By Chen Wen
They look just like any other average young Chinese couple when you first meet them in New York City. But wait, they are speaking Japanese so they must be from Japan. In fact, you are told that both of your guesses are wrong. This young couple belongs to both countries -- a Chinese wife and a Japanese husband. A union that was considered unthinkable 50 years ago is no longer a rare form of international marriage these days.
Dong Wei, now in her mid-20s, was born and raised in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. At 19, she was given the chance to go to Japan for further study following her high school graduation.
"I had hoped to see the world as much as possible when I was young," Dong said.
Japan seemed a good choice, she recounted. It would be closer to her home and cheaper in tuition compared with American and European universities. It was the turn of the millennium and she was filled with the hopes and dreams of a beautiful, international life. She made friends quickly, and one day at a get-together with her new companions she met Tadashi Hirata.
"When I first met him in 2001, he was exactly like who my 'dream husband' should be," Dong recalled. Pressed to describe "dream husband" qualities, she simply said, "You know, everything about him just fits well."
Hirata, a self-described "typical Japanese guy," felt the sting of Cupid's arrows as well. Dong was "cute," and the two hit it off immediately. As the song goes: first comes love, then comes marriage. Their wedding took place in Japan, a year after they met, with the blessing of both families. The procedures and paperwork were not overly complicated, Dong said. She needed proof from a local government agency in her hometown that she was single, and the signatures of two guarantors.
A culture clash is what most think of when imagining cross-national marriages, especially two countries with a painful history of war. Differences gain more scrutiny than similarities in upbringing. Dong and Hirata said they too could see the differences despite their honeymoon haze.
Hirata said he began to notice most the difference in dining habits. It was simple, little things: the manner of dining, the way of placing chopsticks, and the use of various dishes.
"These cultural differences were kind of fun, not a conflict, and both of us have now gotten used to it," Hirata told Beijing Review. He felt that in his family, the difference between men and women was much bigger than the differences between Japanese and Chinese culture.
Dong agreed with her husband on this point. "Marriage is between a man and a woman, not between one country and another," she joked.
She also said that though they did run into some differences in their daily habits, they were "no big deal."
Not letting 'politics' intrude
Sometimes they talked about the painful history between China and Japan. Both regret the deep-rooted distrust and dislike between the two countries. If their marriage could be an example, it was clear that people of the two countries would get along if they knew each other better.
But that's politics, the couple said. The real issues of life are daily and mundane, not politics and history lessons. Their life in Japan settled into a quiet and happy existence with the typical occasional matrimonial quarrels.
Unlike many other 25-year-old Chinese women who might rush off for fancy dinners with friends after work, go shopping, travel or enjoy karaoke on the weekends or holidays, Dong spent much less time hanging out with friends and more time at home. Perhaps her life was a little unexciting in her friends' eyes, but she was happy.
She attended courses at a university, did housework and prepared food for the family while Hirata went to work. He would leave around 7:00 in the morning and would return home at 10:00 or 11:00 at night.
Men typically work hard in Japan, Dong said.
"It's considered a good thing in Japan for a man who comes back home very late at night, because it shows that this man is very capable," Dong laughed, adding, "That's very different from how it is viewed in China."
She also pointed out that the Japanese have a different attitude or view toward life and family than the Chinese. The Japanese may show much less emotion and affection to their families, but they do love the families very much.
Dong said she acclimated herself well to Japanese society and culture. Despite this, it may have come as a surprise even to her that Hirata found that she had many similarities to a traditional Japanese bride, unlike many modern young women in Japan.
"In that aspect, she still keeps the traditional personality which I expected in a wife," Hirata said.
Now living in New York City, where Hirata is expected to finished a one-year master's degree program in computer science at New York University, Dong and Hirata said they are spending more hours together and enjoying richer social lives.
They will return to Japan after Hirata finishes the program, and after a couple of years there, the future is wide open.
(Beijing Review, reporting from New York, April 9, 2007)