An Intercultural Relationship


"Intersecting Space Construction" by Ryoji Goto

Here is an interesting post by a BT’er that asks a simple question: “What to do?”

I’ve been seeing the same Japanese girl for about 2 years. This past summer my mother came to visit me and the three of us spent some time together. Her mother even joined us on one occasion and we all went out for dinner together. It was quite nice. I thought it showed great promise for our relationship and our two families. Her family owns a Japanese-style hotel close to the beach, and I thought it would also be a good idea if my mother and I could come stay at the hotel, so that she could see Japan’s more rural side and, additionally, see her family’s hometown. I thought this was quite the innocent idea and a natural progression all things considered.

She, however disagreed.

She believes (like most Japanese girls) that when the boyfriend comes to her house it means that marriage is imminent and expected.

My thinking is that I’ve already met her mother, she’s already met my mother, her mother has already met my mother, and nobody has mentioned anything about marriage. My opinion is also that I am obviously not Japanese and that the same rules need not apply.

In short she believes that she should adhere to Japanese custom, while I believe that her Japanese etiquette started going out the window the moment we both started bumpin’ uglies, and that a compromise of some sort was in order. In the end my mother and myself didn’t go to her hometown and I’ve been feeling affronted ever since. I also feel that it was insulting to my mother, especially after both the girl and her mother met my mother face-to-face. I feel as if they were prepared to go out with us to dinner, but not prepared to invite us into their own home which, for westerners, amounts to a snub.She also mentioned something about not wanting to subject her family to rumours/gossip perpetuated by their neighbours. Being a strong, independent westerner unfazed by the opinions of those around me I don’t see something being gossip or rumour if it’s true. It also makes me feel as if there is some sort of shame associated with being with me, or at least like she is unwilling to stand by her significant other when things really come down to the wire. In short, I’m beginning to feel more and more that this relationship is one borne out of convenience…convenience for her.

It’s 6 months later and my views of her, her family and Japanese people and customs in general are changing. I no longer see a night at the club or a day of shopping as simply that – I see it as an opportunity for her to validate her “interest” in black culture by parading me around like some kind of walking, breathing ANAP fashion accessory. It’s definitely affecting our “relationship”.
Recently she’s gotten very sick and has had to be hospitalized for a few weeks. I visit her often. I’ve even run into her mother there a few times, who has been (seemingly) very thankful that I am so kind to her daughter.
However, when talk turns to me visiting her hometown (something I’ve been unable to let go and repeatedly bring up) the answer is still the same.

On my last visit to the hospital the topic came up again only to get the same reply. She also mentioned that she had discussed the issue with a Japanese girlfriend of hers (who incidentally has been to my country and no doubt enjoyed someone’s hospitality since she came back alive) who agrees with her opinion.This time, however the fact that I was intending to return to my home country in the Caribbean also came up, and she alluded to the fact that she would like to visit.

I guess I’d had enough of Japanese ‘custom’ because I had to ask her where in the f*ck she thought she was going to stay when this happened, since I currently have neither a house nor an apartment there. It would seem, I informed her, that she would be intending to stay at my mother’s and my house – the very same people whom she didn’t want to come to her house for fear of rumour. I had to ask her if she thought it was going to be any different for me if she came and stayed at my house vis-a-vis rumours and gossip. The only real difference being that I don’t care what people think about me, as long as I am with the people I care about and that they are happy.

I had to inform her that in ‘gaijin’ custom, when a girl and her mother have sat and laughed over dinner with her boyfriend and his mother it’s a very open and healthy thing, and though it may not mean marriage it means that the relationship is at least headed in the right direction. I also had to inform her that when her boyfriend’s mother is visiting from the other side of the f*cking planet for three weeks in my culture it’s akin to a slap in the face to refuse them a platonic visit to her hometown for a reason as trite as ‘what the neighbours might say’, and that it meant we weren’t on the same page as far as what stage we think the relationship was at.

I had to explain that by not wanting my mother and/or me to visit her hometown because it would mean marriage in her culture she was essentially showing me that she is the kind of girl that I would never marry; someone that is incapable of compromise and who blindly places culture and tradition before respect and understanding when she herself is not traditional by the mere fact that she actively sought out a relationship with a non-Japanese man, is now in a relationship with me and actively participates in black culture.

These are some of the issues I have with Japanese ‘custom’; it’s exclusive; it’s convenient; and when it becomes an issue in a relationship it’s used as a way for the Japanese person to compartmentalize their life into ‘Japanese’ and ‘non-Japanese’ thing at a whim with the simple utterance of the phrase ‘it’s Japanese culture’.

I am quite prepared to accept things about someone’s culture whom I am in a relationship with. But it seems that here in Japan, the majority of Japanese women I have met who are open-minded enough to date a foreigner expect the foreigner to accept their carte blanche when it comes to their customs with no regard for the customs of the foreigner’s culture. In their mind, once they are in Japan they expect the foreigner to do things the Japanese way, or at least expect this to be the norm that they have to be convinced to change.

This (of course) does not preclude them, however from picking and choosing which aspects of foreign culture they wish to adopt and incorporate into their lives – basically if it makes them look ‘cool’, is accepted by the Japanese mainstream or doesn’t significantly affect how their circle of friends or family view them, it’s ok.
It also does not prevent them from going to that person’s country and momentarily not acting Japanese and when their countrymen are not around to judge them.

It’s bitin’ on a global, international scale – the selective absorption of whatever is perceived as ‘cool’, without a thought for the culture or people that it’s been stolen from, and in a relationship is slow death. I don’t know if I’ll stay with this girl now. If I do the relationship will be downgraded to a more platonic one. Which is a shame since the relationship showed real promise and the situation is likely to repeat itself with the next Japanese girl (if there is one), as this is intrinsic to japanese culture.

Hmm! What to do?


  1. Bra, it was a dis and you are 100% on point. you are not crazy. by choosing a foreign man for her potential partner, she as decided on a path. and by choosing a black man as a potential partner, she has decided on a more independent/non-traditional path. She cannot jump on and off this path at her choosing. you are not a horse.

    Nor can she choose when and how you are to be you. In line with bringing you home to meet her parents, simply meeting her parents is an indication, in Japan, of her intent to possibly marry you. so the reasoning that simply going to her parents hometown will send a message is bull. the message has already been sent.

    If her parents attitude is really the issue and you are serious about the possibility of marring this girl, then this also must be brought to a head. Either they can accept you (which includes your mom, dad, cousins from down south..hahaaha) or they do not.

    Speaking of Japanese tradition, you are the man and in traditional Japanese society, when a woman marries a man, she marries into HIS family (literally leaving her family). So if she wants to throw tradition at you, again she can’t dodge the bullet either.

    I would STOP begging her to visit her parents house all together. Pull back a step or town and just watch from a distance. Put aside the love jazz for a bit, and just focus on the friendship. Stand tall and pound and be prepared to walk if you feel that either her or your parents cannot accept you (and your family fully into their home and hearts.

  2. Having come to Japan based on my desire to learn more about the culture and because of my keen interest in it, after the first year I realized that although I respect the cultural differences between Americans and Japanese, I had no interest in getting married to a Japanese man or even dating one. Even when I thought my eyes were so open and I knew it already, I realized just how important cultural differences are. I think that because that realization came before even attempting a relationship with someone, it saved me a lot of trouble in the end. Accepting Japanese culture as it is and not thinking that someone is liable to change when you’ve accepted them as they are in the first place (and by extent, their cultural differences) made it easier, too. Just has never made sense to me to start something that would end up in confusion or a struggle. Not saying that it is guaranteed, only in my case it would have been, knowing myself.

  3. How can my comment be flagged as inappropriate (which it wouldn’t have been at all – that’s not my way) when I’d just added it and I’m the only person to add a comment in 8 months? :o/ Nevermind what I was going to say, I guess.

    • It was probably flagged because you posted under a different name. You used Koganei-jin previoulsy! One IP address, two names, no email address will usually equal delete, flag or banned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Latest from Culture & Society

Why Japan?

Eye-Ai Magazine interviews Zurui, the Black Tokyo Creative Director. As you may
Go to Top