The cultural differences that exist between Eastern and Western families, as illustrated by Ishiguro in A Family Supper, involve the following: family relationships, defined roles and responsibilities as well as values and traditions.
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Reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s short story, A Family Supper gives an insight into the Japanese culture. The story describes the author coming back home to Tokyo two years after his mother’s death. Thus, the family dinner takes place on the occasion of his arrival.
This piece of literature provides us with the opportunity to see Japanese family’s dynamics and shows us how the modern aspects of Japanese family relate with its traditional aspects. Comparing the culture illustrated in this story with cultures in the Western families brings out some key differences.
One difference involves the family relationships. The relationship between the author and the parents is strained because of the author’s decision to move to California, as explained in the story where the author states, “My relationship with my parents had become somewhat strained around that period …” (Ishiguro 1).
Moving out to another country disappointed his mother; the father even alludes that it might have been the reason she died saying, “It’s my belief that your mother’s death was no accident. She had many worries. And some disappointments.” (Ishiguro 3).
The relationship between the father and the son is also strained as shown when the author remembers how the father used to beat him for ‘chattering like an old woman.’ (Ishiguro 1). In Western cultures, beating children is considered a cruel punishment to a child, while in the Eastern cultures, the same was, and sometimes still is, the common form of child’s upbringing. The father and son relationship like in other families involves respect.
The author offers his father the last piece of fish at the end of the story, thus showing respect to his father. Relationships in Japanese families are usually seen as emotionally distant. Communication is strained, and this is shown through long pauses between the author and his father. The daughter fears to communicate to the author as it may lead to awkward topics, when the father is around.
In Western countries, communication is encouraged between children and their parents to lessen tension between them. In Japan, parents demand respect and obedience as seen when the author’s sister returns picture of their mother to the wall. in such a strengthen atmosphere, a fear may develop. In Western countries, children mostly respect their parents but do not fear them to the extent the Eastern children do.
Defined roles and responsibilities in the family also differ between Western and Eastern families. In the story, the father cooks for the family though he is not happy with his duty; he says he should not be burdened by such matters. He is also not happy when Kikuko suggests that he is a good cook.
He dissociates himself with the statement saying it is not a skill he is proud of and orders Kikuko to help him with the food. Cooking and household chores in the traditional Japanese and most Eastern cultures are attributed to woman’s job, and women know this, as shown in the story. In the Western cultures, women empowerment movements have achieved equal rights with males where females are encouraged to get jobs and share responsibilities with men instead of doing them all by themselves.
Lastly, there are major differences in the family values and traditions between the Eastern and Western cultures. In the story, the author’s father waits till Kikuko arrives home before eating because eating together as a family is a Japanese tradition.
In Western countries, eating together as a family is not as important as everyone has dinner when and where one feels comfortable. Family honour is very important in the Japanese and other Eastern cultures. This is shown when Wantabe commits suicide and takes his family with him because he does not wish to live with the shame of having lost his job, and he also does not want his family to have to live with his shame.
Funnily, the author’s father labels Wantabe as ‘a man of principle and honour’ (Ishiguro 1) and says that he ‘respected him very much’ showing that suicide because of shame is regarded as an honourable death according to Japanese cultural tradition (Ishiguro 1) In the Western countries, suicide is seen as a cowardly act to escape from the problems a person has faced, and such a death will only deepen the family’s problems.
In conclusion, Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Family Supper has clearly presented Japanese family culture which includes similar traditions as those in the East. However, its comparison with the Western cultures shows how contrasting the two cultures are. The Japanese are more modernized nowadays, while trying to adopt some Western cultural values and traditions. Several aspects of the traditional Japanese culture are fading away, and whether it is for better or worse is up to the Japanese to decide.
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Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Family Supper. 1990. RTF file. Web.