Nakamura-san was careful to close the windows before he left for work, in case it rained. And because break-ins are all too common in Japan, he made sure to close and lock the sliding veranda door. On his way out, he patted his pockets, checking for wallet, keys, and phone, then grabbed his briefcase and headed for the train station.
It would be four hours before a locksmith opened the door to his apartment, where he’d locked his wife out on their tiny third-floor balcony. She’d been watering small pots of basil and tomatoes. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold, so she waited until she heard a neighbor moving about downstairs and then banged furiously on his balcony with a laundry pole. He called the locksmith who ultimately let her back in. When Nakamura-san came home, he and his wife had a brief argument about whose fault it was and then never spoke of it again. From then on, she took her phone with her when she watered the plants.
Working on the farm
Mrs. Iishi piled into the back of the small, white pick-up truck and balanced among the crates of onions, potatoes, and daikon radishes. Mr. Iishi climbed into the driver’s seat, started the engine, jammed the shifter into first gear, then shakily released the clutch and took off. When he got to the market, he unloaded the crates of onions, potatoes, and daikon radishes, vaguely wondering where his wife had gotten to.
Where she’d gotten to was the middle of the road, upside-down on her head, after tumbling out of the truck. She’d been wearing a round, straw “coolie” hat, which was promptly demolished but possibly saved her from a worse concussion. She walked five kilometers home from the fields, cooked dinner, and when her husband got home, they sat around the dinner table with their eight daughters and laughed about the episode. It reminded them of the time he’d swerved his scooter into a rice paddy with his youngest daughter on the back, throwing them both into the mud. Ah, so many memories.
At the Japanese Restaurant
You really can’t blame Mori-san, as he’s in his eighties and mostly senile. He and his wife were out to dinner at an izakaya, where they had a lovely meal of sashimi, several types of chicken skewers, a plate of pickled cucumber, and cups of wheat tea.
So when Mr. Mori went to the bathroom and couldn’t recall where the table was, well, that wasn’t too unusual. He wasn’t quite sure why he was in a restaurant at all, as he wasn’t hungry. There was an open door, so he walked out to the parking lot and, lo and behold, there was his car! Suddenly everything clicked. He’d eaten dinner—that’s why he was full. So he sat in the car and smoked a cigarette, then drove home, took a shower, and went to bed. Shortly thereafter, his wife arrived by taxi. She was not pleased. The next morning she spiked his coffee with garlic powder.
Marry a Japanese Man, and . . .
Now, whether you view these stories as amusing, horrifying, or both, it’s clear they share a common theme—lack of communication. In fact, anyone who lives in Japan for any length of time will discover you need two things to assimilate here: a) the ability to speak Japanese; and b) to avoid speaking altogether. I’m consistently impressed with how little Japanese folks actually speak, particularly men.
While most languages are based on mundane stuff like nouns and verbs, Japanese relies upon nods, grunts, and assumptions. Japanese folks pride themselves on being able to “read the air,” along with their powers of ishindenshin, or ESP. Apparently, it’s possible to know what others think and feel without them having to articulate it, like Jedi. I’m like, Yeah, that’s great, but have you tried words? Of course, I never actually say that. I just think it real hard.
So a couple months ago, I was having beers with Ikeuchi-san in the rear of this little shop in the train station. They have remarkably good french fries. I suggest you dip them in a bit of mayonnaise, soy sauce, and pepper flakes. Straight flavor country. And just when I had a big mouthful of spicy fries and beer, Ikeuchi-san opened his handbag and passed me a long, thin, and very heavy object wrapped in newspaper.
“Know what this is?” he asked.
“A skinny lead dildo?” I mumbled through the fries.
“It’s a jitte,” he said.
I’d never heard the word, so I looked it up in my phone’s Japanese-English dictionary, which defined it as a “truncheon.” Then I had to look that up in an English-English dictionary.
“After I moved out,” Ikeuchi-san said, “the only apartment I could afford was in the wrong part of town.”
“So you left your wife, and now you’re carrying around a metal pipe? Not judging, just asking.”
“I don’t want to get mugged.”
“Fair point,” I said. “But you guys had a nice place—can’t you just move back in?”
“She makes me scrub the bathtub,” he groaned. “Plus she’s emotionally unstable.”
I wanted to ask a few more questions, but I knew what his answers would be, and of course he knew what I wanted to ask, thus there was no need for any further discussion. So we just stared at our beers and thought telepathic thoughts.
So while I’ve already laid out reasons why you shouldn’t marry a Japanese woman, the men in this country are hardly any better. I wouldn’t marry a Japanese man either. Unless he was rich, of course. The common dynamic is Controlling wife/Mentally-or-physically-absent husband. The women dictate what they expect to be done and the men hide out to avoid doing it. Hey, whatever it takes to get you to that fiftieth wedding anniversary.
In the end, it’s worth remembering that men and women in Japan are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps if Japanese husbands communicated more, the wives wouldn’t feel compelled to boss them around as much. And if Japanese women weren’t so controlling, men would . . . well, clearly that’ll never happen, so forget I mentioned it.
And then a couple days ago, I got a text from Ikeuchi-san. I don’t know why he texted me when he could’ve just used the Force. Anyhow, he worked things out with his wife and no longer walks around clutching a truncheon. He didn’t move back in though. Instead, he rented the apartment next door to his wife. Brilliant. That may be the closest anyone will ever come to marital bliss in Japan.