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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 1999

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

The 'S' word makes a happy marriage


The time has come in this column to finally discuss that passionate act that lies at the core of many an international romance. Yes, it's time for the "S" word.

Shopping.

Like many males, my own interest in shopping can best be expressed by the well-known Boolean function of X = $#&%! Translated into layman's language, this means I would rather nail my tongue to a table than shop.

My wife, however, has a different idea. (Don't wives always?) She thinks shopping is where people go when they die. While we agree on that much, we still have opposite destinations in mind, hers being the place with the harps.

Yet, despite intrinsic aversions toward: a) crowds; b) salespeople; and c) spending, back in our newlywed days, I would often go shopping with my bride, just for the delight of seeing her in one of her natural habitats.

In fact, I will even admit that (at times) it was almost fun.

I would sit there with a lovesick grin on my face, while my new wife tried on every garment in the shop -- twice. Sooner or later someone would figure I was a mannequin and try to fish out a price tag from my shirt. Believe me, few things in life are more entertaining that watching someone discover that the mannequin they are fondling is ticklish. And that it doesn't laugh in Japanese.

I also found shopping with my wife to be educational, Japanese stores being packed with products whose usage up till then I had only been guessing.

"Say," I would ask as we browsed through a supermarket, "What do you call this? Whatever it is, it tastes great smothered in ketchup."

"Silly!" she would instruct. "That's not to eat! It's for scrubbing your back!"

Another festive part of shopping was munching the free samples. As my young wife filled our cart with items that I would learn to eat long before I learned to pronounce, I would wander off and make the rounds of the free food stands. On a typical outing, I would make the rounds several times. In fact, often enough that once at the sausage table the store even brought me a chair.

Whenever my wife lost track of my whereabouts, she knew I could be found someplace snarfing samples.

"Honey," I would call, as she grunted to a halt with a cart full of goodies. "What's this? It looks like a deep-fried bug."

She would sniff at the half-eaten sample in my hand and announce, "It is a deep-fried bug."

Somehow, however, shortly after marriage I lost the joy of shopping. For one thing, it was neverending. The Japanese craving for ever-fresh fish and vegetables, plus the relatively tiny size of refrigerators meant many housewives (perhaps more in the past than now) had to go shopping each and every single day.

This came in direct contrast with my own upbringing, in which my mother would devote only Saturday mornings to filling our family cupboards, motoring back from the supermarket with a trunkload of crisp brown sacks containing an entire week's worth of food, including liter upon liter of milk that we would shove into a refrigerator large enough to camp in.

On the other hand, our newlywed fridge could manage but a couple of crunched milk cartons, an amount I might eliminate in just a few gulps. Hence, we were forever in need of consumables.

So each night, my bride and I developed the following routine:

First, I would stumble home from work, dead-tired, to be greeted in the genkan by my wife. After a brief embrace and a quiet supper, I would ask what she wanted to do that night.

To which she would coyly arch her eyebrows and ease in close.

"I have a wild idea," she would breathe, reaching for my hand. "Why don't we turn out all the lights . . . and then . . . Go shopping!"

"Again!?" I would gasp, dribbling green tea down my shirt. "I mean, didn't we just go shopping yesterday!?"

"So?"

"And the day before that and the day before that!?"

"So?"

"Not tonight, honey. Please. I . . . I've got a headache."

But she would hound me about the house, pleading with puppy-dog eyes that no sensitive husband could ever refuse.

So we would shop. My wife merrily skipping down the aisles of store goods. Me numbly staring away into space, a plastic bag hanging from each hand.

In such a manner scrolled past the many years of our marriage. We experienced kids, moves, new jobs and even a consumption tax, with nothing ever shaking my wife's unbridled desire for merchandise racks.

You can therefore imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, when she suddenly sighed and proclaimed.

"You know, I hate shopping."

I felt jabbed by a needle. "What!?"

A busy work schedule and a house full of bargain-dead males had, she explained, at last taken their toll. Now with a free afternoon and our boys off with their friends, there was nothing that appealed to her less than dragging herself away to the local department store for shopping. She was, she insisted, tired of it.

So what were we to do? Just the two of us? All alone together in the house on a sleepy afternoon with our typical pastime finally laid to rest?

Which brings up that other passionate "S" word.

Scrabble.

What's a happy marriage without it?



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