Anne Crescini

Married to a Stranger. (結婚相手は知らん)

Since I was born and raised in America, but have decided to live the rest of my life as a foreigner in Japan, I have been thinking a lot recently about cultural differences–especially regarding marriage and kids. I have been thinking about this topic a lot, and having constant conversations with my friends. One thing that I have always had trouble discerning is this: what kinds of things are cultural differences, and what kinds of things are just whacked out crazy, no matter what country you call home? That line has been hard for me to draw these days. Both my home country of America, and my adopted country of Japan, are both wonderful and whacked out crazy. But the other day, I was watching this Japanese show on YouTube, and didn’t have trouble discerning at all which side that show fell on. It was without a doubt, whacked out crazy. On the show, this 18-year old boy wrote in saying that in all his years, he had never once seen his parents talk to each other. Not once. He was writing in to see if the show could do something to help, because more than anything else, he just wanted to see his parents have a normal conversation.

私はアメリカ育ち、日本に永住する外人だから、最近よく文化の違いを考える。特に、結婚と育児をよく考えたり、友達と話したりする。何がただの文化の違いなのか、何がどんな国に住んでいてもおかしことなのか、判断するのが最近なかなかできない。アメリカにも、日本にもいいこと、ダメなことがたくさんあるからさ。でもこの間YouTubeで見た番組はそういうケースじゃない。明らかに、どんな国に住んでても お。か。し。い。間違いない。何年前の「探偵ナイトスクープ」の番組だった。18歳の少年は依頼を出した。こういう内容だった。「僕のお父さんとお母さんは、18年間にお互いに話した事がない。話している姿は見たことないから、どうか助けてください」ということだった。何よりもその少年は、会話をしている親の姿を見たくてたまらんかった。

Riz and I watched in disbelief as the TV program interviewed each individual member of the family. All three kids swore that they had never seen their father talk to their mother. The mother would talk to the father, but he would ignore her. The father would talk to the kids. But the mother and father would never talk, and they never once had a conversation as a family. The mother seemed sad and nostalgic; she said that they had never had a fight, but just gradually stopped communicating after their second child was born. She wanted to talk to her husband again, but seemed to think it was maybe hopeless. The father seemed incredibly awkward and uncomfortable; after some prodding he finally admitted that he was jealous of all the attention the kids got from his wife. He felt neglected and started sulking. That sulking led to 23 lost years of communication with his wife.


Part of me thinks this show had to have been made up. I mean, how is that even possible? What about important financial decisions? Or important talks about the kids or their education? Or family gatherings like New Year’s, Obon, and Memorial Ceremonies?  Were there no friends? Were there no family vacations? I just cannot even wrap my mind around it.


I sometimes feel sorry for Japanese men. Although this is an extreme example, so extreme that I question the authenticity, many men do get relegated to the back burner after children enter the picture. The mom pours her heart into the kids. The dad pours his heart into providing for the family, and when he comes home, the mom is asleep with the kids and he sleeps in another room. They stop calling themselves by their names, and instead call each other “okaasan” (mom) and “otoosan” (dad). Many times couples stop having sex altogether, a trend so common here that there is even a word for it–sexless. Most of the time they like being together (but not always), but are more like roommates than lovers. I wish this sexless trend were the exception and not the norm, but it seems from most reports that that is not the case. I am not saying that all couples are like this, and I do have several friends with really healthy marriages, but it is a trend that cannot be ignored.


Although it has been increasing in recent days, Japan has a divorce rate way lower than that of the U.S.  I don’t remember the exact numbers, but of course the divorce rate in America is over 50% every year; I think in Japan it is around 20%. But do those numbers mean that the Japanese are happier than Americans? I don’t think so. Just because the divorce rate is lower doesn’t mean that Japanese couples are happy. Staying married doesn’t equal the presence of mutual love and affection, either. It could be that the Japanese are just better at enduring hardship. The Japanese are taught from a young age to suck it up. You gotta pee? Hold it. You fell down and scraped your knee? You’ll be fine. Mom, I’m hungry! Deal with it. But it is not just the small things that the Japanese are able to endure. They are good at enduring unhappiness, too, especially if they see it as for the greater good. Americans aren’t like that. Personal happiness trumps everything in America regarding married life. The mother and wife who stuck with the husband who ignored her for 23 years is the master of endurance in my book. The ignored American wife would have been turning in those divorce papers in a week. Maybe less. Over the years I have come to respect the Japanese ability to endure; I just don’t think ignoring the fact you are being ignored is a good thing. You need counselling.


Today Riz ignored me for thirty seconds when I was talking to him and then he burst out laughing. He said, “So, how did that make you feel?” It was awful. It was only thirty seconds, but I felt neglected and ignored, and I didn’t like it at all. I cannot imagine how that wife felt, talking to her husband for 23 years and never getting a response. It turns out that they had both wanted to talk to each other for years, but it had just gotten so bad, they didn’t even know where to start. So they just kept on doing the same ole, same ole. The father finally got the courage to talk to his wife after he agreed to meet her in a nostalgic date spot. He never really apologized, but just said, “Thanks for taking care of the kids and me all these years.” The mom said, “Thanks for working hard all these years.” It was a weird exchange, one that would more likely take place between two strangers or acquaintances, but considering they hadn’t spoken for 23 years, I guess that is what they were. I am glad that they are talking again, but I cannot help but think, what a stinking waste. What a waste of the best years of marriage. What a waste or three kids’ childhoods. What a waste of family life. I can only hope that this family can start to pick up the pieces and find healing from a lifetime of dysfunction.


It seems that it all started with one guy sulking. While everyone on the show, including the kids and wife, seemed to think that was funny and laughed about it, I thought it was infinitely sad. 23 years of life wasted because one guy had his feelings hurt and couldn’t talk about it. And his wife couldn’t recognize it. And the kids couldn’t muster the courage to ask about it. All of this happened because of misunderstanding and miscommunication. It was a stark reminder to me that I have to be diligent with my own marriage, to be transparent with my husband about my feelings, and be discerning of his. I guarantee that this couple never thought they would end up in their fifties not having spoken for 23 years. Most people don’t enter into marriage thinking they would ever be signing divorce papers. Marriage is hard work, and conflict and hurt needs to be nipped in the bud. If it isn’t, one may wake up 23 years later married to a stranger.

このめちゃくちゃ状態は、どういうふうに始まったって覚えている?一人の男性はすねたから。お父さん、口が聞かなくなった理由はすねたことって探偵ナイトスクープが発表した時、みんな爆笑した。子供も。見ている人も。探偵も。でも考えて。一人の男性がすねたから、23年間、家族5人の思い出がないことは悲しくない? 誰も「これはヤバい。おかしい。何かしないと」と思わなかった。まあ思っていたかも。けど、何かをする勇気がなかった。子供は一回もお母さんに、「何でお父さんと話さんの」と聞かなかった。この番組を見たから、自分の結婚生活を考えさせられた。19前結婚した。何回も些細なこととか勘違いで数時間を口聞かんくなった。数時間だよ。もしずっとすねたら、何ヶ月になっていたかも。23年はなるわけないけど。結婚というのは、自然に成長するものじゃなくて、自然に死んで行くものです。だから、毎日毎日努力して、定期的にメンテのために二人でどっかに行って、コミュニケーションを取らないと。そうしないと、結婚してから何年もたったある日に、結婚相手は見知らぬ人だと気づくかも。

Category: Blog