In theory, the Japanese do understand what love is, the dynamics of the relationship, the whole till-death-do-us-part passion behind the marriage vow. But the simple, nitty-gritty reality is that there are just not romanchikku (ロマンチック, romantic) enough.
“We can’t demand romance from our own family.” And therein lies the crux of the issue.
There’s an inherent belief that anything rosy, passionate or overly sexual has no place in the Japanese marriage, and by implication the Japanese household. It’s almost the norm for husbands to look for sexual love in every other place but the home, since that territory belongs to his wife and children and therefore is sacrosanct. Weird, and even perverse. But the belief is prevalent even among the younger generation and there’s a strong tendency to distinguish between kazokuai (家族愛, family love) and renai (恋愛, relationship love).
The first is all about seikatsu (生活, everyday living) and the other supposedly covers personal pleasure, physical gratification, passion and warmth and other good stuff. There’s even the notion that if you marry the person you love, the whole thing is likely to end in disappointment and divorce. There is also a favorite maxim for this: “Kekkonaite wa gobanme ni sukina hito ga ii (結婚相手は五番目に好きな人がいい, Choose the fifth person from the top as a marriage partner).”
Accordingly, the Japanese proposal is typically bland. The traditional no-brainer stand-by for men is: “Oreno misoshiru wo tsukuttekurenai (俺のみそ汁を作ってくれない, Will you make my miso soup)?”
The other old line is equally questionable: “Oreto issho no ohakani hairanai (俺と一緒のお墓に入らない, Will you share my grave with me)?” I’ve been told that this one is making quite a comeback recently.
A variation on the theme is: “Isshoni toshiwo torō yo (一緒に年をとろうよ, let’s grow old together).” Not exactly bursting with ardor, would you say?
A Japanese wife is fully aware that the Japanese married life consists of stocking up on toilet paper and bottles of soy sauce on weekends, and that a good chunk of her holidays will be sacrificed to visiting in-laws.
She also hopes by that time to have separate sleeping arrangements. “Isshono ohakani haittemo iikedo isshoni nerunowa kanben (一緒のお墓に入っても一緒に寝るのは勘弁, It’s okay to lie in the same grave but I draw the line at lying in the same bed).”
Ah, the Japanese marriage.