Mixed Marriages: Why Are There So Many Among Japanese Canadians?
I believe I heard the term “visible minority” (hereafter VM) for the first time when I moved to Canada. Back in the old days, expressions like “people of colour” were used to distinguish minorities from white people. So an expression like “VM” which cleverly skirts around the issue of skin color to me smacks of Canada, a nation second to none in her efforts to eliminate racial discrimination. In the sense that it really means “visibly different from a white person,” the expression is still based on the perspective of Caucasian Canadians whose forefathers founded the nation. But that, as we say, is “shikataganai” – cannot be helped. So I suppose when a Japanese Canadian meets, say, a Chinese Canadian, they would look at each other both acknowledging, maybe subconsciously, that “you are not white.”
Among the many VMs in Canada, at any rate, the ratio of couples in inter-racial marriages, or more generally “mixed unions,” is reported to be the highest by far among Japanese Canadians. It is one of the findings in a report entitled “A Portrait of Couples in Mixed Unions” recently released by Statistics Canada based on the 2006 Census (National Post, 21/4/2010). The percentage of mixed-race marriages and similar “relationships” among Japanese Canadian couples stood at a remarkable 74.7% – or three out of every four married Nikkeijin – compared to VMs with low mixed union rates like 12.7% for South Asian (Indians and others) couples. The very high ratio for Nikkeijin stands out in comparison to the next highest at 47% for couples in the somewhat vague category of “Latin American.”
Why is this? An analyst with Statistics Canada pointed to long duration of residence and the fact that at 29,700 couples (where one is or both are Nikkei), the Japanese Canadians were a much smaller VM than, say, Chinese Canadians with 321,700 couples and South Asians with 327,200 couples. It could be that it’s a very small group, so that the chances of meeting someone outside of the group are much greater, opined the analyst. (The report apparently does not dwell on such details as the distinction between, say, a marriage between Nikkei and Caucasian Canadians and that between a Japanese and a Caucasian Canadian.
Prof. Audrey Kobayashi, who studies multiculturalism at Queen’s University, gave another explanation for the Nikkeijin’s high intermarriage rate – the destruction of their social infrastructure during the 1940s. “If you look at the social situations in which people find partners, it’s very often in community events, churches, educational institutions . . . For Japanese Canadians, those were destroyed, and you saw an immediate rise in intermarriage,” she pointed out.
There is another trend that characterizes Japanese Canadians’ marriage patterns. Along with Filipino, Korean and Chinese Canadian women, Japanese Canadian women were more likely to be involved in mixed unions than men from the same VM. This contrasts with such VMs as South Asians and “black” people, another vague category, in which more men than women choose partners of different races. Why do Japanese Canadian women and, presumably, migrant Japanese women (apparently all grouped together under the VM “Japanese” in the report) show this tendency? There have been various studies on this by sociologists, psychologists and others, and I daresay there may well be readers out there with knowledge and insight into this important subject. It is both important and serious, I suspect, precisely because it’s one of those topics rarely discussed in “public” (i.e. open to both sexes).
I’m certainly no expert, but it has to be one of the factors behind the high ratio of mixed marriages and unions among Japanese Canadians in general. It must have been over 40 years ago that I first heard or read about the high ratio of mixed marriages among Nikkei women in North America. The situation was then described as something like “Nikkei women are not really fussy about the race of their potential partners, whereas many of the men think “I hope I can marry a Nikkei girl.” As I was writing this, I realized one more thing.
“I want my future partner to be such-and-such (Nikkei and other conditions)” . . . is this not the way men everywhere, not just Japanese Canadian, have traditionally thought? And “I don’t care what race (and other conditions) the person is (has), as long as the person really loves me” . . . is this not the way women everywhere have traditionally thought? Or is that an illusion of a 60-something wallowing in the refrain of the good old days? “In this day and age, women regardless of race are obviously much more realistic,” admonishes a voice from somewhere afar . . .
C’est la vie. Be that as it may, the aforementioned 2006 Census shows that couples in mixed unions, who make up 3.9% of the total 7.4 million couples in Canada, marks a big increase over the 2.6% recorded 15 years previously. So, to conclude, Nikkei/ijusha women are trendy where marriage is concerned.