Confronting Japanese selves: A case study of Japanese expatriate wives in Fort Lee, New Jersey

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert C. Bogdan


Japanese, Expatriate, Fort Lee, Wives, New Jersey

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Race and Ethnicity | Sociology of Culture | Women's Studies


This study is concerned with the influence of a host culture on individuals separated from their homeland. My research participants were Japanese expatriate wives who accompanied their husbands to the United States. Their husbands were businessmen and researchers, assigned to service for periods lasting three to five years.

The purpose of this study is to describe the everyday operations of these families, and to analyze how they balanced cultural elements of the host country with elements of their Japanese selves . Symbolic Interaction Theory is applied as the central theoretical proposition.

The field research was conducted in Fort Lee, New Jersey, between 1992 and 1993, when the Japanese economy recorded an historic downturn and plunged into severe recession. Qualitative sociological methods are utilized, such as participant observation and in-depth interviews. A total of thirty-two Japanese wives were interviewed, each at least twice. The average interview lasted for approximately two hours; some exceeded four.

After reviewing literature on the social status of Japanese women, Japanese educational structures, and Japanese business management, the latter as it relates specifically to overseas assignments, research findings are introduced. A data section explores the "real" life experiences of these expatriate wives. Cultural isolation manifested itself in fear; for instance, kidnapping rumors were omnipresent. No dramatic changes were observed as regards gender roles; however, many women found themselves presented with the opportunity to re-evaluate their positions as women, wives, and mothers, without the need to concern themselves with the opinions of Japanese "others." More than a few women reported that they became more active.

The education of their children in the United States was a major concern of the mothers, and re-adjusting to the educational system of Japan upon repatriation was a large focus of this concern. The participants were anxious as well about the professional status of their husbands after completion of their assignments. However, in this research what I observed for the most part were women attempting to make the best of their husbands' overseas assignments, providing positive experiences for their families and themselves despite the many difficulties and heavy responsibilities as expatriate wives and mothers.


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