Thanks to my recent reading of the book, Japan: A Guide to Traditional Customs and Etiquette by Boye Lafayette De Mente (revised by Geoff Botting) and published by Tuttle Publishing, I have come to realize that Noboko’s inability to choose me over a relationship with her father was not a weakness on her part, but rather simply her being Japanese, which for any Japanese would have to be considered a strength.
I have only recently come to learn that when the Japanese are being Japanese, it’s not a knock against the world—at least it’s not meant to be—rather it’s merely the Japanese being true to themselves.
Noboko, an awesome-looking babe of a woman regardless of her cultural birth, was essentially caught between a rock and hard place in her relationship with me.
Yes… I have no doubt whatsoever that she loved me as much as I loved her.
Not only was I quite willing to make her my wife, but if she had only agreed to come with me to Toronto for even the tiniest of vacations, I would have stayed in Japan for the rest of our life together.
That’s pretty damn honest, and even with 25 years’ hindsight, it remains a fact of life for me.
But what stopped us?
The Japanese, from as soon as they are able to learn, utilize various kata to create their Japanese identity.
The kata are everyday formalized rules for how a good Japanese should do everything… from greeting people of various class, what form of language to use; to how to use chopsticks; to the order in which food is eaten; to the types of foods that are eaten; to how one thinks about certain things—the reality; and how one speaks of certain things—the Japanese way.
It’s the private versus the public.
Now… I see it. In private, Noboko could speak her mind to me about what we shared… but in public, I was just the foreign friend… definitely not the lover or soul stealer.
It’s something foreigners learn too late.
For Noboko, there was also the need to please her parents… there’s a kata for that… and damn it all, she had already disappointed her parents previously by refusing an engagement to a Japanese guy her parents had approved off… something that happened before I appeared on the scene.
So yes… there was a streak of the rebel in her… something non-Japanese.
The nail that stands up gets hammered down.
It’s true that I discussed my love for Noboko with my coworkers at the Ohtawara Board of Education… because that’s the sort of thing a non-Japanese would do.
I broke every known way of dealing with my work colleagues that the Japanese know… and it was okay because I was just a dumb gaijin (outsider) who didn’t know the rules and etiquette for how to properly deal with my co-workers. I didn’t know that Japanese kata.
The few I told encouraged me - or at least exclaimed that she was very beautiful. I told them I wanted to marry her and stay in Japan.
They seemed happy on the outside, but then there’s that whole way of thinking on the inside that I could never learn. Hells, no one in Japan could actually learn what another Japanese person is really thinking.
Even for foreigners, I am an oddity.
How many other people will tell you exactly what’s in their head or heart? Close friends? Family?
In Japan, I had no problem telling anyone who asked, exactly what I thought… which in the Japanese way of thinking isn’t as appreciated as you might expect.
It makes me dangerous. I don’t follow the kata. I don’t act like a Japanese. Ergo they don’t know how I am going to act.
Crazy, but true. It’s not crazy, though. It’s just the Japanese being Japanese, and every one else merely being non-Japanese.
So… when Noboko eventually came to her Japanese senses, and was able to rebuff my advances... despite everything her heart and soul may have wanted, she gave up what she wanted for the community of the Japanese collective.
I get it now.
I also understand how any Japanese person who is willing to sacrifice their Japaneseness to be with a non-Japanese, is truly an extraordinary person.
By doing so, they give up their Japaneseness.
And, even though they themselves may feel as though their Japaneseness is intact, the rest of Japan tends to feel otherwise.
I have NO idea what my relationship with Noboko actually cost Noboko in the long run.
Did I completely screw up her life - no, not because she loves me, but rather because she may have given up her Japanese identity to date me… and me blabbing about it might have cost her her cultural identity.
Fug. I hope not.
I really didn’t understand just WHAT I was asking her to give up to even date me.
Trust me… there is a huge element of bravery involved in any Japanese person dating a non-Japanese. There’s a huge level of disobedience, involved.
It’s not prejudice or racism… it’s a shunning of the Japanese way that all Japanese are taught.
Now… don’t worry. For those of you who are considering a trip to Japan, or are considering working in Japan… don’t try and become Japanese… and certainly don’t fret over your inability to become Japanese.
Even for the Koreans or Chinese who are six generations living in Japan, who know all of the kata - the ways of Japan, who speak the language and eat the food, and dress the dress… even they are not considered by the Japanese to be Japanese.
Heck, even those Japanese who go away to live in a foreign country for a while, and then come back… they are often ostracized by the Japanese collective as no longer being Japanese-enough.
It’s a cultural superiority complex that the Japanese ingrain upon themselves.
It’s not a criticism. It’s Japan being Japanese.
If you would like to gain a better insight into what Japan is really all about… a book not about the Top 10 best places to visit; nor about the weirdest Japanese foods; or strangest restaurants…. I suggest you all pick up Japan: A Guide to Traditional Customs and Etiquette by Tuttle Publishing.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again. If I knew then, what I knew now…
Aw heck… a guy’s gotta try, right?
Not so strangely, writing this blog has depressed the crap out of me.