A blog about culture and love in Japan

Culture VS Character: My Advices for Intercultural Dating


There’s something on the back of my mind since a couple of months now, and I wanted to share some of my personal advices about it here.

I’m currently dating Hitomi, a lovely Japanese man I met last year while I was traveling in Japan. Although I didn’t have many boyfriends in my life (Hitomi is my third, and very hopefully the last), he is not my first experience in intercultural dating.

Recently, I thought a lot about cultures and personalities, and how the “culture factor” can affect an intercultural relationship.


But first of all, what is “culture”?

Anthropologists define culture as being the characteristics of a group of people with a particular language, religion, social habits, arts and music.

So what happens when we meet someone who isn’t from the same country as us, and who does something we’re totally not used to?


Answer: we think “Ah, that must be in their culture!”.

People who date outside of their ethnicity are probably open-minded about this and already know that some of their significant other’s reactions are going to be different from theirs. Those differences can be funny, weird, or sometimes offensive — especially if it plays on our own values and lifestyle. But most of the time, it’s understandable, and everyone grows from being in an intercultural relationship, because we learn that our ways of doing things isn’t by default the best ones. It’s just a question of perspective.

[For more about it, check out my post about Asian stereotypes in the West]

Needless to say, trying to understand your partner’s culture in an interracial relationship is very important.

But, there is a trap.


When we love someone, we tend to excuse a lot of their behaviors that we don’t like. It’s a normal reaction; everybody does it. Phrases like “Love is blind” are a popular way to demonstrate that. However, the problem with intercultural relationships is that the possibility of excusing something you don’t like about the person you love is made easier with the “culture factor”. I personally can’t count how many times I’ve thought “This is just because it’s his culture, I should try to understand him” with my previous boyfriend (who was African) to excuse a harsh behavior directed toward me. When really, it was just the relationship in itself that was crappy. His culture had nothing to do with it. I’m sure not all Africans are as harsh and sensitive as he was. It was just him, and his personnality and character, that didn’t fit with mines at all.


Somehow, acting crazy with Hitomi suits me a whole lot more

If you are currently dating someone who is not from the same country as you, or if you plan to do so, please don’t do the same mistakes as I did. If someone treats you badly, there’s no excuse for it; leave them. If you ever thought “If he was *insert your nationality*, I would have broken up with him already”, then by all means, do so. Life is too short to stay with someone who is not suitable for you. Don’t wait until it becomes harder to leave — don’t wait until you’re married and having children with that person.

Everybody has qualities and flaws, and a love relationship is just a matter of being able to live with the flaws of your significant other for the rest of your life. If all you want to do is to change the person you “love”, then it’s not going to work. If the bad sides of your relationship are too strong compared to the good sides, it’s not the time to excuse it by the fact that you don’t share the same culture. Just break up.

I went from a relationship where I was fighting all the time, to my current relationship where I can’t remember the last time we fought. Hitomi and I of course had arguments, since it’s normal in any relationship. But fighting, insulting, being violent (psychologically or physically) and never knowing if your relationship will last is not normal. Even with the culture factor.


But you WILL encounter behaviors that you’re not used to, like a guy wearing many colors like this… Isn’t he adorable though?

Don’t fool yourself. Learn when to accept, to make concessions, and to stand for yourself.

There was actually many times when I wondered if certain aspects of Hitomi were because of his character, or just because it’s his culture. I might never know — but I think it’s a bit both at the same time. I don’t use the culture to excuse behaviors I don’t agree with anymore. When I don’t like something Hitomi did, I tell him — and when he doesn’t like something I did, he tells me. Regardless of our own cultures.

In my opinion, cultural differences are not what’s important in an intercultural relationship; similarities are. Find someone who will suit you and will put the same amount of effort you do for the couple, keeping it in balance at all times. It’s the only way to achieve a healthy relationship.


Be happy!


Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is a 20-something years old French-Canadian student and part-time blogger who loves traveling, drawing, listening to (all kind of) music and eating (everything). To achieve one of her biggest dream, she went in Japan for two months and a half as a tourist in 2013. She was an exchange student at Daito Bunka University in Saitama (near Tokyo) during the year 2014 - 2015. She is now studying to eventually become a nurse back in Canada, so she lacks time to write about Japan. You can still read all her posts on her blog, since she'll let them there for you to enjoy :)

24 thoughts on “Culture VS Character: My Advices for Intercultural Dating

  1. Pingback: 10 Things you should think about before Marrying Someone from a Foreign Country | Texan in Tokyo

  2. I do not comment, however I looked at some of the comments on Culture VS Character: My Advices for Intercultural Dating | Japan-aholic.
    I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it only me or does it look as if like some of these comments
    come across as if they are left by brain dead visitors?

    😛 And, if you are posting on additional sites, I would like to keep
    up with you. Could you post a list of every one of your social community pages
    like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?


    • Hahaha! Yeah well… let’s say I don’t agree with all the comments on this blog! But if it’s not attacking me or my boyfriend personally, I let it there. It’s a public platform after all! And I like seeing debates when other readers respond too (I’m an evil person hahaha).

      I have Twitter, Tumblr and Google+, but the account I use the most is my Facebook page. You can check out all the links on this website’s “About The Author” page, here http://japan-aholic.com/about-me/

      Thanks for reading! 😀


  3. Looked how many white wife/girlfriend are killed by their black husband/boyfriend. There is a cultural part, DNA part, character part too.


  4. How true this is.

    My first boyfriend was Asian and he was emotionally abusive, controlling and manipulative, though I didn’t realize it until months after we broke up. Pouring out my troubles to a Korean friend, she said “never date someone from a Confucian culture. That’s how they are.” But there are damaged people, mean people in every culture. There are also kind, emotionally mature people within the same culture. My husband makes me feel so alive and so safe to be my true self, and he is from a Confucian culture–bottom line is, don’t settle for anything less than a partner who is good to you and to others!


    • I’m so glad you didn’t put every Korean on the same boat after what happened with your ex! It’s true that there is mean people and kind people in every culture. That Korean friend of you might have some stereotypes or bad experiences!
      And good job of getting out of an abusive relationship. Not always easy to do so!


  5. Pingback: “What Is It Like to Date a Japanese Man?” | Japan-aholic

  6. I think it’s usually easier to determine whether someone behaving like a douche is due to the culture thing or that he really is a douche, when you start talking (or lashing out) to each other about concerns. If you keep brushing it aside and blame it on cultural difference, then you will never know the truth, and worse is, you will be unhappy.


    • That’s true. I tended to have too much hope in my love life (that things will eventually work out), so that might be why I was unconciously using the culture as an excuse.


      • When you are in a relationship with history, that you’ve put so much of yourself into, I think its a natural impulse to make excuses. For me it wasn’t culture (as we weren’t from different cultures) but I still found reasons to excuse the flaws in his personality. Your argument could apply to a number of differences between two people. Don’t put yourself down, having lots of hope isn’t a bad thing (without it we’d be miserable) and it is so much harder to see a bad relationship for what it is from the inside. Like yourself, it was only once I was in a new relationship where we never fight that I realised how un-normal the bickering with my ex was.


        • You’re totally right. I was making a lot of excuses with my first boyfriend too, after almost three years of dating and putting so much efforts into the relationship. But I think at that moment, I kind of knew I was making excuses; I knew I was a bit desperate because I still had hope. But when I entered an intercultural relationship, I didn’t realize I was making up excuses all the time with the culture factor.

          Am I making any sense right now? Haha

          And yes, we definitely see all the flaws of the relationship only once we’re out of it!


  7. Hope things work out well for both you together. You are wise to go slowly and draw upon clear realities of not using culture as a reason to excuse someone else’s personality problems/major weaknesses that can be toxic.

    I just heard of a friend who knows a strong willed, outspoken woman from Canada….who recently converted to Muslim and got married in Dubai to a Syrian. She has given up her full time job career (she was an engineer), etc. Now to me, something feels actually wrong. The cultural and religious switch for her personality is way too different.


    • Thank you!

      Yeah well, maybe on the outside it seems wrong, but we can’t judge their relationship and her choice to convert to Islam. Maybe she was always interested in that culture and religion?

      Most of the Arab women I know are actually pretty outspoken and strong willed, and more often than not, they are the one who wears the pants in the relationship hahaha!

      So I guess it depends! If she did it for the right reason, then it’s ok. Maybe she didn’t like being an engineer, either. If she keeps in mind that culture is not an excuse, I’m sure it’ll be all right. Although I am wary about the culture factor and its effect on forgiveness in a relationship, I am however totally agreeing with the act of immersing in another culture! It’s so much fun~


  8. Hi Jasmine! Glad to see another post of yours. The culture vs. personality question is tough because they can influence each other. Similar to what you said though, I believe behavior that is kind and loving is consistent across cultures… humans need it to survive. My hubby, Hitoshi, and I talked about this more during the first few years but it still comes up now and again, especially after having our baby. All the best with your love and soooo exciting about moving to Japan soon!


    • Thank you!
      Oh, I can imagine how having a baby must bring such subjects to a whole new level! I think it’s good to talk about those things before it’s too late.
      By the way, I love your blog! I just realized I wasn’t following it yet! That’s so weird, I really thought I had clicked on that “follow” button… O_o

      Thank you for the wishes 😀


  9. Wow, another very thoughtful piece! I appreciate it.
    As an intellectual debate, “culture or personality?” is a really fascinating question, but in our own personal relationships, it is an utterly pointless one. I mean, how would figuring out whether your partner (lover, friend, coworker)’s cruelty toward you is due to his/her “culture” or “personality” help you solve your predicament? You are still hurt either way!
    Hitomi-kun and your approach is a right one. There would always be confusions and dissatisfaction due to your own (national or not) upbringings that caused unmet expectations for each other — these may very well be called “cultural” conflicts. Whether or not each of you would be willing to overcome these confusions and dissatisfactions through communication and compromise, however, is strictly a matter of personality.


    • Thanks!
      You are totally right.
      But it unfortunately did take me a couple of months to understand everything you just said. It may be because of my age though. I’m just grateful I learned that lesson, even if it was hard at that time.
      Thanks for your insightful comment (as always a pleasure to read!).


  10. Very well said. I completely agree 🙂


  11. This is such a fantastic post, Jasmine. Your advice echoes that of Susan Blumberg-Kason in her memoir “Good Chinese Wife” — she tried so hard to adapt to Chinese culture in her marriage and in the process, she realized she wasn’t standing up for herself enough.

    Agree w/ Maria, glad you left the abusive relationship!


    • Thank you Jocelyn!
      I actually read reviews of “The Good Chinese Wife” by many bloggers, but I didn’t have the chance to read it yet! It seems like a really great book!
      And yes, it was definitely the right choice to leave that relationship in an early stage, even if it was hard!


  12. I completely agree with everything you have said in this article Jasmine! It is not a person’s culture, it is their personality that dictates how they will act. I myself am of Italian origin however, not all people of Italian origin act the same. There are many people that are of the same background of me and act completely different! I don’t think using culture is an excuse to say that someone is a good or bad person.

    P.S. I’m glad that you were brave enough to leave the relationship where you were being emotionally abused.


    • It wasn’t easy to leave him (mainly because I felt guilty), but I was lucky enough that we dated a short period of time (about 8 months) so I wasn’t involved too deeply yet. He also did a bit of harassment after I left him, so I had to cut all the ties with him and completely delete him from my life. Now, I’m glad it’s over!
      But yeah, it was a hard time!


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