Letters from Japan: 'Why is he anti-Japan?'

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 women’s health issues.


My boyfriend is Japanese (I’m American) but he’s practically a native English speaker. He went to university in the U.S. and worked there for a couple of years before coming back to Japan. We got together a year and a half ago, basically a month after I arrived in Japan.

I came to Japan to teach, but I really want to study Japanese too. I haven’t really made any progress because every time I try to study, or even mention doing something Japanese, my boyfriend freaks out. He always badmouths Japan, or says how much better stuff in the U.S. is, and that learning Japanese is stupid because no one uses it. At first, it didn’t bother me, but with the whole lockdown, it’s starting to get on my nerves.

I’m not trying to be all like some freaky otaku or anything, but he even makes fun of me when I say I want to see a museum exhibit about something Japanese. Why is he so anti-Japan? How should I deal with his whole “foreign is better” obsession?

No Japanese Allowed

Dear No Japanese Allowed,

I have a couple of things I’d like you to clarify before getting into your questions.

Have you actually studied Japanese in any capacity, or gone to the events/exhibits that you wanted to? If you have, then good, I’m glad you’re not letting him dictate your hobbies or interests. If not, then that is something you should reflect on. Why are you dating someone that stops you from doing what you came around the world to do? 

It sounds like you settled into your relationship with him very quickly, which has me curious about what you two saw in each other in the first place. I also wonder if you’ve stayed in this relationship because of the stability it offered in an otherwise unstable situation i.e. settling into life in a foreign country. I assume that, on dates, he handles speaking to any staff in Japanese for you? If he isn’t willing to allow you the tools to be autonomous, that isn’t healthy—it’s controlling and fosters dependency. Those are two major red flags of an abusive relationship.

Does he go out of his way to praise you for being foreign or for not being Japanese? If he does, then he may be a racial fetishist—that is, someone who dotes on people of another race because of stereotypical perceived traits that race/nationality is said to possess. And in that case, he’s not dating you because of you. He’s dating you because you’re foreign and thus satisfy his fetish needs—so you doing anything Japanese would “taint your foreign-ness” and therefore ruin his fantasy.

Why is he so anti-Japan?

I can’t say why for certain, and he might not even be able to express it clearly himself if asked. He also might lash out verbally or emotionally at you for even asking. I suspect that his time overseas is what brought this on, however.

According to psychology, there is a process called the Minority Identity Development Model (MIDM). It’s based on the work of William E. Cross Jr., and is a series of stages in which people develop their ethnic or cultural identity. I don’t have space to go too in-depth into his work and subsequent studies, but want to point out that the first stage of MIDM is where a minority devalues their ethnicity and/or culture in order to better fit in with mainstream society.

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Strange I got the opposite feeling... when I went in a #shelter# during a disaster in JAPAN. they told me foreigner are not allowed. when I asked why, the public servant said: JAPAN RULES!

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Some people just love to complain, he’s allowed to like and dislike whatever the hell he wants

11 ( +13 / -2 )

It can be really hard for some Japanese people to return to Japan. It’s a restrictive conservative society, and the often those who leave their own culture are some degree of non-conformist, as leaving is not the norm for most cultures. They experience both the freedom of being in less restrictive societies, as well as the freedom of being an outsider where the expectations of the majority are not placed upon them.

Then they return to Japan, and it can feel like a straight jacket. And this is what can make them hate Japan.

This is an issue he’s working through for himself. It’s not her fault (though she has to deal with it).

7 ( +12 / -5 )

I agree with Strangerland much moreso than I agree with the advice columnist.

I've had numerous Japanese friends and acquaintances who faced difficulties upon returning to Japan after spending significant time overseas. After experiencing a foreign culture, they found Japanese working culture and society in general to be restrictive and frustrating, and had quite a hard time re-adapting. And as a result, they ended up souring on many aspects of Japanese culture, like the letter writer's boyfriend.

That said, he's a bit of a jerk if he can't understand why someone who arrived in the country recently is interested in learning the language or going to museums.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

This is not about look at my foreign girlfriend. This is about control and ownership of another human being. He is trying to have you question your own convictions and deprive you of your basic needs such as social interactions. Soon he will not even let you interact with your own kind because this will weaken his statuss in the relationship. Next will be your family that he will guilt you about in order to get you to distance yourself from. If you let him he willhelp you with your finances to make it easier for you all as a ploy to also controll your ability to be independant. It's a dangerous slippery slope. Narcissists can behave this way they are always right and are cunning at getting what they want while hiding the truth to the outside world. When all is said and done hopefuly you dont allow it you wnt be able to even express your frustration because of your laguage barrier. Keep your loved ones close and dont make excuses for this person. Wish youall the best.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Why would she want spend time, never mind be romantically involved with, someone who 'freaks out' when she expresses an opinion on what she would like to do, with someone she herself sees has an obsession?

This is not a case of intercultural relationships, or of his finding it hard to adapt after spending time outside Japan.

It's a case of two people being totally incompatible, having different ideas on what they want out of life and on how they can get what they want.

She wants to learn about her new environment, expand her horizons, learn the language, understand more.

He wants a pretty foreign doll, essentially blind and dumb, that he can keep in a bubble and have total control over.

Dump him.

I would say there are plenty more fish in the sea, but this one isn't even a fish. He's a Bobbit worm. Stay away from him.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

It is interesting for me that as people we are allowed to voice our discontent regarding almost any topic. When focusing on countries, I've heard numerous people say they dislike China or America, and nobody bats an eyelid. Say you dislike Japan however, and the reaction in some parts is akin to saying you like eating a turd for breakfast.

I'm Japanese and I don't understand it. For the record, I much prefer China and America as countries. They have variety. Of course, they are both far from perfect.

Aren't we all.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I think she found her soulmate. Western women in Japan ultimately burn out especially if they marry a local guy who doesn't speak much English and will force her to stay here and take care of his parents. It is a ticking time bomb. In this case, this guy will obviously support her when she inevitably wants to move back to the US and he will be well suited thanks to language skills to get a job and have a happy life with her.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

From the article:

Why are you dating someone that stops you from doing what you came around the world to do? 


As for Cleo's comments, I agree with her 100%, couldn't have put it better myself.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

He sounds immature, controlling and perhaps using you as a “trophy”. If he doesn’t change... Drop, move on.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

I would love to answer clearly from his point of view, as I’m in the same ship, but I’m not Japanese, not even American. And after long periods of living here I realised that the most population of Japan (common Japanese) is that kind people I can’t be around. I could day the reason is their education and language. Possibly language goes first. I’ll explain. The language they use in usual life is very simplified. It’s very difficult to shortly explain every step but let me try. If you all Japanese how was it?(about food) the only word they use in 80% is oishii. How was your trip? - Tanoshikatta/yokatta. Try to go to Ueno Zoo and you’ll learn me word - kawaii. They only word they use when they see animals. All this simplified the way of thinking plus hierarchy system, keigo, uchi to soto culture and culture of meiwaku. When Japanese child grows in Japanese society there is no such words as Privacy, You worth it, I miss you. They learn how to be as everybody and the most serious ting is that they never ask Why? So they have to write down what their teacher said to pass exams. If you ever seen young student in job hunting period you might feel something strange. I recommend to watch short animation Recruit Rhapsody. This is true Japan. The problem is when one Japanese leave country and study in western culture, speak English clearly, they find out that it is OK to express yourself, that no one will accept you if you’re silent. This is absolutely opposite side to Japanese culture. And once you understand how poor people around you in their opinion, how narrow their mind and how they life goes with all this stereotypes, one you see the difference you start to hate it, you’ll wanna be apart of it. Why there’s no meaning to learn Japanese? Because I’m most cases your conversation will be very simple and true Japanese won’t be your close friend. Only those who speak English or other languages are open to new thoughts and new people. And won’t feel shy, as Japanese love to say, they won’t be shy to talk to you and ask the question why? Why you think so? They can only ask why you came to Japan.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Fascinating subject. Almost everywhere I travel these days I meet locals who bitch about their own culture & their own country and say that elsewhere is better. When they give more detail it often materializes that what they perceive as being "the culture" of the other better ideal country is often not the real everyday culture there, but either just marginal pop culture or a long lost traditional image no longer in operation. This is a sign of ignorance of their own culture, personal immaturity & insecurity.

I would suggest that an obsessive belief that other cultures are superior to your own is an inverted-racist position. It exists in practically every country I've been in, and it is gaining momentum. The grass always appears greener on the other side etc. But the reality is every culture has good and bad elements. I absolutely passionately love Japan, its culture (traditional and modern) and its people. It is very special. But I also love my own homeland. I think that's normal, sensible and healthy. But that's just my opinion.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is academically confirmed the local proficiency skill known as Japanese is in fact not an official language but a terminology of borrowed words. Sadly, learning it only becomes practical here with limited degree of definitions.

That being said, if one decides to remain here then engage on useful expressions and phrases to get you by. Locals won't merit your mindset regardless on how much you know...simply because, you guessed it, we are foreigners. Just enjoy the ride and make the best of it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Watching the Japanese parliament live broadcast concerning Hong Kong yesterday I was interested to hear the Diet members give their opinions extremely eloquently.

There was no pausing, hesitation nor long delays in communication.

These are high level speakers that have been educated and inculcated with confidence and self worth, they sprinkle their conversations with English the same way other nationalities do to show awareness of outside ideas and thought.

The ‘boyfriend’ has pierced the veil!

He has found out the truth that most Japanese do not know and have never been taught and that is diversity of thought is possible in society.

It must be a shock to learn that others exist in relative harmony outside Japan when your whole life had been strewn with how different foreigners are from you.

The boyfriend needs counseling as it has been a rough ride...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Get rid of him ! And quick !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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