For Love of Humans and Cats

This is such a sweet story about Japanese-American Dale Araki and his wife Shoko.  The couple have a strong attachment to each other and to their cats, Suki and Yaki.  They also give some great life lessons about surviving and thriving in a cross-cultural relationship:

What is intercultural marriage to you?

Dale: It’s like double-mint gum. You double your pleasure, you double your fun, there’s also double misunderstanding!  On the positive side, you double everything.          

Shoko: That makes life richer. Another good point is — if we were both Japanese, I might have thought, “No, I can’t continue the relationship anymore,” but in an intercultural marriage, I can think like “Misunderstanding occurs because of cultural factors, not because of one’s character.” A concept such as “kuuki o yomu” (literally, “read the air”) exists only in Japanese culture. A relationship won’t work out if you think of trying to make yourself understood without saying anything. You have to speak up and express yourself in words.                                        

Dale: We’re like a reference to our former students who get married to foreigners. When I ask my students what they think of intercultural marriage, they say things like “It’s fun” and “gaijins are more romantic.” But it’s not for everyone. It requires a lot of work, understanding, more patience, sense of humor — to really make it work.

Of course when I read about Dale, Shoko, Suki and Yaki, I thought of one of my favorite songs growing up: “Sukiyaki” by A Taste of Honey.  I did not know that the American Sukiyaki song was based on the Japanese original, Sukiyaki, which was sung by Kyu Sakamoto under the title “Ue o Muite Aruko” (I will walk looking up).  If you watch the Sakamoto video, you will see that it is anything but glamorous.  He is walking in a very industrial setting.  As my historian friend, Yuko Konno, explained to me in an email:  “As you can see in the video of ‘Sukiyaki,’ there’s a working-class theme here.  This was a time when Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth supported by cheap labor from rural areas.  Sakamoto’s songs appealed to these lonely young men and women.  His songs are both sad and forward-looking — sad because of loneliness, hard work, and simply the pain of living, and yet forward-looking because (I assume) Japan’s economy was doing well.”  Well put, Konno-sensei!

Oh, and as a cat lover, I couldn’t resist buying a little substitute cat.

15 thoughts on “For Love of Humans and Cats

  1. My father is Spanish and my mother is Japanese. I’ve experienced first hand what an intercultural marriage is like. And I must say, it’s not as bubbly, easy and exciting as people think. It probably was in the beginning, but like Dale mentioned, it takes a lot of patience and understanding. My father used to walk around the house with his shoes on, which my mother thought was disrespectful. He couldn’t understand why, but when my mom told him how much she hated it, he eventually stopped. It takes a lot of compromise, a lot of respect, and definitely a lot of love to be married to someone from a different culture. But despite all that, you learn a lot. You become more open-minded and see different views on life. It takes a lot of effort and I admire them more than anything. 

    P.S. – I love the Sukiyaki song too. 

  2. I’m learning so much from you all via this blog site. How interesting to hear your story, Sumiko. It is often true that cross-cultural relationships hang on a thread over how one shows respect or not to your partner’s cultural tradition. I liked the way that the article told the couple’s story, how their courtship and marriage didn’t come together right away but took a lot of time, and how they mentioned their cats as mediators.

  3. I have a friend who is half Korean and half American. Her father used to be in the Navy and met his wife during the war in Korea. My friend’s mother is from South Korea. I believe they had many difficulties not just between themselves, but also many criticisms from people around them. Even though the mother has changed her name to an American name and never speaks Korean, she still has a Korean identity. So, I saw them not getting along very well sometimes because American and Korean culture are totally different from each other and would take a lot of time to understand each other. But overcoming all the difficulties, they got married and have lived happily together with their four daughters.

    I thought they had a very strong bond between themselves that would let them overcome any kind of obstacle they faced. And at the same time, I became interested in other cultures and it really made me very eager to understand cultural differences among countries in the world.

  4. I am 100% Japanese, but I was born and raised in London for 14 years. I actually admire my friends who have parents of different nationalities. But because I was raised abroad, I do not really think (or understand at first) that ‘gaijins’ are ‘more romantic’ than Japanese! It would be fun and interesting to marry someone who is not from the same country as you, as you can learn many things from them. Even though there might be some difficulties understanding each other’s cultural differences, life would probably be more entertaining.

  5. I completely agree, Saki, and I’m not so sure about that gaijin romantic advantage. It all depends on the individual. I love my cross-cultural friends and find that it enriches my life to have a friendship with a constant mutual learning angle to it.

  6. My mother is Japanese and my father is from Thailand. I was told about their marriage. My grandfather didn’t agree because he experienced the war. He didn’t have a good image of gaijin, so it was not easy to marry. Eventually he changed his mind and realized that all gaijins are not bad. My parents have struggled in more ways than one.

    I think the idea that gaijins are more romantic has been the thinking only recently. I’m sure they have arguments because of their culture, but they find the cultural differences and accept them. They have differences and find many new things about each other. I think it attracts them. And I see more people have international marriages than before.

    I think the way people think has changed. They have wider views about marriage and life.

  7. I was really surprised that the couple finally married although they had a decade apart. The story made me happy and I wonder if I could meet a nice gentleman like Mr. Araki. In my opinion, intercultural marriage must hold some difficulties because of the couple’s different background and different way of thinking but it also must be a great experience. I think that Japanese women who married with men who are not Japanese are more powerful than other Japanese women. Their lives may be full of excitement.

    As for Sukiyaki song, it still is one of the soul songs for Japanese, I believe. The time Mr. Sakamoto released this song, Japanese society was hopeful, although there was pain and loneliness among young workers who came from rural areas. Today, there is less hope and many young people struggle in their lives but when they listen to this song, the slow melody and the heartwarming lyrics must calm them down. The times have changed, but people must still look up when they do not want anyone to watch their tears, as the song says.

  8. My grandfather is Taiwanese and my grandmother is Japanese. So, they are an international couple. Having an international couple as my grandparents is very interesting. Actually, my grandfather passed away a few years ago but when I was little, he often brought some souvenirs from Taiwan. For example, century eggs or dried seeds of watermelons. I really loved them. I was surprised when I knew Japanese people were not familiar with them but I felt I was lucky because I had a chance to know something other people did not know.

    About an international marriage or an international couple, I have a question. Why do Japanese people think it is cool? Whenever I hear people saying it’s cool, I feel something is not right. I think they think so just because they think “foreigners are cool” or “Non-Asian people are cool.” They do not seem to understand how hard it is. I actually have some experiences but it is not always romantic or as fun as Dale says.

  9. The idea that “foreigners are more romantic” does not sound completely wrong and this is one of the cultural differences, but we have to keep in mind that the cultural differences often make some difficulties in understanding each other.

  10. Intercultural marriages have many hardships. However, because there are many hard times, their relationships become strong if they overcome the cultural differences. Like the movie, “The Kids Are All Right,” the story of same-sex parents, if a family gets through troubles, its relationship is so strong.

  11. Yui, many people associate “cool” with risk-taking, trend-setting, daring, exciting, and they associate those traits with stepping outside one’s comfort zone. A person who is involved in an intercultural relationship is often viewed as someone who is open-minded and doesn’t rely on societal expectations or norms. The best relationships are those where people have mutual respect for each other, maintain open lines of communication, don’t ever go to bed at night mad at each other, and think more about the other person than oneself. You don’t have to go international or go intercultural to find that. It’s just natural instinct for some people to go against the norm while it’s natural instinct for others to stay within the traditional boundaries of religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender. I do believe that there are certain fixed beliefs or attitudes, religious or not, want children or don’t, spend money or save money, that can create major rifts in relationships. Having said that, the more you have in common is probably a better predictor of success. The exotic or unusual can grow wearying at times.

  12. I believe that intercultural marriage is very hard. Since I often visit foreign countries and have lived in the US, my friends ask me if I want to marry foreigners. My answer is always no because when I think about after retirement, I do not want to live in foreign countries, only Japan. My home country is always Japan, so I want to end my life in Japan. Therefore, this is the issue that we have to solve when marrying foreigners.

  13. Home, sweet home. I’m thinking a lot about that today. I can see why you would want to enjoy your retirement years, sometimes called one’s sunset years, in your native country. That makes perfect sense. Home is what we know best. It’s what we love the most. It’s the most familiar. Going home, being home, is what we all cherish.

  14. Since I realized that the song is also existing in English and named “Sukiyaki,” I had always wondered why it was so named. And when I read this article, I imagined working class people in old time Japan. For them, Sukiyaki must be a special feast. And, they cannot resist the situation without trying hard to look up intentionally, while imagining sukiyaki. This song reminds me of a nostalgic feeling, even though I have never lived in that hard time. It may be because the feeling included in this song is also for the people living in this present time. And it is interesting that Americans also share the feeling. I wish that the song will be loved in both countries.

  15. I can totally relate to this post since my parents are interculturally married. There are numerous moments in my life that I could say I am glad they were married. However, there’s also times where it was really hard for them to understand each other since they grew up in a distinct environment. If my mom were to give advice to anyone who is considering an intercultural marriage, she would probably say that it’s essential to be understanding and give wide acceptance to your partner.

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