Culture Matters!

Culture matters.  We are born into a particular variety and are typically raised in the same unless for some reason we move…to another region, country or join a different class/group.  At some point we choose to remain in our cultures or leave for another.  We may even come and go between.

img_0150I was born and raised in rural mid-Michigan to a homemaker and a blue-collar automotive worker.  We were not religious nor did we belong to anything particular.  My culture was as bland as my mother’s dish of macaroni and milk– flavored with salt, pepper, margarine and the putrid froth of powdered milk from a black and white box generic.

The overriding tenant in the culture of my youth was never stated but perceived.  It was “take care of your own business…work hard and save.”  My dad was often laid off due to instability in his industry, but when he could he worked two jobs.  In between his day jobs he built our house with savings bonds he stashed away in a safety deposit box. We moved in without any interior doors or carpeting.  The US bonds only went so far and he would not take a mortgage.

Beyond finances, my family was typically Midwestern. We often had impromptu family dinners at my grandparent’s farmhouse down the road where us kids played in the barns and put on silly shows.  We had fun but were not at all touchy-feely.  You don’t see a lot of hugging in our photos.  Respect was love.

Overall I was provided with a fine starting point for a good life, but at the time I didn’t realize what I had. Like many young people, I thought my life was boring and practically devoid of culture.

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A milk delivery box

My view of where I came from changed radically when I went to Japan on an exchange at the age of 16.  It was 1980 mind you, and I didn’t really know much about what was going on beyond the three counties that converged at the end of country mile.  When I got off the plane in Tokyo I was stunned.  The  Japanese?  Now they had culture!  And…I couldn’t get enough.  Fresh milk was delivered daily in personal-sized glass jars with paper tops.  Need I say more?

So as the Bonsai story (my memoir) goes, I turned in my lame, non-descript bumpkin culture for the exotic Japanese model.  Just like that.  I became infatuated…began mimicking their ways…and in short order married a Japanese man.

While this may seem extreme, it is not so uncommon.  People opt for a different way of life or adopt a new lifestyle as they grow.  Some admire another culture and immerse themselves.  It is a perfectly fine thing to do– as long as one knows exactly what they are getting themselves into. I did not.

The Japanese culture is a complex one.  Underneath all of the interesting customs and wonderfully designed products there is a long history with some rather crazy behavior– seppukku (ritual suicide), kamimaze (suicide pilots) and the taking of thousands of “comfort women” for personal pleasure during war times.  Sure I had heard of these things, but thought nothing about them seeing the new modern Japan. Those days were long gone.

From sixteen though my early twenties I studied the language and tried hard to assimilate.  My instructor/husband was strict and firm.  There were no grey areas in his world and explanations for anything was fruitless as excuses did not matter.  Far different from my mild-mannered father, the man I married was prone to fits of anger and demeaning talk to anyone who failed to meet his expectations.  This included harsh words and physical attacks against his own parents who had more than supported his follies.

And it wasn’t that I had just made a bad choice when it came to men (oh I most certainly did), but over time I would realize that I had elected to become part of a culture that did not meet my expectations nor match the values I apparently held dear– ideas of how people should behave and be treated…notions rightfully instilled in me as a child.

From the outside, many believe the Japanese to be a respectful lot, but if you are a woman do not expect equal treatment in your house. Your job will be to pacify and deal with a great deal of passive aggressive behavior. Do not expect to be appreciated beyond your housewife/mother functions or adored as you age. All too soon you will become a cog in the economic wheel that is the family unit…existing only to meet the standard expectation of society.  This is broad brush but generally it has been the case amonst the married Japanese women I knew.

Of course there are exceptions. Many foreign women are of course happily married to Japanese men these days. I believe, however, that these men are for the most part special and attracted to Western (or other) cultures.  Thus it works.  For me this was not the case.  My husband was attracted to Caucasian women (girls actually), but only from a physical perspective.  I, being more than willing to adapt to his culture, became his easy prey. I was for his pleasure for two…maybe three years.  Beyond that I was expected to fill the role of any common Japanese wife.

imageI use the term “prey” because what I would come to learn is that my husband was in fact a pedophile.  The first hints of his tendency appeared when he became infatuated with my younger sister when she was fifteen and I was nineteen.  The next big clue came when I found photo magazines of naked pre-teen girls hidden in our house.  These were purchased legally in Japan, obtained from the local newsstand– a fact he used as his “excuse.”  As in, “I’m obviously not the only one that likes pre-teen girls.” He hid behind his culture while criticizing my prudish “Judeo-Christian” upbringing as he called it.

This was not my father’s culture…one that respected real women like my outspoken mother.  It was one that wanted women to remain demure.

Of course my ex was a pedophile and probably would have been dispite his cuture, but all the same Japan made it easy for him.  He could claim his preference to be normal because no one around his was raising a stink about his preferences.  It was all too common.  Culture matters.

Take a close look at the Titanic-like iceberg illustration below.

What I saw in Japan, what I fell in love with, was all of the trappings. The beautiful kimonos, the sushi, the “Welcome home” greetings said without fail, the pop music, the ancestor worship at the family altars, the cool new products and ancient arts, folk festivals and such. I never gave much thought to that which lay beneath the surface…the psychological and anthropological aspects of the culture which are generally non-visible to the tourist and terribly confusing to the average expat without considerable study.  I should have thought more about how the Japanese communicated with each other…how they handled their emotions and honestly examined their beliefs.  I should have, but because I did not…because I turned a blind eye, I’m a shining example of a cultural addict who hit rock bottom.

Do not be blinded by what you see on the surface.  Keep your eyes open and study any new culture you consider buying into before actually jumping into the deal.  And do not toss out that which you have been given so easily.  Recognize the good.  Choose your values and don’t let anyone, or anyplace for that matter sway you from what you know to be right.  Young people may not see the importance of their humble beginnings, but surely they need to take stock of the good and be wary of that which is unfamiliar. I fell for the mesmerizing culture instalantly–  and being uneducated and blind, I accepted more than should have.

#culturematters

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Thank you for reading the tale of Bonsai.  (Amazon)

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25 thoughts on “Culture Matters!

  1. OMG. That is amazing.
    I know nothing about Japan but would have fallen in love with it just as you did.
    You know, regardless of what has happened, you have had an amazing life; that other’s do not understand. I have had a similar (not Japan) experience; & what you have learned/been through is not necessarily the best thing at the time, but still the best thing. If you get what I mean.

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  2. I’ve learned more about Japan and Japanese culture from your blogs than from anything written in guide books. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and keep us entertained with more stories, and links to other sites.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. KEEP PREACHING IT, SISTER! AMEN AND AMEN!
    I believe that is what happened to me when I chose Roman Catholicism…I “loved” the “culture” of that “religion”! ALL GLORY TO GOD FOR THE TUGGING QUESTION HE KEPT PLACING ON MY HEART THROUGH HIS HOLY SPIRIT THAT THROUGH HIS WORD BROUGHT ME OUT!!!

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  4. I’m proud of my mom for marrying in her 20s. Although she did not have much education and financial backing, she was not pressured by her parents to capitalize on her youth. This choice had been a powerful drive that enabled me to pursue a passion instead of living with regrets, blaming the world when things didn’t go my way or putting the burden of my unfulfilled dreams onto the next generation. The thought of teenagers who can’t wait to grow up (get married) and have children (kids having kids) had always been very unsettling to me. Life is not a competition! There is more to life than owning a property, being someone’s wife (the chosen one), aspiring to be a MILF, comparing the accomplishments of offspring or having progenies to sponsor me when I’m old.

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  5. Fascinating post. Great explanation of the power of culture and the need to examine the unseen as best as we can. All the best to you and your family and best of luck.

    You are right, though, about the dangers of uncritically tossing aside one’s own culture in favor of something new. It’s never bad to reexamine your own roots and keep what is good about them.

    Great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Daytime Renegade for reading and commenting. People are always drawn to someone or some place exotic and new. Japan is very popular these days, and while that’s nice, those without personal strength and confidence must be wary not to adopt something they don’t know well– that is know well-enough to see beyond the surface attraction.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I still wonder how this differs from the rampant youth-worship here in the States. I don’t see much difference at all, personally. For example, American men don’t really have much respect for women, either, and lust after young girls who have little to no life experience. On top of that, there are a gazillion surgical procedures available to anyone with endless time and money, and a complete lack of self-respect and worth. Women in their 60s getting Botox and face-lifts to compete with women in their 30s and 40s – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    The more I read, the fewer differences I see between Japanese culture, and other cultures worldwide…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello sepultura13! Thank you for commenting. Your thoughts feed my wee brain.

      Outside of my Japanese experience, my only other cultural reference is decidedly small-town Midwestern. For the past 16 years I’ve lived in a town (not far from where I grew up) where the things you speak of are not part of the major culture. Every day I interact with a fair number of people in my global company and I honestly do not hear or any local stories that demonstrate what you describe. Shoot I’m 53 now, and the men and women in my circles (my tribe?) do not talk of Botox, surgery, chasing younger tail or say critical things about their partners who are all aging as we do (hopefully with grace!)

      The point for me, and maybe I was not clear, is that different cultures exist and that true culture is not what is manifested on the surface (the trappings) but what is underneath those bobbles. Such connections are not random and we have the ability to an extent to chose our cultures by where we live and further shape our cultures.

      Right now, where I am, would be considered boring to many. But there are values here and if one took 100 random people and polled them about their beliefs, values, communication styles, thought about aging and their personal preferences they would get a picture of a culture that is different from the one you describe. Most importantly, it is the culture I chose and hope to help shape as a member whose actions are seen and words are heard.

      We can’t do much about where we were born and our initial exposure, but as adults we can chose what we support and what we work to change. We can agree that growing old gracefully together is a beautiful thing.

      You know I always appreciate you stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think at some point, worldliness looks similar in any culture. And there are people in every country trying to lead good lives and treat others with dignity. Maybe it’s easier to get along with a person of good will from another culture than a selfish person from your own . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is very true. There is good and bad everywhere. I believe one can live very happily with a good person from anywhere– as someone who is good will have values that allow for compromise in important areas. They will take use the best of both cultures to make a wonderful home. This is something that people (especially those without much experience or low self-esteeme) need to realize and consider. My ex was staunchly traditional and very rigid in his thinking. This is one of the bad cultural traits of Japanese in comparison with the West where we are used to more gray space. It is just one example. But absolutely I could have found good man in Japan as one can anywhere! Awareness of the underpinnings is always helpful so that we are not blinded by all of the interesting things on the surface. Good points RoseMarie.

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  7. Culture IS a big deal! It permeates everything we do and has no clear dividing line as aspects of it bleed together. (Certainly makes it hard to study as an anthropologist)

    I do worry when I meet young foreigners obsessed with Japan and think there’s nothing wrong with it. You almost don’t want to point out to them the rampant homeless problem, the xenophobia, the gender segregation and expected roles, the social pressures to do well and confirm which drives the high suicide rate. No county and no culture is perfect. Everywhere has it’s good points and bad points.

    I still love Japan despite it’s flaws, but I am still aware of it’s flaws.

    Thank you for writing this. I hope young people who aren’t aware of this and who really want to move to Japan, get married and ‘become’ Japanese (yes I’ve met people like that), will stop and re-think how they want to go about it.

    I’m also glad you’re free of your ex. Thanks again for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for understanding. It is a very difficult message to deliver actually but this particular post sums up my main purpose. I like Japan too but I had enough and need to keep my feet on the ground. I’m especially glad I do not live there as an older gaijin.

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