As the title implies, I’ll be writing about my experience being in a gay relationship and dating a Japanese guy. Of course, I don’t like to generalize according to ethnicity and nationality, but nevertheless, the cultures we were born into do have a hand in shaping who we are and the ways in which we interact with each other.
I can’t speak for every international couple, nor am I trying to generalize every Japanese man. But in any case, I hope that you’ll find this information to be interesting and useful.
Finding the Guy
If you’ve read my post Expat and Gay in Japan: An Introduction, you’ll remember I mentioned that gay men in Japan tend to meet at bars or online. However, with LGBT activism picking up over the past several years, more options are emerging for those looking to find a sense of community or connect with other like-minded individuals. If you’re studying abroad in Japan, you should check if your university has an LGBT organization. In addition, some NPO groups and other organizations have begun to run local events and monthly meet ups.
The easiest way to connect with other gay men by far is using a smartphone application. Applications such as the Japanese-created 9monsters or others like Jack’d are perhaps the most popular of these apps in Japan. Since not everyone is into nightlife or activism, it may be easier to find a variety of people on applications.
If you’re more outgoing, bars may be a good option, and they may feature a different set of individuals than smartphone applications. For finding gay bars in Japan, check out my post “Expat and Gay in Japan: How to Find Gay Bars (and More!)“.
In addition, if you speak some Japanese and are interested in helping out the Japanese LGBT cause, why not try volunteering with a local non-profit organization? More and more NPO’s catered towards helping the LGBT community are conducting activities across Japan, especially in bigger cities.
◆Are foreign guys popular among gay Japanese men?
Back when I had a dating profile, I would occasionally get messages from Japanese guys who explicitly said they wanted to practice English and guys who were a little too enthusiastic about the fact that I was foreign. I don’t like that kind of attention, so I chose to talk with those who just treated me like I was a regular guy rather than an English machine or exotic foreigner.
In my consensus, I think that some Japanese guys are indeed attracted to foreign guys, whether it’s the desire to be with someone who thinks and acts differently than someone who was raised in Japan, or due to general curiosity or attraction to foreign features.
Japanese Studies scholar Thomas Baudinette gave a brief overview of how race plays into the gay dating scene in Japan in response to a comment on his article titled “Negotiating the fetishisation of youth in the gay male media of Japan” which I found to be interesting.
“…The gay male community of Japan loosely divides itself into three categories: “nai-sen” (those who prefer other Japanese men, representing the majority), “gai-sen” (those who prefer white foreign men) and “ajia-sen” (those who prefer East or South-East Asian). I would also point out here that Latino and Black ethnicities, as well as South and Central Asian, are rather invisible….”
“…Broadly speaking, there is an uneasy fetishisation of the white male in the gay male media of Japan…”
In my personal experience as a Latino in Japan, I believe that white men of any nationality do indeed have an advantage in finding Japanese partners. By “white” I mean basically any man who looks white regardless of their actual heritage. This is probably because it aligns with the expectation of what a western foreigner is “supposed to” look like, and like Mr. Baunidette stated, is a fetishized image (not only in the gay world but in the straight world too) in Japan. If you’re not white though, don’t get discouraged!
It also goes without saying that speaking Japanese is a huge plus when meeting Japanese guys. Keep in mind that since it’s already difficult to find Japanese speakers of English in general, when it comes to finding gay Japanese men who can speak English, you’re looking at a very small selection.
In Japan, male and female gender roles are strictly defined. But of course, the roles in a relationship change quite a bit when it comes to two guys.
◆Work Life Balance
Japan is infamous for not paying much regard to work-life balance (at least in the manner that we’re used to in America). Anyone who has read anything about Japan is probably aware that men in Japan are expected to work dozens of hours of overtime and are always “on call”, so they may even be forced on a day off to come to the office or attend a work event at the drop of a hat.
◆Gender Roles in the Home
Since Japan’s modernization, gender roles in Japan have been severely split when it comes to matters of the home. For example, the man was considered to be the breadwinner while the woman takes care of…basically everything else. From managing the money and doing the housework, to raising the kids, to making sure her husband has a wrinkle-free dress shirt when he leaves for work and a hot bath ready for when he comes home, the woman of the household was expected to do it all.
Times are changing in Japan, and there have been some (halfhearted) efforts to get women out of the kitchen and into office chairs in order to better the economy. Prime Minister Abe’s policies notwithstanding, there had already been a trend over the past few years of men beginning to contribute in areas that used to be a woman’s domain. Japan absolutely loves portmanteaus, and the description for this new type of man is called ikumen (イクメン). It’s a combination of the word for “childrearing” (育児, ikuji) and the English “men”. These are men who take an active role in child care, which demands that they learn the same housekeeping skills as their wives.
While I have a feeling that men’s gender roles will only keep moving in this direction, I’m also sure that there are plenty of guys who might find Japan’s changes troublesome.
◆Public Displays Of Affection
As a gay couple in conservative Japan, you can’t exactly hold hands or be generally touchy while in public unless you are particularly bold. While I don’t think anything dangerous would happen if you were to do so, one can never be too safe. I have never seen two men holding hands or being romantic outside of queer spaces.
Here in Fukuoka City though, I have seen a few of (what appeared to me as) lesbian couples holding hands and being cuddly in public, so I suspect it might be easier for women to get away with.
◆Hiding in the Closet, Isolation
As you may be aware, many Japanese LGBT individuals are reluctant to come out due to the negative impact it could have in all aspects of their lives.
I’ve heard of gay couples who have to be discreet when staying over each other’s apartments, just in case the landlord happens to see a “new tenant” always hanging around.
Or maybe you’ll find yourself in a popular date spot and it’s all male and female couples except for you and your boyfriend, which can be a little awkward if you’re self-conscious (as a non-Japanese person I’m always aware of people looking at me).
At first, I don’t think I fully appreciated how difficult things are for LGBT people in Japan. As an American, I took it for granted that non-Japanese are often not treated with the same scrutiny as Japanese people and that it’s easier for us to come out in many situations. (Regardless of this I don’t talk openly about my relationships with most Japanese people because I’m just a generally private person.)
If you find yourself falling for a Japanese guy, you should be aware of the social stigma that still exists, and consider how it may effect your relationship. In extreme cases, it may feel as if you’re sleuthing around or like your boyfriend is ashamed of you, but it could just be out of caution. If having to take precautions or feeling like you’re being forced back in the closet makes you feel uncomfortable, it would be good to get an understanding of how open the guy is before starting anything serious.
◆Housing Discrimination and Job Transfers
Same-sex couples cannot get married in Japan, and because of this, there can sometimes be hurdles to living together. For example, there are some cases where landlords can refuse a same-sex couple on the grounds of them not being relatives. Recently, some municipalities in Japan have begun offering same-sex partnership certificates as a way to curb housing discrimination. Whether this has had any concrete effect has yet to be reported (possibly due to the low number of couples who are actually using the system).
There are also other hurdles. Most Japanese companies have systems where employees have to transfer their place of work. This means that men who don’t want to uproot their entire family must leave their wife and children behind and just send their pay check home every month.
Single men are especially at risk of job transfers, firstly because they are probably early in their careers and must work in a variety of locations to climb the corporate ladder, and secondly because in the eyes of their employer, their lives would be less disrupted by a move compared to someone with a family. This business practice results in many long distance couples, opposite and same-sex, across Japan.
I hope that this post gave you some insight as to what it might be like to be in a gay relationship with a Japanese guy.