I’m an American girl engaged to a Japanese guy, and in December of this year I will meet his family at their home in Japan. I’ve met his father before in America while we were dating, and I’ve Skyped with his mother, but now we are engaged and it feels like a bigger meeting.
It’s important to me to make a good impression on them. After all, they are now going to be a part of my family. My Japanese skill level is high enough that I try to avoid making use of the “gaijin (foreigner) pass” as much as possible. I would rather be appropriate than have to be excused for mistakes because I’m a foreigner.
So I’ve been asking for lots of advice! These are the top 4 hints I’ve compiled from advice from friends and the internet.
1. Don’t panic.
Take a deep breath, don’t worry, it will be fine! I have anxiety about meeting the parents, but this is just the way I handle everything (from job interviews to telling my friend those shoes don’t match her outfit). If you are thinking about panicking, don’t!
If Japanese parents are meeting you, they are open to your relationship and unlikely to judge you harshly. Parents of children interested in international relationships tend to be open-minded and accepting. Racism is pretty rare. If racism is a likely issue, your partner will hopefully warn you ahead of time.
2. Be ready for international communication
If you’ve been in an international relationship for any amount of time, you must have experience with international communication and its trials and tribulations. Meeting the parents will present a whole new set of challenges, from language barriers to etiquette. Hopefully your relationship will have helped you to practice overcoming some of these challenges.
The most important thing to remember is to be flexible! Adapt to the different ways of doing things and the different manners. Try to learn about Japanese customs but focus on the major rather than the minor rules. Passing food between chopsticks while eating is a major no-no (since this is done with bones at funerals), while not slurping your ramen is something that can be overlooked.
Even if you do make a few cultural faux pas, they will forgive you. Also, don’t take being laughed at too personally. My friends laugh at me all the time, and they all tell me that it breaks the tension when a mistake has been made and is meant to put you at ease. (Of course, they could just be lying, but I choose to believe them for my own sanity.)
3. Bring an omiyage (souvenir)
In Japan the custom of gift-giving is a big thing. It’s customary to bring an omiyage (a gift or souvenir) when you have been travelling. I recommend bringing omiyage for all relatives that you will meet.
For my fiancé’s parents I will bring one non-perishable (not edible) gift and one perishable (food) gift each. For other relatives, I would bring food. For example, there are famous caramels that are local to where I live, and I can get them inexpensively in bulk, so I am going to bring several, plus extra.
When it comes to non-perishable gifts, I always try to pick something that will fit in with any taste or style, and that will not become an obstacle. So, rather than a large Napoleon-esque portrait of myself astride a stallion for the entrance (genkan), I opted for a simple vase for his mother created by a Native American artist. My fiancé has hinted that his mother associates Native Americans closely with America, so I hope she will like it.
4. Modesty is important
Japanese women in general dress more modestly than Americans, so your partner’s parents will expect you to be dressed modestly. Guys, too, should not dress over-the-top in gangster style with underwear exposed. You want to make a good impression, right?
In addition to modesty clothing, PDA is not acceptable in front of the parents. In America PDA is pretty common, especially at university or in public places, but in Japan it’s not common at all. Even hand-holding is still pushing it, depending on the generation. Making out in front of his parents isn’t recommended to make a good impression!
PDA in America, in front of strangers, is acceptable for my fiancé, but PDA in Japan or in front of friends is not acceptable. I don’t want to embarrass him or myself, so I honor his request. I didn’t think that even Americans would have certain forms of PDA in front of their parents, but I’ve heard from some friends that they will have PDA in front of their parents, and I was surprised.
Wish me luck!
Did you meet your international partner’s parents? Any good/funny/bad stories? I have 2 months until I meet the parents, so if you have any last-minute advice, please let me know (｡･ω･｡)