Letters from Japan: “Why Is He Anti-Japan?”
Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered
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. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Ask Hilary."
My boyfriend is Japanese (I’m American) but he’s practically a Native English speaker. He went to university in the US 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 bad talks Japan, or says how much better stuff in the US 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.
Why are you dating someone that stops you from doing what you came around the world to do?
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.
[…] Asian and Asian American males have been portrayed as “less male” than other ethnicities
It’s a fact of life in North America that mainstream media revolves around white people and their problems, with people of color relegated to secondary roles. While this has arguably changed somewhat in recent years, the media’s representation of Asian Americans hasn’t progressed nearly as far. And more to the point, Asian and Asian American males have been portrayed as “less male” than other ethnicities.
It sounds as though your boyfriend has devalued his own culture to the point of becoming a self-hating Asian—but he never moved on to the later stages of understanding his own identity. I’m neither Asian nor male so I can’t speak to how to deal with this, but I found two blogs on Psychology Today and Medium that may help you understand how your boyfriend feels.
How should I deal with his whole “foreign is better” obsession?
Judging from your email alone, I don’t think there is much you can do. You can try having a conversation with him about why he is so opposed to you doing anything Japanese, and how that makes you feel. However, I don’t think he is going to be able to give you any good reasons for his actions, and your frustration at this could lead to a massive argument.
I asked three Japanese male friends of mine, all of whom have lived overseas and dated North American women, what their take on the situation was.
All three were unanimous: “dump him, you can do better” (K, 34), “he’s not making your life better—find someone else” (S, 33), and “yeah no—here’s some Japanese for you: ポイ捨て [throw out garbage]” (T, 26).
“If your boyfriend cares about you enough to re-evaluate how he thinks about himself, then stay. Although honestly, I think his extreme reactions to your interests are pretty weird” (K, 34).
“he’s not making your life better—find someone else”
“He sounds like me a few years ago. I don’t know how I changed, but I think seeing Japan from the outside made me rediscover its good points. If he continues being stubborn, you’re powerless to do anything but leave him…” (S, 33).
“I don’t know if you should date someone who hates themselves that much. It sounds pretty toxic. I’m sorry you wasted your time with him. You can do better” (T, 26).
I think they’ve summed things up fairly well—if you can’t communicate with him, and are feeling as frustrated as you claim, then perhaps it’s time to rethink your dating options. Best of luck.