Intercultural Love in Japan

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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.

This post was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

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.

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.

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26 thoughts on “Intercultural Love in Japan”

  1. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • I often wonder with herbivore men if they are uninterested in dating or if they are just turned off because most Japanese women want to quit work and have their husbands support them after marriage. I think a lot of younger guys have seen their father’s lives of working until they die to support a family they never see and really don’t want to repeat that.

      • Hi Kathryn,
        Interesting observation! I’m not sure to be honest. Something to consider, to be sure. But you would think if that were the case, that at least these Japanese men who don’t want to repeat their parents’ patterns might be more willing to date outside their culture. Then again, maybe cultural habits (like shyness) run a bit too deep for that.

  2. I think a big explanation of the difference between gender numbers is because there are two different things going on – there are people who go to Japan for non-dating reasons and end up getting into a relationship and then there are people who go to Japan specifically to start a relationship.

    The latter group would be predominately male and are usually easy to spot because within 5 mins of being in the same room as them, they will corner you to bang on and on about how Japanese women are superior to Western woman. What they really mean is I want a woman from a culture where misogyny is so ingrained that my own misogyny is overlooked.

    I dated Japanese guys when I lived in Japan. Compared to Australian men, I found Japanese guys much more romantic 🙂 They often put a lot of effort in planning dates and trying to make it a special thing. On the other hand, I got asked out a lot by married guys who thought it was no big deal to fool around on their wives. A few had no qualms about offering me money for “fun times” either!

    • Hi Kathryn,
      WOW! Thanks for sharing your experience in dating Japanese men! And also interesting that those who were married had no problem with infidelity, or worse, paying you for your “fun times”! That’s unfortunate and degrading, but then again, it’s not so different from the Japanese (married) men who would “sponsor” a Geisha. Again, it’s just an odd cultural idiosyncrasy, I guess.

      “What they really mean is I want a woman from a culture where misogyny is so ingrained that my own misogyny is overlooked.” – Ha ha ha! Oh gosh….I know a guy like that, who dreamt of going to Japan to find some bodacious willing Japanese girl. Had he ever made it to Japan, he would totally have been “that guy”! 😉

      • Hi Nora,
        Interesting article.

        On Japanese men not having problem with infidelity, this applies to men pretty much universally. The cultural/social strictures that render infidelity a taboo only push it under the covers (no pun intended). Most men would gladly indulge in infidelity if they were assured of no negative consequences. The Japanese have just turned infidelity into an art form, is all.

  3. Hello.
    I’m japanese young man who dated some Japanese and foreign girls. I would like to ask foreigners who say ´I wanna get a Japanese boyfriend ’ that what for do you guys stay in Tokyo?

    Historically, Tokyo is the place for bachelor for entire life. Even in Edo era, there are too much ppl who didn’t get any partner. This is the history of Tokyo area, doesn’t finished yet.

    Go to north China if you want tall and strong guy, Go to Osaka or Hyogo to live if you want to be treated well by many ppl or to find boyfriend. They are more open and assertive. I’m sure. Tokyo is Tokyo. Like Paris isn’t France.

    Of course I understand how Tokyo is one of the amazing places, but why do you guys stick to that place? We have to give up some points. Everyone need to compromise. S rank Japanese girl or foreign model must be already getting Japanese man who is tall, muscled, rich, kind,live in Tokyo, speak English bla-bla.
    My normal Japanese male friends didn’t have any interesting in my story when I talked about me with foreign girl. They seemed ´i dont caré’ ,’well’ ,’great’ with awkward smile. Even about a little bit of the nights.
    I’m a university student yet btw. This is the reality, not only the view from me.

    I really hope foreign girls to understand that you guys don’t have any advantage nor privilège. Specially from western countries girls. Whatever, anywhere, men don’t care. Just look as foreigner group. The most importance is their face(sadly). You all are treated as well as in your own country.

    Attract a man by eyes or hugging his arm like you guys doing in western countries (I saw a lot this on in front of all guesthouses in Spain). It works here too XP. Don’t follow Japanese girls behavior. It’s not efficient at all lol.

    I hope everyone understands my English… Thank you! and Enjoy!!

    • Thank you very much for sharing your experience! It is very valuable to understand from a Japanese male perspective.
      And I agree: Tokyo is not Japan. Good point! Thank you.

      • Interesting article.
        I know I am little bit to late with replying but better late than never 🙂

        I never had the intention to find a Japanese woman, or marry a Japanese woman. I have no, so called yellow fever. But I met the woman who I fell in love with and never left her side. Now I have been married with a Japanese woman and we have a really lovely daughter, already 11 years.

        I believe interracial marriage is possible if you both are willing to be open for each others background. Many marriages ends because of misunderstanding or miscommunication.

        My daughter is raised up with Japanese as well as Dutch thinking, yes I am from the Netherlands. This is for me really important so that she can develop a strong personality.

        For my wife, she is a traditional Japanese woman. (for the gents, no complains about our sexual life) but I mean she is raised up in a local area where values and culture are still highly appreciated.

        We live in a country side area, because I do not want to live in a big city. My work is located in Nagoya, and I can take the train and be within one hour at my destiny. (Japan as a great public transport)

        Of course sometimes I feel isolated because making friends or meeting new people can be a challenge, but once you accepted you are welcomed always.

        I have adapted the Japanese society and culture and I give back my culture in exchange by food and other experiences.

        • Hi Appie,
          I’m so glad that you’ve embraced Japanese culture and feeling generally accepted. Also, great that you are raising your daughter with multi-cultural values.

          I think you nailed it when you said intercultural marriage works best with both parties are open to the other’s cultural background and practices.
          And that takes lots of communication, and a willingness to step outside your own cultural norms.

  4. It definitely can work (I am proof, as my partner is Japanese) but it takes a degree of communication that many couples might get tiredness of. When two people come from very different backgrounds (no matter what they may be) it takes some time to understand the reasons why the other acts in a certain way ?

    • You’re SO right! Communication is imperative in any relationship, but especially important in an intercultural one. I believe it would be safe to say that NOTHING can be assumed. 😉

  5. Please don’t speak for all foreign women, you said you never seen AMWF in Japan but there are several Japanese men married or dating to white/western women on youtube, and Tokyo is one of the places to actually see a decent amount of AMWF couples, so I don’t know how you could not of ever seen a Japanese man & western lady couple ever before. Of course they are not near as common as WMAF but I don’t see how you never could of seen an AMWF couple in Japan because I am one myself (I am married to a Japanese man) and I have seen Japanese men with western women, and I lived in the countryside of Japan and now Kansai but still have seen other Japanese men with western women couples, so either you were closing your eyes the whole time or purposely pretending not to see it. Also I am not tall for a foreign lady, I am more on the short side and so I am not taller than Japanese men, so please don’t generalize that all foreign women are too tall for Japanese men. You are too negative about Japanese men, and I always wonder why foreign women who complain so much come to Japan in the first place but exclaim they have no interest in dating Japanese men. I feel I am the only foreign lady who feels differently about Japan than the typical foreign lady. Please read r/hapas on reddit to really understand why there are so many WMAF (white men with Asian women) couples vs AMWF (Asian men with western females).

    • Hi Jacqualine,
      I can see I’ve touched a nerve.
      I never presumed to speak for all foreign women, nor did I write anything to that effect. I simply shared my own experiences, as well as conversations I’d had with other people in intercultural relationships in Japan who have also had similar experiences. The theories presented in this article are just that – theories, and not generalizations about “all” foreign women as you seem to have presumed.

      That said, I greatly appreciate you sharing your experience! Thank you or allowing us to live and learn through you.

  6. Hi Nora! I’ve lived in Japan for half of my life.
    To be honest, most of the foreigners I know married to Japanese are women. They may not be as visible as they are housewives, or they are on of the many Brazilian or Filipina wives in the countryside. Many live in Tokyo,
    I know perhaps 100 of them personally from attending mothers groups and expat groups. Btw, my Japanese man is an absolute delight ? we had a talk about cultural differences from the beginning so we haven’t had a problem (about that!)

    • Thank you SO much for sharing your experience, Fiona!
      A friend of mine who is a mother and lives in Japan also commented that she knows many foreign women married to Japanese men – but that I wouldn’t necessarily meet them unless I was part of their mother’s group.
      And you nailed the key to a successful intercultural relationship: communication. I’m glad you have a happy relationship with your Japanese fella! 🙂


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