Japanese anime, manga, and dramas offer a glimpse into the daily life of typical Japanese families: wives busy handling household chores, or husband and wife sleeping in separate rooms. Is it the case in your country? Although such cultural differences are already noticeable during the dating stage, some things only become apparent after marriage. Here is an account from a Taiwanese wife’s point of view of life with a Japanese husband, and of the cultural impact she experienced. Despite the geographical proximity of the two countries, some truly surprising culture differences emerged!
*This article is written from the point of view of a Taiwanese woman who married a Japanese man and moved to Japan after their marriage.
1. Wives Are in Charge of the Housework
“In Japan, a wife is responsible for most household chores; I’m spending more and more time on them.”
“I have become more hardworking since I came to Japan! Doing laundry, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, taking out trash – I can do it all.”
“My husband helps with housework, but I’d have to do it again if he didn’t do it right, so most of it is still on me.”
“I never contributed much to housekeeping back home, so I’m probably making up for it now in Japan!”
Even those who put little effort into tidying the house back home will likely pick up the habit after marrying a Japanese spouse. This is because in Japan, the wife is expected to stay home and take care of it and the household. Cleaning the house thrice a week is a basic requirement; some will even do so every day! Housewives are also still expected to see their husband to the door as he heads out to work.
Since these traditional gender roles are still so prevalent in Japan, men are often not too helpful when it comes to household chores. That said, they will not turn down a polite request from their wives, and some might even offer help without being asked, though this happens less compared to husbands from other countries. For example, in Taiwan, husbands often assume duties such as taking out the trash and they do not make a fuss if their wives are not perfect at housekeeping. In fact, many Taiwanese couples actually divide the housework evenly between themselves, an uncommon approach for their Japanese counterparts.
2. Wives Are Expected to Be Good at Cooking and Should Always Cook
Compared with Taiwanese husbands, the Japanese have a higher expectation of their wives’ cooking skills and expect home-cooked dinner every day. If the wife is not good at cooking, the husband would ask her to get better instead of opting to dine out. This is a stark contrast to Taiwan, where dining out is cheap and so it is not uncommon for husbands to eat on their own or dine out with their wives after work, and it is no big deal if wives do not cook. The reason for this is because the majority of Japanese ladies can and are expected to know how to cook. Furthermore, with the high cost of living in Japan, husbands prefer eating at home when they do not have to attend social gatherings.
This expectation to make dinner for the family makes sense for a housewife or part-time worker, but a full-timer is also expected to do the same upon returning home! The husband might help out if the wife has to work late, provided that it is discussed beforehand.
On the bright side, unlike Taiwan where families tend to have leftovers after dinner, Japanese husbands usually finish their plate to show gratitude towards their wives’ effort, regardless of the meal’s quality. They seldom say things like “I’m not hungry!”, “I don’t want to eat yet!” or “I don’t like that!”, nor do they leave a fully set table unless they are sick. If they are caught up with work or business gatherings and cannot dine at home, they will make sure to inform their wives beforehand. This is because there is still a custom of waiting for everyone in the family to be at the dinner table before digging into the meal in Japan, though this is less strictly enforced than in the past.
3. Japanese Wives Are More Likely to Be Full-Time Housewives or Work Part-Time
Times have changed and more ladies continue working full-time after getting married, yet they are still greatly outnumbered by part-time workers and full-time housewives. It is not a must for wives to have a full-time job in Japanese families, except when they want to or need the money. In Taiwan, dual income households are the norm, with both husband and wife working nine to five.
4. Japanese Husbands Tend to Have Rigid Personalities
Taiwanese men generally have a mild temperament, as opposed to the Japanese who have an unyielding attitude, and are unafraid of and have high standards for their wives. They do not tolerate a spouse with “princess syndrome”: she cannot be too willful and she must have good manners. The way she refers to her husband is important, too, and popular choices are “あなた” (dear) and “ＯＯさん” (Mr. XXX). During an argument, the husband will expect his wife to remain calm and talk things out.
Taiwanese husbands are relatively more considerate and willing to back down in a conflict, and often tolerate their wives’ temper. They respect their wives’ decision on almost anything. This is why Japanese ladies dating Taiwanese guys are often heard exclaiming, “Taiwanese boys are really sweet and caring!”
5. Japanese Husbands Are More Detached From Their Family
Japanese people seldom visit their parents on weekends. They will save it for the New Year, with some even only going back once every 2 to 3 years! This is because many leave their hometown and move to major cities such as Tokyo after graduation to make a living; given the long distance and high travel costs, they are discouraged from returning home too frequently.
What this means is that unless the couple happens to live together with the husband’s parents, the wife will only be loosely in touch with her spouse’s family, especially as Japanese husbands are often not particularly keen on seeing or calling their family to check in on them more often. The parents as well will often focus on looking after themselves in order to avoid seeking help from their children unless absolutely necessary. While in-law problems are reduced as a result, family relationships in Japan are less close than in Taiwan.
6. Japanese Wives Should Help With the Housework When Visiting Their Husband’s Family
Since Japanese husbands rarely return to their hometown throughout the year, skipping the New Year’s reunion is not an option for the wives. No matter how much they dread interacting with their in-laws, it is common courtesy to accompany their husbands on the trip. Being the wives in Japanese households, they cannot view themselves as guests during the visit, and it is an unspoken rule for them to help prepare festive dishes and do housework.
It’s hard to relax at my husband’s family home. He enjoys the New Year with his parents, while I have to do the housework.
In Taiwan, wives often give a hand with cooking at their in-laws’ place as well, but it is not uncommon for people to simply enjoy their stay in leisure or dine out. Whereas in Japan, a wife loitering in the living room of her husband’s family’s house would not be looked upon kindly.
7. Wives Are Expected to Fully Support Their Japanese Husband and Present Them in a Good Light
Japanese husbands are always busy at work and rely on their wives to handle all sorts of trivial matters in life. For instance, they have to prepare for traditional festivals, manage the exchange of gifts, and be hospitable to their husbands’ friends. In addition, to be able to “read the air” is a skill essential in daily life. Wives ought to pay attention to friends and neighbors, and always be polite and presentable. This is especially true for couples living in Japan because the locals care a lot about how others see them.
Whilst Japan has a strict set of social etiquette, Taiwan is more forgiving in comparison. Wives can put themselves first and adopt a more casual attitude. For example, they can chat with friends and at the same time fiddle with their phones during social gatherings. In Japan, however, this is considered unacceptable. When the husband is talking with his friends, the wife must listen attentively and show interest, at least on the surface, or else the others will keep asking “Everything alright?”, which actually translates to “Are you listening?”, “Please join us,” “Are you not feeling well?”, “Do you find this boring?”, and the like. Even if she is completely disinterested, she is compelled to stay involved till the end.
8. Japanese Husbands Spend Their Days off Mainly With Family
Japanese fathers usually spend their holidays with their wives and children, like picnicking and playing in parks, which is why during the cherry blossom season, it is very common to see tons of families having a leisurely picnic under the cherry trees. As for couples without a child, they often opt to travel together or stay home to rest and deal with extra work. Simply put, Japanese people prioritize family time.
Taiwanese husbands are less inclined to preserve free time solely for family, and spend their holidays with friends and parents every now and then.
9. There Is a Huge Difference in Parenting Styles
For families with kids, the Japanese husband will leave the responsibilities to the wife. It is also a common practice for couples to sleep separately after the baby is born, in order not to disturb the husband should there be any commotion in the middle of the night. Apparently quite a number of Japanese wives will even make the suggestion themselves! Of course, some families will still choose to sleep together in one bed.
The Japanese parenting style is also quite unique. Japanese are taught to be considerate, peaceful, obedient, and responsible from a young age. Parents will not spoil their child; they will let 3 to 4-year-olds walk on their own feet, or let kindergarteners and primary schoolers go to school alone. It is uncommon for parents to scold their kids when they make a mistake; they tend to talk to them gently, telling them what they did wrong and how to make amends, repeatedly and patiently if necessarily. This is the reason why Japanese children are known for being well-behaved – you will not often see them crying and screaming in trains, restaurants, or playgrounds, nor will they ask to be carried by their parents or wheeled around in strollers. Even toddlers know how to behave in Japan!
The situation is quite different in Taiwan. Taiwanese husbands are more helpful in caring for the kids, and couples will continue sleeping together following childbirth. On the downside, they have a higher tendency of spoiling their children, making them easily become overly dependent.
10. What Is Valued in Japan Might Not Be Valued Elsewhere
Although Taiwanese and Japanese cultures share many similarities, the differences in school and family education have led to the development of contrasting values. Things that are regarded as “common sense” in your country might not be applicable in Japan, and desirable traits of wives back home might upset Japanese husbands.
Here is an example: Taiwanese in general think forgiveness is a virtue, and despise the over-demanding kind attitude. However, Japanese husbands might disagree with that. Their perfectionist nature pushes them to pursue ever higher goals; what is wrong must be made right, and whoever committed a mistake must apologize. Unfortunately, another difficult problem arises as a result: who is to decide what is wrong and what is right? Should you judge by Japanese or Taiwanese standards? If a Japanese husband demands his wife to behave like a local, she would undoubtedly be hard-pressed to meet the requirements. A great wife admired by everyone in Taiwan might fall short in the eyes of her husband.
The challenges faced by an international marriage are frequent and many, and if you live away from friends and family, having to fight on your own can be a hapless experience. You might feel frustrated, but with honest communication and the resolve to adapt to a new environment, happiness will definitely come your way. So, take all of the above with a pinch of salt and don’t be deterred from experiencing happiness with your Japanese partner. Ultimately, it takes determination and effort to make any marriage, international or not, work!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.