I've got a date tomorrow with a Japanese woman I've been chatting to online. As a result of looking forward to it, I've been looking up 'Japanese customs' on the internet.
I'm surprised I never did this with Wakana, but I've learnt something very interesting: How can you expect someone to act as an equal when they don't know what equality is?
Everything I'm learning about Japanese customs is focused on rank and status – not just for women, but especially for men.
The highest ranking person usually walks in front. He or she enters a room first and is seated first. He or she is introduced first. All others follow behind, again by rank. Rank is also important in a social setting, for example, usually the eldest son is introduced first and then the other boys, followed by the eldest daughter. There are even special names for the first born son or daughter as well as different names for "older brother" or "younger brother" (likewise for sister).
That's just an example. Basically, everything about Japanese culture isn't geared so much to subverting women, as I once thought, but that both men and women bow down to superior status and rank. And it just so happens that the Japanese culture is founded very much on that kind of system.
It comes from the warrior culture of Japan's origins, with the Emperor and Samurai, etc. Status is very important.
If you are a guest for dinner, they would seat you facing the door, and the host would sit with their back to the door. While the origin of this custom isn't explained in anything I've found so far, it obviously goes back to feudal times, when it was dangerous for a warrior (or anyone?) to sit with their back to the door. Facing it means you're less surprised when they burst through the door. So as a mark of respect, I'd say that the host is not only allowing the guest to feel safe by facing the door, but having his own back to the door is another gesture that "you're safe in my house".
What has made me make a complete about-face with my perception of Japanese women is that I've learnt that Japanese men display the same gestures of politeness and respect towards their superiors as women do. I guess it's just that women are raised into a culture of respect towards men (the warriors?), and the ranks and status that go along with that.
Apparently, I'm not the only Westerner that's been frustrated by Japanese cultural traditions, and it's something that they end up realising they can't change. The only times it changes is when the Japanese person moves away from Japan, and they eventually become more Westernised. While it's possible for a Westerner in Japan to understand more about Japanese society, they can apparently never become 'Japanised' – the Japanese won't let them, as there is always a deep measure of distrust of 'gaijin' (white devils) that live in Japan.
I need to move on beyond this rigid fixation of equality, because some people just don't feel the same need to be equal. And I feel it may be detrimental of me to insist on it in others.
If someone wants to be polite and respectful to me, the best thing I can do is be the same back to them.
Maybe this means I'm getting over my own desires to be selfish, and am becoming more understanding and more prepared to give as well as receive.
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