What It Is Like to Be a Foreigner Dating in Japan

Dating is hard no matter where you find yourself in the world. Whether or not you know the native language of the country, you are going to find yourself face to face with language and cultural barriers. In a place like Japan, where the dating landscape is more like a game of Tekken, you might find yourself thinking that playing solo is the best choice, but I am here to tell you that there is hope.

Personal Experiences

Having dated a few Japanese men in my time here, I am quite surprised that most dating formalities have been the same between them.

One was a salaryman who commuted into Tokyo from Saitama. We met over Facebook through an International Party Forum. He was practically fluent in English after having lived in New Zealand for a few years, but he was thrilled to know that I could speak Japanese. We decided to meet randomly. Date #1 was karaoke. Date #2 was a typical restaurant dinner. Date #3 was him trying to force sex. I ended things after that.

Another was a part-time vocalist for a rock band and day-time salaryman from Yokohama. I’d been reading a Japanese book in the park when he randomly plunked down, offered a can of coffee and started asking me random questions. We went on a few dates and things were going well, but on the third he also wanted to go a love hotel.

After dating a few others I thought, “Did you all learn how to date from the same hentai manga?” We might not have even held hands or kissed yet, but for some reason the third date automatically meant third base.

This brings me to a recent experience. Ready to try dating again after a break, I signed up for Omiai, a dating app. I got a swarm of messages, but some seemed eager to pencil in a wedding date with only a hello. Others realized I wasn’t looking to satiate wild American desires and gave up. Singling out one candidate, we set up an ‘English lesson’ themed date.

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The first encounter was short and simple. He flirted a bit then dropped some hints about wanting to meet again. On our second date I was graced with compliments and a gift. About the time Date #3 came around, I was prepared for him to try getting a home run. So I told him after meeting his co-workers and parents (so soon is straight-up odd in Japan) that I am not that kind of girl. If he’s serious, he’d have to wait until I’m ready. He surprisingly agreed. Since then, we have been on multiple dates.

Myths and Complications

1 Japanese clamor to meet you

Okay, you might be thinking, ‘I am a novelty. They want me.’ Yes and no. The Japanese are restrained individuals. Even if they are interested, they will probably never approach you unless you make the first move. Moreover, if you are a man, you might be perceived as intimidating or uncool. But do be confident and make the first move. The worst that is going to happen is getting turned down.

2 Japanese are cheaters

Not so much a myth as a half-truth. Both genders do it often. Why? Availability. The less conservative younger crowd seems to enjoy one night stands in lieu of dating, so I suppose it is just become one of those things. But I have had married men approach me as well. And no, they were not drunk.

3 Foreign women have it easier

Goodness gracious, no. The Japanese have a convoluted sense of foreign women: We’re over-sexed, raucous and provocative. Which isn’t true. Foreign women are also magnets for ‘gaijin hunters.’

4 Public displays of affection

You might be aware, but public displays of affection is considered big no-no in Japan. Couples will happily hold hands in public. Though that is as far as it goes most of the time. For example, I have seen younger couples happily smooching on Yoyogi park benches.

A few of my dates have stolen kisses when staring out in the night scenery from observation decks. However, I have also experienced the guy who thinks a peck on the cheek is embarrassing and would only hold my hand in private.

5 The bill

In Japan, the man will demand to show his worth and pride by taking care of you. This means paying for meals and buying anything you show interest in during the date. If you are a strong-willed woman this might come off as slightly domineering. Don’t worry. Talk to your man about it. See if you can reach an accord and enjoy the attention when he gives it. As for the gentleman, sorry for the news.

6 Workaholics

Yes, the Japanese drown themselves in their work. Any foreigner dating a Japanese person will tell you this. You might go weeks without seeing your SO.

7 Simple somethings

If a Japanese man or woman is sincere, they will make an extra effort in spite of work and life to show you the extent of their affection. This might come in the form of cleaning the apartment, making a special meal, or awarding you with a handmade or hand-chosen gift. No matter what you receive, do know they took quite some time contemplating it.

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Though dating is not as casual as it is in other locations, the ritual is essentially the same in Japan as it is anywhere else. Many of my friends, both male and female, have found eternal happiness with lifetime partners here in Japan. Sure, cultural obstacles needed to be surmounted, but the willingness to work the relationship and acceptance of the individual brought about successful partnerships that continue to grow stronger.