Where are you from?
(Matthew): I’m from the United States and Shinichi is Japanese.
Where did you meet?
We met in Tokyo twelve years ago when a mutual friend brought him to my birthday party.
What language do you speak at home?
The language we speak depends on the situation, but daily conversation is about half English and half Japanese. Once the subject turns serious (money matters, disagreements, etc) we tend to switch into English. We also have a large vocabulary of words in our own language – sort of a goofy blend of Japanese and English that have evolved over time to be completely incomprehensible to others.
Do you try to cook food from each other’s countries?
Like the way we speak to each other, our cooking is a mixture of Western and Japanese. Thai, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Italian dishes are often on the menu as well. We always have yogurt, fruit and toast in the mornings – Japanese breakfasts of grilled fish and fermented soybeans don’t go well with coffee, in my opinion.
Can you explain one part of your partner’s culture that you found surprising?
Though my partner and his family are not religious, I was surprised at their observance of customs such as keeping a shrine in their home and the regular visits to the family cemetery plot. It was quite unnerving the first time I went to wash the gravestones as I literally felt a century’s worth of ancestors staring down at me.
With time I became more relaxed and now actually look forward to the tombstone-cleaning days – it reminds me that I am an accepted part of his family (accepted by the living ones anyway).
What’s the best thing about being in a cross-cultural relationship?
Obviously, this relationship has also allowed me to experience Japan in a truly fundamental way that no visitor could possibly imagine. However, after 9 years of being together, it rarely even occurs to me that our relationship is “cross-cultural”. A large number of our friends are also cross-cultural couples and I think that makes it seem rather like the norm as opposed to something special.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a cross-cultural relationship?
Worrying about what country we could live in together was that hardest part of our relationship. Although we have a marriage certificate from Canada, neither his nor my country recognize us as a couple. My ability to stay in Japan depended on whether or not I had a job and there is no way he could get a visa for the US so we were always anxious that there might be a day when we would have to live apart. We have been trying to immigrate to Australia – a country that does recognize our commitment. Recently, however, I was granted permanent residency in Japan thus diminishing the fear of being separated.
Do you have any advice for other cross-cultural couples?
Yes – learn each other’s languages and, if possible, spend a good amount of time in each other’s countries. This is key to understanding your partner’s perspective and it alleviates a good deal of miscommunication.
I also think spending time together in a third country is a fantastic way to strengthen your relationship. It puts you in a situation where you are both equally foreign and you learn to work as a couple instead of relying on the one who is in their home country.
About the authorLucy