Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy Couples in Japan?

Continuing the "Quiet" post of last week ...

I was, of course, quite curious and asked many questions about the state of "happy couples" when in Japan. Ironically - or not - an article appeared in The Japan Times shortly after our arrival ("The Truth about Japanese Love: We just don't get along" by Karori Shoji, June 18, 2012) and revealed the perspectives of at least one Japanese woman/journalist who says that there is wide unhappiness between men and women in modern Japanese relationships. 

Not my photo, unfortunately, but found at http://japanese.lingualift.com/Check out their site for simple explanations of Japanese customs and traditions.Loved reading, of course, about Valentine's Day in Japan, includingthe giri-choco (義理チョコ), or “obligatory chocolates."
She argues "Generally … Japanese women and men prefer to stick to their own genders," citing that her grandfather even used to say "that men and women should sit at the same table no more than once a week, because it led to bickering and stress." Hmmm. Interesting advice. I hear a little Dialectical Theory in there, yes? 

Shoji cites a long history of women not appreciating many of the qualities/ways/traditions of "Japanese men" going back to the first samurai to set up a shogunate who, according to historians and sociologists, was no match - despite his conniving and calculating ways - for his wife who was the ultimate victor over him and his wealth/success. As a result of women's and men's contempt/distrust/dislike of each others' ways much of the time (my paraphrase), she says women in Japan have been finding many ways to distance themselves from men. For example, an obvious/contemporary example are women-only train cars. Other examples manifest in daily practices, usually ones that are not at all subtle and reflect the gender separations of men/women in Japan: "women's" menus and feminine hotel satchels given to female guests, containing items of interest to women, of course, to comfort, beautify, and pamper. 

We didn't get to take photos of the wedding we saw,
but it looked a whole lot like this one which I
found using my handy google machine
Despite the news that men and women don't like/love one another according to this one article, I have asked as often as I can - casually among friends/acquaintances/hosts in Japan and before I left and after I've returned - about love/marriage in Japan. The word on the street (real scientific, I know) is that women have quite a bit of power ... mostly because most women manage ALL finances of the family. Such is a tradition that continues to this day in, as I've discerned, almost all Japanese families. 

Anyway, so much more to learn and explore. We did get a pretty cool peek at a wedding taking place at a Shinto shrine during one of our class excursions, and also observed a couple getting their wedding photos taken - they wore traditional wedding kimono - in Japanese central garden/park in Tokyo. Cool! And quite beautiful, both of those occasions. 

My naive perspective: happy couples everywhere have struggles, and some find great joy, but always with work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

We were with some friends

So ... yesterday we visited some friends who live out of state and have, what we’ve already and often observed, is a deeply happy marriage. It’s not just a delightful, joy-filled partnership; it’s also a long-term one of over 40 years.

While we don’t know them as intimately as friends we might have known for decades, it felt fully okay over dinner and some delightful pinots last evening to plainly ask: “What would you say to a couple who desires your type of happiness in marriage? What’s your deal?”

“He’s my hero."

I’ll call her Julia and she didn’t hesitate for even a moment to describe her admiration for what her best friend and partners is, has become, does, and represents. She wasn’t talking about his work, although his vocation is unquestionably admirable too … fully selfless.

“And she is mine.”

I’ll call him James, who was quickly and fully as sincere and authentic as they both are about life, love, relationships … of all kinds. So much evidence of such, all around them.

My dear pal/partner/spouse and I drove to where we were staying that night. Yep, that’s what we keep hearing from the happy couples, and yet again this night: It's the amplification of the other (indeed, the idea resonates from a post from long ago, thanks Dr. Faase), deep admiration (not fake – totally real), and full respect of who the other is, will be, has journeyed, is becoming, will yet grow to embody.

Neat. Period.

And another great lesson from a wildly, in-their-element, just darn full-of-life happy couple.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quiet (静かな)

The Happy Couple Blog has been oddly quiet this summer, hasn’t it? Wassup with that, sista? I know, right?

Mostly, it was a month of teaching and traveling in Japan with a dozen students, my own kids, my spouse and my pal/assistant instructor Chie. Whew. The journey was … so many of you have kindly asked? In a single, often-overused word: INCREDIBLE. And fabulous. And amazing. And, well, life-changing (for my kids, and hopefully the students too).

But it surely and unexpectedly threw me off the blogging-track. While the bullet trains were always dizzyingly swift, my recovery from jet lag time was nothing of the sort. But the upside is that the quiet of the post-Japan weeks has allowed needed and fruitful reflection time about many of life’s quirky ways, especially what we loud and talkative happy couples of the West might learn from the more quiet Japanese ways of the East.

While the communication and interaction style in Japan is – don’t get me wrong – not all about being quiet, hushed or low-in-vocal-volume, it is for sure guided by the cultural urgency to always preserve wa平和 (harmony). And I mean always: in every context and interaction. What a cool concept, wa. Often it’s simply the shhhhhh … the being a bit more quiet … the non-disturbance of others.  But more than that, wa is a deeply-ingrained way of living, being, and doing, well, everything you do. Preserving wa seems it would be a natural no-brainer goal for us happy couples, right? Right! It surely resonates most loudly in my overly-talkative, busy U.S. American brain, something we can attempt to apply here, borrowing from the experiences and approaches of couples and individuals there.  

The Japanese widespread practice of, and high value placed on gaman, is an intriguing wa manifestation. Gaman? Some say it defies translation. I learned it as calm forbearance and grace, especially in the face of adverse situations or events. Essentially, gaman knows the answer: “Why bother others with your emotions or burden them with your needs?” Gaman is deeply instilled in the Japanese from the time you are born; you must always carry on with grace; with quiet perseverance; and with poise. Gambaru: to do your best. To be strong. (Oh, and to do so without having to talk about it, yell about it, let everyone know about it, or to scream, kick and grumble your way through it).

While gaman is a manifestation of wa, an intriguing manifestation of gaman is one’s “honne” and “tatemae.” The unscholarly Wikipedia offers a tidy explanation: Honne and tatemae represent the contrast between a person's true feelings and desires (honne 本音) and the behavior/opinions one displays in public (tatemae 建前). It’s the substance and the form. It’s being direct versus being diplomatic. It’s the reason and the pretext.  
While some of us in the West might call tatemae deceptive, the impetus for tatemae is … duh … happiness. The goal is harmony. It’s the answer “nope” to the question “Do I need, right now, to burden you with my negative thoughts, comments and opinions?”

When I learned of honne and tatemae I immediately thought of the theoretical underpinnings grown out of research on U.S. relationship dynamics: good old Dialectical Theory. If you’ve been a long-time reader of the HC blog, you know what DT tells us about the beautiful messiness of healthy relationships. That we must forever manage the simultaneous but opposing needs for openness and closedness, revealing and concealing, and being close versus having a little “space.” Such are the needs that always pull. Such are unrelenting. And yet accepting them as normal and never completely “in balance” is a key to happy relationships in the long haul, according to DT.

So … gaman, honne and tatemae? Maybe they teach us that even here in a culture where we prize verbal expression and making sure we’re heard and felt, usually clearly and often loudly, maybe a slightly more Japanese approach is one of the keys to long-term happy coupledom? Could quieting our negative and critical thoughts open a space for seeing a moment, a movement, a partner’s actions more kindly and generously. Some say the Japanese have elevated tatemae to an art. I say that successfully navigating our relationships over decades is for sure a fine art, and always an un-finished practice. And learning when we should say what we’re thinking in any culture is, surely, a very high art. No, it’s not one I have mastered.
With that in mind, I’ll continue this post in a few days with more on what we happy couples can learn from Japanese couples. It’s a myth to think they have it all figured out and are all blissfully happy. Hold your sushi. For instance, later this week I’ll blog about an article that ran in The Japanese Times while we were in Tokyo: “The Truth About Japanese Love: We Just don’t get along.” Intriguing stuff.

Until then, arigatogozimasa for not giving up on the HC blog and for reading again! It’s great to be back at the keyboard! Yes, the exclamation points are my honne AND tatemae speaking! Woo! (Can one do both of those at once?) Who knows. If not, sumimasen, which means my apologies, sorry, excuse me, and/or forgive me. It also works when saying "thank you," so it's quite the handy word. While in Japan I used it every day, most of the day. One word and you’re good. Sweet! So that makes me think: what if we had a single, nimble, awesome word like that here in the U.S.? Probably, we’d have happier people and nicer relationships. There’s got to be a million-dollar happy couple idea in there somewhere, I know right? チャットしよ. Let’s chat.