Telling it Like it Really is

Features - March 3rd, 2006
Married couple

Emily Downey reveals the truth about having a Japanese husband

As a foreign woman living and working in Japan for the last six years, I always note with slight amusement peoples’ reactions when I tell them my husband is Japanese. I can almost bank on three questions they will ask me. The first question is, ‘Wow, what is that like?’ followed by, ‘How did you meet?’ and finished with ‘Will you live in Japan forever?’

Despite being asked these questions dozens of times, I still respond as though it was the first time they were uttered. You see: a Western woman married to a Japanese man is still a relative rarity. Take for example, the online group named ‘Married in Japan’ (MIJ) whose members are in a relationship with, or married to a Japanese man. MIJ has only around 670 members, which doesn’t mean that is the total number in this situation, but it is a fairly accurate indicator, that we are indeed rare!

A Western woman married to a Japanese
man is still a relative rarity

Now to answer the questions. What is it like being married to a Japanese man? The first few times I was asked this question, I didn’t really understand what it meant. I guess people wanted to know if all the stere­otypes are true; like he works long hours, expects me as a women to take care of all the housework, including slaving over a cooked breakfast everyday at 6am and that he prefers a ‘traditional’ wife. Actually, the only one I can relate to is the long hours ‘stereotype,’ that is, my husband usually gets home at 9pm every night. I am sure if we were living in my home country of Aus­tralia, he would not get home this late, but as it is more the norm in Japan, it doesn’t really bother me. In fact, talking to my friends living in Japan who are married to foreigners, it is not uncommon to hear them lament that their husbands got home from work at 6am after working on a lengthy work-related project. And just to be clear, my husband is the only one who cooks break­fast, usually French toast on Sundays.

Again, I wish I had a dollar, or even a yen for every time someone has asked me how I met my husband. This question is not just asked in passing, it is asked with genuine curiosity proceeded by hanging off every word of my response as though it holds the secret of life. Unfortunately, my answer always disappoints, I can see it in their faces. I would love to lie and say, we met while ropeless climbing off a cliff in the Andaman Sea or through some other exciting exploit. The truth is, it’s not difficult to meet a Japanese partner, considering we live in Japan and there are tens of millions of available Japanese men here. So here is the answer, will you be disappointed too? We met through a mutual Japanese friend at an izakaya party. How did you meet your partner? Chances are it was the same way, through a friend, at a night club, or at work. What was not so ‘boring’ however, is the way my Japanese husband proposed, but you will not find that story here. It is private. People seem to assume, that because you are in a perceived rare or unusual situation, they can proceed to grill you on your motivations and reasons for doing it. Let me set the record straight — it is not okay. But let me tell you, the common stereotype that Japanese men are less romantic than their foreign counterparts, is another fallacy. I can say that every detail of the way I was proposed to, as well as my wedding day, was pure romantic perfection.

And to my final question ‘Will you be here forever?’ I have learned a great comeback for this one that very succinctly puts things in perspective. I always answer this question with a question of my own, namely ‘Do you know what you will be doing forever?’ I mean really, who can answer that? I personally have not planned my life beyond next week, let alone ‘forever,’ let me know if you have your whole life planned out! And if I am here ‘forever,’ is that so bad? Personally, I love my life in Japan. I love my job, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have such a dream job back in Australia, where the employment market is a lot more difficult. I love where I live, in that I can walk five minutes and be in one of the busiest, most vibrant and safest cities on the planet. I love having access to arguably the greatest child care system in the world. I could go on with countless examples, and it is not the same for everyone. I do believe that happiness is not a case of luck, and that we have to work hard to achieve it. I know I have, and it is an ongoing battle, but one I think that we face in any situation regardless of the country we live in be it foreign or our own. One thing I always tell the questioner is that I don’t know how long we will be in Japan, but that I will not die here from old age. But then again who knows!