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Letters from Japan: 'My boyfriend suddenly changed' & 'I thought he liked me'

18 Comments
By Hilary Keyes

Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to how to find peace with oneself after a broken heart. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to editorial@gplusmedia.com with a subject "Ask Hilary."

My boyfriend suddenly changed. Was it correct to end the relationship?

Hi Hilary. I was seeing this guy pretty seriously for a few months, but things suddenly changed between us. We only spoke Japanese together, and before he would call me by my name or use anata, and called himself boku. However, suddenly he starting calling me omae and referring to himself as ore. He’d also gotten short with me — like, he had a temper that he didn’t before. No matter what I said, even if I agreed with him completely, he’d still get pissed off at me. I dumped him, obviously, but what gives? — Sudden Change Changed Our Paths

Dear Sudden Change,

I’m sorry to hear that. As a Japanese speaker, you’ve probably learned that the polite ways to refer to another person are by anata in general, kimi for a child or someone of a younger age or lower position than yourself, while omae comes across as being rude and is most often used derogitively. Boku is a boyish, neutral way of referring to oneself, while ore can have the image of an “ore-sama” or arrogant, overconfident man to it.

If it had just been a change in terms of language, I would say that it was simply the end of the honeymoon period of the relationship, and his natural pattern of speaking was coming back. In that situation, I would have suggested talking to him about it, and perhaps telling him that you didn’t like being called that.

However, because of the personality change, I’d say you just dodged a bullet. Anyone that undergoes a drastic personality change, especially one towards overly aggressive behavior, is someone that you don’t need in your life.

I’ve met a few men like this, in Japan and elsewhere, and I’ve noticed that they tend to start acting this way when their image of you has changed. They decide that somehow you’ve changed, and it’s not a change that they support. This is by no means your fault in any way, shape or form – you might have said something completely innocent that just riled him up, or maybe he saw something on TV about someone similar to you that made him angry. It’s entirely based on his own interpretation of things. But once he got that idea into his head, he couldn’t get over it.

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18 Comments
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These girls are looking for advice on what the Japanese guys they've been with may have been thinking. It would seem to me that having a Japanese man answer these questions would be more likely to have accuracy than what I assume is a female foreigner.

14 ( +17 / -3 )

A foreign woman who has lived in Japan and dated Japanese men is the perfect person to give advice to foreign women in Japan dating Japanese men.

Yes. Because all Japanese men are the same and all non-Japanese women are the same. Makes perfect sense.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@girl_in_tokyo: And she’s right - a guy who suddenly turns agressive and finds fault with everything you do ought to be dumped - DTFMA.

I totally agree with your comment. When a guy becomes hostile but still sticks around, he has essentially dumped you and is just using you for sex.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Even though I typically totally disagree with that stangerland guy.. he is 100% right in this one...

You best NOT reading advice from a foreign woman in Tokyo regarding Japanese guy's behaviour... its a given she is wrong.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I think the columnist should first learn a bit more about the Japanese language. In its practical use, not the textbook one.

"Ore" and "ore-sama" are two difference things. Who in hell says "boku" to friends, family or lovers? It's perfectly fine to say "ore" when speaking to people who know you well (which was the case in the article, and I personally think that means the man just felt he got closer and could be more open to the woman, not disrespectful at all) or when one is in a higher position, for example. "Ore-sama" is indeed an arrogant form, but can also be used as a joke refering to oneself. It all depends how it is being used.

And "anata" being used to refer to someone is just a silly mistake maybe resulted from the "need" to translate every little word. Not that it's not used at all, but in real life it's MUCH more common and makes MUCH more sense to use the name of the person, with or without a suffix such as "-san", "-chan", whatever, depending on the situation (as a sidenote, "anata" is too direct, and so it's even considered not so polite). Unless, of course, you're married and are talking to your wife/husband...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If this is a foreign woman writing the advice, it’s a good job the Japanese woman writing the letter wasn’t talking about a foreign boyfriend.

The advice would have been something like dump him because he’s a loser who wouldn’t be popular in his own country ;)

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I think vallum is more or less on the right track.

Mr cleo calls himself ore when speaking to me, the kids and his mother, boku when speaking to his sister (probably a remnant from when they were little kids and boku was natural), watashi when speaking to strangers and guranpa when speaking to the grandkids.

He's only ever used anata to me when we've been having a serious row, he's been really ticked off at me for something, etc. I've never ever heard him use anata to his mother, or indeed anyone else. He calls people by their name or nickname. I don't think I would feel at ease with a bloke who went around calling people anata.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I’m not sure the case here has to do with anything Japanese other than the boyfriend’s nationality.

There are people of all races and nationalities who prefer not to be the one to break up out of aversion to hurting someone but that’s what happens in the end anyways. They would do what’s necessary to force you to break up.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Well Strangerland, if somebody else would have penned that sentence, you might have countered that opinion by exploring all the other possibilities, like how Hilary Keyes might have been born here or something. I don’t think she is however, for it’s perfectly ok to use omae, boku or ore in a colloquial setting and even on tv you can hear the same when people who know each other babble amongst each other in front of the camera. It’s different though when somebody is angry at you and calls you omae this and omae that. I would have thought that youngsters would use the suffix “chan” when referring to each other.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

If this is a foreign woman writing the advice, it’s a good job the Japanese woman writing the letter wasn’t talking about a foreign boyfriend.

???

It's a Canadian woman who has lived in Japan for 10 years giving advice to a fellow non-Japanese woman.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

But they have a point though

Maybe. It’s just the nastiness which gets me.

If a man or a woman wasn’t considred attractive at home but is found attractive somewhere else, I’d be delighted for them.

Fill your boots.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In that line with quercetum.

Summing all the things that was noticed by the woman,  it isn't hard to see that the guy was in the falling out stage. It doesn't matter what nationalities are involved - ignore the words, the gestures were easier to understand.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well Strangerland, if somebody else would have penned that sentence, you might have countered that opinion by exploring all the other possibilities, like how Hilary Keyes might have been born here or something.

That's why I wrote "what I assume is a female foreigner". I'm ok with being proven wrong if that is the case.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

A foreign woman who has lived in Japan and dated Japanese men is the perfect person to give advice to foreign women in Japan dating Japanese men.

The two questions asked:

I dumped him, obviously, but what gives?

And:

decided to change jobs in September and was going to try asking him out on a real date, but he keeps snubbing me. What should I do? *

For the first question, a Japanese guy is going to be much more likely to answer that question accurately than a foreign female.

The second one is different, it's asking her opinion. In this case, I don't see that a Japanese guy is going to be better, insofar as it's just asking an opinion about what to do.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@performing monkey

Thanks for the correction.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The advice would have been something like dump him because he’s a loser who wouldn’t be popular in his own country ;)

But they have a point though, I mean quite a few Western blokes are much more popular with J/Asian ladies than they were back home. Don't think they're losers or LBH per se; just quirky, unconventional, sometimes goofy, awkward etc blokes who didn't fit in (back home).

Haven't been here that long but it's pretty obvious that these guys are overrepresented in Japan (I actually know quite a few guys who fit the description & moved to SEA/ Japan for that very reason. And they own it).

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Maybe. It’s just the nastiness which gets me.

Fair enough.

Some of these blokes do become cocky & pretty full of themselves after a few years in sea/jp though. Not saying that they should know their place but it seems quite a few certainly did let 'success' (sort of) go to their head.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

A foreign woman who has lived in Japan and dated Japanese men is the perfect person to give advice to foreign women in Japan dating Japanese men.

And she’s right - a guy who suddenly turns agressive and finds fault with everything you do ought to be dumped - DTFMA.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

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