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JZ’s Girly Guide to Dating in Japan

iStock_000000714937MediumI’m single. I’m a woman. I live in Japan. I’m having a hard time trying to determine whether there’s a correlation between the first two facts and the latter, but I can’t dispute the cold, hard depressing fact that, living here, I’m as certain of my singledom as I am my gender. And anyway, even gender isn’t a done deal these days. It’s probably easier to change my sex than my Facebook relationship status these days.

Let me get one thing straight before I continue, though. Men… I don’t blame you. Though I’m consistently amazed at the attention you’re lathered with by randy locals, I would rather not draw my samurai sword and launch into a battle of the foreign sexes on Japanese soil. There’s enough blood and vitriol splattered on the walls of internet chat rooms without me getting on my diamante-encrusted feminist throne and demanding the head of Charisma Man. No, it’s far too easy to blame foreign men for my being single in Japan. Instead, why don’t I blame Japanese men? I mean, it couldn’t possibly be anything to do with me, right? Or, maybe I just haven’t read the rules properly on how to play the Japanese dating game. More likely I’ve misread them in the first place – they’d be written in bloody Japanese, after all.

It’s not for lack of trying, however, and even though I’m single now, I’ve dated a few Japanese boys in the past with mixed, but certainly not unpleasant, results.

J-guy No.1 was a salaryman. He was a minnow in his company and had to work hard to climb the corporate ladder, meaning he started every work day at 8am and finishing at midnight. And that was just Monday to Friday. Saturday morning shifts and weekend business treks to Tokyo or Osaka were taken at least twice a month. That relationship fizzled and died pretty quickly.

No.2 had studied in Australia for around 4 years, and his English was good enough that we could even argue like a ‘normal’ couple. The strange thing I learnt from that pairing was that cross-cultural relations are often literally crossed. While I enjoyed the challenges and experiences of Japan and Japanese culture, he despised living here, and he was more ‘Australian’ than I had ever felt. We’re still living in each other’s countries now.

No.3 was a policeman who worked 24 hour shifts and lived in an apartment that I wasn’t ever allowed to set foot in because it was a police dorm. Though he was thoughtful, and nothing like what I had expected of a Japanese cop, the idea of dating the cop – dating the force – wasn’t so appealing. That lasted four months.

I haven’t dated any foreign men since being in Japan. The idea of a boyfriend of mine being fondled by female students under desks doesn’t really appeal.

So, what can I do?

I asked a few Japanese girlfriends if they had any idea why I’m having such bum luck in the love stakes, or if they had any tips for dating Japanese men – those strange creatures with better hair and shoes and jeans than I. If I was ‘cute’ like Avril Lavigne, apparently I’d be in with a shot, but alas, I’m not. Instead, I have to take a chance with some of these entirely useless tidbits of advice they gave me, which I  generously offer up to you, our female readers, so that you too can attempt to woo your intended – your dignity intact or your money back. Personally I think I’d be more successful if I set a bear trap in Harajuku and checked back every few hours, but a dating guide might be more humane.

First Contact

DO… get creative! You’re playing on Japanese soil now, so why not take your cues from the locals and get involved the Japanese way? Gokons and compas (arranged dating) can actually be a lot of fun, if you’re ok with being the freakshow foreigner you clearly are. But be warned – some boys may wet themselves in your presence (so I’ve been told). Just pick out the fun boys from the pant-wetters, and at least you’ve got a whole new bunch of drinking and karaoke buddies. Then there’s the ‘wedding crashers’ technique. Picking up while your friend is getting married (kekkonshiki nanpa) is a national sport.

… touch the poor boy! All those things they tell you in dating guides in Western countries – leaning towards him, laughing excessively at all his terrible jokes, gently brushing his leg as you look deep into his eyes – just don’t even bother trying to make physical contact. He’s going to face-plant on his mad dash for the door. Even deliberately avoiding eye-contact is advisable. A girlfriend of mine made the fatal mistake of looking a little too much at a gentleman friend, and he started pencilling in a date for the wedding. Oh, where is the happy medium? Maybe your best bet is to wear a surgical mask so he’ll have a hard time trying to decide what signals you’re giving out – you’ll be mysterious and aloof (and quite possibly contageous).

First Date

Do… go to the aquarium. This may sound ridiculous, but it makes perfect sense as you don’t actually have to speak to your date. Who wants to bother thinking of impressive things to say to someone you’ve only just met? It usually just means diminishing your chances of a second date anyway, because you’ll inevitably say something retarded and scare the poor boy off. All you need to do is watch all them little fishies floatin’ about. ‘Night view spots’ are also a hot tip for a date in a vehicle. It’s very romantic sitting in a carpark gazing at the sparkly city lights below, along with 20 other couples in cars around you.

Don’t… go to Disneyland, for the opposite reason! You’ll spend so much time in queues for rides that you’ll have to talk eventually, and that will ultimately lead to you talking too much, arguing about something, and breaking up before you’ve even gone out. And asking your partner to Disneyland is a BIG fuckin’ deal in Japan. You’re either going to get proposed to, or you’re going to get dumped (they call it ‘the Disneyland jinx’). Either way, don’t you think you’re a little old for cartoons now?

First ‘Time’

Do… clean your apartment. Japanese boys are finnicky about cleanliness, and if you’ve got piles of undies strewn across the floor and weird stains on your futon, you’ll be saying goodbye before saying, ‘oh, hellooo!

Don’t… go to a love hotel. It’s alright for a laugh, and when you’re comfortable with each other, but you really can tell a lot about a person by what kind of theme room they pick. You might find it hilaaarious to choose the Hello Kitty S&M dungeon for a three hour ‘rest’, but your date is nervous enough without the thought of a leather-clad pink pussy coming at him with a whip. Going to a love hotel is acceptable if your apartment is dirty, however.

First ‘Meet the Parents’

Do… understand that your partner has probably not even told his parents he’s dating a foreigner.

Don’t… expect to meet them for at least a year if he has told them.

First Break-Up

Do… break-up with him; don’t allow vice-versa to happen. If you get a text message along the lines of, ‘I wanna talk with you about much things,’ plus an obligatory emoticon, drop him like a piece of Chinese gyoza and high-tail it back home. All of a sudden the aquarium-loving silent boy wants to talk? Something’s up. Make up some excuse about a dodgy visa, so if he turns out to be the jealous stalker type, he’ll think you’re no longer in the country.

Don’t… worry about breaking his heart. Chances are he wasn’t really that into you anyway. He got embarrassed by the looks you got when you walked downtown together, and his parents probably already advised him against dating a foreign woman anyway.

You should be grateful you’re single – I sure as hell am. Oh yeah, being single in Japan, it’s really not as bad as all that. Yup, really



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  1. Totally agree with Don’t touch the poorboy – Hugging and holding hands is a big no-no in Japan. Recently a few things have changed to it won’t be as a big deal, but some can tend to be shy, so take it slow and treat it as a serious relationship so you won’t become heart-broken.

  2. You should be mightily lonely and desperate to even entertain the notion of dating a Japanese – poor conversionalists, poor in relationships, fickle and extremely emotionally unstable. At best, that it is. Going to a first date without having to talk – just wow, wow. Reminds of the girl who told me – I prefer going to the movie on the first date so that I could observe his emotions during the movie to decide what kind type of person he is.
    My line of work enables me to talk to many Japanese men (no no english teacher or whatever banal you might think of), especially about relationships, girls and etc. This week’s bomb – accidentally someone broke up with a foreign girl. The reason – well, you might have guessed it. She was from well off family with above average income and does not like to cook and does like to spend time outside her home. His conclusion – not serious. Mine – he wants someone like his stay at home slave mom.
    Try gyms, services like meet-up or community centers activities where you could meet people with common interests. Unless you are living in the deeeeeeeep inaka, there is always a chance to meet someone nice.

  3. Don’t voice your experiences as if all Japanese men are like this. I have never met one like this and I am married to a Japanese man who is nothing like you explained. What’s the point of trying to make Japanese men look negative when only the ones you have ended up seem to fall under these dating rules you made.