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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005

BILINGUAL

Examining the exotic ins and outs of marrying a foreigner


Elsewhere in the world, mixed marriages are no big deal. In Japan, however, the kokusai kekkon (international marriage) is still an issue tinged with exoticism and other-worldliness. Witness the enormous success of manga series "Daalin wa Gaikokujin" (My Darling is a Foreigner), and you'll see the point.

The author, a woman who professes she had never thought she would marry a non-Japanese, fell in love with, and subsequently married, an American. The subsequent karuchaa shokku (culture shock) prompted her to create the books based on the couple's daily life. For her, little details of her husband's behavior assumed enormous significance, and the difference in how he viewed life in general and Japanese life in particular was one me kara uroko (scales dropping from one's eyes) event after another.

But, at the same time, the sheer joy and discovery that's a big part of kokusai kekkon comes to the fore, and the manga is being hailed in jyoseishi (women's magazines) as both a heart-warming love story and a kind of instructional manual for those preparing to take the kokusai kekkon plunge themselves.

Some of the magazines have taken the subject a step further and include real how-to manyuaru (manuals) with such titles as: "Gaijin Daalin wo Getto Suru Killaa Item (Killer Items That Will Get a Gaijin Darling)" and "Gaijin to no Renai wo Kekkon ni Musubitsukeruniwa (How to Convert a Gaijin Love Affair into Marriage)." Most of these instruct women to combine the traditional yamatonadeshiko (stereotypically demure Japanese woman) with gendaiteki tsuyosa (modern-day strength). For example, a gaijin hunter should carry a hand-ironed handkerchief at all times, but she should also be able to voice her opinion on current affairs, preferably in English. (Oddly, there's no mention that in order to do so, she should subscribe to this paper).

In any case, the manuals seem to be working since statistics show that the number of marriages between Japanese women and foreign men has doubled (8,158 couples in 2003) over the past 20 years. For many women, foreign men represent everything naisu (nice) that Japanese just can't (or won't) provide. Top on everyone's list is the conviction that foreign men are sweeter and more romantic, that they will keep saying "I love you" well into middle age. And if the daalin is from the U.S. or Europe, he will of course, smilingly share the burden of kaji (household chores) and ikuji (child-raising) and be home by 8 p.m. -- at the latest. Chances are the daalin will take her back to his home country to live in luxury, and most importantly, their children will have the coveted daburu kokuseki (double nationalities). There it is, the scenario of the ultimate kachigumi (winning team).

Unfortunately, all isn't as rosy as the magazines would have us believe -- as the number of marriages has risen, so has the divorce rate. One couple out of every 2.5 split up, and the reasons often seem to be the very thing that brought them together, i.e., kachikan to seikatsu shuukan no chigai (difference in values and living styles).

When Japanese men marry a non-Japanese, the No. 1 choice of nationality is Chinese, followed by the Philippines. Stories in danseishi (men's magazines) suggest that such women are much more passionate, kind and industrious than Japanese women, and the articles exhort sabishii dokushin otoko (lonely single guys) to broaden their horizons and look overseas.

Interestingly, Japanese women choose Korean men over any other nationality, followed by American. Experts say the Yonsama Ninki (Bae Yong Joon popularity) may have something to do with this. But according to my girlfriends, they've always suspected that Kankoku no otoko wa jyounetsuteki de ichizu (Korean men are passionate and faithful), much more so than the cold, distant, absent Japanese male.

My friend Mariko, herself married to Scotsman Andrew, sums up her views on the kokusai kekkon: Kekkyoku kokuseki wa kankei nai (in the end, nationality doesn't matter), and it all boils down to individual traits and personalities. "It's always dangerous to generalize according to where the person is from," she warns. But on the other hand, Andrew washes the dishes, takes out the trash, takes care of the kids, and, for the first two years of their marriage, brought her breakfast in bed every Sunday morning. "Konna koto yattekureru Nihonjinotoko wa zettai inai (No Japanese man would ever do such a thing)," she smiles smugly. Sorry girls, he's taken.



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