Monday, June 8, 2015

Why are AMWF (Asian Male + White Female) Couples So Rare?

From our engagement. I like the way our different skin tones look together.

A lot of the literature about international marriages with an Asian country seems to focus on the Western man+Asian woman kind of couple. And it's true, it's the kind of international couple you'll see around town the most often, both here in Japan and in the U.S. This little blurb is fascinating: in marriages where one partner is Japanese and one is American, American husbands outnumber American wives 6 to 1. Since I've gotten married I've wanted to know more couples like us where the husband is Japanese--I think that makes for a unique dynamic in international relationships--but they are few and far between.

There's even the phenomenon of the "Charisma Man"--the white man who, though an unpopular dweebish character in his own country, finds himself suddenly the most interesting man in the room once he moves to Japan and has no trouble getting dates with cute Japanese girls. There is no "Charisma Woman" equivalent, in fact the opposite seems to happen. Though I've yet to meet a Western girl in Japan who says "I have no interest in dating a Japanese man" plenty of Japanese men say that about Western women!


It's been discussed online ad nauseam already, but most of the discussion ends up being about physical attractiveness. I think there are a few main reasons there are relatively fewer Japanese man+Western woman combos than the other way around, that I've put into Cultural and Logistical categories. Physical reasons I think are myths. Yes Western women are often taller, curvier, and fatter than Japanese women (and men!), but we also have a lot of other factors attached to us when it comes to being a dating/marriage partner that I suspect overwhelm the physical aspect most times. We are different enough to be put in a separate category away from Japanese women. I don't think one can even say we "compete" with them as equivalent participants in the Japanese mating game. We're like a completely different ball-park. Also, dating is about what happens between individuals and it's hard to generalize about individual preferences when we're talking physical attractiveness. So I'm not really going to go there. The Japanese men who chose us, didn't choose Japanese women for (or in spite of) several reasons, I think.

Here the reasons I thought of:


We have to compare the way Western and Japanese men and women are educated and raised, and the expectations they have about life. Because Japan is such a male-dominated society, there is a lot of social pressure on men. I think this makes them risk-averse in a lot of ways, and international relationships are seen as very risky endeavors.

If a man is lucky and successful enough to land a job at a good company, he's expected to dedicate himself to work there until he retires. He needs his wife to take care of everything at home and raise the kids because he really has no time to equally contribute to life inside the house. If he can't get such a long-term job, he'll feel he's not adequate to be a husband and may resign himself to being single and living with his parents while working. There is also the expectation, especially on oldest/only sons, to be responsible for his parents' care when they are old (retirement homes and nursing homes aren't popular options here). Marriage means different things for men and women in Japan. For men, you're bringing a new daughter-in-law into your family. For women, you are leaving your family to join your husband's way of life. Since there is still a strong expectation in Japanese culture that a married woman's role is primarily "homemaker" (not breadwinner) she actually has more freedom socially. There's not as much pressure on her to be as successful as a man in the workplace, perhaps allowing her more leeway to do things a little differently, like study abroad or *gasp* marry a foreigner.

And now let's look at Western women. Most people here get their ideas of Western/white culture from movies. A white Western woman = the type who parades around in sunglasses and cleavage spilling out and shouts WOOO!! from the backseat of a convertible driving through Beverly Hills. If you're white you're probably also rich and living like the New York girls in Sex and the City. Seriously, that is the image a lot of people have of us…no wonder Japanese men assume they could never deliver that kind of lifestyle, or that we're just TOO MUCH. Do Japanese men prefer sweet little feminine women? I think they just prefer women they feel confident they can relate to. Yuya adds that a Western woman with her outspokenness seems めんどくさい (a pain in the neck) to date. Think of the communication problems! And a completely different culture and language! It’s assumed we won't fit well into the more rigid social and family structure that’s typical in Japan, so we're not considered potential marriage partners. I think Western women would also do well to consider how the Japanese man she fancies fits into all this and whether she's really willing to go through it with him. Being hitched to a Japanese man is not always a picnic.

There is also an unfortunate image of international marriages with Japanese citizens being rocky, stressful, annoying, and plagued with a higher divorce rate. Western women are so independent they will divorce you at the drop of a hat. My husband occasionally gets comments like that!

You've probably heard “Japanese men are too shy”. I think this is also a bit of a myth, the reality is perhaps closer to interested men resigned to thinking “She’s out of my league” (perhaps because of that lingering Sex and the City image?) and ask themselves, “Why confess my interest/love if she’s just going to reject me anyway?” Like all men, Japanese men have pride they don’t want to wound unnecessarily. This is why you hear stories of successful international dating relationships that started when the Western woman showed interest and encouragement before the Japanese guy confessed.

It seems to me that in general, Japanese men are serious about their role in life and at a younger age have a stronger sense of responsibility about dating, marriage, and family than the average American dude--perhaps this makes them risk-averse when it comes to finding a partner. I suspect it’s a by-product of an extremely male-dominated culture. There’s a lot riding on the man’s decisions.

Of course, not all Japanese men think this way or have such traditionally-minded families. In my experience it seems the Japanese men who do marry Western women are the ones who've studied or lived overseas, and/or have somehow lived a non-typical life a little off the "rail" of traditional Japanese society. My husband fits the bill: he studied abroad for a year in the U.S., he's a musician, and a Christian. Perhaps in general, there are more adventurous Japanese women than men, thanks to the male-dominated pressures of society?


Another reason may be that in general, single foreign women don't stay in Japan for long. You have the single Western men who have been here for years, but I haven't met many female versions. "They'll probably go back home to their own country soon so why start a relationship?" This didn't stop my husband who asked me out only 4 months before I was set to return home to the U.S.

When we got married, a lot of people asked if that meant I'd become a Japanese citizen. Not many Japanese people knew the process of international marriage, but they knew it could mean giving up a lot (my family home, living in my own culture, even my citizenship) and that it involved a lot of annoying paperwork. The prospect of those things and the extra weight of the  responsibility involved (in Japanese culture again it would be on the man's shoulders) might also turn people off from dates with foreign women.

Another very simple, logistical reason one doesn't see many Japanese man/Western woman couples out and about, one that I read on a Japanese forum online, is not simply because we are fewer in number than other international marriages, but because of the long hours Japanese men put in at work. Perhaps we don’t see the Japanese man + Western woman couples so often because they don't often go out together. Come to think of it, the only time you'll find my husband and I out together is usually Sunday mornings when we go to church!

So those are my thoughts on why we're considered a rarer combination than "the other way around." Do you have any thoughts to add?


  1. Something that occurred to me while reading is the fact that, although middle eastern cultures are also male-dominated, it's the other way around: you NEVER see middle eastern women with white men. It's always middle eastern men with white women. I think part of that might be that middle eastern cultures are male-dominated, but women are more significant status/honor symbols. Your sons can go fool around in Sweden, or marry and divorce some American girl and people just try to forget about it, but if your daughter goes and even looks at a western man she's endangering the family's name. I think women are typically under too much control and pressure to even find themselves in that kind of situation. I think there's also this thought of, "Well, she'll convert to Islam" in cases where a white woman marries in, but they don't want daughters converting away. That's the kind of situation that unfortunately often results in death threats and honor killings. :/ (That's not to say middle eastern families are always welcoming of foreign women. Nope nope nope.)

    1. I think with the religious aspect Middle Eastern families are stricter! They seem very protective of their daughters for sure. Japanese men from well-off families are educated to take life seriously and they don't really play around...not like the rich middle eastern exchange student boys you meet in college anyway.

      Some Japanese families would not accept a foreign spouse acquaintance (white guy) said his Japanese girlfriends mother refused to speak to her when it came out they were dating. I don't think they're together anymore.

      But I think the kind of family that would object to a white spouse, would throw an absolute fit about a Korean or buraku (untouchables caste in ancient times) spouse. There are families that take the family name and "purity" quite seriously.

    2. Well, even here, and even when both partners are American, it seems you see more men of color with white women than you see colored women with white men. Why is that?

    3. I don't know anything more than you about that one, Mom!

  2. Ooops! That comment above is from me, Leah!


Thanks for reading, be nice!