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Couple Therapy, Parenting & Adolescents | Gottman's Marriage Tips | Cross-Cultural Relationships

Cross Cultural Relationships - Western Women, Japanese Men

By Prem Dana Takada MPsych.

Printed in Being Abroad Magazine, Japan, 2000.
Healthlink News (Jet English Teachers Magazine) Issue 12 Japan 1999.
Journal for Foreign Wives in Japan, Japan 2002.

The most common problems for Western women who are in a relationships with Japanese men are similar to those seen in all relationships - dealing with issues of self esteem, developing communication and dealing with emotions such as anger. In longer term relationships, role issues eg division of responsibilities also take prominence. If couples are experiencing problems, it is often the case that it is more uncomfortable for one partner than the other-usually the woman. For example, if the woman is following the modern Western Woman’s Superwoman role of being successful in all areas of her life-career, taking care of the relationship /emotional issues and, if they are living together, also taking care of the home- it can be exhausting and lead to chronic stress and resentments.

Just as every culture has its beliefs systems, every family also has a series of beliefs that are inherited. Being in a cross-cultural relationship provides a great chance to review those ideas. For those women in cross cultural relationships, redetermining your beliefs about your own sense of self worth and getting clear on your personal and emotional boundaries is essential. In many cultures we are trained in how to be codependent on others – i.e. look to others to esteem us, to be dependent on what we do and how well we do it-in order to feel we are worthy. One could also say that the intricate web of Japanese society is essentially a codependent one in which people’s behaviour and in fact life is determined by outside forces. Codependence as a way of life is essentially valued and this can function well if everything is in balance i.e. if the status quo is maintained. In Western society however, modern women often feel ashamed of their hidden dependency needs and have taken an anti-dependent stance. However they are still very attracted to loosing themselves in an intimate relationship, (which can also be true for a relationship with a Western man).

Some independent and strong Western Women are paradoxically very attracted to Japanese men who represent the “Japanese heart” represented by the more archetypal feminine qualities of softness, space and acceptance. (Eg. those quiet moments!). A rebalancing can occur within the relationship as the Western woman embraces her femininity which has often been scorned or in someway damaged.

Most relationships have both aspects of healing and dysfunction/past wounds. Therefore at other times the Western Woman, though having hopes for change, has so ingrained herself in the pattern of caretaking-mother role that the partner has had little chance to develop personally and so a period of emotional (and sometimes physical) separation is sometimes needed so that the foundation for a new territory of growth can be laid. In other cases it is by the woman clearing her past issues that had previously robbed her power (eg an abuse history) and her distinguishing the present from the past that allows her to propel herself into a positive future.

For a Western woman to be in a cross cultural relationship in Japan the social impact of this on her own perception of herself is markedly more significant than if she was to live in a more multicultural environment e.g. most major Western cities. Here she stands out as different both in the eyes of Japanese society in addition to those of her friends and family. In fact it is this difference itself that can assist with issues of separation from her family of origin and developing personhood. It becomes clear that “I am not You” i.e. “Hey Mum and Dad /World I have my own Life and Soul!” In a same-culture relationship, issues of self-creation/differences are not as clear.

The Path of Relationship is both a joyous and painful one. We can perhaps reach nirvana or heaven by keeping pure or going off to a cave and doing Zazen but to bring that Heaven to Earth in the arena of love and sexuality is truly a journey of discovery and healing of our deepest wounds. Relationships are sacred ground and conflicts provide one with the opportunity to extend one’s present capacities and, as is the case with any exercise, the result is growth and strength. To become aware of your patterns in relationship and to become conscious of your Self is truly an exciting adventure.

© Copyright Prem Dana Takada - Tokyo Therapy 2003
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