I am proud to announce this week’s guest post comes Victoria, a charming Canadian girl and fellow JET living in Osaka. She blogs about expat life, her growing Sailor Moon collection, and everything in between. Victoria writes about her intercultural relationship with her boyfriend Tamito and how she dates a good man and not an entire culture.
I never understood the attraction of Tinder. What I knew about it from back home in Toronto was that it was mainly for finding hookups. It seemed boring, pointless and anyways, I wasn’t going to meet my next serious relationship from Tinder. “How unromantic.” I thought. It works for some people and that’s really wonderful but for myself? No, thank you. I wanted a “cuter” love story than that. So when my friend somehow convinced me to give it a try for some laughs I didn’t expect much. Maybe I would meet some cool new friends to grab a drink with, and that’s about it. But as always, life has a funny way of taking what you expect to happen and completely flipping it on its head. After about a week after downloading Tinder, I was matched up with my boyfriend.
To quote one of my favorite movies, we “was like peas and carrots” from the very beginning. We fit together so easily; it was like we had known each other forever. It turned out we had mutual friends in common and had been frequenting the same bar for a year. We had even seen each other there before, but never spoke. It wasn’t until after we matched we figured all this out. We discovered we had lots of things in common and shared similar outlooks on life. Everything progressed so naturally and we were both completely in love and happy. We still are.
Just like any other couple we have our own challenges. Many of these challenges stem from our own habits and personalities and have no correlation to our place of birth. However, it would be ignorant to suggest our cultures have no impact on our relationship.
I am from Canada, born and raised in Toronto. My boyfriend is a true Kyushu–danji (Kyushu guy), born and raised in the inaka (countryside) of Kagoshima. Needless to say, there are some differences in our upbringing and cultures. For every difference we have, there are double the number of similarities. Perhaps it’s because I come from Toronto, a place where countless cultures live side by side to create a beautiful mosaic of a city, that the blending together of our cultures comes a little more naturally. Or maybe it helps he lived in Shanghai for a year and then New York for another so he has experience living with cultures outside of his own. Either way, it seems natural to us. We aren’t perfect. We do have cultural differences and sometimes, these do create obstacles.
Being Japanese, my boyfriend grew up in a culture that rejects confrontation. It’s avoided like the plague. I grew up in a European home, where arguments not only happened often, they were loud, in your face and over in a matter of minutes. This leads to a conflicting style of conflict resolution in our relationship. When I want to immediately speak about what is bugging me, my boyfriend prefers to keep it to himself until he’s ready to bring it up. If I push him too much, he will just shut down, making any form of effective communication impossible. We have had to learn to adapt to each other and meet in the middle. We have to be mindful of where the other person is coming from, and why they think and feel the way they do.
This has actually come to benefit us in terms of our communication. We’ve learned to really think about what we want to say before we say it. I can’t fight using long, complicated words with hidden meanings. Despite how good he is at English, it isn’t his first language. He’s had to learn how to express his feelings before they build up and explode. We need to be very clear with what we say to avoid misunderstanding. This results in more effective and honest communication—and communication to key to any relationship, no matter where you are both from.
I am blessed to say my boyfriend’s parents are some of the most kind, warm and welcoming people I have ever met. They knew about me from the beginning and never once expressed disappointment or doubted their son’s decision. While they don’t speak enough English to hold a conversation and my Japanese is still improving, from the very beginning, they’ve been warm and welcoming. When I visited Kagoshima, they opened up their home with no hesitation and I met his extended family. They always ask how I’m doing and won’t hesitate to stumble through a phone conversation with me. This past Christmas, my boyfriend and I went back to Toronto where he met my entire family, cousins and all. He immediately took a liking to them and received the stamp of approval in return.
Not everyone is as accepting as our families have been. Many people feel entitled to make assumptions, give opinions and unsolicited comments on our relationship. Though oftentimes their intentions are well-meaning, it can be quite irritating and exhausting. Some people stare. Others assume my boyfriend is also foreign, since he is with a foreign girl and speaks English. Some people say we work together as a couple because he studied abroad and my boyfriend is “more Western”. Other times, they say I am “sort of Japanese” as I have dark hair and dark eyes like Japanese women, can cook Japanese food and make bentos for him. It’s as if the only reasons why we could possibly get along is we somehow fit into arbitrary stereotypes of each other’s cultures, rather than just being two people who have personalities that work well together and who love each other for who they are.
“How can they function with all these cultural differences?” If I had a dollar (or 100 yen!) for every time I heard this… Some people seem to doubt in our ability to last as a couple. What people fail to see is the way in which differences in culture can actually strengthen a relationship. Rather than tearing us apart, our differences have led us to re-examine ourselves, our intentions, our values, our hopes and our dreams. We have had to be open and honest from the very beginning. They have also lead to us to compromise more, to actually listen to the other person and to be more open to change. Though it’s not always easy, these differences became the foundation for why our relationship has lasted.
At the end of the day I am dating an individual, not and entire country and it’s culture. My boyfriend is Japanese and though I would never ignore the impact his culture has on him, he is still his own person and has his own thoughts and beliefs. Some align with his culture and some deviate. What is important to us is that we both value family, honesty, love and being true to yourself. These are the things we place above everything else and it is what holds us together. Our differences have actually brought us closer together and made us better people and a stronger couple. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my boyfriend and couldn’t imagine facing the future with anyone else.
Victoria lives in Osaka, Japan and is currently working for the JET Programme. She loves reading, is a coffee addict and a plant enthusiast. When not teaching English to hyperactive elementary school kids, you can find her at the local Round One playing UFO machines with her boyfriend, whom she is foolishly in love with. She still watches anime. Follow her on twitter (@maplemochi_) or check out her blog at http://maple-mochi.blogspot.jp.