Where were you when I needed you?  

Saturday, 30 August 2008

I’ve finally found the source of information and support I have so desperately sought over the last 4 years in the shape of a guide book to Japanese women. Kind of an owner’s manual, if you like. The 160-page booklet has done so much to explain the odd behaviour of the wife, and put my mind at rest that I am not alone in experiencing these difficulties. But more than that, it has given me an insight into the relationship from the Japanese perspective, which I’m sure will prove invaluable.

The interesting part is that I can now see much more clearly which of the problems we experience can be attributed to cultural differences and which are just her (or me, for that matter). For example, the gender roles differ greatly in Japanese society – seemingly very antiquated from our modern Western standpoint. And yet, they are not so dissimilar to the standards of behaviour which were the norm here in perhaps the 1950’s. The man is expected to be a man; strong, silent and capable of handling problems with no complaints. The women rely almost entirely on the men to protect and provide for them: there is very little shared responsibility of the sort we’ve grown accustomed to here. Men are expected to take the lead in everything outside the home and act decisively when making arrangements. Looking back over the early part of our relationship, I can remember quite a few occasions where I was far too “Western”; doing what I thought was the gentlemanly thing and allowing the lady to make the arrangements for visits or things like that.

One really interesting example of how the cultural differences can easily be misinterpreted is our habit of holding doors open for ladies to enter. This seemingly genteel behaviour is viewed as anything but in Japan, where the custom is exactly the opposite: Men go in first always. To our Western eyes, images of swaggering bigots barging into restaurants while their demure wives struggle along behind appears extremely sexist. But not so. In reality, this custom dates from Samurai times, when potential danger lurked behind every doorway. The men would enter first so as not to expose his wife and family to any risks which lay beyond. Far from being the act of a chauvinist, it is in fact an act of selfless courage and love. Interpreted in this way, our seemingly quaint custom of holding open doors for ladies appears utterly cowardly and the act of a total cad. This is the perfect illustration of just how complicated things can get when crossing cultural boundaries.

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