Fighting: Things my Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About

Inner racial, innerracial Japanese American couple

Any relationship is hard. However, breaching two distinct cultures only adds another, complicated layer to the relationship schematics. While most of the guys I dated before I met Ryosuke came from a different country (three from Mexico, one from South Africa, one from France), I never really had any idea I was going to enter an interracial marriage.

But then I met Ryosuke. We knew each other a couple months before we started dating; less than a month after we made our relationship “Facebook Official,” he unofficially proposed and we started planning our lives together. Despite the fact we have been married for a while now, we’re still finding new things out about each other each month.

For a window into married life as the foreign wife of a Japanese husband, I recommend Wendy Tokunaga’s book, Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband

But the more we learn about each other, the more we learn we are inherently and culturally different. My dad always told me to marry someone with a very high ability to “change” or adapt to a new environment; both Ryosuke and I have done a great deal of changing for each other. But we’ve also done a lot of learning.

[For more, check out: Asian Male, White Female Relationships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly]

Look at that face! Does this look like the face of someone that would (purposefully) destroy an apartment?

I think one of the most rewarding aspects about being in a cross-cultural or interracial relationship is the fact that I am forced to examine my own culture (and values). Every time Ryosuke and I disagree about an aspect of our relationship, we are forced to confront why exactly we believe we are right (and I’m not allowed to say “Because I’m a woman, therefore I’m always right!”).

[For more, check out: I will never be (legally) his: Problems Facing Interracial Couples in Japan]

I wanted to make a mini-series about all the things Ryosuke and I seem to disagree with culturally. I wanted to do this partially for reflection, partially because I thought it might interest people who have no experience with Japanese culture, partially because I thought it might interest or align with what people with a great deal of Japanese cultural experience have noticed, and partially because I wanted to help future foreign women dating Japanese men. I wanted to give them a list of things to expect with their Japanese boyfriend.

Inner racial, innerracial Japanese American couple

The main thing my Japanese Husband and I have different ideas on is…

Fighting

I like to fight. Or, I don’t actually like to fight, per say, but I think constructive fighting and arguing has a very vital role in any healthy relationship. I believe both sides should be able to safely confront the other about behavior that bothers them, issues they’ve been holding in, or other concerns without bottling it up. In a perfect world, we would be able to sit down once a month or so and just talk about the things that were bothering us – and such a conversation would rarely lead to actual yelling. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve actually yelled at each other during a “fight” in the last year and a half. We didn’t start out that way, though.

Inner racial, innerracial Japanese American couple

Needless to say, Ryosuke’s views on fighting and arguing are quite different. He was raised in a somewhat non-confrontational society. While he is one of the most confrontational Japanese people I know, sometimes he will shy away from conflict. Especially when said conflict seems to be rocking an otherwise stable boat (hint – the boat is our relationship). This also isn’t a uniquely Ryosuke aspect, most of my friend who have dated a Japanese man or have Japanese boyfriends have complained about this: Japanese men don’t like to fight.

If sometime bothers Ryosuke, he would prefer to keep it in. When he’s sad, mad, frustrated, or angry with me, he will kind of shut down, and I have to awkwardly sit across from him for the next half an hour or so, waiting for him to compose himself and gather his thoughts. All of my friends have complained about similar things. It seems like most Japanese boyfriends have inherent problems with effectively communicating their feelings. In my opinion, this isn’t good.

Inner racial, innerracial Japanese American couple

I knew an American girl who had been dating this Japanese man for two years. She was bragging to me how not once, in their two years together, had they ever gotten into even a simple argument. “We always agree on everything,” she bragged, “we’re not like those other couples who fight all the time!” I started to wonder if maybe she was right, was I pushing Ryosuke to fight too much? Would we be better off not confronting each other that often?

Three days later, she went to meet up with her boyfriend. She was very excited because they hadn’t seen each other in a month or so. She thought he was going to propose.

But he dumped her.

 

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

Born and raised in Texas, I am a part-time blogger on the search for the next greatest adventure. In my spare time I enjoy writing, drawing comics, and traveling with my husband, a boxing businessman from Japan. Contact: Website | More Posts

56 Comments on Fighting: Things my Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About

  1. Hah, that is interesting!
    For us I am the opposite, I just get angry or upset but don’t want to talk about it. I do talk but only after a few hours when I calmed down and figured out my thoughts and what I want to say to him. I know that when I am angry I say things I dont mean. But as much as I try, words won’t come out of my mouth during or right after a fight. Hubby always wanted to talk right away but I explained my “problem” to him and now he waits for me to speak. Usually we can face the problem and laugh about it afterwards :)
    I am not avoiding fights, sometimes I even know this fight happened because I wanted it to haha but I hate how I see hubby differently for the first few days or hours after a fight. It’s like he is not 100% the same person than before, do you guys know that feeling?!

    • I think my husband is the same way (ish). I recover very quickly after a fight. Water under the bridge, you know? But it takes him quite a bit longer – sometimes hours or even 1-2 days to FULLY recover after a huge fight. Those kinds of fights only happen 1-2 times a year, but when they do…? Oh boy…

  2. Ahhh!! My ex (who is Taiwanese) did this!! He would just leave the room and shut up and I got angry that he was just steaming without talking about the problem.

    I actually had kind of the opposite problem with my Korean boyfriend… he doesn’t really “fight” with me but he will try to explain his side and let me explain mine, and at first, the tone of his voice made me think he was really angry. He talked to his mom in that tone as well, and I would tell him not to fight with her, but he said, “No, no, this is just how we talk!” I think it’s from being in Japan too long, but I’m not used to people arguing their opinions so openly.

    • Huh. That’s good with your Korean boyfriend (yay for figuring things out) – but I still get terrified when my in-laws argue in Japanese. For some reason, when it’s another language, it’s so terrifying…

  3. This blog is awesome it has all the answer to My questions ^^ thanks you Grave. Btw do you speak japanese?

  4. Hi Grace, found your blog post after an argument with my Japanese husband. Ha ha ha I’m always trying to understand him better to hopefully get along better with him. Actually I’ve lived in Texas too, I’m also a white American girl. My husband and I have been married for 7 years now and we have our second child on the way…. kids make things so much tougher. We live in Funabashi, I’m a house wife and he’s a workaholic. I survive by reading posts like yours. Not many can relate to our situations. Thank you! A.T.

    • Thanks for the comment. Wow, there’s a ton of similarities.
      I’m glad my husband isn’t a workaholic (yet) because when he was doing overtime in the beginning, I was going crazy stranded out in Ibaraki. Congrats on your second kid. That’s got to be really interesting raising them in Japan :)

  5. Hi Grace!

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog when I was googling Japanese wedding guest attire. You’re the first girl I’ve come across that is also an American living in Japan that married a Japanese salaryman. I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Tokyo last year when I married my husband after meeting him at USC. It’s great to read your blog and find many similarities! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Lila

  6. Hi Grace!

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog when I was googling Japanese wedding guest attire. You’re the first girl I’ve come across that is also an American living in Japan that married a Japanese salaryman. I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Tokyo last year when I married my husband after meeting him at USC. It’s great to read your blog and find many similarities! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Leila

  7. I know this thread is quite old, but I married a guy who was born in Japan and raised partly in Japan (his father is American, mother Japanese), and we have never had a real fight… been together 5 years, married a year. He also needs to take time to collect his thoughts about what is bothering him, then he asks if we can talk, and we talk about it, and then it’s finished.

    His patience and peacefulness in communication have been sometimes difficult for me to adjust to, but honestly I would feel terrible yelling at him, or yelling in general – I know that nothing we discuss, is he trying to hurt me or be mean or cruel.. he’s incredibly kind and loving, so consequently I don’t *want* to be angry, or yell.

    I get frustrated like any wife, and I am sometimes unnerved by his seeming preternatural calm when we disagree about something and we have little ‘huffs’ – but I so respect his ability to remain calm and talk about something in a dispassionate way, I’ve come to want to be this way myself. I feel happier, I feel less stressed, and I do not fear we’ll have a ‘blow up’ and will say something unintentionally hurtful to each other.

    Personally, I think it’s a mistake to corner any man to try to force a conversation when he’s not ready – I think that acknowledging something needs to be discussed, and agreeing when it will be discussed, is important so something doesn’t fester, but men are not women, and most men – Japanese or not – don’t like to be forced to have a conversation they haven’t prepared for, whether it’s about plans for the weekend, vacation, or something you’re fighting about.

    Love is patient, love is kind… I’m not an observant Christian, but I take that message to heart: i don’t want to take the chance that my anger will result in my saying something hurtful, and so i am patient in our conversations, and I’ve found it makes BOTH of us feel safer, and freer, to admit our true feelings and communicate our needs honestly, because we know it will not escalate.

    Good luck to you and your husband!

  8. Wow…. I’m a female from an Asian background, and I have to admit I shut down during argument. I’m not proud of this trait of mine, but I just can’t find the will and energy to engage. When voices are raised, I shy away. End of story. Then I avoid the topic like a plague (or maybe the person altogether). There are times when I apologized though I did nothing wrong just to keep the peace then cursed myself & my silly pride. I enjoy healthy discussions, but when things start to get heated, I just switch off.

    I don’t think it’s part of my culture, since my parents argued like CRAZY, not just verbally, stuff are flying around, fists raised etc. (Actually I think that’s the root cause of this trait….) Don’t ask me how they stay married for 40+ years (story gets juicy from there)

    Needless to say, I acknowledge that I’m not a relationship material. I’m single & always have been & probably always will be (which is not a bad thing for me, since I have a good career, and zero pressure to get married from myself or my family – mum gave up on me a long time ago)

    Sorry for the rambling.

    • Not at all. I always love hearing from the other sides of the coin (so to speak).
      I’m glad you have a great career + no family pressure to tie the knot. That’s a good place to be.

      I mean, I don’t think screaming matches are good for anyone… but I think arguments are like tsunamis. They suck, but they also scrape everything off the bottom of the ocean and do some sort of “emotional spring cleaning.”
      I was volunteering in Japan after the tsunami and I met an oyster farmer who said the oyster harvest is always the decade (or so) following a major tsunami, since it cleans up the oyster farm floor. I thought that was really interesting.

    • Girlfriend, you are perfectly good wifey material! ;). If I wasn’t married I’d happily chase you, and I’m sorely tempted to change religion to mormon, you’d make an awesome second wife, hehe ;). …not quite sure how I’d explain to my current wife as to why theres another woman sleeping on my other side in bed! (Grinning)

      Seriously though, I HATE arguing and fighting I’ve thrown people out of my house for starting stuff like that and ended relationships on the spot for arguing that just wouldnt stop!

      Both of my parents have been married and divorced many times! (Rolling eyes)

      If you can’t have peace in your own home, where can you?

      I’ll see you when I get home Wifey Kaye! ;)

  9. Just found this blog via Pink Cow. Love this.

  10. Sorry to say this, but your husband really looks like monkey.

  11. I know this is an old post, but feel like I can pitch in, because it reminded me of our (my now-wife and myself) early courtship. She was sooo afraid that she might be doing something I didn’t like but I was not telling her (“Please, please tell me if I am doing something wrong!”). I was also taken back at first by how much SHE WANTED TO TALK, and got frustrated when I was not as responsive as she wanted. (Though, I must say, the whole ‘an communicative BF/husband frustrates GF/wife’ thing is a fairly common trope in the US, too, isn’t it? Looks like half of rom-coms/sitcoms are built around ‘monosyllabic men and their chatty GFs/wives’ setup.)
    Ah, fighting–I must say I don’t like arguing, either, and I don’t find it as constructive, as you and other (female) commenters here seem to believe, but it makes me uncomfortable to be placed on the ‘opposite sides,’ as if we are enemies. So I really do NOT recommend those women with Japanese BF/husband to push him to argue. He may just take it as a sign that you don’t love him as he is, or, at least, you don’t value the bond he and you have already built together (i.e., he may think you are trying to break up). My now-wife used to try to bait me into a fight, but after they led to several bad (i.e., not constructive at all!) outcomes, she, perhaps grudgingly ;-), has changed her tactic.
    Nowadays, when she doesn’t like certain things in our relationship, instead of a fight/argument, she brings it up as a topic for a sort of a brainstorming session–no ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ but we, being on the ‘same side,’ offer ideas to improve. Funny thing is, I think my wife likes that way, too! haha. If Ryo-kun is somewhat like me, instead of starting with what he does that makes you unhappy and demand a change (and expects him to push back in hope of a ‘constructive fight’), I would recommend you to ask him/solicit his suggestions re: what you TWO can do to make you TWO happiER than now. After all, that IS what you want in the end, right? An argument/fight in a couple can accidentally go where neither party wants to go (e.g., awakening your deep-seated insecurity, touching a past incident you’d rather not recall), so why take a risk? And that may be precisely why Ryo-kun is acting the way he does. Give him some credit! :-)

  12. You guys look really cute!

  13. I’ve never understood the need people have/feel to fight to communicate and clear things up. This year will make 20 years I’ve been with my wife. (Though not married anywhere near that long, heh) We have never had a fight, less than a dozen times that I can think of that we strongly disagreed on something that took more than a day to resolve, but still no fighting, no yelling, no going to bed angry and none of the crazy drama that I see so many going through. We discussed this when we first started dating too. I don’t like to fight and its not necessary for good communication, sex isn’t a tool and shouldn’t be used as a treat or a punishment, things like that. My aunt and uncle are on the other end of the spectrum; they *thrive* on fighting! If I took someone new to see them you would think someone would be killing someone soon! After a while as family we learn to tune it out and consider it entertainment! (Kid you not!). I don’t get how they both don’t have ulcers, I know I would! …and it’s not like I’m a quiet, shy reserved person either… (Hah!)
    Mike in Texas

  14. I’m married to a Chinese man and I know how you feel. I’ve definitely learned the meaning of “pick and choose your battles”, and if it’s a small issue, I just give my husband space and by the evening or the next day, things are back to normal. If it’s an issue that’s reoccurring, then I’ll talk to him about it. Even then, sometimes it helps to have a couple of days of space (not ignoring each other, but not directly facing the issue yet) until you’ve both calmed down and then bring it up again.

    • I agree. I’ve gotten a lot better at picking my battles – which is difficult, because I have to consciously decide to let something go.

      A couple of weeks ago, when my husband and I were in Texas visiting my parents, he was shocked by the amount of arguing between my parents and other siblings (and between my siblings and I). I tried explaining to him that this was just the way we were raised, but he was still a bit off-put by the constant discussion. I don’t blame him, it can be tiring, but it was a nice window into cultural differences.

      Thank you for sharing. I knew avoiding direct confrontation was a somewhat Japanese trait, but I didn’t realize it could also encompass Chinese men. Interesting.

  15. Ah I’m married to a half japanese, half guamanian (chamorro) guy, he TOTALLY would do the whole quiet, avoid it, sleep on it thing too! I guess it is totally cultural. He’s opened up a lot more now though :D And I’ve learned to listen… -_-

    • I’ve gotten a lot better at listening too (no fun). I guess it really is a cultural thing.

      • I think especially since I’m half german and half mexican (but born in the US), I was so used to passionate arguing and I thought thats what you did if you wanted to make it work. I was so confused when he wouldn’t say anything! But now we’ve been married almost 3 years (been friends for like 9) and we have a total multi-racial baby! Anywho, finding your blog is so refreshing as a “white girl” with a japanese guy!

        • Oh that must have been fun. I love reading about intercultural relationships :)
          Congrats on the happy marriage and child!

          PS – if you have any other blog recommendations, I would love to read them!

    • I am dating a korean man and it is the same for them as well. They do not handle conflict
      well bc they just try to avoid it all together. I enjoy healthy discussion about differences. we have both grown a lot because of it.

      • I’m glad to hear you have been able to grow through healthy discussion. More and more, I’m starting to think this aversion to fighting is a sort of “Asian” concept.

  16. When discussing stuff, it helps to remember that conversation in America is like playing tennis; lots of back and forth. In Japan, conversation is like bowling; only one person is speaking at a time and all others are listening. However when it’s your turn you can pretty much speak about whatever you want and the listeners will back channel verbal noises that say they’re politely engaged (but the noises should NOT be confused with agreement. They’re just saying “Uh huh, i am still listening.”). Interruption is considered rude unless you’re the higher status individual.
    Also it helps to pay attention to the wide range of verbal noises. They can mean everything from, “That’s NEVER gonna happen…” to “Shut Up! You gotta be kidding me!”

    • That’s probably the best analogy I’ve seen for the differences between Japanese/American conversations. I’m going to share this with my fiance when he gets home from work.

      I used to make the mistake of interrupting friends when I was talking to them – but after a couple months I learned it is best to just kind of spout out the verbal “un” “soka” “hmmm” etc. It’s interesting.
      But thanks for the explanation!

  17. Your posts are always very interesting to read, thank you, because of course you need time to write.
    I would love to ask you about a topic and I am sure more people would agree with me.
    What about writing a guide on “how to date japanese guy ?”
    And I am talking about trying to estabilish a serious relationiship, not that interracial relationiship that last a couple of months (or more).
    Once I was invited from a japanese guy (almost man) but to be honest I refused because I didn’t know how to behave. If we go dinner/drink I have to pay for myself ? Does he choose where to go ? If he asks me about, can I choose or is he asking just to be polite ? If we are late and metro is closed and HE call a taxi, do I have to pay or will he pay the driver before ?
    And if we take the taxi togheter and he left me home first, then he, do i have to give him my part of fare ?
    I am sure there are much more question I -and the others, too- need to ask, but i can’t remember now.

    Grace-sama please, help us !

    • Hahahaha, oh my gosh, that sounds like a GREAT idea!
      I will ask my fiance to help me out (I’m saving your questions in a Word document) and will write it in the next couple days! Thanks for the idea~

      (dating inter-racially, especially with Japan, is so hard…)

  18. I’ve always thought my boyfriend is a complete push over, but reading this I am wondering whether it is a cultural thing more than a personality thing. (Assuming this stretches to Asian and not just Japan). If I give him options to do anything, he’ll always say he’ll do whatever I want to do, and if we have an argument he gives in almost instantly. Strangely, it winds me up even more when we are having a disagreement if he won’t argue back! At times, I also feel like I have to be careful that I’m not taking advantage of him when he acts this way.

    • I completely agree. I think it is a sort of “Asian value” among men. It took nearly a year of dating before I was able to convince my boyfriend fighting (in small doses and when done correctly) is actually a GOOD thing in a relationship.

      I still estimate that I win our arguments about 90% of the time, which really isn’t a good sign at all. It’s so hard to not take advantage or pull pot shots on someone who won’t argue back. I agree, it also winds me up pretty hard.

  19. Ouch!! He dumped her…..sometimes we can mistake passive aggressive behavior for compliance, and get too self-absorb and not realize the other person is unhappy.

    Or maybe she was already self-absorb person.

    So it’s not about “fighting” but truly asking your partner, are you happy, and if not how can we fix it?

    • gracebuchele // 7 August, 2013 at 1:27 pm // Reply

      I would go out on a limb and say she was one of the most self-absorbed people I’ve ever met. Even so, breakups are always hard.

      I think I agree. It is more about communication than actually arguing – just because the other person doesn’t actively say “I’m not happy” doesn’t mean they are, in fact, happy in the relationship. It’s hard, right?

  20. Nice to read your take on dating a Japanese guy. It’s really frustrating searching for other North American women who are dating Japanese guys. Especially with the fighting thing, I think it’s really important to fight. Not a spiteful fight, but just to get things out and learn. But, my boyfriend hates it, too.
    Shameless plug because I just wrote about something similar tonight, and found your site searching about this topic! Good luck!
    http://the-maruhi-club.blogspot.jp/2013/07/dating-in-japan-as-american-woman.html

    • gracebuchele // 29 July, 2013 at 8:30 pm // Reply

      I loved your post. It rings very true on so many levels.

      I’ve actually met several older women married to Japanese men – but never met someone my own age dating a Japanese man (who, you know, stayed in the relationships…)
      I think fighting/communication is the most important thing (kind of like what you said on your post). It’s hard. Do y’all live in America/have you talked about marriage? Or is it kind of left at the “impossible” level?

      • I’m living in Japan. But, since my bf is a programmer I’m trying to get him interested in moving to the US. It’d be a great career move for him. But, he lived in the US as a kid, and he’s kind of wishy-washy about moving. He’s talked about marriage, but I tell him not to rush things haha!
        I can literally count on one hand the number of non-Japanese women I know married to Japanese guys and living in Japan. The non-Japanese guys married to Japanese women on the other hand… :P

        • gracebuchele // 8 August, 2013 at 8:41 am // Reply

          I know, right? It’s a big difference. Good luck with the move! (and I have noticed there are several Japanese men rushing into marriage. Or just everyone is rushing into marriage. It’s hard to tell).

  21. That was a really interesting article. As a Chinese girl dating a White boy, I’m very excited to read more of your miniseries on interracial couples and the cultural differences that affect the relationship.

  22. Totally makes sense from past interactions I’ve had with Japanese people.

    And may I say your fiance is pretty hot! :)

  23. I oddly loved how you ended this. “He dumped her.”

    • I found the story kind of sad…
      I don’t know the “right” way to do a Japanese man/American woman relationship. But I’ve learned one way that hasn’t worked out…
      And this is basically how it goes with relationships. You think you know something, and then suddenly it doesn’t work.

  24. you two look absolutely adorable and i love the way you wrote this. i am also in an “inter-racial” relationship – i am chinese and my 2.5yr boyfriend is australian. i must agree that constructive fighting (similar to criticism) is healthy for a relationship to prosper and develop. i can’t wait to hear more regarding this topic!

    • I wish you all the best in your relationship. 2.5 years in a Loooooong time!
      Do you have any advice about interracial relationships?

      I’m planning on doing a mini-series on this, with a couple of the other topics we disagree on (cleanliness, relationship with parents, racism, cheating, etc).

      • i don’t really have any great advice on interracial relationships as this guy is my first and only boyfriend. i just believe that the key to any relationship is honesty which can be achieved by talking to each other – whether it be about something mundane, superficial or huge as. i think your partner should be your best friend and he/she should be the first people you want to tell something to.

        as for topics, i totally agree with the cleanliness topic as well as marriage is not only with your fiance but also with their parents and family members (depending on which one is asian). i also think that it might be good to do one on divorce and the cultural differences with regards to divorce (and cheating). oh and another topic could be about having children and the difference in the asian upbringing vs caucasian upbringing. i don’t know if this is what you are looking for but i hope it has helped! :)

        • Now that you mention it, the divorce thing sounds really interesting (you know, considering the high divorce rates in America vs Japan). I’m trying to do a “relationship related” post every Wednesday, I think that’s going to be my next one. Thanks!

          Actually, Ryosuke’s kind of my first boyfriend too. I mean I dated before, but I hadn’t had a relationship last longer than a month (that was my breaking point, if I didn’t love them after a month, they had to go. It was kind of heartless). I do agree with you on the honesty and communication area, though.

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