Intercultural Love in Japan

by Nora on July 17, 2017

As an addendum to my post about Love on the Road, I’ve been looking at the art of intercultural love in Japan (not that I’m getting any – this exploration is merely of the curious variety).

Although Japan is known to be a fairly homogenous country, Tokyo sees a wider mix of cultures, with the highest number of expats in the country (by far) living in Tokyo. So, it stands to reason that the most intercultural love in Japan happens in Tokyo. This serves my exploration below very well, given that Tokyo is my current house-sitting home.

intercultural love in Japan

Foreign Men with Japanese Women

I’ve seen many foreign men walking hand-in-hand with Japanese women on the streets of Tokyo. I even met up with a few; an American man who met his Japanese wife in the U.S. and moved to Tokyo with her, and an Argentinian/American man who met his Japanese girlfriend (raised in London) in Tokyo. In both cases these Japanese women had lived abroad, and so were able to better share linguistic and cultural values with their partners. I believe this could be an important distinction when it comes to intercultural love in Japan.

But I’ve also spoken with foreign men who have dated Japanese (born and raised) women while living in Japan. For whatever reason, their intercultural love in Japan didn’t last, but were certainly mutual explorations of culture and curiosity.

Foreign Women with Japanese Men

This is where the game of intercultural love in Japan skews. I haven’t seen one foreign woman with a Japanese man. Not that they don’t exist; they do, but in much smaller quantities.

Ironically, I saw a statistic that 80% of the marriages between foreigners and Japanese involve a Chinese woman and Japanese man; so my observations here will be limited to Western women and Japanese men.

While having lunch with the two intercultural couples I mentioned above, I slapped my cards down on the table and asked them point blank about intercultural love in Japan. They too, agreed that foreign women don’t generally date Japanese men.

Their theories (supported by their own conversations with both Japanese men and women) varied.

  • One is that Japanese men aren’t the “rugged manly-men” that many western women generally see as attractive. One cited an American female friend of his who was bemoaning that she couldn’t find a masculine man in the country. She eventually did, and the Japanese man she chose was very un-Japanese looking with his oversized jaw and grand stature.
  • Along these lines, another theory was that foreign women are generally taller than most Japanese men; an emasculating proposition for the man and steamroller of self-esteem for the woman.
  • Yet another theory revolved around cultural roles; in Japan, women occupy the bottom rung on the ladder of society and respect. Few western women are happy to assume that role.
  • And lastly, Japanese men aren’t nearly as forthright as their western female counterpart. So even if there is an attraction, many Japanese men don’t have the courage to ask a western woman on a date (they’d rather save face and sleep alone than face rejection).

After this conversation about intercultural love in Japan, I happened across this very informative article where foreign women share their stories of dating Japanese men. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for many of them).

These women mentioned many of the above hurtles to intercultural love in Japan, in addition to language and cultural barriers resulting in them feeling like “dancing monkeys”. They were a novelty factor for their Japanese boyfriends more so than an equal partner in love and life.

And lastly, there’s this. Just sayin’ – you can talk about “motion in the ocean” and all, but size of the boat is still a going concern.

Intercultural Love in Japan

Interestingly, in the same way the coupling of foreign women and Japanese men don’t generally work due to societal expectations and the “novelty factor”, I have to wonder if these very reasons work for relationships the other way around (foreign men and Japanese women). Perhaps some foreign men don’t mind being a “novelty factor” as much as foreign women do, or perhaps a foreign man is a status symbol or prize for a Japanese woman rather than an oddity.

Either way, I think my study is clear: I ain’t looking for intercultural love in Japan.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Miki July 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm

The size of the boat, LOL. It’s a never ending quest in all countries.


2 Nora July 18, 2017 at 9:19 pm

@Miki – LOL!


3 Jessica July 19, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Great post, Nora. I think that Japanese men not being forward enough when it comes to asking someone out not only applies to foreign women (although that surely adds an extra layer of “fear”), but also Japanese women too. It’s a common complaint from Japanese women that men here are not very assertive, so if they want to date a Japanese guy, they often have to assume a less traditional, assertive role to make it happen. It can come across as dominating to some and many Japanese men have told me they find women “scary”. However, many women say they simply have no choice otherwise they just couldn’t date a Japanese guy. They call such men ‘sōshoku-kei danshi’, which is often translated as “herbivore men”. The rise of herbivore men is often cited as one of the reasons Japan’s birth rate is declining. They are seemingly uninterested in romance, marriage and sex.

For that reason, some women prefer foreign guys because they have this ideal that they are romantic and forthcoming when it comes to affection and compliments (Although, not all women like that since even saying ‘I love you’ to a romantic partner or spouse, or even family member, is not something that is usually done in Japanese culture).

The fascination with foreign love though does lead to the point you mention towards the end about status symbols. Some people want to date foreigners simply because they are foreigners, not for the person. There is even a term for it: “Gaijin hunter”. It can refer to a man or a woman who specifically targets foreigners for love, although I most often hear it being used in reference to Japanese women looking for foreign men.

I once had an American colleague who said he had to break up with a Japanese girlfriend because after they started dating it became apparent he was just a status symbol to her. She would parade him around at parties and would make him come to lunches with her girl friends, where they would just chat for hours in Japanese and not even include him in the conversation. I guess whether you’re willing to “put up” with being a status symbol has a lot to do with one’s own culture and of course each individual.

I have some foreign female friends too, who say that they have felt like status symbols when dating Japanese men as well. But at the same time, I think the failure of many intercultural relationships in Japan comes down to extreme cultural difference and disagreement over expected roles in a relationship. As you say, there are success stories of Japanese men and foreign women dating, getting married and having very healthy relationships. There are a number of intercultural YouTubers in Japan who have been very successful with their channels, showing what life is like as an intercultural couple in Japan. Perhaps the reason that people are so fascinated is that it’s still not so common.


4 Nora July 19, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Hi Jessica,
WOW – Thank you SO much for the insight and wonderful observations! With your experience living in Japan and interacting with the Japanese population through your work, you have access to some brilliant insights! Fascinating!

When I posted this article on Facebook, the woman for whom I’m house-sitting responded with curiosity, saying that the majority women in her “mothers group” (she’s a new mother herself), and ultimately the majority of women she knows in this suburban neighbourhood, are foreign women married to Japanese men! Interestingly though, she said she’s never met any of the husbands, because they’re working all the time. So it might be that there are greater numbers of intercultural couples (foreign women and Japanese men) than I’m observing simply due to the inherent lifestyles of people who are married in Japan.


5 Jessica July 19, 2017 at 11:26 pm

I think there are greater numbers of foreign women married to/dating Japanese men than may meet the eye looking around the streets, for sure. I know many myself and in cases where their Japanese partner may be working at a traditional Japanese company putting in long hours, it makes sense that you may not see them out together all that often. I’d still say it’s true that there are fewer cases of foreign women dating Japanese men than the other way around, but this too is likely to change as more and more foreigners settle in Japan.


6 Agness of aTukTuk July 20, 2017 at 9:17 am

This post was a great read. I’ve learnt so much!


7 Nora July 20, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Thanks, Agness! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂


8 Izy Berry July 23, 2017 at 4:17 am

Haha! 2nd to be commenting on the same thing but come SIZE of the boat. I cannot


9 Nora July 23, 2017 at 8:57 pm

@Izy – 😉


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