When we rode the crowded train home from Tokyo on Thursday evening we witnessed first hand large numbers of tired businessmen making their way home after a long day at work and I was once again reminded of a phenomenon known as the weekend father. When I taught a Japan unit in junior high Social Studies back in Canada, I remember asking the students what they thought this term meant. Based on their own cultural experience, they assumed that I was referring to divorced fathers who only saw their children on the weekends. In Japan, however, the term has a completely different meaning.
Many people living in our area work in Tokyo. They spend an hour or more on the train every morning and every evening. Their workday is a long one and when it’s officially over, the men are often expected to socialize with their coworkers before heading for home. These are the the weekend fathers; men who leave the house every morning before their children are awake and who get back home long after they’re in bed.
Toshikazu, one of my students from last term, is a perfect example. He has a six-year-old son that he adores. Hobbies are very important to the Japanese people. Everybody has at least one. When you ask Toshikazu what his hobby is, he tells you it’s playing with his son. If you ask him what he would most like to do if he had more time, he says he would spend more time talking with his son. He only sees him on Saturdays and Sundays. Somehow that seems very sad.
As I saw the tired men standing on the platform waiting for Thursday evening’s train, some with their eyes closed because they were so tired, I couldn’t imagine doing that every day year in, year out and I wondered how many children yearned to spend more time with them and how many lonely wives waited at home.