Saturday, June 20, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jasmine & Hitomi


Jasmine is a fellow Canadian girl and writes a fascinating blog about discovering Japanese culture through her long-distance relationship with her handsome Japanese hunk!


Introduction....
My name is Jasmine. I'm a 21 year old French-Canadian woman (which means I come from Canada, but in a province where the native tongue is French). I'm dating a Japanese man from Chiba. I'm also a quarter French from my father's side. I originally come from Québec City, and now I currently live in Saitama, Japan. In Canada, my family has a beagle, called Billy, and also a horse I've known all my life, called Rosée.

Three words that describe you...
I would say loyal, crazy and positive!

Favorite childhood memory...
Oh, I have so many of them, it's really hard to choose! I have a wonderful family, so my childhood was like a breeze to me. I would say my favorite childhood memories are just playing with my siblings (two brothers, one sister, all elder to me), either by constructing igloos in winter, playing hide and seek on the land (we have a farm, so it is an amazing playground), creating new games, or just sliding down the stairs with a mattress inside the house! We did the most awesome (and at times dangerous) things together. I wouldn't exchange my family for the world!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I would say the perfect inspiration would be a warm and humid day in the Summer and you can smell that a huge storm is coming soon. Then the storm finally arrives and the rain just pours outside like crazy. You get back inside your house, while seeing and hearing mother nature's power around you. For some reason, I really love those moments and feel inspired by them.


Where/how did you meet your partner?
I met Hitomi in Japan, a little bit over two years ago. I was 19 years old at that time, and decided that it would be awesome to explore Japan for 3 months by myself, before starting University. I found some host families on internet, the first one being in the city of Chiba, a prefecture near Tokyo. My host mother had a friend, who was also a host mother, and that person had a French woman as a babysitter in her house. That French woman then took me to her favorite bar where she befriended some Japanese people. My boyfriend was there! That's how we met!

How long have you been together?
We've just passed the 2 years mark! Still a young couple!

What qualities do you admire in your partner?
I like that he is so down to earth, because I'm a head-in-the-cloud kind of person, and it really helps me to have someone logical, organized, capable and wise beside me. He is the one who organizes our trips and dates, while asking for my opinion. It's good for me, because I have a hard time organizing things!

I also like that he is not afraid of commitment and he's very serious about everything he does - when he says he'll do something, he will do it, no matter what. His promises are never a joke! I admire that a lot.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
I think that's as hard as the question about my childhood! I'm tempted to say: our first kiss, or the first time he said "I love you", or the first time I tried a kimono with him (a traditional Japanese clothing), because I cherish those memories deeply, but who doesn't cherish that kind of memories? So instead, I'll talk about one of those normal days where we just went bowling, then went to the movie theater to watched a (very bad) movie while eating nachos and popcorn, and after that went to a store similar to Ikea and tried all the most expensive couches and beds we could find, both knowing that we would probably never buy any of them in our entire lifetime. Even if it was a rainy day, we had so much fun! I think we should always cherish those kind of memories - those times where nothing extraordinary happened, but you were simply happy.


What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Going to Japan was a plan I had had for many years, as I started reading manga when I was young and got interested in the culture afterwards. I can't say I knew everything, because that's still not the case, but I wasn't completely foreign to the culture either. Also, before going to Japan, I of course researched about cultural faux-pas and what to expect there. But because our cultures are so different, I did – and still do -- cultural mistakes. That's the beauty of traveling!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
When I came back to Canada after my 3 month trip to Japan, my family noticed that I was still skyping everyday with a Japanese male friend. They just put two and two together! They didn't say anything until I was ready to tell them. I had a hard time with that, because at that moment, I didn't want to be in a long distance relationship. It was a lot harder to accept that situation for me - than for my family. They just approved of whatever makes me happy, but I must admit I felt like they were a bit doubtful that a long distance relationship would work. Some of my friends would say "aren't you afraid he'll cheat on you?" before even asking what his name is! Most of the people around me probably thought our relationship would never last...but here we are, two years later and still together! Now, my mother always asks how Hitomi is doing and if he's doing well with learning French, or how they can help him when he'll come to live in Canada next year, etc. My family is very helpful.

The only thing I didn't like was the surprising racism in my extended family. My cousins made a lot of fun of my boyfriend behind his back (when they hadn't met him yet), saying all kinds of stereotypes we all know about Asians. It was quite awful at that time. It made me realize I couldn't get along with everyone, even if I had grown up with them, which was very sad. I almost had a fight with my cousin's boyfriend. But after I told them I really didn't like their behaviour, and after they met him in person, they stopped saying mean things. I like to see this as a benefit for them - maybe it expanded their views and made them a bit more open-minded to have a cousin who dates an Asian.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Because Hitomi and I come from very different backgrounds, I have the opportunity to see things in a new light. It makes me a more "complete" human being; a better version of myself. I learn a lot from him, mainly because we have vastly different personalities and way of thinking. I also like to see my own country from a different angle - some things I used to think were universal are questioned by Hitomi, because he's not Canadian. It then makes me see my culture with new eyes. That's very enlightening.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I would say the best marital/relationship advice I've received is from my parents. They always told me that even through the hardest times when you have doubts about your relationship, even when your children are going through an ungrateful age - the most important thing is to be a team with your partner. They said it's especially important when having children, being able to support each other in the education. So for me, a relationship shouldn't only be about passion, physical attraction and shared interests, but about two independent individuals who complete each other and somehow, together, make a wonderful team who will be able to survive through whatever life will throw at them.


What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship (from your own culture)?
In Québec, it's important to voice our affection and show it to the people we love by hugging and kissing them on the cheeks. It's something that is very uncommon in Japan - they normally don't hug, and the parents very rarely tell their children they love them (and vice-versa). I think it's a good thing for Hitomi to experience that kind of family atmosphere and to learn how to voice your feelings without feeling embarrassed about it.

Also, money is a lot less important in Canada than it is in Japan. I don't care if my boyfriend makes a lot of money or not, because we are a team and I don't want to wait for him at home all the time while he has to "bring in the money", which is the tradition in Japan. One time, over the phone, Hitomi told me that he should study English even harder, because he wanted to become a Manager at his job. I told him it was great if he had that ambition because it sounded fun, and he said "no, it's boring and it's a lot of work....but it pays more. I do that for us, for our future together." I was shocked. I right away told him to forget about it, right at this second, if it was the only reason. I told him I didn't want a partner who is never home because he's doing overtime at a job he dislikes. I want to spend quality time with him as much as possible, and even more if we have children someday. I want them to see their father, not the color of the money he brings back!

He was really relieved when I explained that to him. It was a very important moment for both of us, because our cultures are fundamentally different in that regard. Now, I guess he doesn't think like that anymore, because he is leaving his job (after working there for almost ten years) in two months and is coming for an adventure for one year to join me in Canada next year. It's amazing how much his perspective changed on that.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your partner?
As I said, we are still a very young couple, so I know the older couples probably have much better advices regarding this. But still, I can say that being spontaneous is the key! It's easy to fall in a routine – which can be good too! But if you feel tired of it, go on a date or, even better, on a trip together, without planning anything.

Also, not everyone speaks the same love language - some people might feel connected to their spouse by talking with them and quality time; others might like receiving gifts; or compliments. You should make an effort to not only know the language of love of your partner, but also try to "speak it".

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I probably adopted aspects of the Japanese culture a lot more than I realize, but I noticed I'm a lot more considerate of how other people feel around me, especially if I make a decision that concerns them in some ways. I will apologize a lot more for something that isn't even my fault to begin with, and I'm a lot more polite to the figure of authority (even if I still have a hard them with authority from time to time!).

I also don't justify myself anymore when I can't do something or go somewhere. At first, it was a weird thing to notice how the Japanese rarely explain why they are not coming to a certain party or why they decided to do something a certain way. In Canada, we feel like we always need to explain ourselves, even if by that you have to lie! Now, I just say I can't go, and that's it. It used to annoy me, but now I use it a lot! 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not really. They have met only once, for a week, so no, they didn't change their behavior just yet.


What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Oh, there are so many of them! The most difficult thing would be embracing the fact that I'll always be a foreigner in Japan, no matter how much of the language I speak, how long I lived there, or how much I consider myself as Japanese. It's never going to happen! I'll always get stared at everyday, I'll always be stopped by strangers who try to talk to me in English on the streets, and I'll probably always have a hard time making Japanese friends. There's something in the Japanese culture that makes it hard for an "outsider" to become an "insider". This is something that is hard to live with, as Canada is known for being a very welcoming country concerning immigrants.

Another thing that I have a hard time understanding is the work culture in Japan. Being forced to go to dinner with colleagues or staying at your job for some extra hours because your boss himself hasn't left yet just make me want to rebel even more! I don't like the huge pressure on fitting in the crowd in Japan, and the difficulty of saying "no" when something goes against your wishes or values. Also, men and women are not equal at all on that aspect of society. It's hard for a women to leave a job because of children and then coming back to the workforce. You either stay at that job and hire a super expensive nanny, or become a housewife. It is quite unfair!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
So many of them! I've cleaned my teeth with a toothpick without hiding my mouth with my hand. I've talked on the phone on the train, and ate in the street during walking. I revealed my weight to my boyfriend (he was VERY surprised, as he told me no Japanese girls would ever say how much they weight to their boyfriend). I've ate snacks during class in University (totally permitted in Canada, but rude in Japan). I've left rice in my bowl. There's probably a lot more, but I forget!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
I would say that it was – and still is – when we try to explain something to each other on a deeper level. Because my native tongue is French and Hitomi's native tongue is Japanese, we usually try to bridge that language barrier by speaking English, Japanese and recently, French. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, there's things that are left unsaid or misunderstood because my level of Japanese and his level of English are just not good enough. We might get tired. We also might be annoyed. But all in all, it's something that can only get better and better with time and hard work, so we continue to give our best. It's not impossible to date in your second language. I would be lying if I said it's not challenging, though!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is definitely having two cultures in one relationship. It really makes you rethink about what you always took for granted. Things that I thought everyone did turned out to be very Canadian, and being with Hitomi helps me to become a better person. I dare thinking it's the same way around!

For the worst part, I think it lies in the formalities/administrative problems. Deciding where we'll live, the nationality of the children, what kind of wedding, your legal rights in a foreign country, etc. They can make your life a bit more complicated than if you're partner is the same nationality as you are.


What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That the cultural differences are a really big problem. In reality, I think those differences are mostly fun to experience. If you are both good at communication, and you don't get offended easily, then I don't see why cultural differences should be a huge problem.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Canadian women?
I would say the biggest misconception about Canadian women (or Western women in general) in Japan is that we all have a very very high sex drive and we are "easy". I'm not sure why so many Japanese people think that about Western women, but I think it might have to do with the fact that talking about sex is still a bit taboo in Asia, especially for women. In Canada, we make jokes and talk about it quite openly, so that might be why Japanese think of us as promiscuous.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Fortunately enough, I can't remember a time when someone was disapproving of our relationship face-to-face with us. Hitomi's parents have always been very welcoming to me and I've never had a single problem with them or his friends. Same for my family, except the problems I mentioned above with my extended family. Apart from the people saying "she's way out of his league" (and other kind of disgusting comments), we've been left alone.

The only time someone was disapproving of us was on internet - on my blog. That person said I was just an attention-seeker and that I was a threat against the white race because if I ever have children with Hitomi, our kids will never look white. Surprisingly enough, it didn't make me sad at all. There are so many people in this world, at least one person will always be against whatever you are doing. Having a blog unfortunately comes with that kind of attention.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
The only thing I'd like to say is be open-minded and be flexible concerning cultural clashes. Although, if something your significant other said or did was against your values, you should really talk about it with him/her. Don't let the cultural differences be an excuse for someone who's treating you badly.


(All photos courtesy of Japan-aholic)
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13 comments

  1. Jasmine, I really like your attitude toward money. I come from a culture which also puts a lot of emphasis on status, money, and social approval and so I can kind of understand where your boyfriend is coming from. However, I am also the daughter of a CEO and while we had all our material needs met growing up, my father was basically not home for a period of around 10 years because he was working so hard. He was gone to the extent that when he was home it felt like we had a guest around and not my dad.

    My mother was essentially a single mother - one who didn't have to worry about money- but who unfairly shouldered more than her fair share of the stress and work involved in running a household and bringing up children.

    I am now married to a man who does not make a lot of money. I am a teacher and don't exactly rake in the dollars, BUT we are both home everyday with our daughter and making a family together. Do I wish we made more money? Sure. But I can also see how much our daughter flourishes with the attention and care of both parents who are not working long crazy hours.

    Thanks for letting me ramble on. And this is embarrassing but I have to say it- Hitomi looks like one of the stars on a Korean soap I watch :-). Here's wishing you both the very best!!

    Raina.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing your personal experience!
    I've noticed the same thing in one of the host families I lived with in Japan; the children were over-excited when they finally got to see their father after days of abscence. It was a bit sad.

    It's funny that you thought Hitomi looked like one of the actors on a show, because I thought the exact same thing the first time I saw him hahaha!
    Which Kdrama is it? I'm curious :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jasmine, the actor I am talking about is in two of my favorite K-dramas (so far)-

      Goddess of Marriage and Word from Warm Heart.

      About the parent child thing, us kids went from being over-excited to being blase to just not caring in the end which is so much worse. I don't have much of a relationship with my parents today as a direct result of those experiences.

      Raina.

      Delete
    2. I typed those dramas as soon as I could haha it's so interesting to see the pictures! I've never seen those dramas, maybe I should?
      By the way, sorry for my previous reply, it was in the wrong spot for some reason.

      Delete
  3. Wow - I had no idea about Japanese people, except the fact that they are extremely hard-working. This post is an eye-opener to me. I can see they are like Indians on many levels, not on the hard-working one though. Yet, I so liked the fact that one does not have to explain why they are going somewhere or doing something. Indians can be very fussy on this issue. You have to make up lies and stories to explain why you did not turn up. Good luck to you, J & H!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad that you could know a bit more about Japan with my guest post! :D
      India sounds very much like Canada on the "Quick! I have to come up with a story/lie to explain why I'm not going" issue hahaha
      Thank you for reading and writing a comment!

      Delete
  4. Great questions and answers! I feel like I know y'all now^^

    It is odd, about the racism and strange comments, I've never had that trouble from strangers. Just family/friends! So frustrating><

    About money/work in Japan, it is the gender inequality that puts pressure on men to sacrifice all to make the family wealthy. Women aren't allowed to be so successful in society so they must depend on their husband's income. In America we'd say "gold-digger" and look down on women for being materialistic, but in Japan it's common sense to choose a man who brings in good money, in the old days it was for survival. So a lot of women here don't mind if their husbands work long hours. My husband's coworkers say they can't go home too early because their wives will be mad! It's a different value system and I agree it's so important to discuss these kinds of values and expectations. My husband and I made a commitment to try to choose "time" instead of "money" when we can. If you don't choose "money" in Japanese society, people will say you're a lazy worker...well at least we're not lazy about our relationship and each other!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What kind of comments did you have from your family/friends, if I can ask?

      It's something I really don't like about Japan... of course it's just cultural differences, but we can't like everything about Japan, right? As much as I don't like everything in Canada!
      Lazy workers... well, I guess if being a lazy worker means I'm having fun with the people I love instead of wanting to work all the time, then yes, I am a proud lazy worker! Hahaha

      Delete
    2. From American family and friends it was odd references to WWII and aren't I worried our kids will experience racism? It's true they will I think. In fact all people who don't fit the "mold" of their society experience discrimination. I don't want to be controlled by fear though.

      From Japanese in-laws, they couldn't understand why I wanted to marry their son and thought I must have ulterior motives...like what?? Lol
      Now they encourage husband to "be careful or she'll divorce you, white women love divorce" :/ ouch! Well I'm setting out to break the stereotype^^

      Delete
  5. Hey there! :)

    I just wanted to inform you that the website www.japan-aholic.com has been replaced to http://englishjapanxholic.wordpress.com
    Every posts still exist, but the links on this posts are broken unfortunately :( If you want, you can change them (by replacing "japan-aholic" to "englishjapanxholic.wordpress").

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey there :)

    I just wanted to inform you that the website www.japan-aholic.com is not available anymore. It went back to its previous form, which is http://englishjapanxholic.wordpress.com
    So if you want your posts' links not to be broken regarding that, you can change all the "japan-aholic.com" to "englishjapanxholic.wordpress.com" instead. All the rest of the URL after the ".com/" stays the same for the posts!

    Sorry about that :(

    ReplyDelete

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