Men, women, Japan, and the West
Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 16, 2007
MOST WESTERN MEN MARRIED TO JAPANESE WOMEN have at some point been subjected to the petulant accusation by a Western woman that they chose their wives because “Japanese women will do anything you say”.
Philosophy can provide a comforting perspective for the man trapped in such a situation and who chooses to remain civil. For example, it is reassuring to recall the words of British essayist William Hazlitt in On Common-Place Critics:
A common-place critic has something to say upon every occasion, and he always tells you either what is not true, or what you knew before, or what is not worth knowing. He is a person who thinks by proxy, and talks by rote.
Those of a funkier turn of mind, however, might reflect on the observations of The Rolling Stones in the song, Stupid Girl:
Like a lady in waiting to a virgin queen
Look at that stupid girl!
She bitches ‘bout things that’s she’s never seen
Look at that stupid girl!
Whatever option he chooses, modern man must show more forbearance than his ancestors, who would have either laughed in the woman’s face or punched her in it.
Speaking for myself, “thinking by proxy and talking by rote” about covers it. Adult Japanese women don’t take marching orders from anybody, much less their husbands, as any one of us married to them will attest. The complaint is just a poorly disguised combination of ignorance and—let’s make no bones about this—jealousy, so there’s nothing much to do but shrug it off.
Yes, it’s unfair to paint with such a broad brush, and yes, there are always exceptions on both sides, but there are still some significant differences between Japanese women and Western women that make most of us in “international marriages” glad we wound up married to one of the former instead of one of the latter.
Explaining the reasons would not be easy, would require too many generalizations to be meaningful, and she wouldn’t believe any of it anyway, so discretion is, as always, the better part of valor.
But this newspaper article on a subject entirely unrelated to Japan contains a comment that so clearly highlights the difference, it’s worth mentioning here.
The article appeared a while ago in the Washington Post about a career minor league baseball player named Rick Short who was having the season of his life. Short had spent about 10 years in the minor leagues without ever playing in a major league game until he was called up briefly twice to play for the Washington Nationals. He was one of those players good enough to get hired every year by a minor league team (and twice by Japanese teams), but not quite good enough to play in the major leagues. He didn’t hit many home runs, and hitters like that need to play very good defense.
Short was the subject of this article because he was having a tremendous season—he nearly hit .400 for the year, though he wound up with a .383 average. Hitting .400 for a full season hasn’t been done in the major leagues since Ted Williams pulled it off in 1941, and in the minor leagues since 1961 by Aaron Pointer, who had some famous singing sisters.
The reporter interviewed Short’s wife about their life together. Mrs. Short was not much of a baseball fan before they got married, but this is what she said:
“You have no idea how many people have told me, ‘I wouldn’t let my husband play that long without getting to the big leagues,’ ” she says. “I would say, ‘You never say never.’ I can’t make him quit; this is what he loves.”
There you have it in one sentence. Many women tell Mrs. Short, “I wouldn’t let my husband…” Oh, you wouldn’t? And when did women become the final arbiters of their husband’s career? As I said, generalizations are dangerous and there are always exceptions, but I can’t imagine many Japanese women presuming to take this attitude about their husbands’ career choice.
That isn’t to say they meekly roll over for everything their husbands do or want to do. For example, my wife would never let me hang out with seedy characters, spend the monthly house payment on pachinko, or have an affair with the lady next door. To be more precise, if I did, I would soon be wifeless. By the same token, if my wife had refused to allow me to become a freelance translator and insisted that I become a salaried drone at some company, she would have soon been husbandless.
Mrs. Short’s comment, You have no idea how many people have told me… suggests how commonplace that attitude is among women in the West. In my experience, however, Japanese women are often quite different.
Closer to Home
For example, another translator I know in Tokyo studied for his university degree at night in the States on the GI Bill while working full time during the day. He became friendly with several other men at school doing the same thing, but he was the only one of the group who stuck it out and graduated. All the other men were forced to quit school by their wives because they weren’t spending enough time at home. His Japanese wife was the only one of the women with enough foresight to realize that being patient until he earned his degree would pay off handsomely for the whole family down the road.
In my smaller city, there’s an American who married a local woman more than a half-century ago when he was in the Navy. They lived many years in America before moving to Japan after he retired (the second time). He once told me that he had an arrangement with his buddies in those days to go bowling and have a few beers one night a week. He said that along about 10 o’clock, he would suggest having another beer, but all his friends would look at their watches and reply, “Naw, it’s getting late, I’d better be getting home.”
Here’s what they really meant: If I don’t go home now, my wife will kill me.
That isn’t to say his wife thought it was just ducky for him to be hanging out at the bowling alley drinking beer, but she wasn’t presumptuous enough to say anything about it, especially considering that it was only one night a week and he wasn’t leaving his family starving and barefoot. And of course, if he woke up the next morning with a hangover, he knew better than to look to his wife for sympathy. “Don’t complain about it to me. You’re the one who decided to drink that much.”
That might as well be my wife speaking, and I suspect that’s just what the other translator’s wife would say, too. Perhaps the difference between Japanese women and Western women is one of a certain amount of respect for one’s partner as an individual. It would be ironic if that were the case, as Western women usually are the ones to complain about the lack of respect shown by their husbands to them as individuals. And Westerners often assert (among themselves, of course) that respect for the individual is a characteristic of Western nations, not Japan.
Japan? Are you out of your mind?
Speaking of presumptuous behavior, I’ll bring up another brief article that once caught my eye in The Japan Times. It was just a short bit of filler they ran on Saturdays called The Japanese Experience, so it wasn’t on line. The idea behind the column was that foreign residents would write a brief note about their life in Japan. This particular column was only five paragraphs long, and it was called Going Home Satisfied. The author spent 2 1/2 pleasant years in this country with his wife and children and was about to return to the United States. Here’s how he starts the second paragraph:
We came here because of a job opportunity of my wife’s. Many people back home thought we were crazy or running away from something when we told them we were moving to Japan.
As an American, reading that sentence makes me cringe. I wonder how many Japanese people would say the same thing to a friend or acquaintance in a similar situation?
People who live outside their native country for a long time eventually wind up shaking their heads and wondering whether their country has changed that much since they’ve been away, or whether they were the ones who’ve changed. Of course it’s a combination of both, but in most cases, the change within themselves has been greater than the change within the country of their birth.
Speaking for myself, I’m thankful it happened. And I’m keeping the change.
This entry was posted on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 2:08 am and is filed under Foreigners in Japan, Social trends, Sports. Tagged: Japan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.