Advice for Meeting Japanese Parents: How to Act

Going along with my line of “Meeting your Japanese Boyfriend’s or Japanese Girlfriend’s Parents” posts, someone asked me to do a post on how to act. I thought this was a bit more complicated, since it really depends on the person and the family.

I’m fairly outgoing; Ryosuke’s parents are fairly conservative (while being surprisingly liberal about some things). As with all of my Japanese boyfriend related posts, this is what worked for me. It might not necessarily work for you.

Hanami with Ryosuke's Family

Hanami with Ryosuke’s Family

Things to AVOID when you meet your Japanese Girlfriend’s / Japanese Boyfriend’s Parents:

  1. Any for of PDA. PDA, also known as Public Display of Affection, is one of the more annoying social taboos in Japan. It took me a couple months to get my Japanese boyfriend to kiss me in public when we lived in America; once we moved to Japan he reverted back to normal. I understand it. PDA is gross (when it’s other people). Even in a normal public setting, doing anything more than light holding hands can induce some stares.So when you meet your significant other’s parents, keep your hands to yourself. Keep your hugging to under a second, don’t cling onto each other, and God forbid you try to kiss. Revert back to the touchy feeling aspects of a third grade relationship: just hold hands and look cute.
After the Mochi-tsuki with his cousins

After the Mochi-tsuki with his cousins

  1. Loud, obnoxious behavior. While I covered an entire section of this with my Safe Topics for when you Meet your Japanese Significant Other’s Parents section, I just wanted to repeat myself. Be graceful. It’s better to be labeled “quiet” and “not very noticeable” than be labeled “an annoying foreigner” or “Wow I can’t believe my child wants to marry that thing.” You know what I mean?
  2. Letting your True Colors Show. Look, I know there is that nice song “True Colors” encouraging us to be ourselves (it even earned a Glee cover). But there’s a time and a place for being yourself. Meeting your Japanese Boyfriend’s or Japanese Girlfriend’s Parents is not the place. You want them to think they like you, even if that means you need to wear a mask for the first couple meetings, mimicking their expectations and hopes for you. Gradually, you can let the mask slip and start to show off some of your True Colors. Hopefully you’ll be married with a kid on the way before they start disliking you (it’s kind of human nature to dislike whoever your child marries, I’ve noticed).
    Same goes with clothes. Tone it down and try to dress more “mature.” For more information, check out this guide on Socially acceptable clothes to wear when you meet your Japanese boyfriend’s parents.
Babysitting Ryosuke's Niece

Babysitting Ryosuke’s Niece

  1. “Fighting Back.” Parents are protective. As I mentioned before, I kind of assume parent’s are somewhat hardwired to somewhat dislike (at least a little bit) whoever their child brings home (couldn’t you get someone smarter /taller /prettier /funnier /with a better mustache?). This is especially true with Japanese mother-in-laws. If your Japanese Boyfriend is a Chonan (first born), the mother-in-law and father-in-law might expect you to take care of them and the house once they get old. The mother might outright refuse to acknowledged you (I’ve seen this happen once) or try to “train” you to become the perfect Japanese housewife (what happens most the time). Thankfully Ryosuke’s mother hasn’t tried to do anything (in fact, she’s been taking English classes so she can talk to me more); Ryosuke has an older brother with three kids, so I kind of assumed the responsibility got passed onto him.Sometimes you just need to accept the annoyances without fighting back – at least at first.

Things to DO when you meet your Japanese Boyfriend’s / Japanese Girlfriend’s Parents:

  1. Say “Thank You All the Time! Thank you is my go-to word in Japan. It can convey so much, and yet throughout my travels, I’ve met a great many people who have forgotten the importance of this magical word. “Thank you” can’t fix broken bonds, but it can do a bit of mending. ” For other conversation tips, check out this handy article about Safe topics to talk about with your Japanese boyfriend / girlfriend’s parents (so you don’t accidentally stumble upon a social taboo). 
  2. Smile. At the risk of sounding like a Disney Princess, a kind smile can make even the most menacing/frightening person look friendly. You probably don’t look very frightening, but why not throw on a smile to convince your lover’s family that you’re a nice, pleasant, kind gaijin?

Meeting your Japanese boyfriend's parents

  1. Kill them with Politeness.
  2. Take Everything in Stride. This relates to the earlier post about not fighting back. You’re in a new culture, crazy things are going to happen. Just roll with it. If you don’t understand what’s going on just play along and ask your Japanese boyfriend or Japanese girlfriend later.
  3. Never say “No.” I’m mostly just talking about food here. I’ve met a lot of picky eaters in Japan, and while I think that’s not necessarily a deal breaking in Japan, it certainly doesn’t help your chances. When someone in my family brings their significant other over to meet the family, and the new SO doesn’t eat vegetables or something like that, I can feel a bit of the judgement.I kind of dislike fish. And by “kind of” I mean A LOT. But I begged Ryosuke not to tell his parents. Japanese meals are served with a small individual plate, and everyone else just takes what they like form an assortment of plate in the middle. Every once and a while, the individual dish is fish. If I can’t eat it, Ryosuke pretends to be hungry and snatches my fish for me. 
    The only exception, of course, is allergies. I have a milk allergy, this has caused a couple problems around the dinner time, but for the most part it’s been ok. If the food is going to make you sick, for goodness sake, don’t eat it. If you dislike the taste… just try to stomach it down.After over a year of pretending to like fish, I’ve actually kind of started to like the taste of fish. Or at least I don’t hate it any more than I used to.
Ryosuke's father wearing my American University's shirt (and driving me to school)

Ryosuke’s father wearing my American University’s shirt (and driving me to school)

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3 responses to “Advice for Meeting Japanese Parents: How to Act

  1. Pingback: Cara Cowok yang Bikin Kamu Deg-degan, Saat Mengenalkanmu Ke Keluarganya – zaki·

  2. I tried to comment once, but I think it got eaten. I found your blog through Nozomi Project on Facebook, and have really enjoyed reading your perspective. Your “how to meet the parents” posts brought back so many memories for me! It was interesting to read a more modern perspective. My mother-in-law was a WWII survivor, witnessed the “flash” of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, only left Kyushu once in her entire life, and here I was this young American wanting to marry her only son. Talk about trauma – on both sides!

    Thankfully, she softened toward me eventually – especially after grandkids came along. Living on the other side of the country probably helped, too!

    It sounds like you handled things very well – best wishes for many happy years to come!

    • I love the Nozomi Project people. I think they are all wonderful; their message (and their product) is awe-inspiring!

      Oh no, I’m sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. That must have been tough. Truth be told, my fiance’s grandparent’s aren’t the biggest fans of me (can’t be helped) – but I’m glad I’m the Generation Y, so most of his relatives were born long after the war finished. Kudos to you for handling it so well! I’m so glad it all worked out!

      Thanks 🙂
      Best wishes for many happy years to come, too!

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