Sunday, September 23, 2007

"L" is for Loyalty: Is the Loyal Samurai Trustworthy?

My husband is very proud to be descended from Samurai. His family name is the kind that was only granted to families of the Samurai. His most recent forefathers were school teachers and professional gamblers, but still it's the samurai in his family past that keeps him firm in the belief that his blood is nobler in some way than that of the blood of the unfortunates all around him descended from farmers and merchants.

Being a modern day descendant of samurai seems to have instilled two features into this man I married. One is a sense of obligation and duty: to work (first) to family (blood family first) and then finally I would hazard a guess to me. The foreigner that he married and reproduced with, his wife. I want to say that he is loyal too. And he is in the sense of honoring his duties and obligations to either work or the family.

But can my loyal samurai be trusted? When we first started to date my mind ran wild with all kinds of doubts and second guesses. The influence of new love, where as fires burn hotter and hotter jealousies tend to become magnified, was compounded by throwing the Pacific ocean in between us. We went on our first date in 1987 but for the next two years we saw each other only for 2 weeks here and at the longest 3 or 4 months there. There was plenty of time to sit and gaze off into the distance and fret that my man was frolicking with some homegrown geisha girl. Apparently he worried that my affections might wander a bit as well, hence the habit of proposing marriage to me via air mail during those first two years of our "courtship."

It took years until I felt so completely grounded in my relationship with Masa that I no longer pondered his potential to betray, humiliate or worse than any other foreseeable act, stop respecting me. When we were engaged he had to go back to Japan for a few months just prior to the wedding. A good friend of mine (a male friend) used to enjoy grinning at me and teasing me that Masa was probably cheating on me with a Geisha. And this story shouldn't be misread as "by God she had horrible choice in friends." Rather it shows that my very good friend knew how much I trusted my fiance and knew he could kid about my fiances faithfulness with me.

Or I am a poor judge of character and my friend really was trying to prod me into a total emotional melt down?

But, the point is that regardless of my friend's reasons for teasing me in such a way, my faith in Masa was unshakable.

My faith in his fidelity to me ran so deep that even after we were living in Japan and I had already started to go down hill in the fashion and looks department, especially when compared to the beautiful, svelte young Japanese women all around him at work. . . I never seriously considered the idea that he would ever act in any way unfaithful to me. I even wasn't bothered by the idea that certain young women at his workplace fancied him.

I should qualify the "even when were were living in Japan" statement. Not every Japanese husband is unfaithful to his wife. But, if a Japanese husband is unfaithful to his wife it doesn't really seem to shock or ruffle many feathers on this side of the Pacific. In fact, as long as a husband is discreet about it, an extra marital affair may easily be overlooked by his wife. Mother in laws are quick to point out that the daughter in law is the one to fault for the affair, not their sons. Just as a young boy who runs into a room at full speed only stopping to make kicks and karate chop the air around him (and occasionally a mate who gets in the way) is heralded as "genki ottoko no ko desu ne!" (what a healthy little boy!) so a husband who cheats on his wife is, well, ottoko wa ottoko desu--a man after all. The sex industry here caters to married men and while basically the sex industry in every country caters to married men, it is disturbing to me here in that it doesn't seem to disturb many of the Japanese that that is the case. It just is a fact of life.

Which makes it rather ironic that Japan keeps getting the top spot on lists of countries with sexless marriages. Although I guess, those lists are talking about the lack of sex between man and wife, not exactly lack of sex on either side of the equation. . . When we lived in Osaka I got so sick and tired of getting the local sex shops ads in our mail box. In our family apartment building mail box. Invariably there was a naked girl (except for the high heels of course) either bending over or squatting in exactly the manner I am trying to teach my daughters never ever to bend or squat. And on the other side their price list. I learned a lot of dirty Japanese from those price lists.

Even when I go on line to get my English language news on Japan, if I visit the Mainichi Shinbun's site (a top Japanese newspaper) I usually have to scan past their WaiWai section (wai wai is a scream of excitement I believe) in which they detail the latest sexual services offered in the sex industry here in Japan. The "ick" factor is high in these articles as the men writing them, well, they "try out" the pantiless yakinuku joint, or the nipple massage with blow job service. . . The articles aren't written by staff at the Mainichi, the Mainichi's Wai Wai section is just a collection of articles taken from Japan's top weekly magazines--titillating gossip and smut.

The convenience stores here place their porno mags and pornographic manga face out so that you see the whole slew as you walk up to the store through their glass window fronts. And I wonder why my daughters sometimes horrify me by striking incredibly sexually provocative poses. . .

When I lived in Tokyo and had to ride the trains every day it drove me nuts that businessmen routinely read (read? looked at maybe a better word choice) the most explicit sex mags on the train next to me, in front of me, basically so close to me that it would have been more practical just to ask me to hold the damn magazines up for them!

The number and availability of sex industry services here is mind boggling. I assume that there are similar services available in my home country, the U.S.A. but thank god for America's puritanical roots--Hustler and Penthouse were well and truly buried, obscured, hidden under the counter behind a black cover at the local market. I had to babysit in order to be able to peruse my first pornographic magazines. (My pre-teen girlfriends and I had a network going, if you discovered pornography, magazines or videos, at a babysitting job you had to tell the group that way we could all look it over.)

Sexuality and nudity on T.V. here would be a whole different essay. It has changed since the 80's. I remember watching a game show in which the bimbo girl would have to take off a piece of clothing for each incorrect answer and as soon as she was nude she had to get on a slide and slide down into the all male audience. Or my favorite I-love-to-hate-him comedian, movie maker, wife cheater, Takeshi Beat's show where he conducted interviews while everyone had a naked woman sitting astride their neck/shoulders. I think that show was protesting the new restrictions on allowing nudity/sex on television shows.

(Of course, on the other side of the Pacific, I should probably confess that I tuned into a episode of Fox's Nip and Tuck and couldn't believe my eyes--sex and nudity? Big time! I have to watch most of my own T.V. shows after the kids are asleep. I let them watch a few episodes of Friends (comedy so I considered it innocent) and I got so tired of hearing them say, "Let's have sex" that I had to cross that off the child appropriate list. I am down to watching The Power Puff Girls and Lizzy McGuire re-runs. It is driving me nutty.)

Health Delivery girls (think about it), Soap Lands--use a nude girl as your shower sponge and then get extras thrown in--hiring a van and the prostitute in the back of it to "service you" while driving about the city are big. There are companies that provide elaborate ruses for spouses--back ground noises to throw them off the scent. Calling from the local soap land? No bother, your wife will only hear the typical noises of a train station platform in the background.

I mean, there is so much invested in deception and the alteration of perceptions here in Japan. Whole industries--the mobile phone industry is scary in all the different methods it has produced to make sure that a spouse will never figure out who you are really calling on your mobile phone. . .

But the bit about it all that disturbs me the most is that it isn't done to protect the person who is indulging in experiences "out of the bonds of matrimony" as much as it is done to "protect the spouse." I mean, if in the end, the truth is discovered, it is not so much a problem. Unless the guy has put his whole family in debt for the services offered in the red light district. THEN it is a problem. But otherwise, so what? A guy is a guy is a guy and ignorance is bliss and ensures domestic tranquility.

Example: Guy in my husband's hometown leaves his wife and children for a young Filipino bar hostess. Then he embezzles money from his insurance company business to buy her stuff. He embezzles A LOT. We're talking thousands of dollars from several different customers. Probably into the 100's of thousands. My mother in law is one of them. First he runs away. Then he comes back. To avoid being black listed in his professional field he promises to pay all of his clients back. He pays my mother in law about a hundred dollars a month. (He owes her THOUSANDS) Everyone in town is perfectly happy with this arrangement. Everyone extends him courtesy and friendship, comrade ship. He gets new clients.

What he did wrong was he embezzled money from clients. I can't get past the wife and kids. . . I mean, who's going to pay for those kids' college? How does the wife get through each day without making him into salary man sushi? My mother in law lives in a small town. EVERYONE knows what this man did.

So your man cheats on you? It is to be expected. So while I explicitly trusted Masa for the first 7 years of our marriage I have to admit that I kept up of a front of being a little jealous. It was meant to be done in a teasing manner but beneath it lay a tiny bit of real fear. Fear that he would give in to the cultural pressures around him. Fear that he would give into group pressure or give into a midlife crisis. He has had friends who were unfaithful to their wives. One of those friends even brought his lover into his home to babysit his children. And Masa still considered the man a friend: I considered him the scum of the Earth and a bit like dog shit that needs smeared from one's shoes onto a sharp edge of concrete.

There's a cultural divide here that I just can't get across. In fact, the most annoying thing that Masa has ever told me is that he is the world's best husband because he has never cheated on me. Uh. . . huh. Should I be doling out gold stars for each day he successfully doesn't have an affair? Or, maybe I should rephrase that: should I doling out gold stars for each day that he successfully doesn't have an affair?