Some people even dream of marrying someone from a distant land, but many have questions, doubts, worries about what it would be like to have a marriage between people who are from vastly different cultures.
So, what’s the best way to know? Asking people who are in an international marriage and who can tell us all about their experience.
Today we set with Emi and Mika, both married to American men. Emi tied the knot a little over 2 years ago (and dated for 6 years before that), and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Mika lives in Tokyo with her husband of 5 years.
(The following reflects the experiences of the people interviewed)
I do more chores, and it’s unfair!
Housework is often the great divider among couples. Who should do what? More importantly who does actually do most (or all) of the chores in the house?
We asked Emi and Mika:
“We just discussed about this! I tend to do more chores than him and I find it’s unfair. We made a list of housekeeping tasks recently and put it on the fridge to remind each other what needs to get done.” (Emi)
“I do everything. Sometimes my husband helps me by washing the dishes or cooking.” (Mika)
Judging from the testimonies we collected from Japanese women married to American or European men, it seems to be common for women to shoulder most of the housework (take a look also at what Japanese women have to say about their European husbands).
While things differ from person to person and from couple to couple, there seems to be a cultural factor that plays a role as well. In many countries, including western ones, the general idea is that the wives and mothers are the ones that take care of the house.
Certainly, things are changing, and women are becoming even busier not only with housework, but with their job and career and this is likely why we hear women complaining about their husbands not doing enough in the house.
Emi and her husband, though are giving us all an idea to start from: a clear division of chores in the house so that no one gets overwhelmed.
We both work - But our “wallets” are separated
We asked our interviewees about managing money in the house. Is there someone in charge of it?
“We split everything (rent, utilities, and groceries). The idea is that we both work and are responsible for our own expenses.” (Emi)
“Mainly it’s my husband who controls it, but we both work, so basically our “wallets” are separated.” (Mika)
The question of money and how to manage finances, is one of the most common among people interested in knowing more about international marriages. The truth is that oftentimes there aren’t many issues.
While it’s true that sometimes, in Japanese culture, the okozukai system is the norm (the wife manages the money and gives and “allowance” to the husband), in other cultures that is rather odd. Despite that, though, when it comes to people we interviewed, culture does not seem to pose and issue. Especially in couples where both partners work, the most common solution is that of splitting everything and taking care of one’s own expenses.
Stress? We deal with it differently, but it’s not because of culture
Even the happiest marriages carry with them stress and tension, but how do Mika and Emi deal with these occurrences, and do they feel that the way they and their husbands do is different because of culture?
“I do (think that we deal differently with stress), but it seems to come from our personality. He’s super grounded and I’m not there yet.” (Emi)
“I feel there is a difference, but I feel it’s more of a difference between men and women.” (Mika)
While stress can’t be avoided, the way we deal with it differs from person to person. Even in an international marriage it seems that there isn’t really a cultural driving habit behind the way Emi and Mika, and their husbands, deal with it. Your personality is a much more likely factor in determining how to cope with tension, even in an international marriage.
Why go shopping often when we can buy a lot and save it?
Some habits spring from personality, others from culture. When we asked Emi and Mika whether there was something that shocked them that their husband does habitually, their answers were rather similar.
“If he doesn’t finish his food, even if it’s a little bit, he saves it and eats it later. When it comes to grocery, he buys a lot and stores it.” (Mika)
“He keeps buying stuff and he never feels he has more than enough. I don’t understand.” (Emi)
It’s true that there is a striking difference about the concept of consumption when it comes to Japanese people and American people (but also western in general).
Japanese people tend to think that what’s necessary is enough, while Americans tend to be more comfortable with having more than they need. Japanese people, by and large, go grocery shopping every day, while Americans prefer to go shopping once in a while, buy a lot, and keep it.
If you ever see an average Japanese person's apartment in a crowded city like Tokyo, you will notice that generally the apartment is minimalistic. It has everything a person needs, but not more than that. In other countries things are often different.
Jingle bells or Joya no Kane bells?
Different countries, different cultures, different holidays. How do Mika and Emi celebrate the holidays, and which do they celebrate?
“We celebrate American holidays, since we live in the U.S. If we moved to Japan, I assume we’d follow Japanese ones.” (Emi)
“We spend New Year's Eve and the first few days of the year at my family's house and we go hit the Joya no Kane.” (Mika)
Mika and her husband seem to follow Japanese customs, like hitting the Joya no Kane (New Year's Bell), while Emi and her husband celebrate American holidays. It makes sense to celebrate the holidays of the place where we live. It’s probably all that surrounds us during certain holidays that puts us in that celebratory spirit.
I like when he says “I love you”
Are American husbands really different from Japanese husbands? If you marry an American man, is your relationship going to be different from that of your friends with Japanese husbands?
“I don’t think our relationship is anything different from my friends', though he is definitely more affectionate than the majority of Japanese men. I really love that he says ‘I love you’ every time he leaves the house, hangs up the phone, and goes to bed. I don’t believe most Japanese people do that.” (Emi)
Generally, we think of Japanese men as more parsimonious when it comes to showing their feelings. American men seem to be more open about them. Many women that we talked to like that openness in American men.
We discuss and solve issues
Sometimes arguments can ensue from different ways of seeing the same thing, depending on one’s cultural perspective. Do international couples find this to be an issue? Does it even happen? Are there any different ways of confronting issues that are tied to culture, rather than personality?
“We talk and explain our cultural perspective to each other. We understand each other’s point and then we solve the issue.” (Mika)
“I don’t think we have any. We both rather discuss to solve issues.” (Emi)
Sometimes culture will not interfere in the ways people deal with issues, but when it does, a very good way to approach it, Mika suggests, is that of explaining each other’s point of view, understanding that your spouse might see as weird, something you see as obvious.
Something I don’t like but would not want to tell him...
As much as we love a person there are always some things, big or small that we don’t like but would not tell them. Of course, there are also things that we absolutely love about our partner. We asked Mika and Emi.
“He holds doors for me, keeps me safe when I take the stairs...He is a true gentleman. Meanwhile, this isn’t just him, but I feel like most people in the States don’t know how to wash their hands properly. They just rinse the soap immediately without rubbing their hands.” (Emi)
“He tries to share friends, the things he likes and enjoys. He surprises me. I like that. I don’t like that he doesn’t care much about other people.” (Mika)
Apparently, fish is not breakfast food
The differences between American and Japanese culture are probably too many to enumerate, but are there some things in particular that could be considered normal in Japan, that your husband does differently or is not used to?
“Eating fish in the morning. Apparently, it’s not breakfast food. Peeling apples and peaches. They just eat the skin here.” (Emi)
“He thinks some procedures in Japan are too strict and troublesome.” (Mika)
Most American (and western) people would probably understand what Emi’s husband is referring to when he says that fish is not morning food. Culture also influences diet, and some dishes (or even the time of the day when we eat them) are very different depending on your country.
Similarly, Japan is well known for being a country that tends to be extremely precise, for better or for worse, in everything. This reflects in its famously punctual trains, clean cities, and efficient infrastructure, but also in long lines, complex and convoluted bureaucracy, and minimal flexibility when it comes to the rules, which can make more than one American eyebrow raise.
Some things are normal to Japanese people, but not to others
Emi and Mika, through the sharing of their experience, gave us a closer look at the life of an international married couple, from the perspective of Japanese women.
We saw how some things will not be influenced by culture, while others will. They also shared some tips on how to fix potential issues. We decided to ask them what suggestions (or even warnings) they would give to Japanese women when it comes to marrying American men.
“You should think of how you may have to give up on living in Japan, as long as you are married. That means you’ll be far away from everything you grew up with, which can me emotionally very challenging. I’d suggest to ask your partner if (s)he is interested in living in Japan, even for a few years in the future.” (Emi)
“Things like honne to tatemae (the behavior you show, VS how you really feel), or enryou (saying no to something because you don’t want to trouble other people too much), or kuuki wo yomu (understanding the room and acting accordingly), are normal for Japanese people, but not for others, so you have to tell your husband how you feel and how you think.” (Mika)
More and more people are getting into international relations, and more and more people are happy to share their experience and insights, and we are thankful for that.
Of course, a couple’s compatibility and personality are the most important things, but culture also has an impact. Love does lead the way, but knowing the road beforehand does make things easier!
Lucio Maurizi is an Italian writer, photographer, and streamer. He spent 10 years in the United States and currently lives in Japan, focusing on creating articles and channels dedicated to the Land of the Rising Sun. He loves any form of storytelling, natto, and wasabi, and is desperately trying to make time to work on his novel. On Instagram @that_italian_guy_in_japan.