A young American woman moves to Japan in the early days of her adulthood; a country whose ways and traditions are completely different from her own.
During the first few days there, she meets a man; a native of that world. They slowly break through the language barrier and, over weeks, become friends.
Except the woman, who is pretty naive when it comes to relationships, thinks she is falling in love.
All around them, couples are pairing off. Many of his native friends connect with her gaijin (foreign) friends. Fast forward a few years, and most of those couples are married.
But the two don’t get together. Something is preventing them. Is it her? Is it him?
They spend one night alone together in her apartment. They cuddle, and snuggle, and talk . . . but nothing more. During that night she begins to realize that he does have feelings for her, but he won’t let those feelings go anywhere because he believes the cultural differences are too big. He doesn’t think they can be overcome.
A year passes, and they continue to be close. When it is time for her to leave, he gives her a present (a stuffed animal that she will treasure always) and tells her the truth. His truth. He admits to caring about her, but that he couldn’t let go that she was gaijin. He couldn’t see past the cultural divide.
She returned a few months later. Same town, new job. She was determined to let him go, and get control of her own feelings. She spent less time where he was, and concentrated on new friends.
She hooked up (briefly) with another gaijin, but she was not in love with him. When the Japanese man found out, he said “I knew it had to be a gaijin. If it was a Japanese, it would have been me.” Her heart shattered in a zillion pieces.
Flash forward to now, years later. The young woman, now married to a wonderful man (who happens to be Japanese/Korean American) finds herself again on soil that seems foreign to all she is used to. Except this time she is in her own country. She feels as different as she did when she was truly a gaijin.
In this state, she lies in bed and reflects on her first true experience with loving and being loved. She wonders, what if? What if she had tried to make him cross the divide? What if he had been willing to look past her American ways. In her heart she knows, it would never have worked. But is that because of the cultural divide or something else?
In a flash of clarity she recognizes the truth. Her truth. The thing that divided them, and to this day makes connecting with people a challenge for her, has nothing to do with culture. It has to do with herself.
- Perception of emotion is culture-specific (physorg.com)