So I married a Japanese man

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Illustration by Christi Rochin
Illustration by Christi Rochin

So I married a Japanese man

by: Grace Buchele Mineta | .
Metropolis Magazine | .
published: July 03, 2014

My husband and I got married in America and shortly thereafter moved to Japan—where I proceeded to run headfirst into all sorts of unintentionally offensive questions and comments. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “Are you really OK with a Japanese man?”

Any online forum on families in Japan will offer some variation of the comment, “Japan is so sexist—no wonder Japanese women prefer to marry foreigners.”

It’s a commonly stated opinion. And I’m not going to argue with the idea that Japan is sexist. However, people have this idea so fixed in their heads that when they meet a foreign woman (me) happily married to a Japanese man (my husband), they have to press the issue.

People are more than their nationality. And demonizing the Japanese male population as “sexist pigs who cheat on their wives and have gender images stuck in the ’60s” is pretty offensive. I shouldn’t have to justify my decision to marry outside my ethnicity and nationality—especially to other Westerners who don’t seem to have a problem with their own Japanese wives.

How to respond: “Yes, I am. I love [insert name] for who he is—and that has nothing to do with his ethnicity.”

2. “Why marry a Japanese man when you could just marry a white man?”

I get this question a lot from Japanese women—even strangers on the train. They tell me that they want to meet a white, American man (“…and do you have any friends you can introduce me to?”) because Japanese men don’t respect them. Western men seem to be this mythical dating specimen that grants “Happily Ever After” within three dates.

A lot of Japanese men do not respect their wives. But a lot of Western men don’t respect their wives, either. By discounting an entire nationality (or only focusing on dating one particular ethnicity), you’re losing out on a lot of viable candidates—and might miss the person who would actually be “the one” for you.

How to respond: Same as before: “I love [insert name] for who he is—and that has nothing to do with his ethnicity.”

3. “But, you know, can he really satisfy you in the bedroom?”

Excuse me. Did you just ask a stranger about the size of her husband’s penis? This conversation is over.

How to respond: Just walk away. You have better things to do than talk penis sizes with some stranger.

4. “Are you translating for her?”

About a third of the time when my husband and I enter an establishment, the attendant will turn to my husband and ask, “Are you translating for her?” It’s become our inside joke.

“Don’t take it so personally,” he tells me.

But it’s hard not to take it personally when most store attendants assume your spouse is your translator instead of your lover. My Western friends with Japanese wives get this question maybe once every six months—compared to our once or twice a month. It’s hard not to interpret these remarks this way.

How to respond: “No, he is my [husband/boyfriend].”

And the questions my husband gets asked?

1. “Does she make you kiss her in public?”

My husband is a normal Japanese salaryman working at a normal Japanese company. His coworkers are fascinated by our relationship and want to know if I’m pulling him off into alleyways every five minutes for an impromptu make-out session.

How to respond: “Yes, I kiss her in public, but not because she makes me. I kiss her because I want to.”

2. “Do you have to hug her every day and say ‘I love you’ all the time?”

Marriage is about compromise—something people seem to forget. I do laundry three times a week because my husband likes it when the house smells like freshly washed clothes. He sends me “I love you more than squirrels love nuts” and gossipy “You won’t believe what X-san did today!” text messages. He needs freshly laundered clothes as much as I need open communication and affection.

How to respond: “I tell her I love her as many times a day as I can. As they say in America, ‘Happy wife, happy life.’”

Curiosity doesn’t give anyone a free pass to ask personal, awkward or prejudiced questions about someone’s life choices. My husband and I chose to spend our lives together. Doesn’t that already tell you everything you need to know?

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