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.
61 Replies to “Why You Shouldn’t Marry a Japanese Man Either”
Wow! First to comment!
Great article Ken!
Yes, you win a special prize.
Maybe a Kabutowari or a Tekkan. 😉
Or a Tenga.
The article was a prize in itself! Always a pleasure reading your work Ken!
Thanks much, Seth.
Loved your book. Kept me out of Japanese language classes in Cincinnati. Was in Japan for a month in 2005. I expect it has changed.
Hey, thanks for buying the book. It’s great to hear you enjoyed it.
For sure, Japan’s changed a lot in the past 17 years, although it’s hard to say just how. There’s always the question of—as Morrissey put it–has the world changed or have I changed?
Probably the simplest explanation would be to say that Japan’s become a lot less Japanese. Many more people speak English, there are heaps of “foreigners,” mostly from places like Nepal, Indonesia, or Vietnam, you can often find good Mexican food, and vegan options are slowly appearing. I also see a lot more graffiti and tattoos, more people visibly living in poverty, and of course, the ongoing Coronavirus panic.
It’s hard to know what to make of it all.
“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.”
You definitely have a point there.
I think there is a degree of communication possible in this nonverbal way that is not realized in western cultures. But I also think that overreliance causes miscommunication and loss of communication.
Not saying things can but doesn’t have to cause problems …
As a foreigner new to Japan … well you’re fucked 🙂
Heh, you know, whenever I meet Americans, they talk far too much. A lot of folks would benefit from learning when to shut the fuck up. Too much blabber and the message gets lost in the noise. I’d venture to say the key to communication is to speak just the right amount.
On the other hand, Japan errs waaay too far on the side of mumbles and guesswork, to the point that Japanese folks themselves remain in the dark about many details of work and family. It’s not just new foreigners who are fucked . . .
There are many cultures that are half-way in between Japanese and Americans in this speech aspect, but sometimes it can seem like they alternate with too much speech and too little.
Korea, China, Europe
Did you get it? My weak attempt at humour
I think not. Your subtlety escaped my weak attempt at comprehension.
Oh wait . . . now I get it. That’s quite good, actually.
I suppose living away from your spouse is better than the alternative. No wonder there are so many “85 year old man smothers wife in her sleep” news articles floating around….
Still, with the younger generation not even bothering with the whole marriage thing, this should be a thing of the past soon enough.
“Still, with the younger generation not even bothering with the whole marriage thing,”
Is that so? I am generally very critical of all “the younger generation” statements, because they are usually complete BS.
You’re right to be critical. Any time you hear a phrase that attributes a simplified behavior to an entire group (e.g., the Japanese), it makes sense to be skeptical. (Although I make such statements myself.)
The question is really to what degree has the younger generation changed? Clearly, it must have changed, but how much? I see a lot of articles about young people not bothering with marriage, but as with all things about Japan, that tends to become more of an echo chamber rather than an accurate portrayal of reality.
Good to hear from you again, Ken.
I think you could write great short stories about life in Japan.
Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say. I do my best to simply convey what I’ve seen and heard.
You’re so right that Japanese men and women are two sides of the same coin. My advice to non-japanese men and women looking to marry a Japanese is, if you can’t be friends with Japanese people of your own gender, it’s going to be tough to get along long term with a Japanese spouse. Though of course, there are always exceptions. Somehow the exceptions often eventually end up looking more like the rule…
BTW Ken I’ll be back in Tokyo mid June after a 2 year absence. If you’re in the Ebisu area and want to get a beer, feel free to hit me up.
Thanks for the invite. Probably won’t be able to make it, but I appreciate the offer.
I’ll be interested to hear your impressions of Japan these days. To me, it feels like covid has changed it a lot, so now it’s less open, less friendly, and more germaphobic. Or maybe I’ve changed; I don’t know. Be good to get an outside perspective.
Japan was germophobic and only accepting of foreigners on a very superficial level well prior to COVID. Obviously COVID has only amplified that.
However Australia is well over COVID (well, still over 50,000 cases a day with no real testing) but in my feeling it is less friendly and less open than it has been in the past so I don’t think that Japan is on its own in that sense.
I did enjoy this one as it gave some balance and a different perspective to the previous one. Did you feel that you needed to give a different view and add some positivity?
Actually, it was rather by accident. I recently had a couple of ladies tell me stories about their husbands, and those combined with a previous tale I’d heard formed the basis for this article. Next, maybe I’ll write about Japanese offspring. And hey, I always try to be positive—sometimes my sunny disposition just has a bit of trouble shining through.
Perhaps as the foreigner they’re more willing to say what they wouldn’t normally say.
Got your list of topics?
Maybe throw some of those grenades into the conversation and see what you get.
“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 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.”
Gotta save these for your best quotes. Great piece!
Ah, thanks much. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.
Great post Ken Seeroi,
The first half of your post reads like a novel and is a bit different from your normal writing style. I enjoyed that. In the second half, you returned to your usually entertaining genre and you even referred to Japanese sociological concepts like 場の空気を読む (Ba no Kuuki wo Yomu /read the air of the situation) , 以心伝心(Ishin-denshin /telepathic communication), and 腹芸 (Hara-gei /art of the stomach) all in one post. Would like to see your take on more delicious social treats like 報・連・相 (“Hō-Ren-Sō sounds like spinach) and Kyoto Ochazuke (or ‘Bubuchazuke’ often offered as a way of saying go home).
I wonder if the ochazuke thing is more legend than fact. I’ve spent a bit of time in Kyoto and the greater Kansai region and, despite having visited homes, never encountered it. That’s too bad, actually, because I quite like ochazuke.
I feel like visitors to Japan encounter a situation they’ve never seen before, and then extrapolate it into something far larger and more meaningful than it actually is.
Well, then you may be interested to learn that the Japanese also have been asking if Ochazuke is a rumor or not?
I am quite interested. Thanks for that.
And to sum up those articles, yes, the rumor is actually false. So we can safely enjoy our ochazuke.
And a few more rumored phrases attributed to Kyoto along with English and direct Japanese translations. Rather than ‘false’, these are probably more of an ‘urban legend’ :
(1)「ぶぶ漬けでもどうどす？」→「Get out of here（ここから出ていけ）」
(2)「元気なお子さんやねぇ」→「Shut that boy up.」（その子を黙らせろ）
(3)「お嬢ちゃん、ピアノ上手になったなぁ」→「It is noisy.」（うるさい）
(4)「考えとくわ」→「No thank you.」（結構です）
(5)「綺麗な柄やねぇ」→「It is too flamboyant.」（派手すぎる）
(6)「似合いますなぁ」→「You look shabby.」（みすぼらしいですね）
(7)「こんなお上品なものを」→「I don’t need this.」（私には必要ありません）
(8)「いい時計してはりますなぁ」→「I’m tired of your long talk.」（あなたの長話に疲れました）
(9)「よう勉強してはりますなぁ」→「Mind your own business.」（余計なお世話です）
(10)「丁寧な仕事してはりますなぁ」→「You’re a slow worker.」（仕事が遅いですね）
Heh, and they say the Japanese language lacks sarcasm.
Yep, I have heard the “there is no sarcasm in Japanese” claim before and the similar “Japanese doesn’t have any swear words” claim. Now, I am not going to argue whether are not those claims above are true or not but I will say that the Japanese language (like any other language) does have lots of creative ways to make snide underhanded/backhanded remarks toward others.
I don’t know where anybody got the impression Japanese doesn’t have swear words. The language offers rich and varied ways of insulting others and making them want to kick your ass. The one thing you could say is that it doesn’t have many direct equivalents, but that’s only because most English insults don’t make literal sense.
Well, I think I’m suffering from a lack of communication problem too.
I have a similar situation with a jp girl where she sends me indirect signals but she never tells me directly, when don’t even message each other but a friend of mine tells me she misses me.
From your posts I see you suffered something similar with this misscomunication problem,
have you ever resolved this? Like how to avoid this no communication problem? that be good man
The Japanese “unspoken communication” is both real and the world’s most bullshit excuse. Folks periodically hide behind that reason (“We Japanese speak indirectly”) when they’re actually just avoiding dealing with things. Japanese people can be some of the most direct, unfiltered, even confrontational, people you’ll ever meet—when they want to be.
As for your “jp girl,” in my experience, if she doesn’t message you back, she’s probably not interested. But we really don’t have much to go on; we could imagine any scenario and it would be equally likely. If she is interested, but can’t even send you a text, I dunno man, that doesn’t sound like someone I’d spend too much time or mental energy on. Life’s too short for silly games. Look for somebody up front, generative, and interesting—a woman, not a girl.
Yeah, she is my exgf. And I know her silence means something, right?
Again, the problem always is the lack of communication and, as you say, I feel like I am wasting my time and energy in her, you know what I really hate? The Japanese way of never fighting for what you want, just conform to it and nod.
After having a jp girlfriend I miss the occidental way of just saying “yeah I like you too, let’s have sex and have fun” man, simple as that, you don’t need a freaking masters in communication. But as you said in another post they tend to make things unnecessarily hard.
Right now I am seeing a girl so I am giving myself a chance, however I would love to see a deeper post about communication or something related to the unspoken rules.
Have a good weekend sir.
Good luck with the ladies, my friend. Choose wisely.
Beautiful river picture. It makes me want to get out of this office and go for a paddle.
That sounds like an excellent idea. You definitely should.
Long time fan whos loves your stuff but I feel you have presented a terribly unbalanced view in these past two posts, with women as manipulative and physically dangerous while men are just bumbling and don’t communicate (like, every 90s sitcom Dad).
From a lot of relationships I have seen, the men display shocking levels (like, I can’t even be effed to put my socks in the laundry basket levels) of entitlement. If I was a woman I wouldnt put up with a lot of them either.
That’s fair. I’m trying to relay the situations I’m aware of, which certainly don’t paint a rosy picture of marriage in Japan.
Just to try and understand your point about the relationships you’ve seen, are you talking about Japanese men and Japanese women in Japan, foreign men and Japanese women in Japan, Japanese women with foreign men overseas, or just men and women in general? Some specifics would be helpful. I literally don’t know any foreign men who behave in an entitled fashion in this country (Japan). If anything, it’s quite the opposite, where men are working two and three jobs to try and keep their families afloat. But of course I don’t know everybody.
Good questions, I should have been more specific.
I am talking primarily about Japanese men, with wives who are Japanese or foreign.
Most foreign guy/Japanese woman relationships I know are humming along pretty well for the most part. I mean, without prying I suppose they could be sexless or nasty to each other when not in the public eye, but I can only think of one case where a j-woman violently threatened her foreign boyfriend.
The complaints and stories I was referring to earlier are from women about their do-nothing Japanese husbands.
I probably know less people than you though.
I’m right with you when it comes to Japanese men as husbands. And I suspect we’re not so far apart in our views of Japanese women either.
Let me try to summarize what I’ve observed, and see if this matches anything you’ve seen.
A typical middle-aged Japanese man doesn’t do much, or any, work around the house. That falls to the woman. Not in every case, but often enough to be notable. So, two things on that. The first being that Japanese society is highly role-based. A man’s role is to work long hours, bring home money, and die, leaving his spouse social security and insurance funds. A woman’s role is the other side of that coin. She takes care of the home, cooks, manages the finances, and bears children. She may also work, often intermittently or part time. A lot of women I know—and I know a lot—say they want multiple children, because each child provides them with a year or two away from work. Work in Japan is frequently horrible, so although child-rearing is far from great, it’s still preferable to an awful job.
Now, I’m not opining on whether this setup is good or bad, but merely reporting what I see.
Okay, thing two. There’s a chicken-and-egg dynamic to Japanese relationships. (Actually, probably all relationships, but let’s stay with Japan here). Japanese men do very little around the house, partly because they’re exhausted from commuting and working long hours. So that’s valid. But Japanese women are stuck at home taking care of little Takeshi and doing domestic chores, so that’s also valid. With wives demanding they do more around the house, men withdraw and do even less, including by staying at work even longer and only going home once everyone’s asleep. (I got an email from my boss last night at 10:25 p.m.) As men do less, women demand more, and around it goes. Who’s working for whom in this situation? Who benefits? It doesn’t look like anybody does.
But examining this issue from a higher level, it’s clearly not a problem limited to husbands or wives. It’s systemic, and extends far beyond the domestic situation, including to the workplace. A young woman may not be hired or promoted because employers know that at any moment she can get pregnant, pull the ripcord, and it’s sayonara job. On the other hand, men, particularly married men, are great for companies, because they have no choice but to work. It’s hard to get a decent job in Japan. Employers know this. So once they’ve got a captive male employee, they can load him up with the work of two people and he’s got no choice but to accept it because his wife and two children are depending upon that paycheck.
Beyond that, there are a number of social pressures upon relationships, from parents, neighbors, schools, civic associations, the PTA, whatever. Japanese people can be terrifically judgemental, and nobody wants to be outcast for violating social norms. There’s no way out of this. Unless…oh, right…you marry a foreigner.
Beautiful. I am talking about the picture, better than the one in the previous post. More cheerful for a start. More colorful. Like a tattoo we should want to have. Of everything she said. “She” being “the J girl”, the women in your story, or any of the many of them. They don’t talk much? Easier to fit the tattoo. Can we be like Japan mobsters? Save that for Halloween. Rest of year we get to feel like Steve McQueen in Papillon, or the next guy in the remake. Plotting escapes. Trips to Hokkaido and Okinawa. Or go to a mountain forrest, drawn yourself in onsen. Drink plenty of fluids. Anything liquid being the national recommendation. The national fear must be turning dry into powdered ash. The national anthem confirms its not our problem coz there will be boulders lush with moss even after we are gone. Or maybe that’s what we are already?
I am gradually convinced “water” – and anything similar, so let’s include other transparent drinkables – is the key to understanding, and living in, “Japan”. The rain and umbrella exchange frenzy, sport drinks, fish tanks, fish ponds, ponds without fish. Plus gardens – without fish or water or even grass – only stones, arranged in shape of water waves. The way the washing machines work. The lack of dishwashers. The bath tubs. The little wet towels being soaked and squeezed at home, at izakayas, and any random hole in the wall, with or without walls. “Welcome” and here is a wet towel. “Sign here” and please soak your most personal wooden stick in a bath of shiny red ink. An unlucky fly splattered on your windscreen? it’s time to wash your car. If it rains, wash your car again. Oh no it’s rainy season. I need an ice cold wet towel plus coins or Suica to buy chilled aquarius at a vending machine.
Did I mention onsen? Am I leaving something out? Beautiful is not just the picture, but the canal especially. I can imagine being a pebble or boulder covered lush moss next to it. Or let me be greedy and imagine myself in it fully submerged. That’s where it starts and that’s where it stops. Want to know more? “This is Japan”.
Guess the good luck wishes worked.
Rambling and poetic. Thank you, you captured many interesting and oft-overlooked aspects of Japan.
I just love your posts!
Thanks much. That’s very kind of you.
Although I am half Japanese and was born here in Japan, the fact that I had the opportunity to explore other cultures is a privilege. I wouldn’t ever want a vanilla and boring relationship with lots of read-the-air’s, or cold treatment to the partner. I
There’s certainly some good and bad that comes with Japanese unspoken communication. It’s impressive to see how efficiently a restaurant operates, as the kitchen staff wordlessly go about their tasks. On the other hand, it looks like a pretty un-fun job.
As an aside, I had to chuckle at your self-description of being “half Japanese,” despite the fact you were born in Japan. I mean, I was born in the U.S., and although my parents came from different ethnic backgrounds, I never thought of calling myself half American.
I believe in the restaurant, the first few weeks or months, a person is guided by the senpai verbally. I have never seen a written manual on what to do or not what to do. After that, a person will go on his own to do things alone. But I think so too, quite un-fun job, doing things repetitively each day.
I was very aware of that, I just didn’t know how to say I was exposed to different cultures growing up. A lesson for me! Haha.
People confuse Nationality and Ethnicity. Nationality is invisible. One’s ethnicity and race can only be confirmed by DNA.
I believe that’s incorrect.
“Any two unrelated human beings on the planet are 99.9% identical in their DNA sequence. Only 0.1% varies, and…of this 0.1% that varies, almost all of it (95.7% to be exact) is found between individuals within the same race. … Racial categories are not reflective of the underlying biological reality.”
Most people tend to use the word Race instead of Ethnicity. We are all Homo Sapien Sapien, which is our Race. As a typical white euro, in addition to my Homo Sapien Sapien DNA I also have perhaps 2 to 4% Homo Neanderthal DNA. Other people will also have Homo Denisovan DNA. My argument is that we are as the article states very similar in our DNA makeup, but contrary to many right wing propaganda, we are also multi-racial. Like it or lump it, nobody is pure anything.
I swear my brother in law in the US is basically a Japanese husband. He’d definitely lock my sister out on the veranda before shuffling off to his dead end salaryman job in Chicago.
By the way I’m back in Tokyo for a visit after more than 2 years away, and I’d forgotten just how quiet Japan is. Everyone walking around either not talking at all or speaking in hushed tones to the people they’re with. I keep thinking I’m in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and I have to stare straight ahead while refraining from showing emotion so I won’t be found out…
Japan is quiet, right up to the point it isn’t.
This nation is insanely context dependent. Chatting on the bus is verboten, but howling with laughter outside of a bar at 2 a.m. is fine. Play your stereo at 6 p.m. and find a nasty note from your landlord pasted to your door, but drive a loudspeaker truck through the neighborhood at 6:00 a.m.—Tofu for sale! Get your tofu!—and everyone’s cool with it. Quiet my ass.
Was thinking of marrying a Japanese man, but I guess it will not work out because of the lack of communication. I’m dumb when it comes to guessing what other people is thinking
Anyway, this article and the previous article about Japanese women are hilarious!
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
Of course, bear in mind I’m speaking in generalities. Everyone’s an individual, and the man you’re thinking of marrying might be a wonderful person. Please don’t rule anybody out simply on the basis of nationality. Hopefully you’ll find a caring and communicative partner, in Japan or elsewhere.
I`m currently experiencing this “read between the lines” and making assumptions phase, however the difference is that it`s happening in my workplace. My coworkers keep on making these wrong assumptions about me and most time reaching some very wrong conclusions. For almost 3/4 months now I`ve been singing the same song: “ask me”, “please stop making assumptions” The most offensive part about these wrong assumptions is that they are then spread around the office without me even having a chance to correct the wrong narrative.
Don’t you think that you need to change your approach?
Easy to lay the blame at others, but if they keep repeating the same thing and then you keep responding in the same way nothing is going to change. Maybe you need to man up and alter your response to elicit a different response. I am not trying to blame you but if you want a different result, then what can you do in order to achieve that.
Agreed. Once you’re here, it’s kind of adapt or die. That said, it’s probably easier to change yourself than others. Actually, both are pretty freaking tough.
Unfortunately, the Japan you get may not be the Japan you want.