“Cross-cultural marriage, a double-edged sword”

By on November 16, 2015

IMG_0005Polish mum, poet, and book author Yoanna Shigenobu talks about her book, parenting style and her cross-cultural family life.

Eight years ago, Yoanna was a Tourism student in Poland. Today, she lives in Japan.
It all started when Yoanna’s internship took her to France, Italy and Japan. Never had she imagined that the last leg of the journey was to be her future permanent residence..

“I remember one day I was by the Shimanto river, writing a poem about a lover on a boat who appeared before me out of nowhere,” recalls Yoanna.

Then, five days before her scheduled departure for Poland, a friend had introduced her to a Japanese man who is now her husband.
At first, the Polish artist didn’t think it was going to lead to more than an encounter. “I just did not think a relationship with him had a chance to survive. I was afraid of being in a long distance relationship,” admits Yoanna.
But the Asian red string of fate theory must have been right. When she went back to Poland, her husband had persistently pursued her with non-stop emails/letters until she finally said ‘yes.’
“I still keep all the letters. One day, I will show them to our son as a wonderful memory,” beams Yoanna with joy.
She and her husband have been happily married for eight years. The couple has a seven-year-old son, Lauri, the apple of her mother’s eyes. But like all other couples in a cross-cultural marriage, the Shigenobus’ family life is not without occasional challenges.
“Having been together for the past eight years has made it possible for us to find the best compromise in an argument. Of course, there are ‘throwing plates’ situations sometimes.” (laughter)
Poland and Japan are two worlds apart but, according to Yoanna, it is the love for her husband and son that keeps her grounded. “Love has step-by-step helped me to understand the Japanese culture,
Poland and Japan are two worlds apart but, according to Yoanna, it is the love for her husband and son that keeps her grounded. “Love has step-by-step helped me to understand the Japanese culture, tradition, and see the beauty in every little thing here. It was a gradual process.”
“Before, I used to think of Japan as a strange and a little crazy country. Do you know what I mean? Here, everything seems so different from a European perspective. It is a big cultural shock. Really. Now, I no longer see Japan as strange as I used to when I first arrived here.”
When mundanity of everyday life gets overwhelming, Yoanna finds solace in poetry and writing.
“I love writing. I write stories that happen in Japan. I’ve written a story about a little boy who wanted to be a samurai like his dad. Another story I wrote was about a man who climbed Mount Fuji to meet his mysterious date.”
She has just authored a book (written in Polish for now) named after a Japanese male fish – “Mr. Fugu.”

“Mr. Fugu is an East-meets-West story between fictional characters Isao and Nicole who fought for love against all odds. A cross-cultural marriage is a double-edged sword. It could be a failure or success. Just like the “fugu” (blowfish), even one small cooking mistake could be fatal. But with the right formula, it could be a gastronomic delight,” explains Yoanna of her book.

Some aspects of Japanese culture appeal to Yoanna . She likes Kimono, Yosa Buson’s poetry, Kabuki theatre, shironuri make-up and ‘buyo’ (traditional Japanese dance).
DSCN1536(1)” My son Lauri is now learning traditional Japanese dance. He practices everyday. I love watching him dance and at times, I join him too. I have been dancing at the Hibiki Family theatre for 4 years now. Watching the actors dance to Polish composer Chopin’s music and shamisen guitar is such an amazing feeling! For me, getting involved in the theatre is some sort of a cultural mission. If one day I stop writing, you will find me dancing at the theatre! ” (laughter)
When asked about her parenting style, the young Polish mom says, “Each country has its own style of raising children. Parents in Poland for example, spend more time with their children and not only on weekends like how it is in Japan. The same can be said about a Polish classroom setting. Polish teachers treat each student as an individual helping him find his own passion. This prepares the child to accept new challenges and encourages him to be more open to other people. In Japan, it seems completely different…everything is more closed. I try to raise my child with a mix of both Japanese and Polish standards. More specifically, I try to instill in my child a mix of positive Japanese values: politeness, accuracy, reliability and Polish’s openness, creativity, and sensitivity. Looking at my son, I can say the result speaks for itself.”
Although Yoanna has embraced the Japanese way of life, she observes that family time here leaves a lot to be desired.

“I think that the lack of time for family is a sad picture of the Japanese society. In Poland, families make time to get together frequently, not just at Christmas or New Year. Celebrating family is very important for us Polish people. Unfortunately here, family relationships are not so important and this saddens me the most.”

FullSizeRenderMr. Fugu is available in Polish language at Amazon.
Yoanna invites families to see her perform at an upcoming special New Year show at the Kodai No Yu theatre in Katsushika-ku on January 3 and 4, 2016.
Yoanna will release a poetry collection book in Japanese scheduled for release on February 14, 2016 as her Valentine offering.


About Ted Tanaka