Intra-office marriage in Tokyo is more common than you think.

This is the story I want to share with my grandkids.

This is the story I’d like to share with my grandkids.

The typical office working environment in Tokyo can be brutal (mentally and physically). Overtime is expected to some extent on a daily basis, and like most other Japanese social constructs, there is a strong emphasis on building a harmonious group. Depending on your industry, staying at work until 8, 9 or 10pm everyday can be completely normal. Early morning to late at night with the same group of people day in, day out. You share coffee and meals together on a regular basis, and just based on the vast amount of time spent together, it becomes pretty easy to form close bonds.

This makes, to me at least, dating between coworkers seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to happen. I’m not talking about sordid office affairs here, but rather goofy, awkward crushes between two single people blooming into a serious committed relationship.

Jim and Pam know what I’m talking about.

Jim and Pam know what I’m talking about.

I personally know about 7-8 or so couples that are the result of shanai kekkon (intra-office marriage 社内結婚), and it seems like it one of the easiest ways for people to hit it off if you are a busy, young professional.

Long hours combined with team assignments and frequent office nomikai (drinking parties 飲み会) are the right ingredients needed to create the spark between two people. Trust me, I’ve seen enough episodes of the Young and the Restless to know what I’m talking about.

This all holds specially true in some Japanese companies where younger people are usually de facto sorted by age due to the new graduate system. You will spend A LOT of time of people around your own age. Your life, as a new graduate, will revolve around your job. You will probably not have enough time to go on regular dates or see a potential sweetheart more than 2-3 times a month if you are really busy (because remember, he/she will probably be in a similar situation to yourself!).

If you are dating someone who is in the same company as yourself, it is easier to see them frequently. Even if it is as a group, you can regularly grab lunch or dinner, and it takes less time to get to know them when compared to going on sporadic dates. You also probably have more topics in common that you can chat about, and can probably even help each other out with work-related issues.

Are Japanese companies okay with shanai kekkon? Depends. Some places will make you break up or have one person quit if they find out you are dating or planning to marry. Some places will allow it, but will place you in different departments if needed. Some places think it is the bee knees and will get pissed face drunk at your marriage ceremony to celebrate your new life together.

I think many people who’re seeing their coworker* will keep it on the down low until they make a formal marriage announcement because dealing with the aftermath of a break-up is probably 100 times worse if everyone around knows the two people involved. Office gossip in Japan is a beast unto itself.



Thoughts from my Japanese husband: Movie edition

In order to find important cultural differences in our relationship, and myself having the strong desire to work for the good of science, I often engage in discussions with my husband to further understand his perspective on things we experience together.

I have asked him in English about what he thought of some films we watched together. From his answers I have compiled a list of 1 line movie reviews. Please keep in mind he is a very special guy, and his answers reflect his specialness.

Probably more accurate than Rotten Tomatoes. For Real.

1. Intersteller
“Now I know what it feels like to be a father.”

2. American Sniper
“I don’t know why it had to end so sad. That’s depressing”

3. Tom Hanks
Not a movie, but he asked me if Tom Hanks was in all those documentaries like Captain Phillips.

4. Poltergeist

5. The Lego Movie
“Everything is awesome”. (note: This has been his catch phrase since watching it. Several months ago.)

6. Pacific Rim
“It reminded me of my childhood.” (I think he is an Ultraman fan)

7. Jurassic World
“It was really interesting, but I don’t remember why”

8. Guardians of the Galaxy
“Lots of good action but boring.”

9. Evangelion 3.0: You Can (not) Redo
“Anyone who says they understand this is lying.”

10. Ringu
Cowered in fear and did not receive a comment.

11. Frozen
“The songs I didn’t really like, but it is memorable.”

12. Rec
“The scale is 3 from 1-5 because it’s just okay.”

13. Maleficent
“It sucks. The story is totally different from the original story.”

14. Back to the Future
“Kissing his mom was not the point of the movie.”

Some great insights from this, but even after all this time it is hard for me to predict what he will like or not. The biggest surprise so far is how he turned into a big Les Miserables fan after seeing Hugh Jackman sing.

International marriage: communication problems during the decision making process.

This is something I’ve noticed when trying to make decisions with my husband. Even if the outcome of what we decided is the same, the subtle difference in use of negatives and positives can impact how we both walk away from the conversation.

I’d like to preface this by saying that it doesn’t apply to 100% of conversations for either of us, but just an observation of our natural patterns of speaking.

The unexamined life is not worth living. Also, color coding helps.

In many cases I believe Americans will initially use “no” or a neutral tone when trying to come to a decision. If they warm up to the idea during the course of the conversation, than it becomes a “yes”. If not, it remains “no”. The initial “no” is not intended as a complete rejection, but as a way to hear each other out on the matter.

Conversely, Japanese tend to start with a placeholder “yes” or a positive response, and continue on the conversation with positive feedback while listening to the other person’s idea. However, if a definite “yes” isn’t placed at the end of the conversation, it doesn’t necessarily mean the are fully onboard with the idea despite their previous positive approach. It’s sometimes left to the other person to understand that while they were attentively listening, they are not really interested in going forward.

I think that’s why as an American it feels like it takes longer than necessary to come to a decision in Japanese than in English.

Think about bar hopping with a group of mostly Japanese people vs. a group of mostly American people. Which one normally comes up with the next place to go quicker? Maybe it can take 15+ minutes to pick the next place with the Japanese group, but the Americans will take 2-3 minutes to make a choice.

I naturally want to say “no” and not make a commitment until I can hear more about the other person’s idea. As they explain everything, I’ll think more about whether it is something I’ll consider agreeing with in the end. This carries over into my Japanese sometimes; people probably think I’m being curt if I use the Japanese language with an American decision-making process.

I want to illustrate this with the classic “What do you want for dinner tonight, honey?” scenario with an “American” pattern and “Japanese” pattern:


Husband: What do you want for dinner?
Wife: I don’t know…why?
Husband: How about a hamburger?
Wife: Hmm…really? Where?
Husband: Near the station.
Wife: There’s hamburgers there? I don’t know…
Husband: Yeah a new place opened up. I want to check it out .
Wife: Oh… What’s it called?
Husband: It’s called Amazing Burger. They use aged beef and have craft beer.
Wife: That actually sounds good! I was kinda thinking curry, but that’s fine.


Husband: What do you want for dinner?
Wife: I’m cool with anything!
Husband: I was thinking of hamburgers..?
Wife: Oh that’s cool. Hamburgers are good.
Husband: Yeah! There’s this place near the station
Wife: There is? I didn’t know that.
Husband: It’s new… Called amazing burger.
Wife: Oh interesting.
Husband: They have aged beef and craft beer.
Wife: Oh that sounds nice, but I was actually thinking of getting curry…

The first one is an American style development that ended in agreement to the suggestion: a neutral response followed by apprehension then information gathering, with a decision ending with a positive statement when in agreement with the suggestion. The initial apprehension is explained by the Wife sorta jonesing for curry, but did not have her mind completely made up with what she wanted.

The second one is a Japanese style development with a rejection of the idea at the end: positive reaction and continued positive tone and agreement with the explanation, but ends actually with a vote “no” to going to the burger restaurant. Wife politely listened to the whole suggestion, but her heart was set on curry so she declines. A decision really has not been finalized in the course of the dialogue, and will continue on from there.

So what does this all mean? From what my husband and I have talked about, a Japanese person might feel that the “American” conversation pattern is pretty negative and a bit standoffish, but the “Japanese” conversation pattern sounds a bit wishy-washy to an American.

Long story short, trying to change my natural instinct to say “nah” when at I’m home has been a challenge. (But don’t forget my “nah” is also full of love and respect!)

Marriage wasn’t a big deal

Getting married in Japan, the legal process- not the human drama, is not a big deal. It is so not a big deal, that it isn’t that uncommon for people to be married without any major announcements beforehand. (Once you say it on Facebook, it is pretty much official though.)
Your first steps towards martial bliss:
Step 1. Fill out 2 simple document that are readily available your local ward office
Step 2. Find 2 different witnesses (usually friends or family)  to stamp the papers.
Step 3. Take it back to the ward office.
Just Married

Congratulations, you may never leave each other. EVER.

We decided on the morning of March 31st that the date would be easy to remember for our anniversary…so we dropped off the paper that night. Yes, just as romantic as it sounds.
Getting married and having a wedding are two completely different things though. They normally don’t overlap, so the wedding usually occurs several weeks to months after legally becoming husband and wife.
Marriage itself takes about as much effort as it does to send a certified letter at the post office, but a wedding has so many social obligations connected to it, that the wedding and actual marriage don’t normally happen at the same time.
As for us, we actually haven’t had a wedding yet because of the logistical problems of getting our families together in one country. I swear if that doesn’t happen before our 5th anniversary, I’ll give up and buy another cat.