After publishing the article “The Truth About Dating In Japan As A Foreigner” a lot of female readers asked me what it’s like to date a Japanese guy.
Many seemed to be interested in cultural differences and resulting problems in the relationship between a foreign woman and a Japanese man.
Although I’ve been in Japan for 6 years now, I totally lack that kind of experience.
Instead I asked friends and fellow bloggers, who have had Japanese boyfriends or are even married to a Japanese man, to share their personal experience with us.
It was an interesting journey and I want to thank all of the participants for taking the time to tell us about their own unique story.
Nationality: Puerto Rican
First, let’s hear what Zia has to say. She’ been in Japan for many years and had to go through a lot during her time here already:
“I moved to Japan when I was 18 and have been dating Asian guys ever since. I’ve never dated Western guys, though. I often hear girls who long for Asian boyfriends say that Western guys are dogs, and I can confidently say that Asian men are no different. Just like with any place you go, you have your good guys and your bad guys.”
Zia, I think we can all agree with that!
“During my first couple of years here, I encountered a lot of guys whose interest in me came purely from the fact that I was foreign. They wanted to know all about Puerto Rico and always brought up the fact that one day, I’d return to my own country.”
I wonder if that’s generally one thing that might prevent Japanese men from dating a Western girl. They’re afraid that one day she might leave Japan again? Hm.
“Now that I’m older, I still come across a lot of men who seem interested in dating a foreigner for language reasons. These are the types of guys I feel we foreign girls encounter most. Amongst them, the good guys are hidden!”
I think that’s generally a big problem – not only when trying to find an “honest” relationship, but also true friends. I’ve heard from many people that they were just “used” as an opportunity to get free English lessons (or whatever their native language was). I bet it’s difficult to filter the ones who are truly interested.
Not only that, but also stereotypes seem to be an issue:
“There are a lot of stereotypes and some girls use them for their own personal gain. Those that stand true to who they are seem to be the ones who find solid relationships. In my case, for instance, men are quick to bring up the topic of bikinis and love hotels the minute I mention I’m Latina. They expect me to put out whenever we’d go out. For a long while, after the loss of someone I planned on spending my entire life with, I gave in to that stereotype and was unable to get involved in a serious relationship.”
Zia is pointing out a few problems in her current relationship due to cultural differences:
“Now, I’m in a happy relationship with an older man who doesn’t speak a lick of English or Spanish, which is my main language. We come across a lot of problems. For one, I’m very passionate in my way of moving and speaking, and I sometimes forget to respect personal space. I’m not at all intimidated by physical contact. He’s the opposite. What we consider common sense is very different.”
Jen has dated a couple of Japanese guys and is now married to one. She has experienced issues in her relationship because of cultural differences:
“When I first started dating my husband he was embarrassed to hold hands with me in public. This applied more in Japan than when we were in England, although now he seems completely okay with it. In general, Japanese men are likely to be embarrassed about showing affection in public – even things like putting an arm around someone’s shoulders, or hugging, never mind kissing. Very touchy feely Japanese couples are definitely NOT the norm.”
As another big problem Jen states:
“Long working hours and overtime are common here in Japan. My first Japanese boyfriend would go for weeks without contacting me because he was working late every day. Also, a general lack of e-mailing, phone calls etc. seems to be normal. Although I don’t think that this just applies to Japanese men!”
In the previous article we were already discussing the language issue that cross-cultural couples might have. Jen says:
“If you can both speak the other person’s language, there are probably going to be disagreements about what language to speak. My husband and I have a system where we swap languages every day – so today is an English day, and tomorrow is Japanese. At first, we went through periods where we would only speak English (which I didn’t like) or when we would only speak Japanese (which he didn’t like). Obviously we change it according to the circumstances (we are not going to speak in English to each other when out with a lot of Japanese friends!), but this system really works for us. I think this is an important thing to sort out!”
Jen and her husband on vacation in Korea.
Jen’s advice for overcoming or dealing with cultural differences is:
“I think in general, it’s important to be very open about what you are expecting from the relationship. If you need a lot of hugs and affection, make sure that he knows and don’t just get annoyed that he’s not automatically doing it. As long as you’re both honest and open about things, and actually communicate properly with each other, it should be okay!”
If you are single like me, you probably wonder about how to approach a Japanese man. Jen suggests:
“Even if you are shy, if you like someone you should be proactive about it. There is a good chance that he will like you too, and just not have imagined that you could possibly be interested in him. A lot of Japanese men seem to have an inferiority complex (many of my Japanese male friends have told me this), so they might not imagine that any non-Japanese woman would ever be interested in them. So if you like someone, go for it!”
Nationality: American (USA)
Age: late 20s
River is a young American who has dated a few Japanese guys before marrying one of them. About her first Japanese boyfriend she says:
“He was just a gaijin-hunter, so that didn’t go to well. He wouldn’t learn any English and it was really frustrating to communicate only in Japanese. At first I was happy about this, because I wanted to speak Japanese. However, the deeper things went, the more difficult it was to understand each other. Even when we broke up it was long and drawn out and he wanted to ‘stay friends’ which I’ve heard is what most Japanese guys like to do. Even after we’d been broken up for a few months he’d still write to me and ask what I was doing and how I was …”
After dating a few Japanese guys she finally met her husband. They seem to have issues caused by cultural differences, but they were able to overcome some of them:
When I started dating my husband, I didn’t really feel that we had any cultural barriers. I guess because by then I’d been in Japan long enough that I knew my way around and I had lived with two Japanese host families, so I have a good sense of Japanese manners and customs. We only spoke in Japanese with each other for a short time before he started to learn English, so he could communicate with me better. We eventually stopped speaking Japanese and now I’m actually unable to speak Japanese in front of him (shy, embarrassed … I’m not sure). I actually forget that he’s Japanese and that he can speak Japanese.”
Although they’ve found a solution for some of the problems, River says:
After we got married we had some trouble with things like housework and money, but I’m not sure if that’s just him, a Japanese trait, or normal married life. He doesn’t expect me to cook Japanese food and he doesn’t measure me by my miso soup making skills (I’ve gotten told by MANY people that my husband will basically judge me on my miso soup). We do have a lot of trouble communicating when we fight and again I’m not sure if it’s a language issue, culture, or just us …”
I found the following statement interesting, because I heard a lot of Western girls with Japanese boyfriends or husbands saying the exact same thing:
“My husband isn’t a typical Japanese guy.”
“I actually have a big problem with people prefacing their relationships with their significant other’s ethnicity. I never call my husband my ‘Japanese husband’. And I hate it when people act like I won a prize or ‘got’ something special because he’s Japanese. He’s just … him.”
Nationality: American (USA)
Alyse, a young American woman married to a Japanese man, notices the following cultural differences that sometimes cause problems in her relationship:
“Every guy I’ve ever been in a relationship with has been different from the last, but I suppose dating a Japanese guy has the added spice of major cultural differences, as opposed to just differences in hobbies or upbringing. And from these differences, the biggest one would be language. No matter how fluent each of us becomes in our second language, something is always lost in translation, and that can quickly escalate into a huge argument until we don’t even remember what we started arguing about in the first place. But there’s nothing we can really do other than keep studying and keep trying. So for that part, a significant amount of patience might be necessary.”
The language barrier seems to be a real issue even when you try hard to understand each other. However, Alyse mentions other problems as well:
“Another difference I noticed has to do with taking care of the household. It took a bit of adjusting (especially on my husband’s side). We knew that we would both be working, but when we first got married, Shota was under the impression that I would be making him lunch every morning, doing his laundry, and just taking care of the house as well as going to work full-time. It’s taken all 3 years of being married and countless long-winded explanations/rants in English and Japanese on my part, but most of the chores are split down the middle now.”
Just like River, Alyse also notices cultural differences when it comes to responsibilities in the household. Her advice is:
“I think when it comes to international relationships, especially with women from countries where men and women are viewed as mostly equals, it takes a lot of time and effort by both for it to work, and if both aren’t ready to concede or make compromises, the relationship won’t last for long.”
Alyse also mentioned another potential issue that nobody else brought up thus far:
“Something I’ve heard is that their mothers can be quite a problem, and this isn’t just for non-Japanese women, but just for the wives of Japanese men in general. The relationship between the mother-in-law and wife can be tenuous at best, and disastrous at its worse. And if you’re dating/marrying the eldest son of the family, you might be expected to move in with his family to take care of his parents as they age. This trend has started to drop off a bit in this generation, but it’s just one of the many things you should think about in a serious relationship!”
I also asked Alyse if she has any advice for us single girls when it comes to dating Japanese men:
“Landing a Japanese guy is EASY. Landing a guy who is serious about dating you, and understanding when he is serious, might be a bit harder to do. I didn’t start officially dating Shota until I confessed to him. If they reply positively, then you’re basically a couple, and if not, then it’s probably not going to work. But no matter how many dates you go on, you’re probably not a couple until you confess to him. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand it. Every person/couple is different, so I suppose the biggest thing is to be open to whatever comes and not to make judgments or assumptions beforehand.”
Claudia is a fellow German woman, but unlike me she met a Japanese guy in her younger days and got married already:
“My husband and I met when I was 19 and living in Tokyo on a Working Holiday Visa. I had not dated terribly much before. There had been two relationships that lasted for a while – with a Japanese guy and with a Korean guy.
We met through friends of friends. At the first meeting we exchanged mail addresses, met up a few times after that and at some point it just happened. Then, I had to leave the country (simple reason: my visa expired), we were in a long-distance-relationship for almost two years and got married as soon as he graduated university.”
Claudia says that her husband actually never wanted to marry a Japanese woman and here’s why:
“According to him, Japanese women are annoying, because they rather keep their emotions inside. Thus, little annoyances turn into huge problems. He also says that, as soon as Japanese women have babies, they turn into mothers, with not hint of the awesome wife you had before, destroying romance and attraction. I’m not entirely sure where he got these ideas from, but they’re his reasons.”
Claudia mentions issues, but also continuous efforts in her relationship that are necessary because of cultural differences:
“When we met he only spoke Japanese, but right now he is making an effort to learn English (we gave up on German, he promised he’ll start learning as soon as we have children). As most Japanese people, he is hugely interested in food and works too much. 120 hours of overtime should not be normal for anyone.”
According to Claudia the biggest difference between dating a Western man and dating a Japanese one is:
“Showing physical affection outside of the house: When we started dating, he wouldn’t even hold my hand when we were outside. Fortunately he has gotten used to it, but he will not hold my hand in front of his parents unless I initiate it. Kissing is still extremely embarrassing for him, and so the physical part of the relationship happens at home. At first, this sudden change in affection as soon as the door closed behind us was weird, but now I actually like it. It’s like there’s a side of my husband only I know.”
Another difference she has found between Japanese and German (Western) men is the following:
“He is willing to spend a lot more money on food and travel than I’d expect a German to. To him it’s normal that good things cost money and he’d rather have a stellar experience (paid for with his overtime pay) than a cheap, but unsatisfying one. He also doesn’t complain about my spending, as long as I can afford it.”
Claudia doesn’t mention any problems with her mother-in-law. On the contrary, she had less problems with her husband’s family than she thought she would have:
“His parents luckily were excited about the prospect of gaining a German daughter-in-law. I’m not sure most Japanese parents would be that happy, but my father-in-law used to go abroad for work several times a year, and a relative has been living in Canada for basically forever, so they’re open towards foreign cultures. Oh, and Germany has a ridiculously good reputation in Japan. I had a chance to meet a big part of the family and the only one who had any ‘problems’ was my husband’s grandmother, who even after meeting me several times still doesn’t believe that I actually speak Japanese. I’m not going to complain though, she’s in her 80s.”
Claudia doesn’t seem to have to fight with her husband about doing the chores:
“Different from some other Japanese men, my husband doesn’t complain about my housewife skills. At least not a lot. He does not expect me to keep the house extremely clean or to cook every day. Not only does my husband not make a fuss, he actually helps with the household when he has the time.”
When asked for advice on how to go about finding a Japanese boyfriend, Claudia’s response was:
“Know people who have access to tons of Japanese people. Ask to meet their friends. Be yourself, but keep in mind that Japanese culture is different from your own culture. Respect that, as far as you can without being untrue to yourself. Speaking Japanese also helps a big deal, especially as you will probably deal with the family of your boyfriend or spouse at some point.”
Last, but not least Vivian, a Canadian in her 30s, has a very positive opinion about cultural differences in a relationship:
“There’s always interesting cultural differences that pop up in the course of the relationship – some are exciting, while others can be more difficult to deal with, but I think it’s the same as any relationship, regardless of the culture. There’s always things you learn about the other person. Being in Japan, I think that dating a Japanese man can open up a whole new world, seeing Japan from a Japanese perspective, and you can learn a lot about the country and culture.”
As for finding a Japanese boyfriend, she suggests:
“I think men are men – everywhere in the world. Of course there are some specific cultural traits that differ, but overall, I’d say finding a Japanese boyfriend is the same as finding any boyfriend. Japanese men might seem shy at first, but ultimately they want the same thing.
If you can’t speak much Japanese, it’s probably best to go for a Japanese man who has lived abroad and can speak fluent English. If you can speak Japanese, you have better chances to meet them as it’s easier to have a conversation and flirt when you share a language. My advice is to take things slow, but if you like a Japanese guy don’t be shy to ask him out as he might be too intimidated to do so.”
Vivian has an interesting advice for anybody who wants to date a Japanese man that nobody else mentioned so far:
“This may not please everyone, but I suggest to take good care of your physical appearance. For example, most Japanese women are meticulous about their appearance, and while you don’t need to look like a walking doll, basic things like nice clothes, healthy body, skin and hair really make a difference. I believe you should never change your personality to please a man! I’m sure some Japanese men think most foreign girls are too loud and extroverted, but if that’s how you are then you should find someone who will embrace it.”
Dating Japanese Men – Conclusion
I think we all gained very interesting insights thanks to these young women who were willing to share their unique stories and experiences with us.
While there’s no doubt that each relationship is different, a few things were mentioned again and again. I guess it’s safe to say that you should keep those in mind if you are thinking about dating Japanese men:
- Japanese men are often very shy, so you should be proactive
- There might be no physical contact in front of others ( in Japan)
- There might be fights over household responsibilities
- Even if you speak each other’s mother tongue there might be communication issues
- Overtime and long working hours could become a problem in a relationship
- Be open-minded and ready to compromise
I know there are a lot of young women out there who are either interested in dating Japanese men or who are already in a relationship. This post could only display the experience of a handful of people. If you have your own unique story, questions or comments, don’t be shy and speak up! Of course, guys are welcome to share their opinion and experience as well!
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!