My name is Mike and I’ll be hosting this column exploring relationships in Japan as well as Japanese culture in general and what makes it similar to, and distinct from, Western culture.
First, a little about me and why (as humbly as possible), I claim to be an authority on these subjects:
I was born into the culturally liberal “Generation Y” cohort of Americans who seem especially loath to follow the path their parents took in life. As such, myself and many of my kind tend to gravitate towards a sort of transient lifestyle and are endlessly hungry for new experiences.
I personally feel as though I’m at the tail end of what New York Times columnist David Brooks famously called “the Odyssey years” - a new life stage, unique to my generation, that is characterized as a striking out on one’s own for a period of years, postponing the inevitable entrance into the higher stratospheres of society; company work, graduate school, marriage, kids, etc.
My Odyssey began in my Sophomore year of college, when I felt listless and unhappy among my peers, living in the same old college town not far from my childhood home, wondering when life would actually become exciting for once. One day, on my way to Spanish class, fate intervened and compelled me to notice the study abroad office for the first time.
Six months later, I found myself in Japan studying intensive Japanese at a university in Nagoya. I lived with a very generous host family for part of that time, and to repay their kindness, I determined to understand and appreciate as many facets of Japanese society as my brain could possibly absorb.
Five years later, it’s still a work in progress, but I’ve definitely come a long way. My strange and unpredictable path in life has intersected with many different aspects of Japanese culture. I’ve lifted mikoshi at festivals, visited doctors and dentists, applied for a Japanese graduate school (unsuccessfully), eaten an eccentric variety of foods my parents universally describe as “grotesque,” gotten tipsy with Japanese businessmen, taught English, done a ludicrous dance routine on Japanese TV, volunteered, wrote and edited for a “Gaijin Magazine,” and worked for a Japanese advertising agency as the only foreigner in the company.
And, as a member of Generation Y, with unique and, to put it politely, not altogether conventional dating habits, I have had relationships of varying length with a number of women representing a long list of different nationalities, careers and backgrounds.
I hope this is something you won’t judge me on. I am not a womanizer or a playboy. On the contrary, I’ve loved and appreciated every individual I’ve been involved with.
I believe “love” is a woefully inadequate word we apply to a concept that is far too broad to encompass with a single entry in our lexicon. I find myself wishing that, like the Eskimos with their plethora of labels for snow, we had far more numerous descriptors for that feeling you get when you know someone has left an indelible mark on your life and that you will always cherish them for it. In the absence of these, love will have to do, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s an indispensable, yet completely unpredictable, hopelessly complicated aspect of life.
That said, I won’t purport to dispense dating advice with this column. I don’t have a psychology degree or any real credentials on the subject. I just find human relationships fascinating and have a lot of personal stories to share on the subject. Rather, I’d like to use this column to explore, together with my readers, the especially unique landscape of Japanese culture and dating in Japan.
I’d like this place to be very community focused, so I may solicit readers to provide opinions and anecdotes, will probably conduct the occasional survey, and may hop into the comments section myself from time to time. I’m looking forward to engaging with you and I think we’ll have a lot of fun here.
I hope you’ll tune in next time for my first real entry.