In recent decades, the practice among Japanese rural men of taking foreign brides has been increasing.
There are several reasons why, the main one being that there are simply fewer eligible women in rural areas. Not surprisingly, young women don't want to stay on the farm and juggle the housework, child-rearing, financial responsibilities and farming duties as well. What's the poor farmer to do?
As a result, an entire foreign marriage brokering industry has developed. Before you start cringing at the implications, consider that there has always been a tradition of arranged marriages in Japan, so it's not quite so strange an idea. Add to this the fact that in rural areas, there have always been agencies that helped with matchmaking.
Mail-order brides from overseas
The way it works is that the farmer goes through brokers who are usually foreigners themselves. Most of these agencies work with Asian and Southeast Asian countries. They recruit women from back home, arranging a dowry for her family and transportation fees. Some agencies even offer trips to other countries for rural bachelors to find women.
It gets weirder. In many areas, local governments have gotten involved. Local governments started getting into the matchmaking business in the 1990s as the rural population declined. This also has a long tradition in Japan, except not with foreign brides.
Here comes the bride
As you might imagine, this is not well-documented and many agencies aren't very public about what they do. There's also very little information on the women themselves. What little data there is indicates that they're mostly from rural and impoverished areas. The family gets a large dowry and the bride-to-be dreams that she's going to be whisked away to a wealthy country and wined and dined. She most likely doesn't picture herself knee deep in unchi (ウンチ – poo), picking rice.
In 1995, it was reported that there were 20,000 marriages between Japanese men and foreign brides, and it's estimated that a large number of these were rural bachelors. This constituted 2.5 per cent of all marriages in that year, which was a tenfold increase since 1970. Again, there's little data but a majority of foreign brides are believed to be from the Philippines. There are also many from Taiwan and Korea.
Till death do us part
Do the couples live happily ever after? Results are fairly mixed. There was a story in The New York Times of a woman from the Philippines who went to a small Japanese village and won over the townsfolk to such an extent that a fellow farmer married her sister.
Most stories, however, aren't so rosy. They usually involve massive culture shock, fights with in-laws, racism from the locals, and often divorce. There have also been cases where foreign brides have ditched their hubbies and headed for the big city lights.
Many people feel that this phenomenon is a form of human trafficking, simply a case of men in rich countries buying women in poor countries. After all, there are few regulations in place. One positive effect, however, is that it may help to make Japan more international.