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Dating: A Hassle in Every Country

Happy Valentines Day!

I figured since it’s the season of love, I should discuss the differences between dating in America versus over in Japan. Notice how I’m talking about dating, not relationships. I don’t feel qualified enough on relationships to tell you about those, but the act of dating in order to find someone? I might be able to help you out there!

However, I’ll give out this information with a small disclaimer: E.S.I.D. This little annoying acronym came into my life the first day I touched down in Japan at the JET Conference. It means Every Situation Is Different. I’m doing an overview of what I’ve experienced as a foreigner in Japan, but that doesn’t mean every part of it will definitely apply to every single dating situation. Be careful, use your head, listen to your heart, because love is different for everyone.

Where to Meet People

Coming over to Japan, at first you’re going to want to settle in and get comfortable. After your nesting period is over, you’ll want to make friends and possibly start looking for a special someone. If you came over on a big program like JET or Interac, you’re in luck. Those organizations provide you with a vast network of people who will gather regularly to go traveling, experience the sights in your local town, and etc.

Usually, ALT and other teaching companies will overlap in their groups. That’s how I met my first boyfriend over here. He was a really nice guy, charming, and we hit it off really well. It didn’t work out in the end, but that’s fine. Although some people end up meeting their future husbands or wives over here! My friend from the Kashima area met her husband at a local Japanese class we all took together. Get involved in a hobby, try something new, don’t be afraid to try!

If you didn’t come on a big program set-up (or you did but ended up in the super inaka area like I did) MeetUp provides great opportunities for ex-pats and Japanese people alike to gather together all over Japan. Most of them are Tokyo oriented, but the beauty of MeetUp is you can make your own group activity in your area. Facebook Groups and Pages are also a great resource. Just type into the search engine your city name and there’s bound to be something going on.

For Japan, it’s not like in the states where you can just happen upon someone and ask them out for coffee. When it comes to face to face interaction, the culture is very collectivist, so its best to join a few groups and get to know people that way. If you’re specifically looking to go out with a Japanese person, the general rule is become friends first and then try out dating.

But that’s not always the case.

Online Dating

There are so many dating apps these days, but OkCupid so far has the best track record in Japan. It’s great because you can be LGBTQA+ on that site, whereas some apps are more one thing or anther. Also, it has a kind of Tindr feature where you can do Like or Pass as well as look at other profiles and chat. I managed to get a few dates using it, myself, mostly girls. I am bi-sexual, so for me I like that I can have the option to put that up on my profile.

The benefit of using an online site or dating app is that everyone on it is there for the same reason: to date. Instead of constantly meeting people and wondering if they’re interested, you know right away that the person chatting you up would like to go out with you. Also, with the chat feature you can talk and find out pretty quick if the person you’re talking to is as interesting as they seem in their profile. I like how easy it is to block someone. Just swipe to block and they’re gone.

I liked the convenience of it. I commute so much that nowadays it’s difficult for me to go meet people. With dating apps, I can “meet” people virtually anytime. When I lived out in the countryside, I liked them because my location made it difficult in Ibaraki to go out and see people. Not to mention that it’s easier for me to type up Japanese than speak it directly, so for dating Japanese people I do recommend dating sites maybe more than face to face.

The downsides if using it, of course, include a whole host of problems. Catfishing, where someone puts up a fake profile and picture, is a consistent problem my friends have encountered (I’ve been lucky, every boy and girl I’ve met has been truthful). Sometimes the chat will have people trying to scam you into sending them money, a semi-common tactic used by low level yakuza pretending to be hot Japanese women and for some reason con artists from India pretending to be fake Indian women (isn’t scamming strange in the 21st century?).

These kinds of profiles are targeting men, but women can get conned by host men luring them to host clubs sometimes. That one happened to a friend of a friend. She was told she’d be going to a restaurant and ended up paying for her night out with her Japanese “boyfriend” who made her pay for champagne. Most dating websites and apps have places to complain to about these problems, but it’s rare anything is done about them.

But usually you can tell from talking to someone on chat if they’re really interested in you or just out to scam you. I generally talk with someone on chat at least a week before I discuss meeting up, which might sound crazy to someone from the states. When I lived in Kentucky, I never waited that long. I’d set up a place out in public like three days in, but as a single female living abroad I’m way more cautious than I used to be. And in general, I’m not one to make the first move, so it’s hard for me in Japan to even get a date.

Asking Someone Out

I will say that I never realized how, well, easy I had it in Kentucky. I could just ask someone out, and then we could go out for coffee or to lunch. Very simple and very direct. I remember thinking how hard it was to ask someone out, and I laugh now. If only I knew that one day I’d be trying to fumble about in broken Japanese trying to get a guy’s phone number (I was rejected that time, sadly, but succeeded two years later).

Most of the time in Japan, if you’re doing a face to face interaction, you’ll be friends at first. Then, most of the time if you’re a lady the guy will ask you out to lunch or dinner. However, I’ve been asking people out more and more while living here in Tokyo, and none of the guys seemed to mind. They were flattered more so than upset. I think really getting hung up on who should ask who, or what the “proper protocol” is, will just make you miss your chance. Just ask if he/she doesn’t. Be brave!

Going on a Date

When I lived in Kentucky, a cafe was considered standard practice for a first date. Coffee and such was reasonable, but it wasn’t say like McDonalds or some other fast food restaurant. Cafes were a more “upscale” kind of cheap. Also, since one person usually paid for everything (in my area we kind of swapped back and forth, where the second date meant the other person who didn’t pay for the first date pays the second time), cafes weren’t such a financial burden to cover.

Most ex-pats in Japan tend to follow along the same lines of thought. Guys will generally pay for girls, both of them will go somewhere inexpensive but still kind of nice, and it’s not generally expected to be a big to-do. For lesbian and gay couples, it depends on who asked who out. Whoever asked first generally pays, but splitting the bill is also common. Both people will wear marginally better clothes than normal, but nothing terribly formal.

For Japanese people, lunches and dinners are popular first time dates in Japan, and for the most part a fancier kind of restaurant is deemed appropriate. Now, if you’re a college student, “fancy” would probably be more like a family restaurant like Saizeriya or Jonathans. If you’re both full time working adults, maybe like a real Italian style or French restaurant. Both people will wear nicer, more formal attire and they’ll split the bill evenly (called betsu-bestu in Japanese).

Valentines Day Differences

In America it’s customary for people to give chocolate to all your special people. When in school, generally students will give out cards and chocolates to most if not all of their homeroom class. In the teen years, couples get each other small gifts like chocolates, flowers, or personalized cards. Husbands and wives (including husbands with husbands, wives with wives) generally give each other gifts like ties for men or jewelry for women.

In Japan, Valentines Day is a part one of two holiday match. On February 14th, girls give boys chocolates and tomochoco (friendship chocolate). Boys/Men don’t give anything, they simply receive. Their day of giving comes on March 14th, called White Day. Then, guys will give back chocolate to the girls they like. Honestly, I don’t see many boys getting each other tomochoco, but for some reason Asahi and other beer companies have recently been trying to market towards men giving each other like tomobieru. So yay?

Anyways, be careful if you’re dating a Japanese person around this time or if you’re Japanese and dating a foreigner. The expectations will be a bit different.

Hitting the Bars and Clubs

In America, going out to a bar or a club meant having a good time and possibly picking up someone to take home. You can do that here in Japan, but don’t expect to be taken back to an apartment. The standard protocol for one-night stands is to go to a love hotel and spend the night together there.Notice how I said one-night stands. Unlike in America, most of the time getting someone from a bar or club will be a one time experience.

I don’t know why, but in Kentucky I knew people who met their future spouses at bars and clubs. In Japan, the mindset is very different for that kind of scene, it’s just not a great place to meet people. Ditto for izakayas, the restaurant and bar combo places you’ll find all over the country.

It’s very rare that I hear about people managing to form a relationship from meeting at a bar or club. That’s not to say it can’t/ won’t happen, but the possibility is slim if you’re trying for a long term thing. If you just want a no strings attached good time, then yeah, go for it!

What’s Next?

After the first date, believe it or not, comes the hard part: Call to say you had a good time, or call to say it’s just not going to work out. If you had a good time, great! Set-up a more interesting second date. Go somewhere together in town, like a gallery show or a temple. Figure out if you’ve got a common hobby or go out dancing together.

I’ve given my fair share of calls where I told someone I wanted to see them again, but also that I just can’t feel the chemistry. I’ve also received the calls where someone I like just didn’t feel it for me, and while that hurts I always appreciate honesty. Better to know in the beginning than down the road, I think.

If it didn’t work out, don’t be that person and text them that you’re done. Or worse, don’t ghost. Ghosting is when you drop off communication and just hope someone gets the hint. This happened to me the last time I dated, and let me tell you, a clean break is better than nothing (The exception, of course, is if you think you’ve got a creep or stalker on your hand, then block that crazy person asap).

Still the best advice I think I can give, whether you end up finding someone or not, is don’t give up. Don’t stop trying to make your special someone feel special. Pay attention, listen to what they say, what could be a great present for their birthday or Christmas? Would they like to go traveling or would they prefer to go bowling? Don’t ever think that you’ve done enough. Keep finding new ways to show them you care.

And for all my single ladies (and gentlemen), don’t get so disappointed you stop trying. It might take some time, but we’ll be fine. Take a break, but then try again when you’re ready.

I don’t know if my advice is perfectly sound, but I hope that it might help other people out there looking for love. Good luck everyone!


Here are some videos from vloggers who have dated in Japan who might interest you!




(Feature photo: Getty Images)

If you’ve got a dating story in Japan that you would like to share, please tell me all about it in the comment section!


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