I think we can all agree that it’s pretty much an established fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. It can be a big challenge for a couple made up from these two disparate outer-space cultures to get along, find common ground and make a go of a successful marriage. But what if your Martian is from Japan and you’re from North America or Europe or Australia? How the heck do you deal with that?
This is a topic I tackle in my new e-book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband where I interview fourteen Western women (including myself!) married (and one divorced) to Japanese men born and raised in Japan. While you’ll find lots of pairings of Western men with Japanese women, the opposite is still rare today despite world shrinkage, globalization and the proliferation of the Internet and social media.
Western women’s values, their gender roles and their desire for individuality can clash with what’s expected from them in an island nation that on the surface seems the ultimate in modernity yet is steeped in thousands of years of ancient traditions, and offers a language with sentence structure and hidden nuances that seem the polar opposite of straightforward, in-your-face American English.
And when you’re trying to adapt to a foreign culture it often feels that nothing quite fits and everything you know is wrong. And then there’s the case of women who met their Japanese husband on their own home turf who end up seeing their fun-loving man “turn Japanese” on them when they go to live in Japan. As one woman puts it, “When we were in Australia my husband was carefree, crazy and spontaneous. But after we’d been living in Japan for a couple of months he turned into this grumpy conformist.”
Yet what comes out over and over in these very poignant, candid and sometimes quite funny interviews is that the key to a successful cross-cultural marriage is often made up of the same attributes that will pave the way for success in any marriage: patience, flexibility, acceptance, compromise and a sense of humor.
And, of course, the importance of love and mutual affection, which can transcend any clash of cultures, intergalactic or not.
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation, both published by St. Martin’s Press. Her latest book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband is available as a Kindle e-book for $2.99. Don’t have a Kindle? No problem! Just download a free Kindle app for your smart phone, iPad, PC or Mac. Fifty-percent of the proceeds of this book go to Red Cross Japan Relief!
Follow Wendy on Twitter: @Wendy_Tokunaga and check out her summer online writing class for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio - Just Like a Movie: What Novelists Can Learn from the Silver Screen.