I’ve been married now for 5 years. This is after dating my wife for about 3 years before we got married, so we have been together for a grand total of about 8 years. It has been a sometimes interesting, often times fun, occasionally difficult mix of situations.
And because of this, I inevitably get a lot of questions about everything from raising kids to what I recommend people should do before getting married. International marriages are extremely complex and unique. There are times when every day seems like a learning experience. And there are other times when it just seems like a perfectly normal thing.
I have also heard a lot of horror stories about international marriages going terrible awry. None of my good friends have gone through such an experience but I’ve known a few acquaintances that have dealt with the aftermath of a messy divorce. And a quick search on Google will bring up a whole host of disgruntled ex-husbands.
So, I thought I would take a moment to give a somewhat positive view of being in an international marriage and my own personal experience and advice.
My Day to day
I think between the two of us, we have a lot of cross-cultural interest. Even though I’ve been living and working in Japan for 10 years, there are still moments when I have to ask about something that I’m curious about. And my wife will often ask questions about how things are in the States, although it has become increasingly difficult for me to answer questions like those because I’ve almost completely forgotten about everything!
We also celebrate pretty much every holiday of both countries including all the major holidays and even the minor ones from the States. We celebrate Christmas Western-style with gifts and treats but no fried chicken (a common dish for Japanese Christmas), although a cake seems to still squeeze in there sometimes. Instead, we opted for a big roast ham one year or just a special meal of some kind. We generally respect each others customs and try our best to observe what we deem worth observing. This year we are going to try to do Easter although I’m not sure if we will have the time.
We are also really trying to push our little one to use as much English as possible. We even have little mini lessons where we go over key vocabulary and try to stress the use of it as much as we can. This can be a little odd sometimes, especially in public where, if I’m not around, it can kind of look like my wife is showing off. And there can be some occasional misunderstandings from family members when we try to correct her pronunciation (like when she started saying basu when she had been previously saying bath).
But my in-laws are incredibly amazing to be honest. Although they had a few doubts about me early on, and with decent reasons. Pretty much all the international couples they knew in their neighborhood had gotten divorced. But after a bit of wrangling and tense meetings we got to know each other a little better and now we meet up fairly regularly.
It does help that they live so close and my wife visits them every week. They have turned out to be great free babysitters. Although, our daughter is picking up a slight Kyoto-ben accent.
This is in contrast to some other parents I’ve heard about that will vehemently oppose a marriage. In one case, a friend of mine was engaged, planned the wedding, had the wedding, but never signed the papers because their two families couldn’t work out the issues with each other. The couple eventually split up. And they were both Japanese, so I can only imagine what it might be like for foreigners.
I mean we, foreigners, aren’t exactly the perfect catch, at least on paper. A lot of foreigners here, make slightly below average salaries compared to Japanese men our age (foreign women probably make more than Japanese women their age here). And, if we go back to our home country, where we have a better chance of earning a higher income, we are taking daughters and sons away from their family (in the eyes of in-laws).
Vaccinated against Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever, the slightly racist term for those who are infatuated with Asian women, is generally a costly and sometimes life ruining disease. There are a lot of people, like some of my fellow young colleagues, that will openly admit they only love Asian women, and actually only seek that kind of person. This is dangerous for a couple of different reasons.
First of all, I’ve traveled to several places in this world, and I can tell you, there are amazing women everywhere. I haven’t done any in depth research or anything, but in my personal experience, you are kind of limiting yourself when you go around saying things like “I only date guys/gals that are…”
Second, what you might think Asian or Japanese women are like for better or worse is wrong. It’s most likely based on hearsay, rumors, or some quirky look-at-this-strange-thing-in-Japan article you read somewhere. Unless you have done a thorough survey of the entire Japanese population, you probably can’t, for certain, say what the typical Japanese person is like (or American, Mexican, etc…)
Third, if you do have some kind of prejudice (good or bad) going into a relationship it tends to blind you from other critical issues that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes time to pop the question (or say yes to the question).
Fourth, it’s just a wee bit racist, don’t you think?
So, my advice is if you do have yellow fever, cure it before you come to Japan or at least before you start dating in Japan. Generally speaking, people that have had good healthy relationships and felt good about those relationships with people back home before they came to Japan, can be considered cured and our generally a lot happier in Japan. In other words, always leave your prejudices at the door.
In my particular case, I’ve dated both Japanese and internationals while I was here. And it has always been about the individual person for me, nationality usually doesn’t factor in. Although, having said that, I would probably have to factor it in if it were more long term.
For example, my American friend is now living in Australia with his girlfriend thanks to the domestic partner visa, and I think that would be a little bit of a stretch for me because of the physical distance – flying to the States could be a little tough, but then again maybe it’s not so bad?
My wife on the other hand is far from the Japanese equivalent of “Yellow Fever” – a gaijin hunter. She used to actually be prejudice against Americans. Apparently she had a previous older American co-worker that had been a bit obnoxious about asking her out, and she had shied away ever since. She never saw herself marrying a foreigner and thought her parents would never let her to boot.
To be honest neither of us really thought we were ever going to get married. I thought I would travel the world my whole life. And she thought she would do the same (as a flight attendant, her previous job). So, there was/is no feeling of desperation that we have to make this work because it is our dream to marry a foreigner. We did both put aside a life of adventure to settle down, but I have no regrets, and to the best of my knowledge neither does she.
And contrary to most of the reports from lifers here in Japan, you can have a really happy marriage. It is presently pretty busy, and we are fairly broke, but it’s still going strong. I’m not going to start bragging quite yet, it has only been 5 years, but we are both working to keep it going, so I’m optimistic.
Do your Marriage homework
I mentioned before that it is a lot of my young colleagues that have been infected with “Yellow Fever.” The older people here have either gotten married and divorced and know better now or just know better from previous experience.
Marriage, like anything in this world worth doing, takes some hard work and homework. Cultural factors do play a part to complicate things even further because basic expectations that can be reasonably assumed when you are both from the same country need to be laid out clearly.
It reminds me of a job interview that I had a long long time ago, where they asked me “What is the most important thing about working together?” I think I answered “doing your job well” or “working hard” or something like that. The interviewer politely listened and then said “the answer we were looking for was communication.”
Which is so true, even more so these days. There are a lot of things that go unspoken because we assume our loved one ‘just knows’ because, ya know, they understand us. But, you need to make things clear, really clear.
This means doing your homework before getting married – sitting down and talking about how many kids you are going to have, what kind of job, household responsibilities in general terms, who is in charge of the money, etc…
We went over all this pretty thoroughly. Actually quite a few times before we got married. And at times, there were some tough decisions and the whole thing almost got called off a few times as well. But, I’m glad I talked it out because everything is kind of clear which is the best you can hope for really.
We bunk a lot of the stereotypes of the typical Japanese marriage. For example, I manage most of the overall finances while she micromanages the finer points like deciding what food to buy and whether or not we can afford to buy a giant box of diapers at CostCo. We have little skirmishes about money from time to time, but nothing major. Most of the major purchases in our life have been very unanimous and thoroughly discussed and agreed upon.
And if your potential in-laws are thoroughly against the relationship, it’s best to put away your allusions of grandeur and back away. I’ve seen a lot of friends waiting it out to see if the in-laws will finally agree to the marriage or if their bride/groom-to-be will run off with them to their home country. Well, unfortunately that usually ends badly. In my experience, blood is thicker than water in Japan.
This was a bit of bare all article for me that I hope sheds some light on how marriage really is in Japan. If you have any further questions, let’s hear them in the comments.