Madame Butterfly, what a beautiful opera.
Or is it?
For me, I have always had conflicting feelings about this one and true to Global Citizen form, it will be an opinion that I do not think has ever been discussed in the West. I’m not sure if it was discussed in Japan but if any Japanese have an opinion I would LOVE TO HEAR IT!
Again, this is one of the reasons we created this blog. The point I am going to make I think has never even been considered in the West and I might, honest to God, be the first one to propose it.
I should also say that I made the title of this post provocative on purpose. Most of you will read this post for the “Asian Women, Western Men” part won’t you. Well, I’m talking about OPERA people. LOL
Well, actually this opera is exactly that, Asian Women and Western Men but from a long time ago. I could go into the current situation/relationships but no, it is late and I would prefer to keep this post short. 🙂
Getting back on track you will have to watch this wonderful YouTube Video and I’ll give you a short explanation about Madame Butterfly.
And for bragging rights, I saw this Opera in Tokyo. Didn’t hear any complaints from the Japanese which furthered my confusion.
Explanation (super short):
1. An American Naval Officer (Pinkerton) comes to Japan, finds a pretty Japanese lady, makes love/has a romance and leaves. He promises to return to be with her.
2. She waits and waits for him. She is in love and cannot wait for his return. She waits everyday for him.
3. He returns and is married to a Western woman.
Important point: … This is what bothers me. At that time it was only proper to marry other whites as a “real wife” while only playing with the Asians. Yes, I know, very controversial. This is WHAT BOTHERS ME! This is the point I’m trying to make and will come back to it.
4. She is sad and commits suicide.
SO, here is my problem with the Opera.
We in the West look at it as a very beautiful Opera and one that shows us the magnitude of love combined with the absolute devotion of those mysterious people from Japan.
Yet, as a Global Citizen, one who understands both Japan and America I want to say WTF!!! Perhaps I do not understand everything as well as I should?? And here comes my controversial viewpoint. And I warn you, I will be very quick and succinct about this.
In the West, this is all very beautiful because it is the Asian woman who is getting burned. If the situation were reversed and a Japanese came to America, seduced an American woman and then decided she wasn’t as good as a Japanese woman, Americans would probably go into convulsions.
I use the reverse situation simply as an example, but apples are not to oranges just as strawberries are not to watermelons. The point is this:
I was uncomfortable as an American seeing an American seduce a Japanese only to delegate her not as good as a western woman and then understanding the Japanese mentality have her commit suicide.
Hell, I left that opera in Tokyo wishing I had a Canadian patch I could attach to my forehead or something. But no, everything was just fine and I couldn’t understand why.
Why couldn’t I understand why?
Because in America, if the situation was reversed, A Japanese seduced an American lady, decided she wasn’t proper to marry and hitched up with a Japanese woman and the American then jumped off a cliff people would be going berserk!!!! Hell, Sarah Palin would have a field day with that and probably blow a brain vein!
So no, I do not get this opera. I do not understand why the Japanese should like it either.
Now, to blow this blog wide open, we could go into current relationships between Asian women and Western men and I’m pretty sure it would become one of the most popular blogs on the internet.
But being sophisticated GCs’ as we are we’ll just wait for any comments if anyone dares to.
Lots of love. Mateo
Lots of love? Thank you.
My guess is that Japanese don't so much mind the opera because the Japanese character in the play does not do anything wrong. In fact she shows remarkable character and honesty. (at least from what I gather from your super short explanation. I am not a fan of opera myself.)
Also, they probably don't react to the American character being an idiot because they sort of expect poor moral fiber from that side.
Obviously, thinking that Japanese are in any way more faithful than people of other nationalities is a complete load of nonsense. I can personally attest to that.
The opera is simply peddling stereotypes that most people recognize and therefore don't question:
The Japanese are sexually available, passive and faithful to the point where they will rather kill themselves than find someone other than the tall handsome foreigner.
The American, as the strong man of the world who answers to no-one but himself, can come and go as he pleases. He will sow his wild oats with exotic women where and whenever he feels like it. And then fall back on the wholesome trustworthy quality of – a white woman. Probably from the Mid-West. The kind of person he can actually respect and therefore build a future with.
What's not to like about that story?
I understand why author is disturbed by the story, we are not supposed to praise and appreciate a story like this: a white American man abandoned an Asian woman and chose not to marry her just because she's not white American. This is so politically incorrect…
But, well, didn't it just make sense what the American Naval officer did at that particular time? When was it? 1900' ish? My husband' father was a sailor post WWI. He was only 18 and fell in love with a Chinese woman in Shanghai when he stationed there for several weeks. He wrote a letter to his mom in Ohio and asked if he could marry her and bring her back to states. She replied to him "over my dead body".
I believe the young lady's father said something similar too. It was humiliating for a good Chinese woman to marry a foreigner. It was just not socially acceptable back then for people to marry outside their race, simply put.
Now here I am, married to a white American. My husband did something that his father wanted to do but couldn’t. Time has changed. Things are different now. But I know deep inside, that my parents still prefer me marry to a good old Chinese boy. From time to time, I also wish I could communicate with him in my native language and share the closeness of the same cultures.
If a Japanese man “came to America, seduced an American woman and then decided she wasn’t as good as a Japanese woman”, I am sure many Japanese people will think it makes sense. I actually know several Asian guys dated hot American women, but eventually all married to Asian women. I know most Asians will agree that it's better off for people to marry within their race and cultures; it's just easier that way.
Some Americans are probably bothered by the possible white supremacy message in the show. But I think Japanese look at it more as a personal choice that they can relate to.
So, this is probably why they are not offended by the show (or at least not showing since they are always so polite? 🙂
They also accept the vulnerability of the female role in the show. In Japanese society, men are still considered kind of superior than women. So they understand that a woman wait, wait and wait, then eventually kill herself for a man, regardless the man being American or Japanese.
Finally, after all, it is a beautiful love story between a Man and a Woman. It's also a sad love story. Tragedy is simply more powerful. The beautiful music doesn't hurt either ( I myself is a big fan of Puccini, I can't resist his music :).
(sorry that I have to post my comments in three parts, I was told that it's too long, so I had to post them separately.)
My real issue with this is the fact that I know if the situation were reversed the Westerners would probably be unhappy with the Opera and it would never become famous.
I like how you turned it around though JN and mentioned that many Asians could be unhappy should their child choose a Westerner so it is the same racism but in reverse. I didn't consider that but after you mentioned it have seen that happen.
My experience is with Japan and I know that it is very rare for a male to marry a western female, especially the first born. You are right that they may be a little weary of a "strong" woman but also the parents opinions will have a lot of influence.
In any case, time will go on, people will continue mixing old stereotypes will fade and new ones will take their place.
I agree that it would not be a hit if the roles were reversed. But that fact does not necessarily reveal hypocrisy the way you might think.
What decides the response is not only opinions on love-conquest and subsequent betrayal or promiscuity. The meaning of suicide also has a say in it.
In America suicide is something shameful and the last choice when there is nothing but desperation left.
In old traditional Japanese culture, suicide is the honorable choice. Such as doing the right thing even if no one is looking.
Not all reactions to this play have to do with intercultural relations. Some of them are simply intracultural perceptions.
Thanks, Matt. Yes I agree if the situation were reversed, the Westerners woild definitely not be happy with the Opera, and we all know why. 🙂
Yonanu, very good point! Suicide does have very different and profound meaning in Japanese culture. In this story, the woman chose the ultimate sacrifice for someone whom she loved. The faithfulness to one lover in old Asian culture was always highly respected. I do remember seeing similar stories in old Chinese love stories. Such as, a rich man fell in love with someone outside his class, but couldn't marry her, the woman killed herself eventually because she chose to only love one person even though she was abandoned and rejected.
Therefore, regardless the man is Western or not in this story, people can relate to the struggle and the dilemma that the characters were facing. Therefore, they chose to forgive…
Just my two cents. 😉
I found this fascinating a clicked on it because the Opera’s name is ‘Madame Butterfly’.
But Coming From A Western Guy: ‘Aren’t ALL Woman Butterflies’? YES women ARE not to be mistreated and undervalued for that matter.
ALL Women have Innate Love & Beauty and I believe asian women are the MOST Beautiful.
Love and Peace – From Sydney Australia – JORDAN.
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