Here on Stippy the most popular of articles has been “Sexless in Japan”, which prompted a huge response from readers and is indicative of the fact that marriage in Japan is fraught with many challenges. Even more so, international marriage is fraught with so many more issues that threaten to destabilize life as a couple and life as a family. We have also written about pre-marital counseling for gaijin-Japanese couples thinking of tying the knot in Japan, where we explored some preemptive measures that can be taken to attempt to avoid disaster upon arriving back from your honeymoon. We have not yet however, touched specifically on how the novelty of an international marriage can quickly erode away, mainly due to lack of somebody willing to become our “case study”.
George (yes, that George) is in a predicament which many stippy readers may find themselves in one day – or even worse may be sharing with him right now! George agreed to being our “case study”, and while his problem is probably not so uncommon, it is one that tends to simmer away in the confines between one’s genkan and verandah, and mostly does not show itself at all in the public arena until suddenly boiling over one day with a bitter divorce.
We interviewed George to get a little more insight into just what he is going through in his “Kokusai-kekkon blues”. (Kokusai-Kekkon, is the Japanese term for international marriage. 国際結婚). The story is written in first person, right as we heard it from George. It is a sensitive subject and very personal for him. We thank George once again for letting us delve into his private life, for public good. With no further ado here is George’s story of the state of his multi-racial (gaijin & Japanese) married life.
George’s Marriage and the Kokusai-Kekkon Blues:
Last weekend I had a big argument with my wife of 6 years. It took until mid-week for us to sit down and discuss it and I had to admit that much of the argument was my fault and that I had definitely “gone too far”. I had said some things that needed more than just an airing. They needed to be investigated.
It was clear to my wife that I am struggling with our life together. During the weekend argument, she had also told me that she did not see us being together after our children left school. With my admissions of concern about our marriage, she made it clear that she had fast tracked her thinking to wanting to make a decision within the next year or two as she hits thirty years of age. The rationale being that as a divorced homemaker with kids, life would be tough; she is still young and very attractive and has a chance to find someone good to replace me.
As we talked mid-week, I had to think deeply about how I contribute to such anxiety for my wife. I came up with a few very negative character traits that probably make me a difficult husband for any woman.
It dawned upon me that I am much like my father back home. He is quite abusive to my mother who gets belittled and made to feel useless by him on a regular basis. My sister thinks that she is so far into this state of misery that our mother simply plays her part and shows no sign of self-confidence to stand up to the verbal abuse. To my knowledge he, like I with my wife, has never physically abused her; it is verbal abuse when angered. I, like him, have anger management issues.
In my wife’s family this relationship is the exact opposite: it is her mother who is the wearer of the pants and controller of how things are done. Her father is incredibly meek to the point that, while I like him very much, he borders on being pathetic, with no confidence to do anything other than his job. My wife’s grandmother had an abusive husband, as does her aunt. Her grandmother shrugged off convention and dumped her drunken gambler husband in the 1960′s and started a successful commercial real estate business. She is a strong matriarch, chain smoking with a very real strength in her eyes. My wife, aside from being a non-smoker is very much of this mold and this is one of her great qualities.
Despite my weakness here and her strength, it is evident that there are major problems in our marriage that are not altogether our own personal weaknesses but are key factors in making our marriage tough to work out. They are cultural issues. Probably more “cultural tolerance” issues.
As a brief backgrounder, my wife is pure Japanese. She could not speak English when I met her and culturally she is fully comfortable with who she is. I know some people who are married to Japanese women who seek to leave Japan or to escape their “Japanese-ness” and others who become “American” in order to fit in with their husband and his world. My wife is not like that. She shuns this world and that type of gaijin-nihonjin. Naturally, I also know a number of Gaijin who seek to escape their Gaijin-ness by really trying to become “Japanese”: throwing themselves head first into the culture, language and way of life. I think there is a term I saw on a blog for this sort of person, and I am certainly not it. What I am, much like my wife, is proud of where I come from and who I am. In fact being in Japan for as long as I have, my identity has been strongly shaped by the contrast to Japan. I fell in love with my home culture more.
My suspicion is that those international marriages that see one party being flexible enough to embrace their partners culture are the more successful. If the typical western marriage faces a 50:50 chance, then it goes without saying that the international marriage has less. I am focusing this on my impression of first time marriages. Quite possibly second or third marriages are fine as the couples are more mature and realistic about their expectations.
Anyway, I make these observations as they are a crucial part of where my wife and I are going wrong. We both agree that I am reluctant to become “Japanese” and she is reluctant to become “American”; though I am the most rock hard stubborn of the two (For the record, George is not necessarily American!). It is easy to say in poetic tones that true love conquers all boundaries (and all that jazz), and at least it was that way when we fell in love, but it is not so easy now. The bruising we have taken (more her than me) over the past 6 years has eroded that love and respect for each other to the point that we recognize that we have little in common – except two beautiful kids.
Basically I came to Japan as I was a student looking for new horizons and to learn the language. Japanese business style in the late 80′s and early 90′s was espoused by Harvard Business School – and all the rest – as the best thing since sliced bread. I sought to come over here and get “internationalized”, adding some strings to my bow. I fell in love with a real Japanese beauty. I fell in love with Japan: the people, the culture, the food, the “wa”. But I never fell out of love with my homeland or who I was, and eventually, with all the stress that comes with living in the big city of Tokyo, I fell out of love with Japan.
That lack of love for my current place of residence is problematic for my relationship with my wife. And my kids. However my career is now sewn into this city. I can not simply get up and leave, though some day I do pray that I can take my family home and have them share my world and have my children grow up knowing truly what it means to be “American”. At present our kids are growing up in a regular Japanese world; they are not at all growing up as “Americans” and this is the beginning of a crisis for me.
Will my kids ever be able to embrace my “world”? Will they simply test it out while we live there? The plan being when they hit high school. Then will they simply return to Japan to get a bilingual job and marry a Japanese girl and settle in Tokyo forever? Condemning me to the fate of my own parents and great distances from my future grandchildren. These are all concerns that have begun to haunt me. Am I going too far?
If we move to “America”, my wife will have a tough time. Her English is good but not at all fluent, which makes a big difference in making friends. She shares a similar concern as myself that the kids will then turn on her culture and follow me. We discussed this further and obviously (as we have been raising them) we want the kids to be able to embrace both cultures and make their own choices. However it remains a worry that we will feel alone when we are old. If we can not resolve our differences and truly embrace each other’s culture, then the children will have trouble in finding out for themselves who they really are.
Maybe at this stage of our lives we simply do not have enough experience to know how we will feel when older. Maybe we are both closet racists. Maybe we can work it out. Whatever the result, at present, both of us feel that we are potentially wasting our lives by staying with each other. We are considering divorce. But where does that leave the kids?
Did you adjust to your Japanese spouse? Did they adjust to you? Any other root causes of conflict in a Kokusai-kekkon? Is George too late to read the book pictured on the right? Tell us what you think in the comments below! (Or, if you are not married to a Japanese, but are willing to give it a try, here is the first step – give Stippy Friends a burl. There is plenty of romance to be had in Japan…! Just try not to get hooked :))