If you are thinking of marrying a Japanese citizen, congratulations! But to protect against the unthinkable, you should consider the following now. Should you decide to go ahead, you will hopefully be one of the happy international marriages out there. But if it doesn’t last, it wont just be you who looses, it will be your children too.
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Warning Signs of Future Child Custody Problems
The following information is based on reported actual experiences of people who have had relationship problems with a Japanese partner. As such, the characteristics described here do are not intended to describe the majority of Japanese men or women. But Japanese expectations about interpersonal relationships may still generally differ from those in other countries. Cultural differences may also mask personality incompatibilities in a partner that you would otherwise recognize and avoid. This information is intended to help you recognize and avoid the minority of Japanese partners who may be inclined to deprive your child of a relationship with you, your side of the his or her family, and your cultural heritage. (Much of it is good advice regardless of the nationality of your potential partner.)
Cross Gender Indicators
- Recognize that bizarre behavior is often pathological behavior regardless of the culture. Don’t justify bizarre behavior simply as a cultural difference, especially if it happens frequently. In Japan, psychological problems are often ignored. When not ignored, they are often not fully or properly treated. So don’t assume that past psychological problems have been resolved. They may merely be an indicator of a more deep seated problem that has only been superficially treated.
- Have any of your prospective partner’s relatives been divorced and cut off the other parent from the child? If so, it may mean that their family thinks this behavior is acceptable, perhaps even preferable. In this case, you will get no support from them if it happens to you.
- Was your prospective partner’s father a workaholic? Yes, this is very often the case in Japan. But look further. Did he never spend time with your partner? Is your partner extremely close to his or her mother? For a woman, the better her relationship with her father, the less likely she may be to cut off her child from their father. For men, a good relationship with his father seems to indicate more respect for family life in general.
- Do your partner’s parents obviously disapprove of the marriage and are they sure it won’t work? These parents are likely to be very controlling of their child’s life and will be very happy to have 20 years of raising your child to remind your ex-partner that they were right about the suitability of your marriage.
- Do you not get along at all with your partner’s parents? If their son/daughter abducts your child and goes home to mommy and daddy, you will get no support from them at all. They will not help to convince him or her to go back and try to work things out. Conversely, if you get along very well with your partner’s parents and other relatives, this is a positive sign. You might get some support from them if things go wrong.
- Does your Japanese partner know much about the country and/or culture you come from? (Do you know much about Japanese family life and culture?) Has your Japanese partner ever lived outside of Japan? Do you have any reason to believe he or she might not be able to fit in outside Japan? Unless you are absolutely sure you will spend the rest of your life in Japan, no knowledge of your culture or experience living in your country is a big danger sign, even if your partner claims to want live outside of Japan. International marriages work better when the two people are interested in and knowledgeable about each other’s cultures and have prior experience living in each others’ countries. It is often the case that this type of wife finds it difficult to establish a long term social group outside Japan using a foreign language. Things can get even harder when they have a baby outside Japan and have to care for the child outside Japan. Then, if she gets divorced, she is very likely to want to run back to Japan, with your children! A husband on the other hand may find it hard to advance in a career while living in a social structure so different from that he grew up in. Although before the divorce he may claim that he wants nothing to do with the children, his relatives back home may convince him differently, and that he should “do it the Japanese way” and abduct your child.
- Can your partner speak your native language, and can you speak your partner’s language? If not, consider it a warning sign. First, men and women are well known to have different communication styles. Adding a language difference only makes it worse. Second, if you want to return to live in your country someday, your Japanese partner won’t survive if he or she doesn’t know the language. After trying, he or she may suddenly decide to return home with your children. If this happens and you do not speak Japanese, you will have an impossible time negotiating the language as you try to get your child back. Your child may also then grow up only knowing Japanese, and not your native language. If you do not know Japanese, you may not be able to communicate with your child after this happens.
- Will you and your partner have money problems, especially if you plan to live in Japan? Are you a conservative saver, while your partner must always have the latest clothes or electronic devices? Money is often reported as the biggest cause of arguments in any marriage. (It’s always easier when you aren’t in a panic about money!) But international marriages have enough additional problems, that money may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Talk carefully with your partner about spending habits before marriage.
- Does s/he lie about her age? His or her previous marriage? His or her children? His or her name? What else is s/he lying about? It will be just as easy to lie in family court during the divorce, and with no effective penalty for perjury in civil cases, s/he will get away with it.
For Women (Indicators About Boyfriends and Husbands)
- Does he have a sister who is divorced and/or has no children? Men who abduct their children or cut them off from their ex-wives seem to given them to a close female relative to raise. (This is more of a negative indicator for a future Japanese husband than a future wife, but I have also heard of one woman who “gave” their child to her childless sister.)
- Has he had more than one previous wife without children? He may be looking to you to give him one, which he would then raise with a subsequent Japanese wife. (After divorcing you!)
- Is he abusive in any way, either physically or verbally? This often doesn’t show up until after marriage. So any indication before marriage is doubly damming. The children, and the threat of keeping the children from you is just one more way to wield power over you abusively. Violence counseling is much less available in Japan than in western countries.
- Does his mother claim that his father was abusive? This behavior sometimes runs in families. Oddly, if they are still together after all these years, her claim may be more valid than if made during the heat of a confrontational divorce. (Contested divorces in Japan require someone to be at fault and there are no practical penalties against perjury in civil court cases.)
- Discuss with your partner what kind of relationship he imagines after your first child. Ask how he wants to help raising your child. Ask how both of you could make time to be together after you have children. If the answer is that you should do all the child raising, and that he will work even harder to support you, consider this carefully. This is a common pattern in Japanese family life. If you want help raising your children, and also want to spend intimate time with him after you have children, reconsider the relationship. If he doesn’t want intimacy with you, he will likely get it elsewhere.
- Does he spend a lot of time reading comics (manga)? Has he ever said that he wishes you were more like one of the fantasy girls in his magazines? I hope this speaks for itself. If so, run away.
For Men (Indicators about Girlfriends and Wives)
- Does she have any history of mental illness, even just depression, whether it was officially treated or not? Treatment of mental illness in Japan, when it is even recognized, usually consists of drugs. This tends to mask many problems rather than solve them. So you may end up with a depressed wife who is also addicted to psychotic drugs. Add to that a post partum depression after 9 months (without the drugs) and you can imagine the problems. There are many tales of a new mother returning to Japan for a “short trip to get some help with mother” and never coming back.
- Does she openly dislike or complain about her father? If both she and her mother openly dislike or complain about her father together, this is even more of a danger sign. If her father was abusive, she may expect you to be that way also. Worse yet, she may have learned that it is normal behavior in a family that the police do not care about, and may be abusive to you.
- Does she seem to be unduly influenced by or admiring of her mother? This type of mother sometimes tries to recreate their unusually close relationship with their mother, with their own children. This is often encouraged by the grandmother, i.e. her mother, and unless you stay away from home most of the time like her father did, it requires cutting off the relationship with you, the father.
- Does she seem to want to be married to a foreigner simply because she is “lost in life”, “just doesn’t like Japan”, or just “likes anything western”? Once these types of women find themselves, they often realize that they just didn’t understand what was really good about Japan and like Japan a lot more than they thought. They may find that the long term benefits of just being “kawaii” is not enough for a non Japanese spouse. Or after living in a country where they do not speak the language fluently, has a different moral system than Japan, and is thousands of miles away from relatives, they may decide that they do, after all, like Japan. Unfortunately, this often happens right after the birth of a child, when possibly along with post-partum depression she unilaterally decides that life is much easier back in Japan.
- Discuss with your partner what kind of relationship she imagines after your first child. Ask how you could help raising the child. Ask how both of you could make time to be together once you have children. If the answer is that she will do all the child raising, and that you should just work hard to support them, consider this carefully because it is a common pattern. After having children, many men also report that their wives immediately lose interest in intimacy, which continues for years. If you want to help raise your children and also spend intimate time with your wife after you have children, reconsider the relationship.
- Have you only known your Japanese girlfriend for a couple months before she “accidentally” got pregnant? “Dekichatta-kon” (marriage due to pregnancy) is becoming fairly common in Japan. If you are only marrying this woman because she has become pregnant, consult your personal value system for options. If your value system does not allow other options, remember that even if you get married, that won’t help you maintain a relationship with your child if the mother resists. What it will do, is cause you to have to pay alimony to your wife if you get divorced. You will always need to (and should) pay child support. But if the marriage is unlikely to last, why risk it? If it will last, then delaying it until a couple years after your child is born may not hurt. If your value system allows other options, remember that abortion has been easy and common in Japan even longer than “Dekichatta-kon.” The Japanese value system typically accommodates termination of a pregnancy, but adoption is rare.
- Are you looking for a submissive oriental woman that is easy to control? Although some western men are looking for this type of a “foreign bride”, this is a misguided stereotype for Japanese women which you are unlikely to find. If you think your Japanese girlfriend is like this and will continue to be like this as your wife, think again. You are probably being deceived. It’s not likely to happen.
- Does your girlfriend subtly “stalk” you, by coming to your home or office uninvited and leaving small presents, perhaps when you are not there? Is she applying for a job at your company? Does she repetitively email or voice chat you. Most likely, she’s on the marriage hunt, operating with the objective catching and keeping you. Think of how much worse this could get after marriage. Make sure that YOU are the one using birth control and get out of this relationship as soon as you can. (See previous item on “Dekichatta-kon.”) This is directed toward men, because if a man stalks a woman, she usually recognizes it right away, but men are rarely used to this.
- The sex is fantastic, but I don’t want to marry this women, her voice annoys me and her personality is ridiculous. I don’t see a serious future” The sex will stop once you are married and have a child. Trust your instincts about the future. Make sure that YOU are the one using birth control and get out of this relationship as soon as you can. (See previous item on “Dekichatta-kon.”)
Signs of a Potentially Good International Marriage
- Your partner has lived in your country for more than one year and thinks he or she would be happy to live there permanently. Alternately, you have lived in Japan for more than one year and believe that you would be happy living in Japan for the rest of your life.
- Your partner has good skills in your native language. You have good skills in Japanese.
- Your partner has work experience in your home country and could hold down a steady job there. You have work experience in Japan and could hold down a steady job there.
- Your Japanese partner has dated Japanese and has good memories. Meeting you was just a happy coincidence. If s/he had not met you, s/he might have married a Japanese instead. Likewise, you have dated people from your own country and you have happy memories. You aren’t marrying your Japanese partner just because you don’t like people of the opposite sex from your own country.
- You have had disagreements with your Japanese partner in the past and resolved them successfully.
- You know your Japanese partner’s parents and relatives well and like each other.
Questions to Ask and Agree About Before Marriage
- Who will manage the money?
- What is your financial situation? What is your income, savings and what debts do you have?
- How much do you normally spend from your paycheck each month and how much do you save? What are your financial goals?
- Will we have children, and if so, when? Who will take care of them? Will one of us quit our job?
- Are you religious, and if so, how important is it to you? What religion will we raise our children?
- What are your sexual preferences and tastes?
- Do you like to hold hands in public? Hug? Kiss?
- Do you like my parents? Do you like my friends? If not, why not?
- How much will your parents be involved in our life?
- Are we committed to sexual fidelity to each other? What happens if one of us has an affair?
- Have you had any major sexual, physical or mental illnesses?
- If I was offered a good job far away, perhaps in a foreign country, would we move? Would you quit your job?
If none of the above apply and you decide to go ahead, good for you. But if you have doubts anyways, or you get them later, you may want to consider the precautions on this list.
- Get your permanent residency and/or citizenship so you wont get kicked out of Japan and can continue to work there while a case would go thru the courts. For years.
- If you can, get your wife or husband to take citizenship of another country. Even though s/he can get by with de-facto dual citizenship after that, technically, it implies that s/he has renounced Japanese citizenship. I know someone who has used this in court, and even got the Japanese ministry of Justice to write a letter to a court saying that the formerly Japanese wife no longer had Japanese citizenship.
- Live outside Japan if you have children, or if you start to have problems, find a way to get out of Japan first so that the divorce happens somewhere else. This can help as foreign countries are getting wiser to the situation in Japan. (If you are a father, it might help less in the UK and elsewhere where the mother seems to get custody most of the time. But it could help a lot if you are in the US or elsewhere where joint custody is more common.) A prenuptial is a good idea, but I’ve never seen one for Japan and not sure if it would hold up or not. But I encourage you to try to draft one. You would likely need both an international lawyer and a Japanese lawyer to draft it. One lawyer who is very knowledgeable about Japan family law problems and prenuptials is Jeremy Morely. He has been of service to a couple people I know and somewhere on his website, he mentioned that he works on international prenuptial . (If you do create a prenuptial, with a foreign or Japanese lawyer, I would very much appreciate if you could tell us about it or send us a copy for our own prenuptial agreements in Japan page. This is something I would like to document better on this website.)
- •Divorce and Child Custody Issues in International Cases in Japan; Ms. Emiko Miki, Attorney at Law. (cached copy)
- •Client Personality Disorders Can Wreck an Otherwise Good Case; A discussion about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Anti-Social (formerly Psychopathic) Personality Disorder (ASPD). Likely written by this Edward A. Workman. (cached copy)
- •Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying; The New York Times; December 17, 2006. (cached copy)
- •FIELD NOTES; Marriage Is Not Built on Surprises; ; The New York Times; December 17, 2006. (cached copy)
- •Dissatisfied wives waiting to spring trap on hapless hubbies; Mainichi Daily News; September 9, 2006. Starting in April 2007, wives will be eligible to claim up to half of a husband’s pension upon divorce. Look for divorce rate to skyrocket. Also a very good list of 10 signs your wife is planning to divorce you. (cached copy)
- •Foreign wives complain their samurai husbands no knights in shining armor; Mainichi Online; November 23, 2005. (cached copy)
- •Dating divide – Cross-cultural relationships can be a romantic minefield; Japan Times; November 15, 2005. (cached copy)