Today is my 1st year wedding anniversary. I thought I would celebrate in the style I have become accustomed – through blogging. As I think over the changes of the past year, the biggest has been the shift in location, and future plans, that came through our return to Japan.
The choice of where to settle will always be an issue for couples, even those from the same country. For international couples this may be an even more fraught discussion. Luckily, for both my daily happiness, and our relationship, I love living in Japan, and the decision to live here rather than Australia isn’t one to endure.
What are the other aspects of marriage to a Japanese national? At this point, the interaction with a foreign culture has become less superficial, more consequential, yet, in many ways different to what a Japanese bride might experience.
Here are some of my insights from a year being ‘Married to Japan’ – a potentially reoccurring segment – specifically the before and after of our wedding (having the ceremony in Australia means there was no during – the Japanese wedding will have to wait for another blog).
Have questions on marriage and daily life in Japan? Ask them in the comments~
Announcing our engagement meant it was time for my first, formal introduction to my husband’s extended family. At the time, I had been acquainted with my husband’s father and sister for about two years, unusually early in Japan where many couples don’t introduce boyfriends or girlfriends, until they have the date set for their marriage.
It was a little nerve-racking meeting all the aunts and uncles, especially as they were pretty nervous too. The ice-breaker moment came when the 94 year old great aunt grabbed me by the arm and declared, “I was so worried when I heard you were gaijin (non-Japanese) but now I’ve met you, I am so relieved. ”
After that, I suppose, I became one of the family.
In Japan, unlike Australia, family members, and wedding guests, give money to the couple instead of wedding presents. This usually happens during the wedding ceremony, however since we were soon departing for Australia, they had all brought beautifully decorated envelopes to this introductory session.
On returning home, we handed the haul over to my husband’s dad, who divided it into the correct percentage that would be returned to each family, along with the thank-you postcards.
I have a strange relationship with both my father and sister-in-law. Actually, the entire family relationship is probably the most different aspect to my own experience. In the ancestral home (and I mean ancestral, family members have been on this spot for at least 300 years), everyone occupies their own island. Sister lives, sleeps, eats in the living room, with other members having to wait until she goes out to watch the TV; father sits in the garage and smokes a pack a day; grandma is busy within her own small house cooking for them both. When we visit we usually keep to ourselves as well.
I don’t think this is very typical of a Japanese household. What is more characteristic though is how differently people will act towards ‘outsiders’ as opposed to ‘family’. My taciturn relatives are actually quite adept at social interaction, and can be warm, funny and friendly on the phone or with coworkers. While, hopefully less extreme than this, immediate family members use markedly different language and behaviours towards each other, than they would someone from outside the house.
My relationship with my sister in law goes through occasional periods typical to the Japanese new bride experience kojuto-no-yomeibiri －in-laws ganging up on the intruder. Her reaction to our engagement announcement was a grunted, “Omedetou” (congratulations), followed instantly by a tirade to father about how ugly the kitchen chairs were. She usually isn’t actively hostile to me, though she is towards her brother. We simply don’t interact at all.
My father-in-law, since retiring from teaching 2 years ago, seems increasingly at a loss. My husband’s mother died quite young from breast cancer, and she seemed have been the glue that kept the family together. Facing long years alone, without someone to travel with, and with children who hardly talk to him, he talks to me more and more each visit – mostly revolving around the same topics of the weather, fishing and, recently, finding Australian locations on Google maps (he’s a bit random). Smiling benignly, packs us up with cans of beer as we depart.
Again, this is probably less a Japan vs non-Japan thing – I think everyone in the world has weird in-laws 😛
‘Whatever you do, don’t date a chonan. ” Belated words of advice from a friend, who didn’t yet know that I was doing just that. Chonan is the word for Japanese oldest son, the traditional inheritor of a family’s land and house. Though my husband has an older sister, traditionally, if she was ever to marry, she would move into her husband’s home (if he was chonan, or build their own otherwise). The role of chonan is beginning to change in Japan, and, especially within this family, seems to be a non-topic.
My sister in law is 32, and vocally uninterested in marriage. She will probably live here the rest of her life. It seems likely that the house will also remain open to us, not only during visits, but if we decided to settle within it. Very different to Australia where adults, especially married ones, are expected to leave and build their own homes. This situation though seems to be the norm amongst my friends, and across Japan.
When my husband’s mother got married, despite working full-time, she inherited all the cooking and washing duties for the entire household, including the grandparents. This is/was the expected duty of a new wife. Since her unfortunate death, grandma has taken back over these tasks, and makes a full, very Japanese, meal consisting of small bowls of pickles, tempura and salads for her two charges.
We don’t live with them, though even during periods when we stayed for 6 months or more it has never been suggested that I should take over. Would this be different if I was Japanese and living here full-time, I wonder?
Time Of The Newly Wed
Finally, I have been told that even though we have now passed our 1st year of wedded bliss, we are still ‘新婚’ (shinkon) – newly wed, and will be for at least 3 years, or when the first baby comes along, whichever first.
Talking this over with a Japanese married-couple, she turned to him and asked, “Are we still shinkon? We’re at three years. ”
“Make it four. ” He replied. “We still feel like newly weds. ”
Here’s to feeling like its the first year of marriage long into the fourth (and beyond).