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Culture

Traveling with Japanese In-Laws: What to Expect

Worried about your first big trip with your partner's parents? Don't be! Here is are some tips and what to expect before, during and after your trip.

By 5 min read

Traveling with in-laws for the first time is already daunting, but throw in language barriers and the possibility of a cultural faux-pas, and you’ll be sweating buckets just thinking about it.

Luckily for you, I’ve been on a trip or two with my Japanese in-laws, so here I’ll share some of my experiences and how to navigate what may seem like a confusing cultural maze.

Courtesies beforehand

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It might be a long trip, so be nice.

When traveling with in-laws, you need to be polite and considerate. However, when traveling with Japanese in-laws, you need to pay extra attention to cultural nuances and expectations. In the initial stages of planning the trip, offer your suggestions and light-hearted opinions on travel spots. If you’re not involved in the messages or email chains, ask your partner if they need any help.

At this point, it’s also a good idea to get in touch with your in-laws to say a simple thank you for organizing the trip and that you’re looking forward to it.

Here are some easy phrases you can use:

Japanese English Romaji
旅行を計画してくれてありがとうございます. Thank you for planning the trip. Ryokou o keikaku shite kurete arigatou gozaimasu.
楽しみにしています。 I am looking forward to it. Tanoshimi ni shiteimasu.

Who’s gonna pay?

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Thanks, dad.

It will vary by family, and perhaps even by the trip, but my best advice is never to assume they will pay for you when traveling with in-laws. If they don’t, you’ll be prepared, and if they do, you’ll be that much more grateful. Assuming they will pay for the trip might end up in you seeming ungrateful and them disliking you, so let’s avoid that!

It’s also a good idea to check now and then for different activities. For example, while they might have paid for you and your partner’s accommodation, perhaps they expect you to pay for your dinner portion. If, after offering once or twice to pay for dinner, your in-laws are paying every time, make sure to thank them after they’ve paid:

Japanese English Romaji
ご馳走様でした. Gochisou sama deshita. Thank you for the meal.

This is often said at the end of a meal in an “I’ve finished” kind of way, but saying it directly to someone after they’ve paid shows specific thanks for the meal.

Likely activities

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Welcome to the family.

 

On your trip with the Japanese in-laws, make sure you’re prepared for the activities. Try to find out what you’ll be doing in advance. Are they a hiking family? A shopping family? A bake-by-the-beach family? Each of these travel styles requires quite different sets of clothes and equipment. You don’t want to cause problems and be a meiwaku (nuisance) by having to stop at a swimsuit shop along the way.

Also, be prepared for activities you may not be used to with a Japanese family, like onsen (hot spring baths). On my most recent trip, I went from barely having entered an onsen in my life to going every evening with my partner’s family. I certainly feel closer to them now!

Alone time

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Time to really get to know your new dad.

After all that bonding time with the family, you might be wondering about bonding time with your partner. The truth is, you may not get any. Depending on the trip, you may well be staying in the same room as your in-laws or very nearby. They may expect you to drink with them in the evening or partake in some evening activity as a family.

Even if you’re not staying in the same room, you may not get a lot of time away from the family. But generally speaking, if you’re at a point where you’re traveling with your Japanese in-laws, it’s probably safe to assume you have a pretty strong bond with your partner already. So it’s a good idea to take this trip to concentrate on building a relationship with the family.

Getting too cozy with your partner on a family trip could result in your Japanese in-laws not liking you much. Not only is PDA frowned upon in most of Japan, but if you seem like you’re trying to get away from the in-laws, you might seem rude or uninterested.

Courtesies after the trip

After you’ve spent time getting to know your Japanese in-laws on a whole other level, follow up to leave a good impression. When you part ways, be that at the airport or elsewhere, make sure to say thank you and express an interest in doing something similar again. A simple phrase to say in Japanese is:

Japanese English Romaji
とても楽しかったです!今後ともよろしくお願いします. That was so fun! I look forward to seeing you again. Totemo tanoshikatta desu! Kongo tomo yoroshiku onegai shimasu. 

Then, once you’ve returned home, it’s also a good idea to send them another thank you a message. It’s the least you can do if they have paid for your trip. How you say thank you will depend entirely on the family. If they’re a very traditional Japanese family, you may want to send a physical letter, or if you celebrated an event, perhaps even a small gift in the post. If they’re more casual, an email or LINE message with some pictures you took on the trip will do as well.

Ultimately, every family is different, and you’ll likely make a few mistakes. But it’s essential to keep a positive attitude to start on the right foot with your in-laws and build a good relationship. After all, they’re your family now, too!

What experiences have you had with your Japanese in-laws? Did you panic on an onsen trip? Let us know in the comments below! 

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