Feb 14, 2017

Dating in Japan: Expats on the difficulties of crossing cultures

Dating anywhere in the world can be a tricky and daunting business.  It's arguably a testament to the power of our base nature as a species that we still do it (when our minds are probably telling us to stay at home and watch TV instead).  Even in our loneliest moments though it's always fairly life affirming to see a couple out on a date.  Well, maybe!  For expats, dating locals in Japan likely presents the prospect of adventure, frustration, and confusion in equal amounts.   But while it might seem that cross cultural boundaries would further exacerbate early dating jitters, perhaps these boundaries actually serve to the individual's advantage; dating blunders could be put down to this rather than a lack of being able to keep one's cool.  

We asked the City-Cost community about their dating in Japan experiences ahead of the coming (now here) 'romantic' weeks in Japan, during which market forces will likely do their best to force us into going on a date, or make some profession of feelings towards one another.

When we asked the community if they have dated Japanese people, it was about a 70 / 30 split between those that have and those that haven't.  

So then we asked the obvious question ... 

What are some of the difficulties/challenges you've encountered when dating a Japanese local (in Japan)?

Dating in Japan: Expats on the difficulties of crossing cultures photo

We gave the following options to select from which we attempt to explain here.  The percentage represent the comparative volume of 'hits' for each option. 

Language barriers (22%)

An obvious one to start which probably needs little explanation.  The romantic among us might be wistful about the language of love being universal, but I think we all know this is idealistic at best.  However, things are more nuanced than just a straight forward and complete lack of ability to communicate.  Even the poorest of linguists will be able to make some dating in roads in Japan.  Conversely, even complimentary linguistic fluency sometimes struggles overcome the nerves.  Perhaps a bit of a language barrier is a good thing after all!

Japanese work culture (16%)

What we meant by this is that a large portion of Japan's workforce is seemingly always at work.  When is there the time to go on a date?  Thinking further down the line, the expat in Japan may have concerns about how a Japanese partner might prioritise relationships and work.  Many of us would perhaps be used to the idea of a partner being, well, present ... most of the time.  There are legitimate concerns that as a relationship develops in Japan, this might not be the case.

Conflicting social attitudes (13%)

A broad subheading.  Perhaps too broad.  What we had in mind here covers a whole bunch of social traps; attitudes towards dating foreigners, ideas of 'speed' in the development of a relationship (how long it takes to get to 'third base', to put it bluntly), attitudes regarding which genders are out dating with which genders, and expectations of marriage to name but a few.

Dealing with / meeting their family (10%)

The father of my partner was about as 'old skool' as they come in Japan (and it has to be said, they can come pretty 'old skool' over here).  By this I mean that he emphatically wasn't happy about his daughter dating a foreigner.  I met him twice before he passed away.  He only ever said one word to me, 'Domo.'.  This was when we were first introduced.  If you're not familiar with the word Domo, it's basically just a noise you make when you can't think of anything else to say.  Or you just can't be bothered.

A lot of Japanese are today still bound by strong expectations from parents and older siblings as to how and with whom they should date.  While some distance from being as conservative as other nations can be, compared to the West, moms and dads in Japan are often not quite as liberal.  

Establishing/understanding who should be the person to do the asking or make the initial approach (9%)

Not just the initial asking out on a first date, but from there to the next date, and the one after that, and the one where you go to a love hotel, then the one where you go away for a weekend, and so on.  OK, so eventually dating couples will slip into comfortable rhythms here in Japan as they will in most other cultures.  However, reading body language and subconscious signals can be a nightmare on the most even of playing fields.  Throw people together from different cultures, and you've arguably got the best example of the term 'lost'.

Conflicting attitudes towards femininity/masculinity (7%)

A subcategory of the earlier 'social attitudes'.  We put this one in as Japan is some way behind other nations in its attitudes towards the roles of women and men, not only in relationships, but in society as a whole.  Doubtless, on early dates this might be hard to pick up as each of you strain and stutter to be at your least offensive best.  Further down the line though, deep rooted expectations of what kind of roles you're expected to play in each other's lives might reveal themselves.  Japan is playing catch up in this regard, but whether it can do it soon enough / fast enough might be a barrier for some expats dating in Japan. 

Conflicting dating goals (7%)

We'll cut to the chase here; marriage.  It's a fairly common lament of overseas guys in Japan that they too often meet Japanese who it seems their only goal in life is to be married.  This may be doing a disservice to Japan's dating scene as a whole, on both sides.  However, for some guys it might leave lingering doubts that dates are only in this ... for that!  

Switching things around and looking at them on the part of our hosts, if marriage is to be the ultimate, at-all-costs goal, then locals will likely hedge their bets towards other locals rather than someone who may decide at some point that they miss home too much to stick around for the long haul.  

To take a different tangent, it would be remiss not to highlight what for many expats is the seemingly more 'lax' attitudes to cheating in Japan.  What is often deemed as a relationship decider in other parts, can sometimes appear to be remarkably commonplace over here.  

A word on the rest ... 

We threw Dealing with/meeting their friends in here, partly as par-for-the-course.  This is a dating hurdle in any land.  Maybe it's worth bearing in mind here though that a 'group' mentality remains very strong in Japan and that this might serve to raise that hurdle by a couple of notches.  

When we mentioned jobs, I confess that this was me harking back to memories of being an English teacher in Japan.  It's incredibly snobbish (or brutally practical), but there is the prospect of meeting a local in Japan who isn't too impressed with this job status.  

Finding appropriate date spots and establishing who pays are potentially tricky anywhere.  Here in Japan, particularly in urban areas where life is geared up to getting out of the house, settling on a date spot could mean being overwhelmed by choice.  As for who pays, well, just offer to do so and see what happens? 

Of course, before we can get to the point at which these dating in Japan hurdles present themselves, we need to find ourselves a date.  

How do you (would you) find people (Japanese or otherwise) to date in Japan?

Dating in Japan: Expats on the difficulties of crossing cultures photo

Yes, we're casting our net wider for this question although we're still doing it in Japan.  How do go about finding that date on these shores?

1Language exchange
2Introduction by friends
5Online (website/matching service)
6Dating apps

7Chance encounters
8Gokon parties
9Formal events
11Speed dating events
12Blind dates

Some explanation of the terms just be clear ... 

Language exchange is just this; a chance to 'exchange' and therefore practice respective languages. This has been looked into in more detail on an earlier post on City-Cost (Study Japanese For Free! Language Exchange vs Nihongo Kyoushitsu).  In brief, language exchange is typically facilitated by a website through which expats and locals in Japan can find people to meet, sit down with, and do some language practice rather than having to fork out the money for lessons.  While some people want to do just this, it should probably come as no surprise to learn that language exchange is ripe territory for finding / meeting dates.

Gokon parties are a kind of group blind-date situation here in Japan.  Small groups (maybe an average of six), typically evenly matched between ladies and gents, meet in an izakaya, get drunk, get to know each other, and then, well, what happens from there I haven't a clue (although most likely everyone goes their separate ways).  Getting in on Japan's 'gokon scene' will likely be via invitation from a local rather than organising something online.  

By formal events we were referring to primarily to weddings and birthday parties.

What are your experiences of dating in Japan?  Share the love and drop us a line below.

For more content like this ...

Expats say life in Japan is ...

See us on ... 

Twitter: @City_Cost_Japan

Facebook: @citycostjapan




A Q&A and blogging community about life in Japan (plus a load of life-in-Japan stats!). Get your questions answered, share your experience! | Inquiry -> KyodoNewsDigital International Media | Tokyo, Japan | +81 3 6252 6402