Authors: Clifford H. Clarke and Naomi Takashiro
Intercultural partners experience many challenges in building and sustaining love in bicultural marriages. In the previous article, we reviewed the key problems that Japanese and American partners encounter in their bicultural marriages. We explored those cases of third-culture marriage in Japan by observing their interactions and interviewing them.
We clarify misinterpretations through the use of kotowaza, or proverbs and sayings that illuminate the values behind cultural interactions. Understanding the deeper values leads to modified interpretations of each other’s behavior that become more isomorphic and mutually acceptable to partners committed to constructing together a successful Third-Culture Marriage.
In our recent chapter 51 in the International Handbook of Love (Clarke & Takashiro, 2021), we elaborated on the eight primary qualities of third-culture marriage interactions. They are important when partners commit to constructing together a successful intercultural marriage.
Here is one more advice.
Context of the Interaction Assertion and Hesitation in Bicultural Marriages
Partners in bicultural marriages have varying degrees of action-oriented versus being-oriented inclinations (the oft-noted ‘A’ or ‘B’ type personalities). When these are not in sync they cause tension. For example, in planning everyday schedules, leisure trip activities, even with the pace in which house chores or shopping get done, and many other occasions in which joint preparations are desired.
Time Is a Key Value
Time is a commodity in both cultures however it is worshipped differently. Preciseness of departure times or eating times or sleeping times cause communication issues when there is a significant difference between marriage partners’ commitments to preciseness or being laissez-faire toward time (letting things take their own course.) But proper timing is also important and that can vary by context and objective.
The kotowaza, Seite wa koto o shisonzuru or ‘Hasty ones make blunders’ reminds us of the issue of proper timing, such as when to end or leave a conversation or party. This also suggests the importance of enryo or hesitation as a pause before sasshi can occur (Miike, 2003) as in giving consideration or guessing a meaning.
Necessary Elements of Place
Besides the perspective of ‘time’, there are also considerations of ‘Place’ that bicultural couples must appreciate and resolve. There is an appropriateness of time, place, and occasion, “TPO” to speak honestly in private with honne or tactfully in public with tatemae.
Tatemae & honne (public & private speech) create style ambiguities that result in challenging attributions that question each other’s integrity, based honesty, shōjiki, or on harmony, “Wa”, as the primary value in society (Prince Shotoku Taishi, 604; Clarke, 1992; Nawano, Annikis, and Mizuno, 2006; Oosterling, 2005; Pilgrim, 1986).
Here Is an Example of One Scenario
A long-term U. S. man, a professor, complained often of his Japanese partner never having an opinion of her own, even about where to take a weekend trip or what to eat. The American wanted her honest feeling regardless of potentially having her opinion overruled. Having “no opinion” created comfort in the Japanese woman while not in the U. S. man. It rather limited the scope and depth of the bicultural relationship. The man did not value awaseru, to adjust, adapt, or match, as the woman did because without ‘the truth’, her shōjiki, how could he know that he was pleasing her?
She on the other hand was practicing enryo, hesitation, in order to let him choose. Whatever his decision, she was sure that she was happier to awasu, to adjust to his preferences and would easily gaman, endure, the consequences. She would be ‘the wise hawk that hides its talons’ – No aru taka wa tsume o kakusu.
Here Are the Tools for Cultural Exploration
Kotowaza (sayings and proverbs – some are the same as sayings and proverbs in English) can uncover deeper values and assumptions, which are often unknown to non-Japanese (Galef & Hashimoto, 1987). Kotowaza, like those from Confucius or Musashi, reveal models for strategic thinking and behaviors and can provide a basis for conversations about different styles of communication.
In this case the Japanese wife chose to enryo, hesitation, and awasu, to adapt to his expressed wishes. The husband chose to act in a way that could have conveyed rikutsuppoi, argumentative, or display what she may have perceived as ki ga tsuyoi, strong mindedness, and jikoshucho, self- assertiveness, not characteristics admired in Japan.
Learning Through Experimentation
Differences across these two cultures due to assumptions about integrity, honesty, persuasion, and adjustment often result in dissatisfaction within the marriage. However, just deeper understanding is inadequate without exploring the necessary changes in attitude, accepting the conflicting values, and experimenting with new behaviors.
One Pathway to Conflict Resolution
There are two social paths by which to display integrity. One is by being honest; the other is by being harmonious. In Japan, Prince Shotoku Taishi wrote in 604 A. D. “Above all, there is harmony” in what is known as Japan’s first constitution.
Honesty is not as core a value in Japan as in the U.S. due to the predominance of tatemae rather than honne in the language, which enables the construction of greater harmony.
One kotowaza shows the necessity of what Americans call lying; Uso mo hoben, similarly, ‘a white lie is a necessary evil’ teaches us that lying is sometimes expedient in order to save face and build harmony, as in diplomacy or office politics.