Sunday, September 21, 2008

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily

There are three types of marital status situations in Japan for foreign females. Single, married to a Japanese person, and married to a foreign person. The first two make up the vast majority of foreign women in Japan, at least outside of the posh gaijin ghettos. Those lucky women, who tend to live a life similar to that in the U.S. with cars, foreign grocery shops and expense accounts, generally aren't here for a long time because they move back home when their husband's work here is done.

I am most definitely in the minority when it comes to being foreign, female, married to another foreigner, and having lived here for a long time. This sort of makes me wonder if no foreign woman in her right mind would live here for so long if she didn't have to, but that sort of indicates that I'm very much not in my right mind (which may already be obvious to some of you).

Japan can be a very hard place for foreign women because the culture is still male-centric. Even if your husband is a perfect specimen of equality, the world around you and very likely your Japanese in-laws will not be (if you've got a Japanese hubby). I have often said that I could never have married a Japanese man because there are so many issues. One of them is the mother-in-law issue can be much worse here than the bad in-law situations back home. The main reason for that is exemplified in something one of my (still single and in her 40's) student told me. We were talking about relationships and she said she never wanted to marry. When I asked her why, she said that her mother was "bullied" by her paternal grandmother and aunt and she saw the stress and difficulty that put on her mother. I asked her what they criticized her mother about and she said 'anything and everything.' She went on to say that she believed it was the "custom" in Japan for female in-laws to rag on the wife of their darling son or brother.

While I'm certain that this situation is not the case for everyone, I'm also sure that there are status issues at play and a different role for in-laws in Japanese culture. In my absolutely anecdotal and statistically invalid experience, about 30% of married Japanese women have no or few in-law issues and the rest find it to be one of the most onerous aspects of marriage. These in-law problems don't tend to extend to foreign men who marry Japanese women though since the culture doesn't have a "custom" of criticizing and interfering with husbands like it does with wives.

Wives have the unfortunate burden of having to prove themselves on multiple levels (in all cultures, but more so in Japan in my opinion). They have to cook, clean, give birth to and raise kids, and, if necessary, work part-time to contribute to the family income. Men essentially have to be healthy and work. Mainly, they have to work full-time and make enough money to support the family. Being a successful Japanese housewife and mother can be a pretty high bar to get your chin up to in the eyes of a mother-in-law and Japanese society. I'm guessing this is why marriage rates are dropping in Japan and women are marrying later. Now that many women can work and have careers in Japan, they're not so keen to toss it all aside for the burdens of marriage.

Several weeks ago, I was recommended a blog written by a foreign wife of a Japanese man through Google Reader. If you don't use this function, I recommend you do as it'll point you to blogs similar to ones to which you're already subscribed. If you subscribe to your own blog, you can get ones similar to your type of writing as well. It's an excellent way to find new content of the type which you already enjoy.

Getting back to the point though, this woman is living my worst image of what life would be like with a Japanese husband. Please don't get me wrong. I don't think that there aren't women who have problems with foreign husbands, but just that your options are different in a relationship with a Japanese person because of cultural issues and different expectations. If you're married to a foreign fellow and he's a jerk, you have a support network that believes he is also a jerk because they have the same values as you when it comes to marital roles. When you're married to a Japanese man, you get less support when he is slack about doing his part with housework or kids because you are perceived as a failure as a wife. He is not likely to be perceived as a failure as a husband if he works full-time and is seen as making a decent living.

This morning, I read a piece by this woman and she was attempting to put together one of those elaborate bento chock full of fully-cooked little tidbits elegantly arranged in a bento box which Japanese wives are supposed to do without difficulty or complaint. All she asked was that her husband lend a hand with their kids in the morning while she tried to whip up his requested lunch box (which he was taking along on community event, he wasn't working). He shirked the responsibility he agreed to by running off to the toilet five times and generally finding ways not to take care of the kids for a short time.

Now, this stood in exceptionally sharp contrast to my morning where I slept in 20 minutes later than my CH and woke up with a backache. This isn't unusual for me these days as I tend to have back pain every morning but it wears off in about 15-30 minutes and I usually wake up before the CH so it passes and I take care of business before he heads off to work. Keep in mind that the CH works full-time from Wednesday to Sunday so he's got a full day of work and a commute ahead of him whereas I've got just 4 hours of private lessons in the apartment. Because I have a backache, he prepares his own coffee, gets his own lunch together, and serves me my coffee in the 15 minutes he's got before he has to rush out the door.

I can't help but compare the other woman's harried morning to my morning occurring in the same time frame. Hers ends with a big fight and a cathartic blog post. Mine ends with me eating a chestnut pastry that the CH picked up especially for me last night on his way home from work along with the coffee he served me (including microwaving milk for the coffee to just the right temperature). I can't help but think that I'm living a life which is a dream and she's living my nightmare.


Lulu said...

While it might be your nightmare it might not be hers. We all use our blogs and gossip sessions to vent about our partners at some stage- I am sure that while she may be venting today that she might be singing her hubbys praises another day!

I am engaged to Japanese man and while some of our cultural differences make things a little strained at times I know we can make things work despite our different cultural backgrounds. He is very supportive of me and is a great person.

I know you weren`t saying that all Japanese men are the way you describe, because lets face it there are a lot of American, Australian, Chinese, Russian and other nationality men that are exactly the same as this. Unfortnately their are D***head`s in every country!

I know whose blog you are talking about and I am not sure if she would say her life is a nightmare.

You are very lucky to be in a relationship that you enjoy- but I am sure there have been times when you have wanted to strangle your partner at times! We have all been there!

Anonymous said...

Wow...Any chance of passing along whose blog this might be? I don't get many complaints from my mom-in-law (there was really only ever that one clothing issue ;) ), but I might at least be able to give some support if or when needed (when there's time to! >_<).

Thankfully, my husband has been REALLY helpful while I've had this job, since it really wipes me out. He's even started cooking, and made the most amazing fried, breaded chicken chunks the other night - I mean hollly jeeze, they were actually STILL tender once they were ready! I don't think he realizes how tricky it can be to accomplish such a feat, and he did it perfectly the first try!!!

...That's it, I'm going to the corner to put a bag over my head for awhile. It's just too depressing. ;)

Orchid64 said...

Lulu: I went out of my way to say that I didn't think it applied to everyone and that there were jerks in all places as well as the fact that this was mainly something I wouldn't want because I'm aware many people are very happy with their circumstances. Well, except for the mother-in-law issue. I've heard so many complaints from Japanese women on that front over my years here!

However, I will say, I have never once wanted to strangle my husband. I have also never complained about him to anyone else. If I have a complaint, I take it to him directly and we work it out. I have no compulsion whatsoever to complain about my husband. It's not that I'm that much of an angel, but rather that he is. He's the best human being I've ever known.

Dateline: I can give you her blog information if you'd like to drop me an e-mail message. I don't mind sending supportive folks her way, but I don't want to send possible rubber-neckers so I don't want to say it here.

I will mention to both of you that I've held back on these sorts of posts in the past because I've been concerned about defensive responses from women who are with or married to Japanese men. Even when I have gone out of my way to say this is me, my response, my opinion, my impression, my feeling, etc., inevitably, someone will take it as me somehow generalizing to everyone or trying to say they should be unhappy or can't possibly be happy. That is so not what I mean. I'm not trying to get other people to prove their happiness or unhappiness, but just talking about myself. I don't believe I could make that any clearer than I have.

Thanks for the comments.

gaijin wife said...

Hello Orchid64

Am presuming mention in post was about my blog but appologies if not - in which case please do tell who was about as they had very similar morning to me and am sure would get on very well.

Please, send who ever you want my way. rubber neckers, supportive persons, people just wanting a read about life in rural japan - to a Japanese man, who for the majority of the time is a very good hubby and father. I do of course tend to exagerate things - although the four times to the toilet was true I don't think he made up the trips to shirk the looking after the kids. He just doesn't seem to be able to get his shite organized as fast as I can. Understandable considering I am woman with superhuman multitasking skills.

I do talk to hub about the problems. Don't think I just rant on about shite on my blog and put up with everything. He gets as good as he gives. He has learned to appologise like a normal man!!

I enjoy life in Kunimi. The mother in law in the same house is something I would rather do with out but, as my own mother says, I made my bed...

I must try and write more positive stuff on blog. Is just so easy to pick up on the little naggy things though.

Maybe I will make that my mission for the next month - write one good thing about hub everyday. I would be pushing it if I had to say a good thing about the mother in law every day too but maybe I will try that too!!

I am very jealous that your husband buys your pastries on the way home. Enjoy enjoy.

Gaijin Wife

The kids are asleep and hub and I hear sipping beer and watching great Japanese variety comedy TV. A good end to a day that started out not so good.

Lulu said...

I am also sorry I gereralized then- you are very lucky you have a hubby that is perfect! One of the few I am sure!!! (Where can I get one?)- I am also very impressed you have never wanted to strange him...I am not sure if I have wanted to strangle mine but I have definitely wanted to slap him around a little bit a couple of times :-)

My fiance is a darling as well- very good to me and when I first moved to Japan I never thought I would fall for a Japanese guy because of the sterotypical image I had of them but he is far from the sterotype that I had heard so much about.

I am one of the few who actually likes my MIL most of the time (I think!) we had our ups and downs at first but now we understand each other we get on great. We are on completely different wave lengths most of the time though!!!

I meant no offence by comment, I was also just giving my opinion. And I also know that you were not saying that all women married to Japanese have problems.

I appreciate your responce and thanks also for your comment on my blog.

DF unfortunately comes from a fairly wealthy family so I am not sure him (or his parents) would ever agree to government housing which is a shame because I personally think it would be a good idea! Thanks for your advice though.

Emsk said...

Hi Orchid.

Like everyone else here I commend you on your CH - he really does sound like a dream. My dad seems like a pretty good hubbie, which is maybe a bit unusual given he's a different generation, but his wife often gets cups of tea in bed, etc. She's a lot younger than him, but it sounds like it's him who gets up in the night to sooth crying babies, change diapers and prepare bottles.

As for Japanese husbands - personally, I got to like Japanese guys while in Japan. Partly because if you're a western woman in Japan, you're fairly unlikely to hook up with a western man. Many are charisma men, therefore totally unappealling anyway, but some are nice enough guys who suddenly find themselves in the thick of mass female attention, hence make the most of it. I can't talk with any authority here as I didn't date any J. guys as such - the closest I came to it was spending a lot of time with someone in London, and I have to say he did seem like someone who would pull his weight.

When it comes to Japanese in-laws, I remember reading a book about 20 years ago - now out of print - about an English woman who met her Japanese husband in London, had a blissful first year of marriage, then went to Tokyo only to find themselves at the behest of his mother. it sounded pretty off-putting, but that may have been an extreme.

The mom-in-law thing strikes everywhere, of course. I have a Scottish girlfriend married to an Italian man, and she's had her ups and downs, although she does genuinely like her mother-in-law. But she'd drive me nuts as well! She's an elderly lady now, but she would often come round to my friend's home, open the fridge and complain that there wasn't sufficient Italian food to feed her ragazzo. My friend returns to Scotland for a month each summer to be with her family and so that the kids get to know their Scottish side. One time the in-laws announced that they would be coming round the evening before (they frequently drive over and stay all Sunday), to which friend's hubby nicely explained that his wife and kids would be going away for a month and they wanted to spend time together alone as he had to stay and work. Although his mother seemd to agree, they nonetheless turned up expecting feeding and watering, etc. My friend doesn't begrudge them coming over, of course, but she does find it means twice the work, whereas when her parents come over from Scotland they do all kinds of things around the house without being asked to.

In my own family, my paternal granddmother wasn't over the moon when my dad married my mum because my mum's not Irish, plus she was considered "posh" compared to my dad's lot.

My maternal grandmother, meanwhile, was spotted striding angrily through the street by my mum and aunt, who were walking back from school one day. "There's Mum," they said, wondering why she marched straight past them. They came home to find their grandmother in hysterics - her daughter-in-law had just thumped her! Now, my Granny wasn't Scottish like my Grandad which was apparently a problem - but his first fiancee, a charming Scottish lady, also beat a hasty retreat when she met her future mother-in-law.

So if those cases are within the indigenous poulations of the British Isles, what hope for really different cultural differences?

While in Japan there was a guy I liked. I asked him about Japanese men doing housework. "Japanese men are changing," he giggled. Another time, we were talking about important relationships in our lives. "My mother," he gushed. Hearing this a Japanese girlfriend (married to an English man) told me to run!!! ;)

Orchid64 said...

GaijinWife: Yes, it was about you, and I'm very gratified that you knew I meant no harm by what I said (and certainly didn't see you as a complainer - if anything, I saw you as being very put-upon by your circumstances as of late and felt rather bad for you that you had to put up with so much as of late - the pachinko lying thing and your kids being sick as well as your husband seemingly doing his best not to help you out in the post I referenced). I'll happily send people your way, and add a link to your blog on mine. I won't have to "talk behind your back" anymore now that I have permission to reference your blog outright in a post.

Lulu: I understand your response and of course, accept your apology. I also am sorry for overreacting. I had a lot of issues in my former blog with what I said being taken in ways I didn't intend and am rather sensitive to it happening again.

I am lucky to have my CH. I think he's not perfect for everyone, but he is perfect to and for me. I'm sure that sentiment holds true for many women and the men in their lives.

'badmoodguy' is mike said...

While I have no personal experience with any of the above, it is good (really?) to hear that mother-in-law issues are not isolated. I think many people around the world suffer this.

When my mother and I eat dinner in the evenings, it is usually whilst watching "Everybody Loves Raymond". This program has to be the epitome of horrible mothers-in-law. It perfectly describes what some Japanese women have to deal with. (More to the point what Lulu stated about Italian mothers-in-law can be like!)

I would find this very difficult to deal with...

gaijin wife said...

Orchid 64

What does CH stand for? am sure would find out if read back on blogs. If he brings you yummy pastries then he definately isn't a 'chump', so am presuming he is either 'charming' or 'cherrished'?

Orchid64 said...

It's "cute." :-)

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Very omoshiroi blog and comments. :-)I am married to a Japanese man, but I live in the U.S. Also, my husband, while born in Osaka, came to the U.S. for college and never returned to Japan. I think it would be difficult for me to be married to a Japanese man who has spent all or most of his life in Japan. Most of these men would probably be more traditional than my husband, though I'm sure there are exceptions. I have lived in Tokyo previously (when single) and have visited Japan over thirty times. I also have experience with Japanese in-laws, but only for relatively short visits. It would be much more difficult for me if I lived with my husband in Japan.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Wendy, and many thanks for taking the time to read and comment so kindly.

I've been told, heard, and experienced that people (both male and female) from Osaka are quite different character-wise from Tokyo-ites. Generally speaking, people in Tokyo find those from Osaka "rude" because they are more forthright. I can say that that it has been my experience as well that they are more forthright, but not that I find them rude. Honestly, I find them quite refreshing after the reserved "edoko". When I talk to a Japanese person on the phone who is from Osaka, I can actually tell they were born there based on how they express themselves (not by accent, but by how freely they talk). My impression is that people from Osaka may be more compatible with Americans as they are closer to our way of thinking when it comes to communication. That impression may not be well-based, however, so I offer it with caveats in place.

Also, thanks for commenting so I can read your blog. It looks very interesting and I'm looking forward to digging into your archives (and I'm going to link to you, of course!).

Anonymous said...

Oh I love it! ^_^ Sorry for the double comment, but I had to put in my 2 cents while we're on the topic of Osaka!!!!

My husband (also born and raised in Osaka, though he lived in Tokyo for a time) is also keenly aware that Osakans can come across as rude in their way of speaking to many Tokyoites! For that reason, he tries to discourage me from picking up on Osakaben,'s pretty hard not to when I'm completely immersed in it! I think you're right, Orchid, it's absolutely not about the people being rude, but maybe the expression of the dialect coming across as harsh and "in your face" style. I love, for example, hearing Obaasan in the back alley, babbling away cheerfully with her neighbor, using some old school words that have since even been phased out of the dialect as it's spoken nowadays. It's definitely got a rough sound, but in the right mood, can sound downright charming! ^_^

I certainly can't speak for all Osakans, but I can definitely say that my husband isn't rude by any means, and is really quite shy and soft spoken (almost to a fault, actually - he becomes embarrassed and bashful very easily in public, which can lead to some pretty creative ways of, say, avoiding the tissue hander-outers! ;) ). So there's at least ONE Osaka guy out here who makes a wonderful husband! ^_^

P.S. Sorry to butt in!

Orchid64 said...

Feel free to "butt" away. ;-)

gaijin wife said...

CH - Cute.

Cute is good.

Easier to keep saying head when reading blog.

My hub has to work his way up the food chain. For now is just hub. He cruises along the HH (halfwit hub) and TH (twat hub) line quite a bit. I hope he gets to the Dh (darling) or CH status at some stage.

Soon would be good.

Orchid64 said...

I forgot to mention that you have the greatest sense of humor. It really makes reading your blog such a pleasure!

Thanks for commenting and for coming back for another visit!

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Thank you, Orchid 64. Yes, I think you are quite right that there are many differences between Tokyoites and Osakans. You better not get my husband started on the topic -- ha! He feels that Tokyo people often look down on Osaka people and Osaka-ben, which he claims is closer to "real" Japanese than what is spoken as the "national language" today. He will also get in arguments with people who will call "butaman" (pork bun) "nikuman" and refuse to use the true name. He may be quite Americanized, but his Osaka roots are strong. :-)

Kelly said...

I must be in the 30% of women married to japanese men that get along very well with their MIL. I actually get on so well with her, we're like partners in crime against hubby. The only thing is she lives in japan and i live in oz. sometimes yasu will get on the phone and say something about me, that is not exactly great, and when i get my chance to talk to his mum she says "oh don't worry, i never listen to him anyway" and we have a giggle.

I'm really lucky in that aspect. When contemplating marrying yasu i was aprehensive as i had heard some horror stories from friends who also married japanese men. I am pretty lucky.

Yasu lived in hokkaido until he was 25, then lived in canada for 1 year, then new zealand for 1 year. He's very non-traditional. He's embraced aussie culture and never wants to go back and live in Japan.

The good thing about yasu i find is that we can talk about anything and everything with each other and he's so supportive. If i feel sick he will bring me a drink in bed, or look after me, as i do for him. But both of our feelings are mutual, and we are on equal footing, so it's not really unbalanced in that way that a relationship in japan may be, where the woman has to do everything for the man.

I'm really happy that you have a great hubby, only a few people in this world experience this kind of happiness, and i know that after your childhood, you absolutely deserve a warm and loving relationship. :)

I wish all people could find great relationships, so they could know how great it is. Unfortunately we can pick our partners, but not their families! :)