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.