicted to alcohol, but at that time I didn’t know anything about the disease...

    (pp. 67-85)

    In the 1960s and 1970s, large volumes of literature on “theories of Japaneseness,” orNihonjinron,filled the shelves of Japanese bookstores. A common theme uniting these texts was the importance of emotional intimacy, motherly nurturance, and person-to-person relations in holding together Japanese society and social institutions. Many of these texts were the efforts of self-appointed social commentators, capitalizing on Japanese readers’ demand for such materials. Others were scholarly analyses by psychiatrists, anthropologists, and sociologists who attempted, based on carefully collected data, to articulate what it meant to be Japanese in the context of a historical moment in which prewar ideals...

  8. Chapter 3 GOOD WIVES: Negotiating Marital Relationships
    (pp. 86-114)

    Al-Anon promotes “firm sympathy” in dealing with a drinker: a delicate balance between coping and setting limits and between support for one’s husband and what is called “loving detachment” (Al-Anon 1977). Ideally, a wife will find a way to carry on her life in the face of her husband’s alcoholism, while at the same time continuing to welcome his recovery.¹ Although Al-Anon praises the virtue of endurance to a point, a woman who can no longer stand the trial of a husband’s alcoholism is encouraged to draw the line by making explicit what she will tolerate. Because it is ineffectual...

  9. Chapter 4 A SUCCESS STORY
    (pp. 115-136)

    In this chapter I narrate the story of one woman, Fukuda-san, as she told it to me, from her childhood during the American occupation to the years following her husband’s sobriety. In looking at the way her life changed as she managed her husband’s alcoholism and attended meetings at the Center, I explore the meaning of being a good wife for this generation of women and the kinds of “resistance” that were possible from within this ethic. Fukuda-san learned to stand up to her husband and refuse to buy liquor for him; she learned when to engage him and when...

    (pp. 137-160)

    When the city of Chigasaki announced a five-week seminar on “Solving Your Child-Rearing Difficulties” [Kosodate nayami o kaiketsu shiyō],several young mothers in my neighborhood began making plans to go. The seminar was conducted and taught by the “child-rearing advisor” of one of the city’s day care centers, the chief counselor of the community childrearing counseling service, and several workers from local day care centers. The schedule was as follows:

    1. Playing with mother—creating a rhythm

    2. Discovering the heart of childhood

    3. Let’s learn to play with cloth books

    4. Children in groups—reports from the day care...

  11. CONCLUSION: The Home as a Feminist Dilemma
    (pp. 161-176)

    The constraints Japanese women often live under—loveless marriages, “divorce within the home,” the management of virtually all the household labor—seem unthinkable from the perspective of dominant American ideologies of marriage, which emphasize equality, romantic love and passion between the spouses, and the notion of the spouse as a companion and partner (D’Emilio and Freedman 1997). Although Japanese women appear oppressed in these respects, the women’s stories described here suggest that many Japanese women, particularly of this generation, have a sense of security in marriage that many American women do not share. Because marriage is organized around rigidly gendered,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 177-200)
    (pp. 201-218)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 219-234)