Queer Dating in Japan: Dos and Don’ts
By Alex Rickert
Dating and eventually entering into some significant relationships with Japanese men has allowed me to learn and grow in so many ways. While not without momentary frustrations caused by miscommunication and different cultural expectations, I highly advise you all to try out dating during your time abroad. If anything, your Japanese will get so much better!
But, if you want a relationship that can withstand the challenges of Japanese norms and daily life, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Before starting out, you can refer to my article on being LGBTQ in Japan for tips on finding dates. Another article on online dating, while aimed at straight women, also offers some insights on finding men online, and the recommended apps have LGBT options.
Let’s assume you’ve started dating people by this point. Communication and space are really important from the get-go if you are looking for a more serious relationship. When my current boyfriend and I met, we decided on a “five date campaign,” where we would resist getting overly physical with each other until our fifth date. This was advice he got from a friend, and I found it to be a charming bonding experience. Obviously, agreeing on this point already meant that we were more serious, and expressing that seriousness early on is always a good thing.
Language barriers are also a two-way street, especially in the beginning. Remember that if you are expecting your Japanese partner to carry the weight of communicating in a foreign language, you will need to be extra patient if they happen to say something bluntly, or fail to communicate at all. Always give them the benefit of the doubt and help them express themselves. Also, make an effort to learn as much Japanese as possible so that you both can have equal footing if you need to express something in your mother tongue.
Don’t: Storm your partner’s closet — unless it’s for clothes
The closet has been the biggest source of tension between my Japanese partner and me. While I come from the perspective that living with secrets is unbearable and you should only choose to have people in your life who accept you wholly and unconditionally, my partner is perfectly happy to keep secrets from his coworkers and family. This can put me in the uncomfortable position of having to pretend to be his “friend.”
But, among our Japanese LGBT friends, being out with one’s family and coworkers is by far the exception. Like many of his friends, my boyfriend is understandably afraid that being out would jeopardize his relationship with his parents or damage his career, both of which are very important to him. While it may be difficult, you will need to consider in advance whether you are ready to join your partner in the closet from time to time.
That said, I wholly recommend meeting the family if you are invited, even if it is only as a friend. It takes a lot of pressure off of the whole experience, and you can get to know where your partner came from and what kind of environment they grew up in! Just make sure to only doing something you’re comfortable with.
Like many of his friends, my boyfriend is understandably afraid that being out would jeopardize his relationship with his parents or damage his career…
Do: Have goals for your relationship
This is one of the most difficult parts of any international relationship, but one that is very important to think about. Did you fall in love suddenly and unexpectedly, bound together forever with no need for discussion or conflict? If so, then that’s great!
For the rest of us in a relationship that morphs and evolves over time, a little planning can never hurt. Do you want to live together in the future? Do you plan to stay in Japan? Does this person want to follow you to another country? Are you guys ok with being long distance? The longer you stay together, the more pressing these questions will become. Not every beneficial relationship has to be forever, but fill your partner in on what’s happening in your life as you make these decisions.
The most important thing to remember when long-term dating a Japanese person is that same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan (aside from a few domestic partnerships scattered around the country). Moreover, gay couples are only recently beginning to legally adopt children. While the situation in Japan is getting better for queer couples, if you want a future for your relationship, you will need to devise ways other than marriage to remain in Japan. You and your partner may also consider moving back to your home country if LGBT rights are better there.
Don’t: Reduce your partner to a cultural archetype
This might seem a little antithetical to a blog about how to date someone from Japan, but I can’t stress how important it is to approach dating in Japan with compassion and open-mindedness. It’s very easy to compartmentalize people from another country. You may think you can spot trends in their behavior, but this is based on a very biased perspective. Let your partner show you who they are before passing judgment.
This especially holds true when you and your partner have a misunderstanding or disagreement. At times my boyfriend and I have used our perceptions of the other’s culture to bolster our arguments — something along the lines of “Americans can’t deal with silence sometimes…” or “Japanese people can be so indirect!” It’s very hurtful to be on the receiving end of cultural stereotypes, so be mindful before flinging them out at the person you love.
After taking these tips into consideration, you’re ready to start building a healthy, fulfilling, international relationship during your time in Japan.
If you have any other tips and experiences with queer dating in Japan, be sure to share them below! 🏳️🌈