The Dynamics of Coupling in Tokyo

Same race couples from the US (or Canada) are such an oddity in Tokyo.  They're as unusual as carrying a Singapore Orchid out onto an Alaskan ice floe and wondering why it died.  

They are here, don't get me wrong. We see these couples at work; all fresh faced and wide eyed. We observe and smile to act polite. And that's all it is - an act. She was dragged here because 'they want to experience the culture' when it's really him who wants to let loose like a kid in a candy store. About 6 months later, we will see her quiet and withdrawn and then, he is out of the picture because he suddenly wanted an open relationship.  

She could have latched onto a Japanese National Team Rugby player or Volley Ball player with a face and body that made her North American issued "squeeze" look like a limp dishtowel, but then she would have been branded 'the whore'. He has urges and she should just be more sophisticated and deal with it.

In that half-year, he is off with his first of several Japanese women. He will end up married and with a kid and a wife demanding he endure 20 hours of weekly overtime because she only wants to be a housewife Monday to Friday and he can mind the kids on his day off - she'll need a break. (Sometimes a jilted woman's justice is the children of her successor and the successor herself.)

A few original relationships forged in North America prove the rule through exception, but generally, imported couples? They never last. Most are like sugar sculptures washing away in the rain. Pass the saccharine.  

You almost never see a white woman linking up with a white man in Japan. Unless he is gay. Most end up being the last patrons in gay bars on the weekend: unhitched, unloved and unsexed. Rainbow establishments rally to their support with longer and cheaper Happy Hours - bottoms up, girls!

And Japanese partners and their gaijin counterparts (gaijin is how we say 'foreigner')? The supermarket clerk will tell the 'import' about the ice cream sale. The bread shop owner is always cordial to the foreign other-half but not to the local. I call it "gaijin pet syndrome" or GPS for short.

Our local partners exclaim "you only get better service because you aren't from here!". The samurai overlords are envious of our special Wednesday twenty-percent-off cleaning coupons. I would like to think it's because we extend the little courtesies and make efforts with the language that make our community more communal, rather than amounting this phenomenon to GPS alone.

The mixed couples have a warped dynamic. They will live in their Tokyo neighborhood for five years. Somehow they're never able to speak to or see their neighbors. Suddenly when they get a dog, everyone stops to have a conversation. With the dog. 

Once, one ex-coworker from Ireland was getting married. We were so happy for her. We pooled together our money for the wedding gift before we went out shopping in Ginza.

"Well, since Susan is getting married we don't have to go to Don Quixote, the discount store. Not for her, anyway."  

I was missing something.  I'd pick it up in context. 

"Yeah, I know a few of us who have to go up to the 6th floor."

I really wasn't in on the conversation. I looked around. No one dropped a clue. I felt like I was 4 years old, wearing a bib, and hearing adult-speak for the first time at the holiday dinner table.

One woman put down her napkin. "Not me. I just bought an appliance that makes my toes curl." Samantha Jones of Sex and the City couldn't have been prouder.  She definitely wasn't talking about a remote-controlled, automatic vacuum cleaner.  My synapses fire. Ok, 6th floor? Dildos! Got it.

She looked around and just to make it more of a challenge - "I run it until the water goes cold."

Maybe it's not dildos. Water and electricity sound pretty lethal, especially if it's all happening "down there." It was my turn to speak up.  

"I have not the slightest idea what we are talking about." 

My Samantha Jones leans over and whispers, "washlet." Winks and smiles.

She is referring to the toilet seat that washes the mud out from under your fenders, so to speak. Apparently, they have all sorts of other Chitty Chitty Bang Bang features that would make Bond's Flemming blush. 

"Oh, you mean the bidet toilet with the water tongue function! Is that it?"

This earned me a chorus of squeals. They were the ones who were talking about the elephant in the room using every word but 'elephant', and somehow I'm in trouble for my first real venture into the conversation.

"As long as I earn enough to pay my $1,500 a month water bill, I don't need a man" was the comment that ended the subject, much like a landslide that stops, until you hear one last stone skipping merrily down from boulder to boulder. The rest of us stared at her with our mouths open, inhaling pulverized granite.

Japanese women maybe have had about 50 years to figure out what an ugly foreigner looks like, so when you see a gorgeous, local woman with an almost repugnant non-Japanese man, you have to stifle the urge to alter your line of vision down to his goods. Is he hung like a horse or is that an extremely large wallet in his pants? Maybe it's something more mundane (maybe she is being kidnapped for the sex trade?). Twirl around, dude, and let's get a gander! 

There is this fantastic quote from Harvey Firestein that comes to mind when I see couples with an unbalanced ugly to pretty ratio (I also often wonder if I am being judgemental): "when an ugly person goes after a pretty person they get nothing but trouble. When a pretty person goes after an ugly person they get at least cab fare". 

In the 1990's Iranians pretended to be US citizens in Japan. Many of them would "pass" dating rituals by saying they were from New York or Chicago (even though they had never been). I guess you could say they were Third Culture Boys working an angle they had yet to experience. This wave of Iranians into Japan helped the government secure more oil from the region by relaxing immigration restrictions. It also meant a new flood of men seeking female companionship. When the inevitable coupling ensued, dates turned into relationships, and relationships turned into shared vacations. Arriving in US or Canadian airports, they would then stand in the foreigner's line and surprise! "I thought you were American?!" Nationality can be another dating tick-box in Japan.

When you saw couples in Tokyo, he dressed down and she dressed up. They didn't match but each dressed to express their idea of what a relaxed trek through center Tokyo should be. His Timberland boots were poised opposite her Chanel spectator pumps as they sat face to face in a coffee shop reading manga (or comic books, to you and me.) This was in the Bubble Economy BC - 'Before Cellphone'. 

Now they sit face-to-face, ignoring each other while they play games on their cellphones. They might as well work in Sony, where employees on the same floor never speak to each other - and shoot emails back and forth instead.

Here, a couple is also a unit - signifying joint ownership and a shared-ness. 'This is Vanessa's Paul' not 'Anna's Paul'. In this way, Margaret Thatcher would be Mrs. Dennis Thatcher, making her other-half 'Margaret's Dennis', or a reverse Mrs, if you will.

So here we are in Roppongi, and isn't that MaryAnn's John with a Japanese woman? He is in jeans and she is clad in designer labels and an LV bag. Each is engrossed in their own iPhone but they are together as a unit. Didn't John and MarryAnn arrive 6 months ago to work and save up money to pay for their wedding and honeymoon, after borrowing all that cash from MaryAnn's father to get here?