Dating or being in a relationship in any foreign country can be challenging. Japan especially is known to be a very homogenous society (where there are a lot of dominant beliefs that everyone shares). And although societal norms have changed over the years, it’s true that gender roles are still quite prevailing and that acceptance of the LGTBQ community is lacking in spite of the times.
We got exclusive insights from some foreigners in Japan on prejudices, communication, and expectations! Some questions like “Where do I meet someone?” can arise when you’re looking for romance. This article will cover commonly asked questions like: “What are the good traits of Japanese men?”, “Who makes the first move?”, “What does a first date look like?”, “Should you speak perfect Japanese?” etc.
Although you may have heard horror stories about dating in Japan, seeking romance shouldn’t feel intimidating or hopeless. Yes, there are cultural differences and societal pressures, but in the end, liking someone comes down to an individual connection and this is as much possible in Japan as it is in any other country.
Do you want to know more about life in Japan? Then check out our extensive article series on Life in Tokyo!
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What you need to know about dating culture in Japan
Dating in Japan
The dating scene in Japan isn’t as unique as you may think. Generally speaking however, dating in Japan will lead up to the concept of kokuhaku, or confession, a term which you may have already heard of and on which I will elaborate later. That being said, there are various forms of relationships and ideas on dating in Japan and it all comes down to personal preference, social upbringing, age, and ideologies, much like in any other country.
In recent years, there has been an incline in Japan of people completely disinterested in dating. This trend sees a lot of singles who find romance mendokusai, or bothersome, taking too much time and effort. A lot of women especially are more interested nowadays in pursuing a full-time career and being independent rather than following the still predominant gender role of housewife and child-bearer. The fact that the world is digitizing is another reason, as there are less opportunities to meet people face to face.
Is it normal for men and women to have a platonic friendship in Japan?
Yes, it’s normal. Around the world, platonic friendships are difficult to define and are often stigmatized. It’s a common question on online discussion boards in Japan, and what it seems to come down to is that, in Japan, people tend to see one-on-one hangouts between a woman and a man as dates. However, if you communicate early on that it’s a friendship (or friendzone that person so-to-say), having a purely platonic friendship with someone of the opposite sex is completely normal.
How is the dating scene for homosexual relationships?
If you live in Japan you know that the country is not the most ahead in approaching LGBTQ communities. Many people stay in the closet for fear of jeopardizing their relationship with parents or colleagues. One of our interviewees also mentions he feels there is a “mainstream” idea of gay relationships:
“I've only dated guys in Japan so I can't really say otherwise but I have noticed that most fall prey to the mainstream idea of gay relationships. In the sense that they need to be open or just hook ups. I think the shame culture around homosexuality also makes it difficult for them to commit” - Lucas
Nevertheless , there are definitely some improvements when it comes to LGBTQ dating culture. In 2015, Shibuya city was the first to legalize same-sex civil unions, an alternative to same-sex marriage, and in places like Osaka, adoptions for LGBTQ partners are possible. There is still lots to improve, but it’s a nudge in the right direction.
Reading about the dating culture in Japan, finding someone may sound difficult, but if you’re on the hunt for romance, and open to it, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find someone like-minded. We’ll list all the top things about dating Japanese men in the next paragraph. There are some red flags to look out for as well, which is covered after.
The best things about dating Japanese men
It’s true what they say: the best way to learn a language is to date someone who speaks that language. Dating a Japanese man can be a great portal to improve your Japanese. Of course, it shouldn’t be the only reason you want to date in Japan, but it’s a nice plus, don’t you think?
Japanese men tend to love their sake, or alcohol. One of the great pleasures of being in Japan is soaking up the drinking culture (literally). You definitely don’t want to end up trashed on one of the sidewalks in a Shibuya meltdown, but as long as you know your limit, you don’t have to be afraid of that. Enjoying a drink with some yakitori (meat skewers) or otsumami (appetizers) is a pastime for a lot of Japanese people, and it makes for an ideal date. Japanese men love treating their date or partner on these outings, and they will definitely enjoy letting you try the typical Japanese dishes!
“(My boyfriend and I have) gone to some really awesome cafes and restaurants that I would never have found on my own” - Hayley
Appearance is key
It's a known fact that Japan is a country that’s celebrated for their self-care routines, from having a Japanese skincare routine to going on shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) outings to relax and take care of themselves.
Although skincare and self-care may often be related to women, in Japan, men also take part in it. Japanese men tend to take care of themselves, from their skin and hair, to cleaning their ears rigorously!
Diligence and punctuality
Japanese people tend to be persistent and hard-working. It’s true that the working culture in Japan is rough, but it also stimulates a diligent mentality, which can be a good personality trait.
This kind of attitude shows, for example, in the effort Japanese men will put in planning a date and taking you seriously.
“Japanese guys tend to put a bit of effort into deciding where to take you which is something I really like and they tend to be on time and not leave you waiting at the station for 20 minutes. That being said, I've definitely gone on dates here where the guy has been late and had no plan for the day. I guess it's a mixed bag but generally speaking, Japanese guys tend to put a bit of thought in” - Hayley
The not-quite-so-good things about dating Japanese men
In any country you’ll experience bad seeds in the bunch, but just to make sure you don’t fall for them, here are some more common traps or red flags to look out for when dating Japanese men.
Can you cook? (Sandwiches don’t count)
We all know the saying that love goes through the stomach. In Japan, this is very much so. Being able to cook will raise the bar immediately, for both men and women, although there may be a higher expectation for women. Although women are often expected to be able to cook, more and more women want to pursue full-time careers, so it’s also very common to be the person to opt for a late-night conbini meal. In general, however, there’s still a prevailing female role in the kitchen so just make sure your date or partner is more progressive in his opinions on gender roles.
It’s always nice to show your love, and if you like cooking, why not try your hand at some typical Japanese dishes? The most common and loving dish you can make for a Japanese man is omu-rice, chicken pilaf with a French omelette on top. Check out this YouTube video and recipe from chef Shintaro Eleazar Okuda who also explains the concept and its history. The French omelette is a very erotic-looking dish and if you also write a message with ketchup on top, you’re guaranteed for a romantic win!
From the pitch of your voice to the way you style your bangs; there are a lot of superficial expectations placed on Japanese women. As a foreigner, it’s impossible to adjust to these norms, but being foreign in and of itself can come with its own superficial expectations.
“I often found that being half I was expected to be as exotic as the media portrays half people to be” - Sakura
These kinds of prejudices often come more from innocence than racism, but it’s best to be aware of it rather than be surprised.
In Japan there are quite some people who have or want sex friends (sefure), instead of having a relationship, or even on the side of a relationship. Although being paranoid about this isn’t the right way to handle it, it’s good to realize that the ratio in which people have a sex friend is pretty high and that it isn’t by default considered cheating.
“I have heard that a lot of Japanese people think that as long as there are no feelings involved, then it is not considered cheating” - Lucas
Although sex friends may be more common in Japan than elsewhere, this doesn’t mean it’s a common cultural trait and that you have to be on your tiptoes. If you know what you want and don’t want, then you’ll attract someone who’ll think the same.
Work to live or live to work?
I’ve heard both foreign and Japanese people say the working culture is like a conveyor belt; you finish high school, enter college, and get a job immediately after graduation, preferably at a good and respectful enterprise. This idea is starkly different from the West, where individuality and things like gap years are appreciated more. The newer generation in Japan definitely leans into this attitude of individuality much more, so it really depends on your generation whether or not dating a serious worker like a salaryman will work out well or not.
Another thing to remember is that this serious working habit tends to lead to infrequent contact. In Western standards you may think your date is ‘ghosting’ you when in fact, he’s just busy at work and will reply as soon as he can, even if that’s only at certain days and hours.
Things to be careful of when trying to find romance in Japan
Be careful when tutoring
Tutoring in English is a great way to earn some extra cash in Japan, but sometimes these types of arrangements could leave you very uncomfortable. Many women I know, including myself, have encountered strange men when working this part-time job. Be aware of this and know that you don’t have to feel embarrassed quitting your arrangements with a certain student.
What is nanpa and charai?
Maybe you’ve heard of nanpa before, but it’s basically a way of flirting. A man or a group of men will linger on a street corner trying to hit it off with girls. This type of flirting is often connected to playboys. Although these guys don’t necessarily have to be playboys, or creepy, or rude, it might just happen that a guy will approach you very head-on and will try his best to get a yes out of you, which isn’t the most pleasant experience.
“I had the idea that Japanese guys were probably all quite shy or polite but I've met my fair share of pushy guys who won't take no for an answer. Especially in bars but also just walking along the street” - Hayley
With nanpa also comes the concept of charai, which is a word used to describe someone who’s frivolous. Because of this, it’s often used to denote a ‘player’ or ‘playboy’. We gathered some information from online forums and generally, a Japanese charai or playboy will have the common characteristics of:
- Salon-tanned skin
- Brown or blonde hair
- Easy to talk to but likely to cheat
If you’re a foreigner, however, it seems that being called “charai” can actually be a compliment. This links to its original meaning. It comes from the onomatopoeia chara-chara, the sound of jewelry hitting. So, if you’re ever called “charai” by someone, keep in mind it may just mean that you dress flashy or exude confidence. It all depends on the context!
5 things that make or break your approach to Japanese men
You may have decided to start dating in Japan or already have your eye on that cute guy from work. So what are some things to keep in mind when you approach a Japanese man?
- Be more forward. It’s a stereotype that women have to approach men in Japan, but it’s a stereotype for the reason that it’s true a lot of the time. However, the stereotype often assumes that this is because Japanese men are shy when actually, most of the time, they just tend to be less direct in showing their affections. Don’t be afraid to ask for his number!
- Dress appropriately. This is not to say that you should adhere to the Japanese female standards, but it’s simply making an effort in the way you dress. I think this counts for any culture, but Japanese men will definitely take notice if you do your best.
- Don’t flaunt your affection in public. Although you will see young love in Tokyo, don’t expect your partner to kiss you in public or even hold your hand. It might not be a thing for younger generations anymore, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
- Don’t be shy if you’re older. As opposed to many other countries, in Japan it’s very common for men to date women who are older!
- Improve your Japanese. Or at least, try. It might be obvious but showing an attempt to improve and understand the other person’s culture includes learning their language.
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Where to meet Japanese men
Japan has a big drinking culture! You’ll easily find izakayas and bars anywhere you go. I recommend you go with a group of people. That way it’s easier to mingle. Another option is ‘standing bars’ where, as the name says, everyone is standing. Often it’s a bit of a mix between a traditional izakaya and a more Western bar, where fingerfood and cheap alcohol is served. There are also loads of English friendly places that cater to foreigners, as well as locals, such as the famous chain called Toriki, which has the vibe of an izakaya, but is more spacious like a diner.
Workplaces are some of the best hotspots for dating in Japan. Through your workplace, you can be introduced by a colleague to join a gokon, or blind group date. Here you’ll be able to meet more colleagues or friends of your colleagues.
Besides it being a lot of fun, festivals, or matsuri, can be great places to meet someone special.
“My first boyfriend in Japan was when I was on high school exchange here. We met at the school festival and he asked for my number” - Hayley
Although meeting in person isn’t necessarily that uncommon, the most popular method for dating, especially for younger generations, is through apps.
Tinder is probably the most popular app worldwide, and in Japan it’s used for various things besides dating. You can make new friends or even network. Bumble is similar to Tinder in Japan and has the same features. Both are fairly international, so you may not find a lot of Japanese men there.
Pairs and Omiai are, unlike Tinder and Bumble, heavily catered towards relationships, and there will be many Japanese users on there.
In the LGBTQ community, Tinder and Grindr are used, but also the app 9 Monsters is recommended. The latter has an English interface and the largest Japanese user base!
Instagram is another great platform to meet like-minded people. Although I don’t advise using it like a regular dating app, it’s good to remain open-minded to the possibility of finding someone special there.
“I have established some relationships though Instagram with people who share a common interest in being a creator” - Sakura
Clubs, as in any country, are great places to easily meet people. However, clubs tend to attract people looking for an easy relationship or fling, so you may not want to expect a deep relationship with someone. But who knows, you could very well meet your significant other at a club!
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What does a typical first date look like?
So you’ve met someone through work or Tinder but what happens next? What does a typical first date look like and what can you expect and shouldn’t you expect?
Who asks out who?
Whereas in the West, the man often makes the first move, it’s very common for the woman to ask someone out on the first date. Asking someone out usually means they take the other person seriously and will plan out a date, after which they might confess their love. The nice thing about this is that you immediately know where you stand, even if it’s only a first date: the other is definitely interested. Now it just comes down to whether or not that could lead to something more.
Where will you go on a date?
In Western cultures, getting a cup of coffee or a beer is a frequent first date, and although this is definitely common in Japan, don’t be surprised if your date asks you to do something larger like a trip to the aquarium or a theme park.
“I appreciate that most of the guys I've dated, would not mind doing a day trip or having some sort of outing” - Lucas
Who pays? Should we split the bill?
Always suggest paying your fair share, even if you can expect your date to pay for everything. Once you’re in a relationship, it’s common to split the bill, but especially on the first few dates, a Japanese man will want to pay the bill out of common courtesy. You can take out your wallet when the check is presented and offer to pay your share, after which you can thank him for paying and put away your money.
Will he make a move?
Whether he’ll make a move or not very much depends on who you’re dating. Some guys may be too shy to even hold your hand on the first date, so don’t take that as a let-down. Him not making a move might just mean he’s waiting for the right moment to do so. A second date may be needed to secure the perfect place and for him to calm his nerves.
“I can be pretty flirty on dates and enjoy that sort of back and forth conversation which I think gets a bit lost on dates here. It might be a language barrier but I think it's also a bit cultural too. Nerves likely also play a part. Anyway, I sometimes leave dates here thinking 'was that even a date?' and then I get a really sweet message later saying they had a good time and want to see me again and I realize it was a date” -Hayley
“Japanese men tend to be more shy about talking about how they feel about someone and this often makes them appear cold and uninterested” - Sakura
Asking you to be his partner: kokuhaku
Kokuhaku happens when someone confesses their interest or love and asks you to be in an exclusive relationship. It might be surprising if you’ve never heard of it, because, in Western cultures at least, a confession often doesn’t happen at all. You just assume at some point you’re in a relationship. Many of my friends really appreciate the kokuhaku trait, as it doesn’t leave you guessing.
“I do like the kokuhaku culture. I like that you don't really have to guess if the dates are leading somewhere or not. After a few times meeting the guy will usually tell you he likes you and then you become exclusive (other arrangements probably exist too). It can feel a little fast but like knowing where I stand and where he sees things going. After kokuhaku, the romance seems to start” - Hayley
How long does it take for them to confess?
Kokuhaku could happen after your first date, or after a few. It really depends on his personality, but also the place. Kokuhaku often happens in a very private space where he can sit you down or take you by the hand to confess.
Is it insulting if I ask first? Can I hint at it?
Just like I said that asking a guy out is very common, so is performing kokuhaku as a woman. Valentine's Day is an especially common day for women to do so, as this holiday in Japan is centered on women giving men presents and chocolates. Find out more about Valentine’s Day in Japan in our article “...”.
How to say ‘I like you’
Saying ‘I like you’ and ‘I love you’ are the same in Japanese. Both translate to 好き(suki), which can be very confusing. There is a saying for ‘I love you’, which is 愛してる (aishiteru), but this is almost never used, unless you’re already married, or you really love someone dearly.
A lot of the time, a kokuhaku confession may go something like this:
実は (name) が好きになった。私と付き合ってくれませんか。
Jitsu wa, (name) ga suki ni natta. Watashi to tsukiatte kuremansenka?
The thing is, I like you. Would you want to go out with me?
You could reply by saying “私も好き” (watashi mo suki, I like you too) or in case of rejection, a simple ごめんなさい (gomennasai, I’m sorry..) works. If you’re indecisive, a lot of the times the following is said:
友達からよろしくお願いします (tomodachi kara yoroshiku onegai shimasu,
let’s start from being friends)
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The cultural barriers of being an international couple
It’s great to meet someone who you want to spend your time with and share a romantic relationship with. Even though you’ve passed the dating phase, you’re likely to still come across some cultural differences and communication issues.
Too fast for marriage?
Expectations about marriage can vastly differ depending on your personality and cultural upbringing. Typically in Japan, being in a relationship means you will eventually get married, and some people may consider it too fast to assume that you will. During kokuhaku your partner may even mention the prospect of marriage by saying:
(kekkon wo zentei ni otsukiai sasete kudasai)
“I would like to be in a relationship with the prospect of eventual marriage”
“I feel like if you start living together, it's expected that you're going to get married. Whereas I see co-living as a good trial and just a nice step to take, it seems much more serious here” - Hayley
That being said, it’s nice to know the relationship is leading somewhere and to know that marriage is likely on his mind when you’re in a serious relationship.
Women in the kitchen, men at work?
As I said in my introduction, gender roles are unfortunately still very prevalent in Japan. Although more women start a full-time career, they are still expected to tend to children and do more housework. Men have to financially support the family. This societal norm means that it’s less likely for women to grow in business pursuits and likely for men to be looked down upon if they don’t have a secure job. Dealing with such pressures from both sides could cause a strife in your relationship.
“In the past, a Japanese man told me that I'd need to quit my job if I had a baby” - Hayley
Being open and talkative about mindsets and expectations early on in the relationship could be beneficial for your relationship with a Japanese man. Although gender roles are a very ingrained part of Japanese society, a Japanese man interested in a foreign woman will be aware that cultural differences exist and might even prefer your perspective. The key is to find someone who’s willing to be open-minded.
Should you speak perfect Japanese?
The quick answer is no, but you should know how the language works. What this means is that you don’t have to cram vocab or grammar until your head hurts, but that you should know when something is lost in translation.
For example, while in the West, the word ‘maybe’ is used to denote a 50/50 chance, in Japan it’s an easy way to let someone know you can’t do it or make it. This derives from the fact that Japanese people rarely ever use the word ‘no’ or iie in Japanese, as it’s too direct for them to just say no.
Know how to “read” the air
Just as knowing how the language works, it’s important you know which things are communicated and which things aren’t. In Japan there’s a concept of ‘reading the air’ or 空気を読む (kuuki wo yomu). Japanese is a very indirect language and a lot is left unsaid. So understanding this and being able to read between the lines will help you a lot in understanding your partner.
Knowing Japanese is a plus, but a partner who also knows the English language at least a little bit will help to both avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings.
“I find that with guys who only speak Japanese, I tend to have difficulty communicating and run out of things to talk about” - Lucas
Will I ever meet his friends?
Introducing your partner to your friends isn’t common in Japan. Although you may be hurt he doesn’t invite you to hang out with them, it’s not a sign of dislike or distrust. It simply isn’t common because they don’t see any reason for it. A lot of the time Japanese people have set friend groups and it’s very uncommon to change the dynamic by introducing your partner along.
Double dates are more common, however, and these could be a good way to get to know your partner’s friends.
Dating Japanese men: Conclusion
Dating or being in a relationship with a Japanese man can have its ups and downs, just as it does in any international or national relationship. It all very much depends on who we’re talking about, how open-minded the person is to accepting a different culture and how willing he is to compromise.
I hope this article has shed some light on some of your burning questions concerning dating Japanese men.
If you wish to know more, leave a comment and check out our other articles too on Life in Tokyo!
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