Looking for Love: Interracial Relationship Struggles

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On May 25, 2016
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You finally found that special someone to share your lazy Sunday mornings with and you can’t wait to take them on a romantic getaway. New relationships often feel exhilarating at first. Yet, when you finally take off those rose-colored glasses and reality sets in, you may start seeing your partner in a new light.

Obviously, no relationship is perfect, but if your new flame happens to be from a different cultural background, you might be in for a few unpleasant surprises – especially if you are each other’s first incursion into international territory.

Every relationship is of course different, but looking back at my first romance with a Japanese man, I did notice a few recurring patterns that seem common to many interracial couples in Japan.

“I have to work this weekend…”

Japanese people being notoriously busy at work, I should not have been surprised to hear it is normal for couples to meet once a week or even once every two weeks. A Japanese girlfriend of mine would only meet her boyfriend once a month and was perfectly fine with it, though she’d manage to have coffee with me every two weeks.

To a Western girl like myself, I could not fathom how it was possible to be happy that way. Back home, couples would generally meet at least three times a week. When my first Japanese boyfriend, a typical overworked salaryman, told me he couldn’t meet me so often nor “needed” to, I realized I would have to seriously downgrade my expectations.

“I should not have to tell you this!”

Japanese people are indirect communication masters and like to show their affection through small everyday gestures, rather than grand love declarations. A Japanese friend of mine got teary-eyed while watching a movie where the male protagonist, while shoveling food in his mouth, declared to his girlfriend: “I want to eat your cooking everyday”. The happy couple got married soon after.

But what happens when things go sour? My ex-boyfriend used to give me the silent treatment whenever he was annoyed with me. Raised in North America, I grew up being told to talk out my problems. With him, I hit a brick wall. The more I pushed to talk about our issues, the worse it became. Our communication style was very different. He wanted me to understand him and what he wanted without having to tell me.

“You haven’t told your family about me?”

It is also normal for couples in Japan to keep their relationships rather compartmentalized, especially before marriage. You might find it strange to have never met your other half’s family, even after dating for a while. Japanese people often don’t bring their girlfriends or boyfriends home unless the relationship is getting pretty serious.

As for their friends, you might meet them at some point, but don’t be surprised if it’s not a frequent occurrence. It took a good six months for my then boyfriend to tell his family he was dating someone, and about a year before I finally met them. It was also the first time he ever talked about his love life with his family.

Since that first relationship, I’ve learned a lot about dating in Japan. I knew from the start that if you date outside your culture, you will have to adapt somehow. In reality, it is easier said than done. My first Japanese boyfriend was very traditional and had never lived abroad. I was also his first non-Japanese girlfriend.

Even though he was making efforts to understand my cultural expectations, I don’t think he could ever really relate to them. I sometimes felt I was sacrificing a lot more for him than he was for me. Though in retrospect, I now realize he did try hard. It obviously did not work between us, but I walked away knowing exactly what I wanted in a partner. Communication issues are definitely a deal breaker for me. However, I also lowered some of my expectations. Even though it’s not ideal, I’m fine with meeting my boyfriend once a week.

I now almost exclusively date men who have experienced living abroad. They are often more flexible and communication is a lot easier. This does not mean a relationship with a more “typical” Japanese person is doomed to fail. As long as both people are willing to compromise equally, happiness is possible. You might just have to put in a little more work at first. But to be honest, I still don’t think I would cry if my boyfriend told me he wanted to eat my pancakes forever!

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Intercultural explorer, matchmaking choreographer, dating in Tokyo since 2011.
  • Mich Chin says:

    I am a Singaporean Chinese dating a Japanese men who grew up in NYC and lived in Singapore since he was 17 years old, he has never lived in Japan. Very westenized and has many Singapore Chinese friends who doesn’t get along with very “Jap” people. His family background was rather elite but when we met 3 years ago, background and family’s approval didn’t cross my mind because being a Singapore meant being culturally tolerant to other races and cultural and parent”s approval never has been a problem in my family as my both my sisters married Caucasian men and non-Singapore men. 1.5 years into our relationship it dawn on me that his family has objection because I was not jap and my parents couldn’t speak English and that I came from a humble background. Our relationship was flawless apart from this, I told him that he need to make a decision if this was to carry on, he needs to make it clear he is capable of making decisions as an adult. Fast-forward another almost 1.5 years, his parents remains non-chalant and we have just split as of today because he says he can’t ditch his family.

    I felt total betrayal…… didn’t think that a grown-up adult can find excuse for another people to led their lives. Maybe Japanese people indeed has a different mentality them most. And i thought I knew a lot about Japanese people and cultural as I was a “Japanese” wanna-be when I was a teenager, even learnt to speak their language.

  • Mich Chin says:

    I am a Singaporean Chinese dating a Japanese men who grew up in NYC and lived in Singapore since he was 17 years old, he has never lived in Japan. Very westenized and has many Singapore Chinese friends who doesn’t get along with very “Jap” people. His family background was rather elite but when we met 3 years ago, background and family’s approval didn’t cross my mind because being a Singapore meant being culturally tolerant to other races and cultural and parent”s approval never has been a problem in my family as my both my sisters married Caucasian men and non-Singapore men. 1.5 years into our relationship it dawn on me that his family has objection because I was not jap and my parents couldn’t speak English and that I came from a humble background. Our relationship was flawless apart from this, I told him that he need to make a decision if this was to carry on, he needs to make it clear he is capable of making decisions as an adult. Fast-forward another almost 1.5 years, his parents remains non-chalant and we have just split as of today because he says he can’t ditch his family.

    I felt total betrayal…… didn’t think that a grown-up adult can find excuse for another people to led their lives. Maybe Japanese people indeed has a different mentality them most. And i thought I knew a lot about Japanese people and cultural as I was a “Japanese” wanna-be when I was a teenager, even learnt to speak their language.

  • Sydney Marcks says:

    I`ve been dating my Japanese boyfriend for about a year and I have gone on dates with other Japanese guys before. However, I`m his first non-Japanese girlfriend and he`s my first Japanese boyfriend. In my experience, Japanese guys will meet with you frequently if they see a possible future in the relationship. If they`re just playing around, then not so much. I think there`s probably a difference based on where he`s from in Japan. I`ve mostly ended up going on dates with people not from Tokyo, but what you said up there seems to be true more often for Tokyo guys. Across the board though, fighting is definitely awkward. Fortunately we`re both pretty patient but when he`s mad, he will give me the cold shoulder. I usually give him space while he cools off and then try to do something to show that I`m sorry. Blocking the door until he tells me what`s wrong has been successful too. Family is a step most people don`t get to unless they are in a very serious relationship. I met his parents pretty early on actually, but that`s not typical and Japanese friends were shocked and asked me when we`re getting married.

  • Yuki says:

    Japanese people are known for being a “cold” lover. They are not as clingy, as sweet as anyone else. But, I have talked to a LOT of interracial couples and the advice they give me was to find a Japanese who travels a lot. Their minds are more open. But, I didn’t find any. I found someone else better. 🙂

  • Nathalie says:

    As a european I don’t think it’s that odd that it might take several months of dating before meeting the parents. It would contrary be weird if I was introduced to his family when we just started dating. Maybe Scandinavians have a lot in common with Japanese, because I haven’t come across of that many culture collisions. That is, except the fact that you can’t show affection towards your loved one in public, not even a peck of the cheek. Whenever we’re asked over for a home-party with his Japanese friends, people around us never show affection towards their significant other (nor do we), cause it’s perceived to be “rubbing it other peoples faces” according to my boyfriend. Also the fact that Japanese people don’t do “trial dating” a number of times before addressing the boy/girl they’re dating as their boyfriend/girlfriend was strange to me as well. First date = Girlfriend, seems awfully fast. Have had that discussion with a lot of Japanese friends and overall people are keen to label it would seem.

  • Chris Larter says:

    If your boyfriend only “needs” to see you once or twice a week then you are a booty call!!! I know plenty of guys who will meet up with their girlfriends after work during the week. Any guy claiming he is working all night and all weekend during the day and night if full of it.

    • Raansu says:

      That’s not true at all. Its quite common for Japanese to work long hours.

      • Chris Larter says:

        please………. more like its quite often for japanese to stay at work for long hours!! the working long hours is a joke!

  • أبا الحكم says:

    Well, I think that is one reason I did not really date anyone until 3.5 years in Japan. I started to learn of what kind of compromises I might have to take and what would be acceptable for me and what would I have to ask my partner to do herself. I would say a period of rather “friend-like” meet-ups in the beginning is better.
    Since not being from a Western country, Japanese people know even less about my culture.
    On a fun note, to us, even Westerners are considered non-emotional so you can expect the kind of contrast 😀

  • darc-star says:

    Interesting article, there aren’t many from the girls side
    I had the opposite with my fiance, we met in October, started going out at the beginning of December, and i stayed at his parents house for new year, i was terrified, haha
    Can relate to the work thing, he tried hard to meet around once a week, but it was tough for him
    As mentioned, having lived abroad makes a big difference, so i think that helped a lot =)

  • Christina says:

    Wow! What you wrote is exactly whats my life at the moment ^^” at the beginning I was so wondered and upset but little by little I can understand his way of living better. He is really traditional and I am from Europe (Germany ) grown up in an open and talk active environment where couples want to spent every free minute with his love (most people want ^^)

    So thanks for this article it was nice to read it’s not just me *haha*

  • Toni says:

    I agree with some of the points, but somewhat I have the feeling that, in general, dating a Japanese girl being a foreigner is a bit more easygoing than the opposite.

    About the family thing, I don’t think it’s an issue. I don’t see the point in meeting the parents very early. Of course it depends on the situation, I don’t see the point in hiding it, either.

    • Spencer J McGill says:

      That’s because Japanese girls love all the grand gestures when they date a foreigner. They enjoy being told you love them everyday. These are things they consider and make them want to date a foreigner

  • Rusty says:

    I’m looking all over trying to find accounts from guys dating Japanese girls but so far no luck any suggestions?

    • Travis Edward Gould says:

      Hey Rusty, I am a foreigner dating a Japanese woman. Right now it is long distance, she is in Japan and I am in the U.S. This is because we are both still in school, so we are waiting to finish studying first. I met her in Summer of 2015 in June, I visited Japan once in November to spend a week with her. I would give more of my story but I am not sure what else you are looking for. Feel free to contact me!

    • Noel Gonzalez says:

      What do you need to know? Expect communication issues – not just language but also because she expects you to know stuff and won’t immediately tell you why she’s pissed. I bought a couple crystal balls but none work yet. Still looking for the method the Japanese guys use. Still, it’s quite easy to love some Japanese girls when they’re cute, smart, and make good company.

  • Nice article, but I think it is important to note that Japanese men and Japanese women seem to be very different in regards to dating, especially with foreigners. I’ve not had any troubles with affection, seeing one another regularly or communication with any Japanese girls I have dated.

    I will admit though, that the “silent treatment” thing is real.

    The only way to deal with that is to tell the other person about what the silent treatment is, and that in our culture it is the worst form of torture imaginable and terrible for the relationship. Eventually the situation will improve and your girlfriend (or boyfriend) will get used to telling you that they are mad/not ready to talk about it/just tired.

  • papiGiulio says:

    “My ex-boyfriend used to give me
    the silent treatment whenever he was annoyed with me. ”

    That is not something typical Japanese I think. Like you I also learned that talking is the way to solve problems BUT when the missus starts a fight or “a discussion” is how she calls it, im done talking. The stuff she brings up is ridiculous. Also “women” (NOT everyone) always want to be correct in a fight, so whatever VALID reason I have it will always be shot down. Therefore, I sometimes refuse to talk.

    Sometimes it’s better to let things cool down, the heat of a “discussion” can bring out some nasty shizzle.

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