Now, there are a few things I can say with one hundred percent certainty. One, I am not a man (and personally, in this day and age, I’m happy not to be). Two, I am not an American, though I am often mistaken for one. And three, while I am living in Japan, I can’t say I’m currently looking to start a relationship with a young and beautiful Japanese woman.
However, if you are either male, American, living in Japan, searching for love with a Japanese woman (or all of the above), then I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Justin Velgus’s new book “Ai, Love You? Finding Friendship, Romance, and Heartbreak in Japan.”
Now I can’t say that my friend and I didn’t have a small chuckle at this interesting title, but don’t let it convince you that this book is not worth reading. In fact, there are many of my friends here I’d like to gift a copy to (we all have those kinds of friends, the ones who just can’t seem to make it work). And Velgus’s book might just have the information they need.
At just over 150 pages, it’s not a challenging read and to be honest, if you’ve lived in Japan for any extended period of time then the first chapter – titled It Started as Tomodachi – doesn’t hold any new information for you. Despite a few interesting anecdotes (that you may or may not have already heard from other Gaijin friends), it’s basically a chapter aimed at those who are either thinking about moving to Japan OR have literally just gotten off the plane for the first time. I would however recommend the parts on Japanese Tatemae and Honne and Becoming Friends as there are several thought provoking ideas in these chapters, especially for those connoisseurs of Japanese culture.
For instance, Velgus points out that there will always be an artificiality to basic friendships with the Japanese as “…there will be few if any direct complaints to you about your behaviour or actions. Instead, emotions may build up and be expressed through non-willing cooperation during formal situations, an artificial friendship lasting indefinitely, or volcanic eruptions of emotion during dating or marriage.” Also of note is his idea on how to contemplate customs and traditions that will seem a little backwards to outsiders. “Be warned,” he says “you will undoubtedly run into seemingly “backward” Japanese thinking on your ventures. How can Japanese say good things to my face, but secretly despise me? How can Japanese be so clean, but smoke in restaurants? How come I need a phone number to rent an apartment, but I need an address to buy a phone?!”
Of course, one could argue that these points are not Japan specific. Sure, the fact that the underlying culture is so very different to our own makes it more noticeable perhaps but honestly, in what culture would a new friend complain about you to your face? Or what culture can say they are completely free of any contrary beliefs (i.e. America’s so called hatred of violence versus their right to bear arms?). Dealing with these ideas (fake friends and differing cultures) are something that not just foreigners living in Japan have to deal with but people everywhere are already dealing with. While not Japan specific, Velgus does however offer some sound advice for those struggling with these problems in Japan, advising them to just take time to understand the Japanese culture, especially when forming friendships and to just “do your best.”
The rest of the book then delves into the murky waters of relationships, marriage, family life and ends up in the sticky pond of divorce. The content of this book is (as Velgus openly admits) clearly skewed towards the American man seeking love in Japan. Regardless, there are some parts that I myself found interesting to read.
As a single woman, I will not deny that I enjoy reading articles on dating and the ideas outlined in the dating chapters of Ai, Love You?, while perhaps not applicable to my current situation are, nevertheless, entertaining to read. Here, one can learn how the dating game is played in the land of the rising sun and perhaps not be caught out making rookie mistakes as the writer and his friends perhaps may have done in the past.
“…there will be few if any direct complaints to you about your behaviour or actions. Instead, emotions may build up and be expressed through non-willing cooperation during formal situations, an artificial friendship lasting indefinitely, or volcanic eruptions of emotion during dating or marriage.”
This book’s real value lies in the chapters about Marriage, Household Life and Divorce. For those men getting serious about their relationships here in Japan, these chapters are a must read. Here you’ll find a well full of information from the proposal and the wedding ceremony to raising a bilingual and biracial child and dealing with divorce. Of course, everyone knows there is a lot of legal information that needs to be considered before entering into a marriage contract and this book puts it all into a nice, neat, easy-to-read package. I cannot recommend enough the chapters on “The Problems of the Koseki system,” “Permanent residence and Japanese Citizenship” and “The Hague Convention and Child Abduction.”
Lastly, the appendix sections are also worth a read since they were a little more catered to my demographic. Here you’ll find short pieces on Western women and Japanese men, Homosexuality, Sex, Alcohol, Discrimination and, my personal favorite, The Rock Star Syndrome – and extension of Velgus’s fascinating article written for Gaijinpot last year.
Even though I am not part of the intended audience for such a book, I can see the appeal it will have for its demographic. The writing, while a little dry and ‘self-help’ at times, can be easily sifted through and personally more anecdotes wouldn’t have gone astray. While I’m not convinced that foreign men need any help meeting women here as there seems to be no end to the amount of Japanese women throwing themselves at foreign guys, regardless of how unattractive they may be, I am glad that there is a guide out there for the guys who just don’t seem to understand the motivations behind a lot of the behavior of their Japanese girlfriends. Overall it was an enlightening read and now I have an excellent gift idea for all my single, male friends here in Japan.