Love in Japan: 2 keys to making multilingual relationships work

By Hilary Keyes

Dating someone from a culture different from your own, all the while living in that culture is an exciting prospect that many people look forward to when living overseas. But the actual experience can be both thrilling and culture shock-inducing — especially when language differences are involved. So how do couples in multilingual relationships do it in Japan?

Aside from my own experiences, I asked five successful couples what their relationships were like, and learned that while there are various approaches to building a successful multilingual relationship, there were two major points to keep in mind regardless of how long you have been together.

1. Acknowledge that personalities change based on language and location

According to psychologists and linguists who have studied multilingual people, depending on which language you are speaking, your personality can be very different. You can feel more comfortable or be more expressive in one language over another. When it comes to being in a multilingual relationship, this means that the dynamic of your relationship may change dramatically between your common languages.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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Sarah cried when she couldn’t get an angel for our tree in Japan, I thought she was being overly dramatic

Uh she is being overdramtic.

How about this article actually mentions comparability between people regardless of the culture, if you can't relax and be yourself around someone then its not going to matter where you come from.

I bitch about Japan to my Japanese gf all the time, the thing the types of issues i raise are things she thinks are dumb too, such as paperwork work life balance, power imbalance etc.

As said several times before young Japanese people are frequently more in touch with their emotions and open until they go through the Junior high school and senior high school system where they get drilled into a stupid conservative way of behaving and realised that their life if going to be severely affected by standardized testing that produces robots with no decent job skills.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Uh she is being overdramtic.

You can't really say that. Christmas is an extremely important time of year to some people, and being far away from home, tradition can be something that grounds people to their culture, even when they are currently not within it. An inability to be able to do so can really make someone feel the distance from home, friends, and family, and feeling sad for those things is not over dramatic at all.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Acknowledge that personalities change based on language and location

I see this in my wife when we travel overseas. She gets a bit of a glow to her, and becomes more relaxed. I really enjoy traveling with her as a result.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

After many years of dating here, I ended up realising I’m not Japanese in mind, and the rigidness, attachment to mom, the preset mentality of what a “man’s” role was, give me all your income or thanks.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

In the end, just as in any monolingual relationships, it all comes down to the ability to communicate well


It's about the people, not the language(s).

Crying about an angel on the tree - yes, that's overdramatic and a bit pathetic. Get over it. Look on Amazon. Get your family to send you an angel out. Make one - buy a little plastic doll and some white cloth, make a little angel dress and stick on a pair of plastic wings. Sitting crying never solved any problems. (Except when you have a bit of grit in your eye, perhaps.)

8 ( +8 / -0 )

After many years of dating here, I ended up realising I’m not Japanese in mind, and the rigidness, attachment to mom, the preset mentality of what a “man’s” role was, give me all your income or thanks.

Is this the norm?

Cuz if it is, boy did I get lucky. 13 years and never better.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Dunno about angels, but if my wife gave the kids their presents on the 24th and took the tree down on the 25th, I'd be grumpy for a week.

Compatibility and commitment (including accepting the other person for who they are) are the most important, but people are habitual creatures and relationships tend to develop patterns. You should not allow patterns you do not like to develop. There is much more scope for this when both partners have different cultural norms. You should also not marry anyone you want to change.

5 ( +5 / -0 )


Nah, but it was my norm. Pretty typical in Japan as well too. Ask any married guy when the last time he got any was.

Good to see you did well.

I got married to an American and it’s easier for me now too.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Pretty silly article.  If you begin a relationship with someone from "another culture" (read you are a foreigner here in Japan and fall for a Nihon-jin, surely all of this stuff is self evident?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Doesn't matter about the language or the culture. It is a gender thing.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Seeing mixed couples of either or both genders walking hand in hand is quite heartwarming. Sometimes the language of love has no impediments.

The difficulties, if any, come from others, wagging their fingers at you. Do your own thing and don't fuss about other peoples expectations or exacting standards. Life's far too short.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What an awful piece if writing and, surely, this is about multicultural relationships rather tha multilingual ones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Very interesting article. I was not aware of this phenomenon. The closest I can come to understanding what the author is writing about was an experience my wife and I had while traveling in Turkey. We behaved like we always do, holding hands and being friendly in public, but I was aware that we were not following what was normal for that culture. Speaking for myself, I prefer being able to be affectionate with my wife in public.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Women marry men hoping they would change - but they never do

Men marry women hoping they would never change - but they always do

-- paraphrased Albert Einstein, lol

2 ( +3 / -1 )

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