Given the pandemic is still raging, the following scenario likely won’t happen anytime soon, but if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, I thought it might be nice to have a few pointers to go by.
Let’s pretend you found the love of your life, who is Japanese, and they want to introduce you to their family. This happened to me, and here’s what I learned about how to make a good impression on a Japanese family (again, please note I can only speak from my own experiences and what I have witnessed here).
Always use your significant other’s full first name and attach “-san” to the end of it.
Even if you two have cute nicknames you always go by, in front of their family, use their full first name with “-san” attached. (“-san” is like putting a Mr. or Ms. in front of someone’s name) Not doing this gives the family the impression that you have absolutely no manners and that you somehow think you’re already part of the family.
For example, maybe you love a woman named Sakura, and you’ve given her the cute nickname Saku-chan. You can’t use that nickname in front of her family. Instead, always refer to her as “Sakura-san.” No “Sakura-chan” (“-chan” is often stuck to the end of girls’ names) either.
It doesn’t matter how long their full names are – you have to use their full name and stick a “-san” at the end of it.
There was actually an NHK morning drama series here called “Massan” about a woman from Scotland falling in love with a Japanese guy called Masaharu. In front of his family, she was expected to call him “Masaharu-san” but it was so long that she gave up and called him “Massan,” instead. It wasn’t a bad series, I think. It seemed to help my mother-in-law realize some of the things I’ve struggled with in living here, too.
I asked a Japanese teacher once for how long I’m expected to use my significant other’s full name and attach “-san” to the end of it, and she laughed and said, “Forever.”
No public displays of affection in front of their family
This can also mean no hand-holding, depending on how up-tight the family is. Unlike in the West, most families here don’t seem to appreciate you kissing your significant other, or beyond that, in front of them. Just sit next to them and don’t do anything else.
This is not the time to show off your muscles or curves or anything else you might think you have to show off. This is the time to act like you’re interviewing for a job. They might be a more relaxed family who doesn’t care about formalities, but I don’t think any family would hate that you overdressed to meet them, so dress nicely and conservatively.
Eat and drink everything given to you
I think this is common manners, too, but unless you have an allergy, make sure you don’t reject anything offered. If you don’t want to keep getting drinks, then leave your drink a little over half full.
Bring a gift
I think it can be helpful to bring a little gift. Usually it’s a box of individually wrapped snacks found at department stores, and you can ask your significant other what their family might like.
Offer to help out
They’ll probably not let you help out since you’re a guest, but it’s a nice gesture to offer to clear the table if you’re having a meal with them or to clean up in some way that you can see available to you.
Even if you’re amassed a small fortune in computers or something else, this is not the time to brag about it. Be humble. I think usually the job of your significant other is to be your wingman to their family. Your job is to assure them you work hard at your job and are reliable, not that you think you’re amazing.