I was very nervous when it got around time for meet to meet my Japanese boyfriend’s parents. It wasn’t the language barrier that scared me – it was the social pitfalls. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in Japan. I never seem to know the right thing to say or do, and even if I do, I don’t get enough feedback to know if I’m being polite or, well, awkward. Ryosuke grabbed my hand and was like:
“Don’t worry, I got your back. Let me lead.”
But I wasn’t ok with just that, so I made him give me a nice run down of what was appropriate to talk to Japanese parents about, and what was inappropriate (since I’ve had a lot of email requests to do more “meeting the Japanese parents” posts). Considering the fact I’ve stayed with his parents a month during the summer, on weekends about once a month, New Years, and this upcoming summer, I’ve learned a bit about what Japanese parents like to talk about with their son or daughter’s significant other. Now mind you, this isn’t a complete list; what worked for me might not work for you.
Safe Topics for when you Meet your Japanese Boyfriend’s or Japanese Girlfriend’s Parents:
- Brief History about you (hometown, parent’s jobs, siblings, pets, etc). You can also show them your hometown on a map (since nearly every single Japanese house I’ve been to has a globe or map book near the dining room table. I never know why).
- How much you like their… (cooking, home, accessory, etc)
- American movies/actors
Things to note: Let your Japanese boyfriend or Japanese girlfriend take the lead. Chances are, they’re dying to make sure you give off a good impression, so they will help you all along the way. For the first couple months, my guy used to keep a close eye on me, never disappearing for too long, just in case someone asked me a question I didn’t know how to answer.
First impressions are incredible important. I can’t stress this enough. I also recommend this guide on What to Wear When you Meet your Japanese Boyfriend’s Parents (sorry, only for girls/men with boyfriends). You really are better off being a bit boring than loud, obnoxious, offensive, or gaudy.
Taboo or Bad Topics you should avoid when Meeting your Japanese Girlfriend’s or Boyfriend’s Parents:
- Anything Controversial. This is a given. It included (but is not limited to) religion, politics, gay rights in Japan, racism and racial minorities in Japan, flaws in any country, Japanese government, and anything else that could possibly make someone uncomfortable. Just pretend you’re on an episode of Barney.
- Anything you can have a (possibly offensive) opinion on. This goes hand in hand with the last one.
- Your plans for marriage/the future. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time and dropping the “I want to marry them” bomb is never good, especially in Japan. Give your Japanese Boyfriend or Japanese Girlfriend’s parents plenty of time to warm up to you. I had been regularly visiting my fiance’s house for about seven months before he proposed; we ended up not telling his parents until two months later, because we were waiting for the “perfect” time (ie, once they had accepted me into the family enough to not treat me as a guest all the time and let me help with dishes).
- Relationships. Don’t talk about your exs (this one is obvious)… but also try to avoid movie crushes, television idols, or stories about that random guy who hit on you on the train. You’re supposed to seem “mature” and stable – not flaky.
Things to note: Play is safe. Always play it safe. It’s better to be known as boring (after all, you can always impress them sometime after the wedding with your obscure knowledge of Japanese historic films) than overly annoying. One of the main things I’ve learned in life is it is incredibly difficult to stop hating someone you find annoying. Try not to end up that boat…
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