CULTURAL ISSUE: INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGES
GREATEST HITS AND CONCLUSION
(Originally sent to Fukuzawa and Friends Thu, 12 Oct 1995)
I would like to thank everyone who gave me input on my informal survey on international marriages. This posting is to give you data from both on-list and off-list sources and draw some conclusions. It is organized as follows:
1. RAW DATA
2. INFO ABOUT RESPONDENTS
3. GENERALIZATIONS DRAWN FROM RESPONDENTS' EXPERIENCES
4. INTERESTING POINTS RAISED
5. CONCLUSIONS Postscripts:
6. FLAMES AND MY RESPONSES
7. J MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE DATA
1. RAW DATA:
NUMBER OF RESPONDENTS (based upon number of authors, not number of postings): 36
STATUS OF RESPONDENTS:
Non-Japanese men married to Japanese: 10
Non-Japanese women married to Japanese: 3
Other or Unclear: 23
DID YOU FACE OPPOSITION TO YOUR MARRIAGE PROPOSAL FROM THE JAPANESE SIDE? (of those who dealt with the topic)
DO YOU THINK JAPAN IS INIMICAL TO INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGE? (of those who dealt with the topic)
RELATIVIST ("it happens everywhere"): 6
2. INFORMATION ABOUT RESPONDENTS:
Demographics: Most respondents were male, which is about all I can deduce. Given the anonymous nature of the Internet, it is difficult to say more about age, economic, social, national or ethnic backgrounds.
Respondents married to Japanese have been married for more than a few years, and apparently intend to stay married. Many mentioned that they have children, adding a little about grandchildren's effects (in all cases beneficial) on the Japanese parents-in-law (PIL) relationship. The ties bind. Only one indicated that he was divorced.
Far more respondents addressed this issue apparently from the standpoint of being unmarried to a Japanese than from being married (24 to 12). To the IS J SOCIETY INIMICAL? question, respondents who indicated marriage to Japanese generally had clearer views of "yes" or "no", as opposed to "relativist" and/or academic answers.
3. GENERALIZATIONS TO BE DRAWN FROM RESPONDENTS' PERSONAL BACKGROUNDS:
There seemed to be little indication that gender of the non-Japanese suitor made much difference in the PIL reaction. Favorable and/or unfavorable (mostly favorable) responses from the Japanese side occurred for both. There was not enough information to indicate that the race of the suitor (Caucasian, other Asian, etc.) made a difference.
In all cases but one, once marriage took place, the J PIL acquiesced, and there was no subsequent pressure for divorce. Moreover, there were no drastic cases of PIL refusing to meet the spouse after the fact etc. In fact, more indicated that acceptance was the norm, with real attempts to coopt the person into the family, and little mention of "you do this because you're not Japanese" sorts of exclusionary attitudes expressed.
Well and good.
3. A FEW INTERESTING POINTS RAISED, WITH MY RESPONSES:
RE: possible sources of friction from the Japanese side:
Mr Matsuda in Pittsburgh mentioned about "future welfare" of the parents which could lead to a disinclination towards international marriages for their children. To quote:
"Another thing that I can think of, which may cross many a parents' minds is their own future.....Although more and more married couples seem to be abandoning this practice, it still is an important component of privately practiced system of social welfare in Japan. If your son/daughter is married to a foreigner (and especially if they live abroad), the chance of your living with them after your retirement (rougo) is slim. Now, that's a serious material problem that goes beyond cultural stigma, etc. They have to live somehow, and traditionally the best way is to live with your son/daughter."
Point taken. However, in my case, oddly enough, that was not a concern. My wife's older sister, who broke up with her apparently "carousing and car-loving" former boyfriend to follow her parents' wishes into omiai marriage, will clearly be assuming the post of caretaker of any superfluous PIL. That had been decided before I came on the scene, so the disinclination came from elsewhere. Probably the "losing the daughter overseas" aspect, which was a factor in two other cases, was paramount.
The most interesting linkage in all the postings was between marriages and trade. To quote:
"But David, it has everything in the world to do with trade. The mindset is what drives everything. No gaijin husband, no gaijin tractor harvesting sacred rice. Adam Smith's economic man must be qualified culture by culture."
RE: Houmu Dorama:
Only one person talked about my linkage between popular sentiment and TV dramas, and she said it was irrelevant. To quote:
"I don't think it's useful to draw conclusions from popular TV dramas. Of course they involve conflict - drama doesn't exist without conflict - and the more conflict, the more soap is sold. Anyway, recently the success of tv dramas seems to depend more on the attractiveness of the stars rather than the plot. Witness the hype surrounding the upcoming new drama featuring SMAP Kimura and Downtown Hamada. Who cares what it's about? Everyone will be watching."
FU also pointed out that Japanese people are probably quite aware that TV dramas are contrived and pretentious, and thus are not taken seriously. My wife, who loves these goddamn shows (I always watch over her shoulder and start annoyedly picking them apart after 15 minutes), agrees.
Points well taken.
It may be hard to draw any good conclusions because of the obvious flaws in the survey: 1) relatively over-broad focus of topic 2) small sample size 3) limited net access to public (not to mention limited to the English-speaking world) 4) bias--respondents who would have responded negatively would probably have cut their ties to Japan and wouldn't be bothering with Fukuzawa anyway. 5) no regressions to show correspondence mathematically (and we all know that regressions decrease legibility and begin to smell like rat-choicing)
But what I think the conclusions we can draw are these:
1) The further away from Japan's economic centers and ports of call you get, the higher the tendency to encounter more provinciality in marriage decisions (the pencils really drop when you hear that, huh?). Likewise the higher the amount of contact with foreigners and societies, the more benignly parents take international marriage. Hence my being in Hokkaido could create (and probably has done) a viewpoint quite diametrically opposed to those of you in Tokyo or Osaka.
2) It's not so bad as the rumors or my experience would have it. If you want to marry a Japanese, you probably can with few problems, and enjoy a stable relationship whether or not you stay in Japan after marriage.
In sum, things are rosier out there than I experienced. It seems my story, having to practice my bowing and living a real-life houmu dorama (with hoops to jump through etc.) is the exception, not the rule. The weight of the evidence, both from on and outside the net, comes out AGAINST my initial argument that "Japan is inimical". As was mentioned by another posting, last year the number of marriages deemed "international" in Tokyo-to was one in ten (I've heard up to one in SEVEN over the past few years), so if there really is endemic opposition there must be a lot of unhappy parents out there.
This trend towards kokusaika in spouses will inevitably change Japan not just attitudinally, but genetically. This, more than learning to predict tomorrow's exchange rate, negotiating to lower trade barriers, or studying your nihongo, will create the most far-reaching ripples in Japanese society in the not-too-distant future. That's why I felt it a topic worthy of Fukuzawa.
6. FLAMES AND MY RESPONSES:
Of all the responses there were only four flames. The two best ones included Rhonda J's trying to stem the tide of overgeneralizations, as follows:
"...An American man, on the other hand, generally is not ruled by his mother, so can avoid the problem...." (from Steve M) "It is exactly because of this kind of unbelievable over-generalization/stereotyping that I avoid the supposed cultural issues often raised by Mr. Aldwinkle [sic] on this board.... However, it is my opinion that many of the assumptions of malicious intent or over-generalization of one's situation to the many written about on this board serve merely to widen the gap of cultural misunderstanding....Simply put, Japanese are not all mindless conformists and Americans are not all rugged individualists - can we please try to keep that in mind when having these discussions?"
MY RESPONSE: Okay, fair enough, but why try to deligitimize the whole discussion on the basis of one person's frank attempt to make a general assessment? I find more "malicious intent" in attempts to stifle discussion, esp on a discussion network like Fukuzawa. Moreover, I didn't even make that statement, so why associate my name with it? Am I to take responsibility for all tacks the discussion takes?
FLAME TWO came from TL off the ISSHO network (he didn't think the topic or a response to it was appropriate for DFS).
"It seems that this guy had a pretty bad experience, but I just don't know why he wants to have a generalized conclusion in this kind of matter. It doesn't mean anything... He already has the answer, "It depends on the family." I don't think there is a better answer than this.... Maybe he wants a generalized conclusion.... If the conclusion is "Yes, indeed, the statistics show that Japanese families are close [sic] minded about international marriage", then he might be able to comfort his poor soul like "Oh, so that's the way it is in Japan, I wasn't the only one treated badly. Japanese better change the way they are..." Or, if the statistics show that Japanese families are very open minded, then he may feel, "..My Japanese parents in law [are terrible]!"...No matter how good his statistics will be, I don't like the fact that he's trying to come up to a conclusion that goes something like "Japanese are..." To me that kind of conclusion is nothing but misleading stereotype, good for nothing crap. It only hurt the feelings of people who don't fit in the definition."
MY RESPONSE: I say, simply, "kangae sugi". You missed my intentions completely.
The issue of my motives behind posing this question deserves an answer. I did not write this missive in sorrow or anger, and the results of the survey could possibly mean very little in the grander scheme of life. However--and this may sound maudlin or pat--I am on an earnest quest for "the truth"--to find out information that will help me see situations as they really stand more clearly. How much of a person's viewpoint is limited simply because s/he has limited access to more information from the outside world? Lots. Talking it over with other intelligent people is always helpful, if not enlightening. DFS, a very specialized "outside world", has people with fine analytical minds linked by the "Japan interest", and thus can offer opinions I value. One has to draw conclusions and make generalizations in order to have a healthily predictable future here, and I wanted the views of others walking my path. Sagacity is possible only when you get all your questions answered.
I need the truth. One of my friends, sick of listening to me generalize from the abuse and hazing I've faced in Japan and its companies, finally came out and said, "Look, you've just been unlucky. Japan isn't really the way you've experienced it. So open your eyes and get over it." Well, getting over it is difficult, since I have no way to prove to myself that I was in fact unlucky. Because I believe what I see until I have enough reason not to, I wanted to ask Fukuzawa if my experience was anything normal enough to bother thinking about. >From the feedback I've had, it is not. Now I can change my mind accordingly.
Finally, to those who say I should have taken this subject elsewhere: I would hope that Fukuzawa is open-minded enough to accept even tenuous topics such as these. By the number of responses, I sense that it is.
7. STATISTICS: (from DFS, courtesy of Tomoko Hamada)
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, in 1990, 20,026 Japanese men married foreign women, and only 5,600 Japanese women married foreign men. These international marriages in 1990 constituted about 3.5% of all marriages involving Japanese (722,138).
So who is marrying whom?
International Marriages by Japanese Men: In 1990, 44.6% of those men who married foreign women chose Koreans (8,940 marriages); 3,614 men chose Chinese (18.0%); and 260 Japanese men chose American women (1.3%).
International Marriages by Japanese women: Out of the 5,600 women who married foreign men in 1990, 48.6% or 2,721 women married Korean men, 12.6% (708) married Chinese, and 19.5% (1,091) women married American men.
Another interesting statistical point is that throughout the post-war period up to 1980, more Japanese women than men chose international marriages, but this trend was reversed for the first time in 1980, when more Japanese men (4,386) than Japanese women (2,875) chose international marriages. During the ten years period between 1980 and 1990, the number of international marriages involving Japanese men increased by more than 400%.
|back to essay page||comments|
|back to home page||links page|