Interracial Relationships in Japan: Who is dating who?

I used to complain that there weren’t enough “foreign women, Japanese men” couples in Japan. Yes, you see interracial relationships now and again in Tokyo, but most of the time it is a white (occasionally black or Middle Eastern) man with a Japanese woman. In fact, a surprising number of foreign men who studied abroad at my university in Japan dated Japanese women. It seems everywhere you look, there are Japanese women walking hand in hand with a foreigner. Which, you know, is great… but I started wondering. What about the foreign women? Who do they date?

An interracial couple in Japan

An interracial couple in Japan

The year I’ve been in Tokyo, I have seen four “white female and Japanese man” couples and only one “black female and Japanese man” couple (I started counting). It struck me as strange. So I decided to do a little bit of research.

While it seems like the majority of interracial relationships in Japan are a white (usually American) man with a Japanese woman, that’s a bit off the mark.

In fact, according to the latest Japanese census data, nearly 80% of the registered interracial couples in Japan involved a foreign wife and Japanese husband.

Really? How is that possible?

Here's a cute little girl holding a Ramune Bottle (I'm running out of pictures)

Here’s a cute little girl holding a Ramune Bottle (I’m running out of pictures)

It’s possible because interracial / intercultural relationships don’t always seem “interracial” on the outside. The Japanese census data considers a marriage between a Korean woman and a Japanese man just as “interracial” as a marriage between an American woman and a Japanese man.

And of the 35,993 registered foreign brides in Japan, nearly 32,000 of them come from Korea, China, the Philippines, and Thailand. 215 of them come from the United States; a measly 79 come from the United Kingdom.

Without realizing it, I had been a bit racist. I assumed because of the complicated history (and present political problems) between the southeast Asian countries (basically especially between China, Korea, and Japan) there wasn’t a lot of interracial dating going on.

It turns out there was.

Japanese women during a parade in Asakusa, Japan

I was talking with one of my Japanese friends the other day at the beach. I asked her why she thought so many Japanese girls wanted to date and marry American men.

“American men so, so… kakoii (cool). Maybe in America they ugly, when they come to Japan, they attractive.” She thought for a second.

“You look like movie star.” She told me. “I mean, I don’t want to date an American boy, but I think they more attractive than Japanese men. They look like movie stars. That why my friends want to date American man.

I’ve heard other reasons for wanting to date an American man. Some of them are simple:

“American men are romantic, they bring flowers and give many presents.”

To more complicated answers that have to do with gender roles:

“American men like to split the housework 50-50. Or maybe 60 (me) – 40 (him). But still, that is better than Japanese man, who expect me to do all housework, cooking, and cleaning.” (Words from a friend who is married to a Californian man).

Japanese dog festival costumes Japan

I’ve met women in Japan who have no desire to marry a foreigner; I’ve met women who are dying to marry a foreigner.

I’ve met women in Japan who have had troubles introducing their foreign boyfriend to the family; I’ve met women whose parents are incredibly supportive.

I’ve met people who think “Japanese people should only date Japanese people;” I’ve met people who think interracial relationships are wonderful.

Japan is far too complicated of a country to break down into dating stereotypes. So just walk away with this:

Even though it seems like a majority of the interracial/intercultural relationships in Japan are between a white man and a Japanese woman, they are, in fact, between a Japanese man and a southeast Asian woman.

Seijinshiki photo foreigner kimono American girl

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12 responses to “Interracial Relationships in Japan: Who is dating who?

  1. Hi Grace,
    I’m mid 50’s sansei (California) Japanese American, married to an American (Irish, German) /English wife(English, Italian). I recently found your blog and Texan website because of the AMWF article. What you might not have factored in is that many of the Japanese national women that marry Americans (USA) leave Japan and go to the US. I have met Japanese women married to former US servicemen throughout the US (near military bases). The following website has lots of great stats regarding Asian marriages in the US.
    http://www.asian-nation.org/interracial.shtml
    Your website and comics are fun to read.

  2. Pingback: Would you ever date a foreigner? Would you marry her? Thoughts from Japanese men | Texan in Tokyo·

  3. It’s not only white expat men who are dating Japanese women, Asian men from less-developed countries are also jumping on the boat. I personally know a lot more of these couples in contrast to the few Japanese men-other Asian women pairs. Unfortunately some things about Japanese men don’t appeal to women from other nationalities; the most common complaints I’ve heard are chauvinism, ego, being stoic and not being romantic.

    • Interesting. I can relate to the chauvinistic, egotistic, and un-romantic Japanese men part (I have a couple friends who tried to date Japanese men).
      I didn’t know about the other Asian men dating Japanese women couples. That’s very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

      • Well I found your summary quite interesting, that there are a lot of Japanese men with Southeast Asian women. It’s interesting to me in particular because I’m a Southeast Asian guy and the foreign couples I noticed in my area are mostly Japanese women with Southeast Asian men. Which quite defies the ‘common scenario’ where it’s usually a man from a more advanced/wealthy country dating a woman from a less-developed country, and rarely the other way round. This common scenario is what you’re observing in Japan, where women from Southeast Asia come to Japan to probably seek a better life, so it makes sense for the female to marry a local male. The citizenship, house and income will naturally come from the local male though I’m not saying that this is the female’s primary intention.

        Maybe the Japanese are unique in a sense that their women don’t condescend men from countries which are less prominent. Or maybe Japanese women are more adventurous in dating, or to escape the chauvinism from the average Japanese male? Perhaps you could do a write-up on that 😛

        • I definitely think the Japanese females are more adventurous in dating (to escape the chauvinistic males). It’s ironic because I’m engaged to a Japanese man – but he is very “different.” Even he feels smothered by the sexist and restricting nature of Japanese social interactions (his long-term goal is to live and work in America again).

          I’ve met a lot of women who are interested in dating not just white me, but foreign men because “they are nicer.” Since more and more women are pushing off marriage to go after a career, it makes sense ‘dating down’ or whatever you want to call it (just not dating a guy richer/with a better job who will expect them to quit their job after marriage to become a housewife). To each their own. I would never consider marrying a traditional-minded Japanese man, though. I can tell you that.

          (thanks for the suggestion, I think I will do a write-up on the Japanese men in dating/chauvinism)

  4. Interesting — the same thing goes in Russia. Overwhelmingly the (visible) interracial relationships are Russian woman – expat man. Russians are always surprised when they hear I’m dating a Russian. “Why? Don’t you want an American man with more money?”

    • Hahahaha. Ouch. Those good old innocent-yet-somewhat-offensive questions. That’s gold.
      Interracial relationships always have some interesting misconceptions, I guess.

  5. This doesn’t surprise me, really, because I know tons of Filipinos married to Japanese men, and many of them live in my neighborhood or go to my church. After reading this I started counting fellow white friends married to Japanese men, and came up with 11 in real life friends (plus a few more that I only know through their blogs). They are of varying nationalities, including American, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, German, and Slovakian. Granted, I have lived here for nearly 19 years, so I have had time to meet more people over all, I guess. Having said that, though, when I do meet a fellow white foreign wife we both tend to be surprised and pleased to “find” each other! We are not all that many, really.

    • I’m the same way. I’ve only actually met one white woman married to a Japanese man (aside from you, I guess) and we were pleasantly surprised to “find” each other. It’s rare.
      I only know of one non-Japanese woman married to a Japanese man, but I don’t know too many married couples here. Most of my fiance’s friends are Japanese-Japanese couples. I assume once I move into a real Japanese neighborhood and start a ‘real’ job (and hopefully find a good church community), I will branch out and get to know more Japanese couples. I’m interested.
      Thanks for sharing!

      • You’ll definitely meet more – all it really takes is meeting one or two, then they introduce you to a friend or two, and it snowballs from there. It’s like a little informal network, I guess. Oh, and then there is the AFWJ (Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese), which is an official network – I had forgotten about them. I haven’t been involved with them for years, because I just got busy with kids, and met plenty of friends through church and activities, but I used to get the bi-monthly newsletter that they put out with all kinds of articles by members about life in Japan as a foreign wife. It helped a lot in those early years before I made more local friends (and before blogs!). Check out their website: http://www.afwj.org/. Engaged women are eligible, too,

        Also, I have a blog, if you’re interested. Word Press never lets me post comments with that ID, because I also have a defunct Word Press blog that has the same email address, which is why I have been commenting under my facebook account. Anyway, my blog is mostly about family stuff and homeschooling our four kids and a bit about life in Japan, I only post every couple of weeks lately (bad, bad blogger!), but here it is if you want to take a look: http://sue-livingandlearning.blogspot.jp/

        • Hi Sue,

          I LOVE your blog. Your kids are adorable. It looks like such a happy family 🙂
          I bookmarked the afwj website, I will join it as soon as I am permanently settled in Japan. I feel so blessed to have a great support group of women.

          When I first started out doing a blog (on the blogger platform) I was only posting once every month or so. I was such a bad blogger. Now I’ve gotten into a routine – but we will see what happens when school starts up again in the fall.

          I also love the layout of your blog. It looks beautiful!

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