It would come as no surprise to you, my dear reader, if I were to tell you that Japan is a complex country filled with cultural nuances that would befuddle even the most seasoned traveler. From work ethic to the table etiquette, Japan is a plethora of cultural differences. By the time I finished my year abroad I thought I had mastered these. I then thought the same after my first full year working here in the Japanese education system. It is only now as I near the end of my second year of teaching in Japan that I realised I will never fully understand this beautiful, frustrating and just down right confusing country.
I truly thought that by now, as I safely tucked three years in Japan under my belt that I would no longer be caught unawares by simple Japanese customs. Oh boy, could I not have been more wrong! Last week I found myself in one of the most awkward situations of my life and I was NOT prepared for it in the least!
Let me set the scene for you all.
It was lunchtime, and having forgotten to bring my Bento (packed lunch) to work, I went to the principles office to ask If I could run out to the store to grab something. Usually friendly, I saw nothing weird when she arose form her seat and made her way towards me with a grin on her face. Sure, she looked a little to happy to see me, but I wasn’t going to argue with that. It was only when she put her hand on arm and broke out into a girl like blush that I began to worry.
‘I heard you’re getting married!!’
Wait. What now?
‘Come on, let’s go tell everyone!!’
I stood there for a moment, lost in my own confusion as I tried to gather my wits. I took the next few moments trying to placate her, telling her that actually I wasn’t engaged. She seemed to ignore that fact so I decided to give in, asking her to keep it a secret for now until I had a ring to make it official. She nodded and excitedly waved me off for lunch.
It took me a few moments to piece it all together. For those of you who have read this blog for a while, you will know that back in March, Chad and I moved in together. Doing this in Japan, however, had been one big headache. In order to live together, we had to sign an ‘Intent to Marry’ document, promising to get married in the future. Only after signing this were we able to move in together. I was told it was put in place to discourage one person leaving the other with bills they can’t pay. We decided to sign it, seeing as we know we want to get married in the future and thought no more of it. It was filed away, we moved in together and everytihng was grand.
That is until they announced in a city wide meeting with every English Junior High school teacher that we were getting married. That’s right my friends. I had my personal relationship publicly and incorrectly shared with every god damn English teacher in Nagasaki City. Both Chad and I have been congratulated, along with some of our friends who’s colleagues also know us.
If I’m honest with you all, I’m a little infuriated. In Japan people are given a great amount of privacy and many of my colleagues didn’t even announce they had partners until they were about to get married. As an ALT, however, my private life is constantly being splashed around town for everyone to see. My schedule, my housing, my income, my private life. It’s a little trying some days, let me tell you.
This misunderstanding, however, wasn’t meant in a malicious way. If anything, it was meant kindly. Marriage in Japan and relationships in general are conducted very differently than western ones, and for those of you living in Japan or thinking of moving here, it is something to bare in mind.
Needless to say, I’ve had a very awkward week.
So to clarify, NO, Chad and I are not engaged, but that doesn’t mean we don’t plan to be in the future. I just wish the moment hadn’t been taken from us.
Well, there it is, my very ‘engaging’ Japanese misunderstanding.
Have you ever had a very awkward or infuriating misunderstanding? If so I would love to hear about it in the comment section below.