Why do many Japanese businesspeople live apart from their families? Tanshinfunin.Articles, HR management, Japanese business
By Rochelle Kopp, Managing
One of my clients, an American human resources manager at a Japanese firm in the
The number of people who are living this kind of lifestyle is rather large. Based on my observation, I estimate that approximately 25% to 30% of Japanese expatriates working in the
There are two primary reasons for people leaving their families in
The second most common reason for tanshinfunin has to do with elderly parents. Nursing homes are less common in
Tanshinfunin is not something that is only done when people are transferred abroad, it is also a common practice when transfers are made within
From an American point of view, it’s hard to imagine spending so much time away from one’s family. (An American faced with such a situation would be likely to simply quit, but in the less fluid labor market that is not an option for most Japanese). And Japanese are often unwilling to share their feelings of loneliness with American colleagues. So some Americans begin to think that their Japanese colleagues are inhuman and don’t love their families. Why else would the y be able to put up with the long time apart? The words that are often used as translations for tanshinfunin unfortunately sometimes serve to underscore that impression. Because there is no direct equivalent in English, Japanese who are on tanshinfunin basis sometimes call themselves “bachelors” or “single”, without realizing that this creates the misimpression that they intend to behave as if they were not married while in the U.S. There may be some who do behave this way, but it is likely a very small percentage. The vast majority of cases, Japanese who are tanshinfunin are absolutely miserable and miss their families terribly – although you are not likely to hear them confiding such feelings to co-workers.
There may be some overlooked positives to the tanshinfunin custom. According to one of my Japanese friends, her father’s assignment as a tanshinfunin strengthened her parent’s marriage. Being apart from his wife caused her father to gain a new appreciation for all the things she did for him, and made him realize how much he missed her!
This article originally appeared in Nikkei Weekly
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