Meeting your Japanese Boyfriend’s / Girlfriend’s Parents: Safe Topics to Talk About

I was very nervous when it got around time for meet to meet my Japanese boyfriend’s parents.

It wasn’t the language barrier that scared me – it was the social pitfalls. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in Japan. I never seem to know the right thing to say or do, and even if I do, I don’t get enough feedback to know if I’m being polite or, well, awkward.

Ryosuke grabbed my hand and was like: “Don’t worry, I got your back. Let me lead.”

But I wasn’t ok with just that, so I made him give me a nice run down of what was appropriate to talk to Japanese parents about, and what was inappropriate (since I’ve had a lot of email requests to do more “meeting the Japanese parents” posts).

Considering the fact I’ve stayed with his parents a month during the summer, on weekends about once a month, New Years, and this upcoming summer, I’ve learned a bit about what Japanese parents like to talk about with their son or daughter’s significant other.

Now mind you, this isn’t a complete list; what worked for me might not work for you.

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Safe Topics for when you Meet your Japanese Boyfriend’s or Japanese Girlfriend’s Parents:

  • Hobbies
  • Brief History about you (hometown, parent’s jobs, siblings, pets, etc). You can also show them your hometown on a map (since nearly every single Japanese house I’ve been to has a globe or map book near the dining room table. I never know why).
  • How much you like their… (cooking, home, accessory, etc)
  • American movies/actors

Things to note: Let your Japanese boyfriend or Japanese girlfriend take the lead. Chances are, they’re dying to make sure you give off a good impression, so they will help you all along the way.

For the first couple months, my guy used to keep a close eye on me, never disappearing for too long, just in case someone asked me a question I didn’t know how to answer.

First impressions are incredible important. I can’t stress this enough. I also recommend this guide on What to Wear When you Meet your Japanese Boyfriend’s Parents (sorry, only for girls/men with boyfriends). You really are better off being a bit boring than loud, obnoxious, offensive, or gaudy.

Look at that smile :)

Look at that smile :)

Taboo or Bad Topics you should avoid when Meeting your Japanese Girlfriend’s or Boyfriend’s Parents:

  • Anything Controversial. This is a given. It included (but is not limited to) religion, politics, gay rights in Japan, racism and racial minorities in Japan, flaws in any country, Japanese government, and anything else that could possibly make someone uncomfortable. Just pretend you’re on an episode of Barney.
  • Anything you can have a (possibly offensive) opinion on. This goes hand in hand with the last one. 
  • Your plans for marriage/the future. Meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time and dropping the “I want to marry them” bomb is never good, especially in Japan. Give your Japanese Boyfriend or Japanese Girlfriend’s parents plenty of time to warm up to you. I had been regularly visiting my fiance’s house for about seven months before he proposed; we ended up not telling his parents until two months later, because we were waiting for the “perfect” time (ie, once they had accepted me into the family enough to not treat me as a guest all the time and let me help with dishes).
  • Relationships. Don’t talk about your exs (this one is obvious)… but also try to avoid movie crushes, television idols, or stories about that random guy who hit on you on the train. You’re supposed to seem “mature” and stable – not flaky.

Things to note: Play is safe. Always play it safe. It’s better to be known as boring (after all, you can always impress them sometime after the wedding with your obscure knowledge of Japanese historic films) than overly annoying.

One of the main things I’ve learned in life is it is incredibly difficult to stop hating someone you find annoying. Try not to end up that boat…

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

13 Comments on Meeting your Japanese Boyfriend’s / Girlfriend’s Parents: Safe Topics to Talk About

  1. Kodi cogburn // 11 December, 2015 at 6:33 pm //

    I want to thank you so much. Unfortunately I did not play the game with the marriage part well but I’m in the navy and stuck on a boat every year. I came to love my current fiancée very much and I’ve never met her dad and she also never told him about me till recently. So today I’m going to meet him the first time after I proposed and he also know I did propose to her as well. So I’m very nervous but I like your tips very much.

  2. Anonymous // 9 October, 2014 at 2:28 am //

    I’m Canadian and I’ll be STAYING at my (Japanese) girlfriend’s parents’ place in Osaka at the end of December. This will also be the first time I’ll meet them and the first time I will be in Japan.

    My Japanese language skills are basically nonexistent. I can read hiragana and katakana. Hopefully I can pick up some kanji between now and then. However, my vocabulary is extremely limited.

    I already spoke to her about do’s and don’ts but I’m afraid something might be lost in translation.

    She says her parents are a little more mentally prepared to meet a Westerner, so they are a little more open to the idea and more forgiving.

    But I still have some questions for you, if you don’t mind taking a short time to answer them.

    We’ve never talked to her parents about us getting married, though her and I are thinking about getting married. We also usually sleep together, but she says she could never tell her parents this. She will tell them once we move in together, though, which will be in a a month or two probably.

    So, I will be staying at her parents’ place, but she told me she will sleep with her mother and I will have to sleep alone in the guest room, even though we are in a committed, serious relationship for almost 3 years. Is this normal? I asked her if we can just rent a hotel in Osaka and she thought her dad would get offended. We’re only staying a few days in Osaka, so this isn’t a huge problem. But I’m just curious about this.

    Originally, we were going to go to Kyoto and come back to her place in Osaka, but I really don’t want to be having to sleep in different beds, so I told her if we could just rent a hotel in Kyoto and stay for 2 days. She initially thought her parents would get offended, but I told her we could make an excuse. She is fine with it now and even pretty excited.

    One last thing, are semi-ripped jeans a bad look for a guy? You know, like the ones you can buy at GAP these days. Not the ones with huge tears on them, but with slight scuffs–no skin showing! Anyway, I told her I felt uncomfortable wearing that around her parents knowing how Japanese parents are, but she said they’ll understand because they have been mentally preparing themselves for me, haha.

    Other than that, I just plan on wearing Urban Outfitters shirts, V-neck t-shirts, black slip-on Vans, and normal well-fitted Levi’s. It’s very much a casual look, with occasional Sperry top-sider-style shoes. Do you think this is acceptable? I think I’m starting to overthink all this.

    And she said no touching while we are with her parents and at some parts in Japan. Is this correct? She goes on about “skinship” in Japan.

    I am open-minded to most things Japanese (whether it is conservative or not), so I don’t mind not acting or doing or dressing a certain way if it offends her family.

    Any feedback is appreciated! Thank you!

    • Yeah, all of that seems pretty normal (sorry).
      My husband and I had been engaged for close to a year and were heading off to America for the wedding (in Texas) and we STILL had to sleep in separate beds at his parent’s house. It would be more concerning if they let you stay in the same bed.
      So that’s pretty standard in Japan.
      Same with the no touching/hugging/kissing. My husband and I tried to avoid it as best as we could – but still his parents commented on it. Now that we’re married it doesn’t matter too much (we still don’t cuddle/kiss at his parent’s house when we visit), but they have commented on our excessive hugging. So. Yeah.

      I would be careful about renting hotel rooms. That could be a pretty hash “social” slap in the face if your girlfriend’s parents find out (something about hospitality, etc). I wouldn’t worry about it too much, though.
      Lastly… I don’t know what you should do about talking about marriage. I would give them a couple days to get to know you FIRST, before bringing it up, though. You don’t want to spring things on them.
      If they’re meeting you, they already know your relationship is serious. No need to overload them.

  3. Miyagi Mermaid // 18 March, 2014 at 8:20 am //

    I’m dating a boy in an area hit hard by the 2011 tsunami. I know he lost friends, I did too. But it’s a topic that seems to come up when I’ve been in other households and I never know how to react to it. I’m scared that when I meet his parents the topic will come up but I don’t want to come off as insensitive. At the same time, I feel like being concerned may come off as pity.

    Any advice?

  4. Matsurikka // 30 October, 2013 at 4:21 pm //

    Waaah I’m so anxious. I’ll meet my in-laws for the first time in December. I’m not fluent in japanese, but usually I understand most of what is going on. But I truly lack of words and grammar skills haha. And I have to continually think that I’ll have to use keigo speech. I’m so afraid to say something very rude by being informal. I’m also afraid of saying weird things because I’ll be so anxious. Well, it’s probably normal to feel like that…

    What’s funny is, my boyfriend doesn’t seem anxious at all about it. It makes me calm. If he was anxious, I would freak out.

    I also have to think about what I’ll wear. I usually have some V necks (without being too much of course), but it’s probably not a good thing to wear when I’ll see them. And, I kind of have breasts… so… I should probably try to hide them a little. Haha

    Also, I don’t know how to call my in-laws. My boyfriend said that I MAYBE could call them by their name, with -san after. I don’t know. God, politeness level is so complicated in Japan. How did you call them?

    • Hahahaha. I was equally freaked out about meeting my fiance’s parents (then boyfriend). Back then I barely spoke any Japanese.

      In the end it worked out really well. I couldn’t talk much at ALL and didn’t know keigo, but I always complimented their house/cooking/etc.
      Actually, I never called them their names with -san at the end. In fact, for about a year, I didn’t call them anything, I just kind of said “Hey you” or “[fiance’s name] no otousan/okasan”

      After we had been engaged for about six months, I accidentally called his dad “otousan” and it seemed ok. So from then on, I just call his parents “otousan” and “okasan” (like “mom” and “dad”). I guess it depends on the couple…?
      What does your boyfriend call YOUR parents?

      • Matsurikka // 1 November, 2013 at 12:14 pm //

        I asked him to call them by their names. And anyway, “Monsieur” and “Madame” would probably be a little bit difficult to pronounce for him, since it’s french and it’s so different from japanese language. I know he would get it right after some practice, but I think it would be weird if he called my parents like that.

        But like you said, most of the time you can not call your in-laws anything at all too haha. I thought about doing that. Not saying their names or anything haha

        • Fair enough. I guess French is more complicated to pronounce.

          I would recommend just calling them “[boyfriends] dad” or something like that. Or trying very hard not to call them anything and only talking when they’re looking at you. Hahahaha. Good luck!

  5. crystalized // 3 September, 2013 at 12:13 pm //

    I’m wondering how fluent you were when you were introduced to the parents? What do you do if you don’t speak much Japanese? Wait until you’re more fluent?
    How fluent are you right now?

    • I honestly can’t remember how fluent I was when I first met them. I wasn’t fluent enough to have an actual conversation, though. That took time. I think if you just learn a couple set phrases (you have a nice house, this is delicious, thank you, etc), then you should be fine for the first couple meetings.
      I’ve found a lot of people are very tolerant about gf/bf who don’t speak Japanese.

  6. I guess everyone’s different, my in laws are really laid back and I’ve made some pretty horrific mistranslations and faux pas over the years. On first meeting the parents I was offered another beer with dad (in a restaurant, we’d finished the previous beer) too which I ‘politely’ responded .. “II yo” .. which my (now) wife corrected at.. ‘mm that’s kinda really rude, maybe “Hai, onegaishimasu” would be better’..

    Turned out her parents are lovely and her dad found it hilarious.. I was pretty shocked that it was bad.. considering my level of Japanese was/is fairly basic.

    I also on meeting shirase for the first time wanted to say that it was a little creepy to be eating so many tiny little fish, sad that so many of them died, so I opted for what I understand as creepy.. ‘kimuchi warui’ which apparently means disgusting when applied to food.. yay!

    .. and finally although as you say, things may or may not apply, I was told that the mere act of being introduced to the parents in a japanese family is often seen as a big deal and marriage is then kinda expected, although I don’t know how accurate that is in modern families. Of course I wasn’t told before, only after.. maybe that was a trick!

    • For whatever reason, I just now saw your comment. I too have made a series of social faux pas (but my inlaws were very low-key about it, similar to yours). I think without that native ability, it is impossible to understand all the little differences between words. And then, you know, you make social faux pas.

      I’m glad her parents had a good sense of humor.

      I tend to think if you’ve met the parents, you’re a shoe-in for marriage. That’s where a lot of the pressure to impress comes from. First impressions are so vital, especially in Japan (and especially when meeting the future inlaws)

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