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The Perks of Having Pleasant Japanese In-Laws

For good or bad, when you marry your Japanese spouse you marry their family as well.

By 3 min read 21

For many foreigners in the not too distant past (and maybe only a few now), marrying your sweetheart who happened to be Japanese was far more difficult than it is today. Why? The potential in-laws.

In days of old, many of the more old-fashioned Japanese parents obstinately opposed their son or daughter getting married to a non-Japanese person. Some people jumped over this hurdle and gained their approval while others simply blew through it and got married in spite of their opposition.

While this does still occasionally happen and sometimes in-laws just happen to be impersonal people no matter their race, times have changed significantly since then. More recently, Japanese parents have in general become less concerned with the race of their son or daughter’s partner and rightfully focus more on whether or not they are good people with their lives in order.

Whether you’ve recently gotten married to your Japanese sweetheart or you’ve been married for decades, if you are in a situation similar to mine you have probably realized that there can be quite a few perks to having Japanese in-laws.


While I cannot make blanket statements about every single in-law out there, I can explain my circumstances which actually match up with many of my other friends who are in relationships with a Japanese partner.

Even though my in-laws are decently into their 60’s, they are still very understanding of cultural differences. As with many Japanese people, they work very hard to cater to my likes and dislikes.

A good example of this could be my disdain for 生臭い (namagusai) or “smelly, fishy, raw” foods. Many Japanese foods have this component in them, and my mother-in-law tries her best to keep that out of the cooking she serves me.

Both of them go above and beyond to know what’s going on with me because they genuinely want to know. Some might find this to be a bit nosey if their in-laws were pesky, irritating people but as for my in-laws they know that my happiness is linked to their daughter’s happiness, and hers to theirs. In this case, the Japanese propensity for looking deeply into relational things comes off as quite amiable.

when Japanese people interact with other Japanese people, they have to take many variables into consideration

This goes a lot deeper than trying to please me and make sure I am comfortable. A factor in Japanese culture that simply cannot be ignored is that when Japanese people interact with other Japanese people, they have to take many variables into consideration: age, status, gender, etc. on top of a certain level of general politeness.

My in-laws don’t have to worry about this dynamic around me, as my wife tells me, because I am not Japanese. They don’t have to worry or be careful about how they speak to me because I come from a culture and use a language where many of these factors don’t even exist. They are able to be themselves.

This leads to an overall much more comfortable level of interaction for all parties involved. I don’t need to worry about using super respectful Japanese because they don’t expect it out of me. In turn, they don’t need to worry about using it with me either.

We can infer two points from this information—that in an ideal situation between foreign son-in-law/daughter-in-law and Japanese parents-in-law involves a mix of Japanese and Western culture: the Japanese warmth and hospitality without the obligatory, sometimes cold and clinical politeness that the Japanese language tends to perpetuate.

Do you have any examples of your personal experience with your pleasant Japanese in-laws? Any examples of experiences of not-so-pleasant Japanese in-laws? I’d love to hear your stories!

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  • Sheila Ryan Hara says:

    Kyle, I appreciate the positive experiences you and some of the other male members of the discussions are having, but as an American living in Japan for nearly 20 years with a middle-aged “chonan” Japanese husband, I can confidently say that things are NOT the same for most of the foreign wives I know of, whether online or in person. From outright ostracism to passive-aggressive behaviors, the majority of foreign wives I know have suffered and are still suffering greatly from the in-laws, especially the mothers, who wished their precious sons had married a Japanese woman instead, for reasons ranging from the language barrier to the perceived malleability of a native woman versus a non-native. To be honest, my in-laws didn’t really want us to marry either, and my own parents miss me living so far away. I lived with his parents for a year and a half, and I don’t know if I could do it again. Not because they are bad in any way, mind you, just because their expectations differ about mundane things like laundry and cooking. I think it would make for an interesting sociological study to compare the diverse experiences of foreign men and women married to Japanese and ask the Japanese spouse their reasons for choosing such a partner. I’m sure you would get very different responses from the men and the women who chose to marry out! I’m even willing to suggest that the majority of Japanese men who choose foreign women do so because they lack the qualities that Japanese women are looking for, and one of those qualities is income earning potential, something foreign women may care a bit less about. Another main obstacle to the man wishing to marry a woman in Japan is the mother-in-law herself. While foreign women generally have no idea what this means until they experience it up close, Japanese women know all too well what is expected of a “yome” and avoid it like the plague!

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sheila! Yes, I have quickly realized that more often than not the story seems to be very different for the foreign wives of Japanese men as opposed to the foreign husbands of Japanese women, as you and other women have pointed out. I am planning to do a follow-up article in the near future in light of these responses in order to shed light on the other side of the coin as well.

  • Sue Murphy Umezaki says:

    Definitely a different story for many foreign wives!! Many of my friends have relationships with PIL that range from awkward to down right horrible!

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Yes, that does seem to be the case, seeing as your comment is not the only one to say so. I may need to make a follow-up blog at some point to account for this particular dynamic, so thank you for informing me!

  • My wife’s parents, in Osaka and also in their mid-60s, are incredibly warm and welcoming to me and, now, to our kids. Her mother is always so excited and proud to tell all her neighbors about our pending visits, and they all greet us warmly and love playing with the kids and giving them gifts. My wife’s extended family is equally welcoming and warm. Meals with all of them are always wonderful experiences — food, drink and conversations — even though I barely yet speak the language. It’s certainly a different feel from my family gatherings in the U.S., and in some ways I feel more welcome and appreciated by my Japanese in-laws. I’m sure not everyone has this experience, but it’s hard for me to imagine better in-laws.

  • EvesHumanMom says:

    Wow. I think you don’t know too many wives then. Way different expectations when you marry into a Japanese family as the “yome,” even more so if one marries the eldest son. Sometimes just coming from a different region of Japan can be objectionable to in-laws. Just by your photo, my impression is that your in-laws are pretty special– my MIL was okay with me– relieved that her batsu-ichi son was able to get married, but she was still shocked when I hugged her. You wouldn’t see even my hubby, (54yrs old) with his arm around my shoulders for people to see.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Your assertion is correct, I don’t know too many wives on the other side of the spectrum. But many of my other foreign friends (who are admittedly male) who are married to Japanese girls seem to have overall good experiences with their in-laws. I won’t claim to know everything, because I most certainly don’t.

      Thanks for your input! 🙂

  • FreeYourself says:

    I almost got married to a Japanese girl I was dating for awhile. During this time her mother was extremely kind. Always went out of her way to make sure I enjoyed my time with her. Her father on the other hand I never met. He was always at work or hiding in the main living room. Despite my efforts to meet him, he refused because he “only will meet me after I propose to his daughter”. A little old fashioned but hey, I understood. So after a lot of soul searching, I decided to move back to Hawaii from Tokyo for my ex’s sake (Her dream to live in Hawaii, so I figured this would make for a happier life together). After I popped the question it was about a month later that I realized the person I knew had changed into a completely different person. So after more soul searching I decided that I was forcing this upon myself and decided to call it off. Back to the relevance to this blog. I soon found out that her parents were very much against us getting married, because I am a foreigner. So the lesson here is, just because they are nice to you does not mean they completely accept you as a part of their family. I think this holds true with a lot of interactions with Japanese people in many different settings.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your less than stellar experience with your ex’s parents. What you took from it all is very poignant and well thought out. With many Japanese people, nice/polite does not necessarily mean accepting. So much truth!

    • Adam Radan says:

      To bad it couldn’t work out and her family was not so accepting . I knew before I ever popped the question I wanted to make sure her family liked me. Much like you I was not able to meet the father for a long time but it was truly was because he was working to much or out at izakayas.. The mother was always happy for her daughter, a little jealous herself of Her daughters happiness lol. But when I finally met the father I was pleased to know he really liked me and has been super accepting off me even after our engagement. For example he took me to the Hilton hotel where him and his wife got married and took pics our my fiancee and I . I suppose it’s a clear sign he likes me.

  • Sik says:

    Quick remark: you say that your in-laws are in their 60s. Ten years ago, the people who would be in their 60s are those who were raised during World War II (which devastated Japan), who as you would imagine would be much more likely to distrust foreigners (not always, of course, but point stands overall). It’s not surprising that things start getting easier over time as the generations pass.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Nope, not surprising at all! I agree, ten years ago I would have been met with a lot more opposition with the same aged parents.

  • PeterJaeger says:

    I couldn’t agree more! My Japanese mother-in-law for 26 years is the nicest person you could imagine. She accepted me from the very first moment and tries hard to make me happy, especially when it comes to food. She knows exactly what I like and dislike and always cooks delicacies for me. My German parents had a much harder time to accept a Japanese daughter-in-law.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Same with my mother-in-law, she is wonderful and caring, treats me like her own son.

  • Christina says:

    I think it can be somewhat more difficult as a woman marrying into a Japanese family because of the tradition of wives going into the husbands family. Especially if you marry an eldest son because there is a tradition of the eldest sons wife looking after parents in their old age.
    However I love my partners parents and they are kind to me so I would be honored to look after them in their old age… I just worry that I might not be as capable… As a native Japanese might.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      I don’t think you need to worry about that too much, Christina. I think they would appreciate anything you can do to help.

  • Adam Radan says:

    My soon to be in laws(now fiancee) are so kind to me that I often feel bad because they very very rarely let me reciprocate the kindness. I’m currently living in Hawaii while my fiancee is going to be in her 4th year of college in Japan. When I come visit them they let me stay in there home, they always pay for the fancy restaurants we eat at and they always want to treat me with so much respect. Belive it or not I actually got in an small argument with my fiancee over her parents buying me something as small as a coffee. It can be overwhelming when I can’t even make such a purchase and little ludicrous that we had a small argument lol. Of course I’m so happy and thankful for all that they do but how can I feel respectful of I’m never given the chance to return the respect. I guess for me this is a balance between a pleasant and not so pleasant experience for me.

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Wow Adam, I have experienced very similar things! While I don’t feel guilty or bad or anything, sometimes I do wish I could reciprocate the kindness of my in-laws when they treat me out or buy anything for us. Every time I try to open the door for them, offer to pick up a tab or anything, they always insist that they pay. I’ve come to accept that the best I can probably do is pay it forward in the future. Maybe your in-laws’ in-laws did something similar for them and wanted to pay it forward. You never know!

    • Eoth says:

      That reminds me when my wife and I started dating. My in-laws would exactly do the same thing. I got embarrassed once with it though, so one time, I (tried) to pick up the check at a restaurant. But then I was met with daggers in the eyes of my father-in-law. From that moment, I learnt to never pick up the checks with them, lol. Well, as far as in Japan only.

      I suggest that if you can get them to Hawaii, treat them! They might hesitate at first, but they will eventually let you pay stuff for them. Or in Japan, get them stuff on-the-way. For example, no one can stop you getting them coffee or fried chicken, or whatever else at a Kombini when you are without them. Like anyone, they will respect you for that.

      • Adam Radan says:

        Exactly, picking up the check can never happen, my father in law will always pay while my mother in law and fiancee just pull me away and to make me forget he’s paying lol. My fiancee did always tell me if they come to America I can pay for them, well hopefully someday they can visit =).

    • Susukino says:

      Sounds nice=)



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