Bishop: JinK-san, did I mention lately that I’ve been studying
Japanese four-character idioms?
JinK: Oh really?
Bishop: Yes. I have a calendar so every few days I pull off the date
and will study a new one.
JinK: How studious of you.
Bishop: The other day, my wife got angry at the calendar.
JinK: Angry at the calendar? I’ve never heard of that happening before…
Bishop: The idiom that day was Keisaitonji （荊妻豚児）, which I guess
is a humble way to refer to your own wife and son. The literal meaning
is a wife who is wearing a hairpin made from a thorny flower
(which I guess in ancient times meant she looked poor), and a child
who is a pig. My wife said that she hates that kind of thinking – although
it’s supposed to be humble and polite, you actually insult
your own family by saying it.
JinK: Yes, but you don’t need to worry about that one so much;
I’ve never heard that used by anyone in real life. I have hear 愚妻愚息, or
“stupid wife and stupid son.” But even that though sounds extreme;
I’ve heard old people use that before but nobody from my generation.
Bishop: Oh wow… both are pretty extreme. I could never imagine
an American calling his own wife and children stupid.
People would think he was a monster!
JinK: Ha ha, I know what you mean.
But Americans can take it too far the other direction.
Bishop: What do you mean?
JinK: I hear it all the time, when people introduce themselves or
make a speech, they will often talk about their “beautiful wife” and
their “amazing children.” It feels so wrong from a Japanese point of view.
Bishop: It’s wrong to think highly of your wife and children?
JinK: No, no, no… of course people think that way – at least, most people do.
But telling the world how great your wife and children are,
in Japanese culture at least, just sounds like bragging.
Bishop: I see. But, you’re not talking about yourself… I get how it would sound bad
if you call yourself beautiful or amazing, but complimenting your wife or children,
you’re still complimenting somebody else. Isn’t that just the nice, polite thing to do?
JinK: I think it comes down to how each culture thinks about the self. In the U.S.,
everyone is an individual. In Japan, your family is an extension of yourself.
Think of the name order – in Japanese you say your family name first.
You’re part of the family first, and an individual second without realizing it much.
Bishop: I see. That makes sense. So by saying, “my beautiful wife”
it’s almost like you’re complimenting yourself.
Bishop: That makes sense. But then one thing I don’t get. A lot of new Japanese parents
I know will talk about their kids all the time, about how cute they are…
always showing pictures and talking about them. Is this considered bad manners?
JinK: That’s a bit of a generational gap. It’s changing, yes,
but still we call this type of parent oya-baka.
Bishop: Oya-baka? What’s that? Idiot parent?
JinK: That is the literal meaning. But baka in this sense does not refer to intelligence;
it refers more to their lack of ability to keep their feelings to themselves.
Bishop: Hmmm, I don’t think we have that same concept in the U.S.;
it’s seen as pretty natural to fawn over one’s kids, ha ha.
JinK: I actually like it in the U.S. I don’t like how people talk down about their families
in Japan; I think it can even hurt kids’ self esteem. Personally, I won’t brag about my kids,
but I won’t say bad things about them either. But still, I can’t get used to the American style
– talking to a group of strangers about their “beautiful wife and children.”
Bishop: So, as long as I’m living in Japan, I should probably not do that either.
I’ll be careful when I talk about my stupid wife – ouch! Ah… sorry honey.
JinK: Bishop-san, let me teach you another idiom. 禍従口生.
It means “Keep your mouth shut to stay out of trouble.”
Fact#13 Boasting about one’s family is bad manners in Japan
by Bishop & JinK.