In a recent WSJ article on expat life, the was an interview/ buy my recently published book, with an American woman, who met, and later married a Japanese man, and now lives in Japan. The book, titled The Good Shufu, also the title of the author’s WordPress site.

I bought and read the book as its the obverse image of the majority of what the Japanese call 国際結婚, lit. “international” marriage, aka the marriage of a Japanese national to a non-Japanese partner.  Its a term like the word hafu, that I am not all that comfortable with as in describing such marriages  this way, a barrier is erected between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Accurate up to a certain point, but this also catches those Japanese whose partner is a 在日韓国人, a person born and raised in Japan, of Korean ethnicity, and at least in the U.S., would have citizenship in the country of their birth, but in Japan……..

But getting back on track,  most “international” marriages are between a man and Japanese  woman, as mine is, hence my interest.

I would say from my and the experience of other men I know who have Japanese wives is that there are fewer societal, familial expectations of us.  We are expected to bring home a salary- hand it over to our wives, and help out in other ways, but unlike the western  woman married to a Japanese man, there is, or at least I never felt  pressure to produce the all important heir, nor was I/ did I have to care for my  parent in-laws as a daughter in-law is expected to do in Japan.

What helps to make things work out?  The first and paramount reason in any marriage is that you truly want to be with this person.  I have come across Japanese women looking for non-Japanese partners because they assume a marriage will help them learn English, or with a Western spouse, to opportunity to escape the smothering straitjacket of conformity Japanese society forces a woman into.  And there were those who just wanted to see what color ‘it’ is.

In our case, we both had living experience living in one another’s culture prior to meeting and later marrying.  We both spoke/comprehended each other’s language and for me, I had a strong interest in her culture.

When son unit came along all those years ago, is when differences began to show.  While all mothers have a special bond with the children they carry and then deliver, it has been said and I can affirm that a Japanese mother’s relationship with her children is particularly strong and that in many areas, the father is expected to defer to his wife.

A stereotype of where western and Japanese cultures clash in child-rearing is when (note, I didn’t say if) your small child starts to run a high fever.  For me,  an ice bag on the forehead or elsewhere is SOP in this situation, but for the Japanese mother, its a hot water bottle.  That still baffles me, but children come out none the worse for wear so…..

Language acquisition and cultural awareness/competition is another area of friction. Had we stayed in Japan, I am certain I would have become concerned about Son Unit not have enough exposures to my culture/language and for Wife Unit, it has been a source of struggle and concern ever since we moved back to the U.S. all those years ago.

I suppose there’s more to write, but I see my coffee has gone cold…  😉



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