What It's Like Dating A Japanese Guy From a Non-Japanese Perspective

    It was the week before this week. It seemed like only last week when I wrote about What It's Like Dating A Japanese Girl. Oh right, it was. Now that that's done and over with, it's time to talk about the flip side of the coin: non-Japanese girls dating Japanese guys. It is particularly difficult for me to become a non-Japanese girl to try this out first hand, but luckily I got quite a few survey respondents from this demographic. Personally, I think this perspective is a lot more interesting and you'll see why in the article itself. I'll be following a fairly similar pattern to my previous article though there will be some big differences in what we focus on. Let's started with something familiar, though: "getting the guy."

    Getting The Guy

    black girlfriend has japanese boyfriend hold her umbrella in heart shape

    With non-Japanese guys dating Japanese girls, it seemed like English language related clubs/activities/jobs were the most common ways people hooked up. With girls it was completely different and pretty all over the place. A handful of women met their Japanese significant other through the internet. Another handful were introduced via a friend. The highest percentage (I'd say around 50%), it seems, met their Japanese guy overseas and not in Japan. England, America, Argentina… just to name a few.

    I met my (now) Japanese ex-boyfriend in a hostel in Spain. I have a Japanese-style tattoo of a bird with cherry blossoms, which acted as an icebreaker. We started talking and hung out together, as you do when you are traveling alone. - Emma

    We met at a cultural festival in the nearby university in the US. - kitsuki

    That being said, I only had around 15 respondents fitting the "non-Japanese girl dating Japanese guy" requirement, so it could have easily been coincidence too. Not enough data to really back up this claim. Still, I think there's quite a bit of other evidence that we'll go over as the article progresses which shows that this is most likely a real trend.

    It seems as though getting a Japanese guy outside of Japan allows him to get away from the cultural norms of "you're a Japanese guy so you should date a Japanese girl" which allows him to sort of "relax" in a way. The societal pressures just aren't as present when you're away from said society. It's also really difficult for (most) Japanese guys to get up the confidence to ask a non-Japanese girl out (or any girl out, a lot of times) on a date. As one anonymous respondent put it:

    It takes a lot of courage for a Japanese man to talk to a woman, let alone a foreign woman who might not speak Japanese, who they might not have anything to say to, who they could easily be blown off by… If you're a foreign girl you just have to make the first move. - anonymous

    So there you have it. If you're a non-Japanese girl and you want to date a particular Japanese someone, it might be up to you to initiate and make the first move. Worst he can say is "no," right?

    Differing Expectations

    japanese boyfriend works too hard and makes foreign girlfriend sad

    The role of men and women and the issues that come along with that really stand out from this perspective. When you're a non-Japanese guy dating a Japanese girl, you can kind of just do what you want. But, when the roles are reversed and you're a non-Japanese girl dating a Japanese guy, expect some bigger surprises along the way.

    Putting Work Before Girlfriend

    Over and over I saw this as the number one complaint about Japanese men. Work > Girlfriend. No questions asked.

    I found that his work was very important to him; it was often put first. The relationships with his workmates too. This was difficult. Sometimes I felt a bit ignored and not important. He worked as a kitchen-hand, but wasn't that interested in making a career out of it. So his devotion to his job seemed weird to me. - Emma

    There were stories of people going on a date, the guy getting a call from work, and him saying he had to go to work without any explanation, because why would he need to give you an explanation, right? [sarcasm] He's a guy after all, and guys work and put work first[sarcasm]! There were other couples where the girl talks about how she hardly saw their boyfriend because he was working 12 hours a day, going to work-required nomikais 1, and things like that. When it comes down to it, work is going to be put before the girl most of the time, so you're either going to have to beat that habit out of him, find yourself a deadbeat, or just accept that that's the way it is. I vote for the beating method.

    And it's not just the girls who get ditched, too. There have been a couple of instances where I was hanging out with friends… one time with a friend I hadn't seen in years, an awesome reunion! Then, they get a call from work and have to go do something or go to a nomikai. I hate to break it to you girls, but work comes before just about everything, not just girlfriends. A Japanese guy's own mother could be on her deathbed, but work will come first 9 out of 10 times.

    Paying For Things

    I talked about this in the previous article, but it's worth bringing up again. Most of the time, if you're a girl, you're going to have trouble paying for anything, including your half of a meal. While this is still somewhat true in many Western cultures, it's just expected that the (Japanese) man pays for almost everything, though cheaper small things seem to slip past that rule.

    I have to convince him to let me pay for anything more than a few hundred yen, even if it's my half of dinner. Funnily enough he's never once offered to pay even half for purikura 2 though. - anonymous

    Some guys eventually cave and let the girl pay for some things, though if you're just getting started expect this to be an issue should you insist on paying for things. I'd just enjoy the free meals while you can before they start to expect you to cook free meals for them all the time.

    Societal Roles

    And of course, as I mentioned in the previous article too, you're going to be expected to do the cleaning, housework, cooking, child-rearing, etc., while the guy goes out and makes money. Or at least, that's what I thought I was going to read about. While this happened to some extent, it seemed like most of the Japanese guys were more open to opening their own minds. Maybe it's thanks to Western stereotyping, but several of the men expressly acknowledged that Western girls need to express themselves, be individuals, have careers, etc.

    He doesn't make me do all the cooking/cleaning/laundry stuff. He helps [every day] with some kind of chore. He understands that I, as an individualistic American, need to express myself through fashion and art. And that I as woman also need to be successful in my career/life. - Jaimi

    So, that was a pleasant surprise. I was concerned that all of the non-Japanese girls would feel supressed under Japanese society's "rules," but for the most part people were good. I have to give a lot of credit to the girl, though. I think a Japanese girl may not be willing to say anything about what they want and what they need (or maybe they just want different things), but a Western girl is more likely to bring up issues like this and speak her mind. A little communication goes a long ways as we'll find out soon.

    Showing Affection

    heart shape with red slash on japanese foreigner hands

    Another big "problem" that came up was the whole "showing affection" + "PDA" thing. It's fairly rare to see a couple in Japan even holding hands in public, let alone hugging or *gasp* kissing where anyone can see them (or even not see them). Japanese people just aren't a touchy-feely group of people. For example, people will go years without seeing their parents or relatives and then greet them with a mere bow when they finally reunite.

    Anyways, this is tough for many non-Japanese girls, especially Western ones. They are used to physical affection: hugging, kissing, hand-holding, cuddling, etc. But, Japanese guys usually don't want to do it.

    He is not really one to cuddle which has been difficult. - Anna

    I did find one person that was okay with the public display of affection, though as you'll notice, the non-Japanese girl was a bit shocked by this fact.

    Actually he's quite expressive in showing his feelings for me and having dated other Japanese, I think that's shocking. Japanese don't usually show affection in public because it's embarrassing for them but my boyfriend doesn't really care. - Tina

    Over and over again the issue of public affection came up. Some Japanese guys would cave in and allow hand-holding to happen. Others would not and it sometimes caused a rift. Now, as to why they wouldn't show public affection (whereas Japanese girls with non-Japanese guys seemed slightly more open to it), I think there's a couple reasons. One is that they just grew up learning that public affection is embarrassing and not something you do. The other, I think, is a bit more touchy (no pun intended). I think there were some Japanese guys who were embarrassed to be dating non-Japanese girls. Japanese girls, in general, tended to sort of "show off" their non-Japanese "trophy" husband. It's totally the opposite with a Japanese guy and a non-Japanese girlfriend, however.

    Keeping Things A Secret

    heart illustration with japanese foreigner couple being pointed at

    Although this is obviously not true across the board, there were more instances of "embarrassed" Japanese boyfriends. Please keep in mind that I'm not saying that any of this behavior is good or ideal or anything like that. It mainly comes down to societal pressures that sum up to "if you're a Japanese guy, you should marry a Japanese girl." The opposite situation (Japanese girl) has similar pressures, though the weight of said pressure is a lot heavier on a Japanese guy. Thus, Japanese guys tend to feel more "ashamed" or "embarrassed" about their mixed-ethnicity relationship from what I've seen.

    Since we've been together the biggest shock I have is the amount of stares we get literally anywhere-in the grocery store, getting on the train, walking into a restaurant etc. On my own I got stared at (it's to be expected as a foreigner, I know), but when we walk around together our awkward glances and stare points increase tenfold. – Emily

    You didn't hear stories quite this drastic when it was a Japanese girl with a non-Japanese guy. You can feel societal pressures oozing out of their eyeballs, just from the description alone. It's no wonder there are problems like this, and it's very unfortunate.

    For the first month or so he was always trying to make sure we didn't get "found out." […] he was very nervous when we walked outside in town that XXXXX might see me with him. We didn't hold hands in the street, until I told him I didn't like it […] none of his family knows we are going out. - anonymous

    There were other similar stories to this as well. I imagine things are better now than they ever were (in history) and hopefully Japanese men will become more "open" in this regard, so I'd like to end with a quote that gives a nice spoonful of hope:

    People often asked Toru "What is it like, being in love with an American woman?" and he would answer "She is a woman first, and that is why I fell in love with her." - Toru & Susan

    In the future it's not even going to matter anymore, so hopefully when you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with you don't let things like societal pressures and race issues get in the way. We're all human, after all.


    japanese boyfriend has mind impossible to read by foreign girlfriend

    A little communication goes a long ways… unfortunately understanding and communicating based off that understanding is difficult for a lot of Japanese guy + non-Japanese girl relationships. You see, many Japanese guys aren't going to express what they want or how they feel. That's just how they grew up. Instead, they expect you to be finely tuned to understand what they're thinking and how they're feeling at any given moment. Sadly, since you didn't grow up in a society that requires you to be (nearly) psychic, you're not going to pick up on these very subtle hints. The same thing came up with Japanese girls and non-Japanese guys as well, though the issues non-Japanese girls had seemed to be a bigger deal for some reason.

    He seemed to expect me to understand him without telling me what the problem was. - Emma

    He is SO QUIET. Also, he never says what he is feeling or what he wants (except for ice cream/candy). It is hard to figure out what he really wants. - Anna

    The biggest surprise for me is the Japanese way of knowing without saying. He can read people and anticipate other people's needs before they even know they need it. I feel bad because sometimes I feel that I can't read him and is my nature to ask "what do you want, what do you need." His shy nature will just say nothing and I end up feeling split. Like I know he's wanting something but he says nothing, yet I should do something… - Jaimi

    As you can see, this came up again and again. It's like when American guys complain about how they don't know what their American girlfriend is thinking except in reverse and way more extreme. Take that, girls! Just kidding. It really is an issue, though. Japanese guys already come off as "cold" due to their lack of physical affection and lack of communication, so this expectation doesn't help at all.

    There's definitely a "growing pains" period where the non-Japanese girl has to learn about this alternate method of communication and understanding, but if you can grind through it you'll come out better in the end. In fact, it seemed as though those who had been in relationships for a longer period of time were incredibly rock solid. The same goes for Japanese-Japanese older couples as well. You really learn to understand each other more than anything, which is more important than the physical contact and cuddling. With a mixed race couple, you start to learn that race doesn't really matter, and then you get to the point where you do understand each other, even better than most other relationships could, all thanks to the mixed cultures and mixed race. You teach a little bit of your communication culture and they teach you some of theirs.

    I love this quote by Japanese-husband Toru, which really sums it up:

    If I had married a Japanese woman, I would have lived doing whatever I chose to do without talking to a partner. I have learned the worth of talking with my partner… - Toru

    On that positive note, let's end things there. I think we've learned that while every culture has its goods and bads (really depending on where you're looking from), it can all be worked out in the end if you really work at it and love each other. No matter if you're a Japanese girl, Argentinian guy, Japanese guy, or Icelandic girl, etc., we're all humans so we ought to have something in common. Those cultural differences are just adventures along the way. And, what's life without adventure? Not much of a life at all, I'd say.

    1. Nomikais are drinking parties, typically with coworkers.

    2. Purikura are Japanese photo booths.