Yuta Aoki is a Japanese author, blogger and YouTuber. He writes about Japanese culture, inter-cultural communication, dating, and travel.
His latest book, There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Dating in Japan, deals with intercultural dating in Japan.
His article about sexless Japan was shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook.
He has been to over 30 countries, from Eastern Europe to South East Asia, where he enjoyed talking to local people and listening to their stories.
He dates internationally, although he’s slightly worried that he might spend more time writing about dating than actually doing it.
My brief life story
I grew up in Hiroshima, where the US had dropped the atomic bomb during WWII. When I was little, grown-ups would often tell us about the war. Sometimes, A-bomb survivors came to our school to share their experiences.
Hiroshima has Peace Memorial Park, and it was our favourite hang-out spot, not because of the history, but because of its central location. Every time I went to the park, I saw the A-Bomb Dome, which was partially destroyed by the A-Bomb. To a child, the dome looked almost sacred.
People in Hiroshima didn’t have any resentment towards American people. They merely told us that the war was bad and should never be repeated.
Discovering the outside world
When I was 13, I went to the States on a one-month homestay programme. I didn’t speak any English. Sure, we had English classes in junior high school, but for a Japanese speaker, one year was barely enough to be able to hold a decent conversation.
How bad was my English? I didn’t even know the word ‘say’. Yes, ‘say’. It’s a very basic word. I remember my host family trying to explain ‘I miss you’. They tried hard, but I didn’t get it. It was difficult because Japanese didn’t have the same expression.
One of the few phrases I learnt in the US was ‘never mind’. My host brother always said it when he gave up explaining things to me in English.
Despite my quasi non-existent English, I really enjoyed the homestay. After coming back to Japan, I started thinking about studying in the States for a year. Fortunately, my high school had a study abroad programme. But unfortunately, places were limited and I wasn’t chosen. I had never been more disappointed in my life.
Getting serious with English
I was jealous of those who were chosen for the study abroad programme. I felt as if they had taken away my future, because I had been daydreaming about going to the US and becoming fluent in English. The thought of them speaking English fluently after a year was unbearable.
The only way I could overcome the disappointment was learning English on my own.
But I was clueless. I wasn’t even sure that one could learn a foreign language completely on one’s own. I didn’t have any role models around me.
One day, I had an idea: reading books in English. If the most effective way of learning a language was immersing yourself in it, reading books would certainly be one way. I went to a bookshop and bought a book that looked easy enough. It was That’s Not What I Meant by Deborah Tannen.
The book wasn’t really easy, and it took me a long time to finish it. But when I finished it, I felt my method was finally working.
Being an introvert
I didn’t have many friends in school, if I had friends at all. I didn’t have a lot in common with my classmates. I was interested in modern philosophy, traditional music around the world, travelling, etc. I was always reading books, sometimes during classes. Reading books was my way of connecting to people who had great life experience and knowledge.
Once, I was interested in Arabic letters. I would practice writing them when I was bored during classes. My classmates must have thought I was a weird guy.
Backpacking in India
When I was 17, I went backpacking through South India for two months. It was my first solo trip.
South India was a very friendly place. A lot of people talked to me: restaurant owners, juice sellers, passengers on the train, guests at hotels, random people on the street – everyone was curious about me. In Japan, nobody had talked to me like that. The cultural difference was very interesting.
I came across western travellers once in a while. I met a British guy and I told him I was 17. He said, ‘You have a good mind’. I still remember the exact wording.
I also met an American guy at a music concert. We were both interested in Indian classical music, so he took me to his place and showed me musical instruments he had bought in India. He was so happy to talk to me that he invited me to dinner. He footed the bill. He knew I was only a penniless 17 year old after all.
In my early 20s, I came across an interview with a French musician in the International Herald Tribune. She was called Carla Bruni and had been a supermodel before she made her first album. In her interview, she said she would deliberately record mistakes because being imperfect would make her more relatable. I thought, ‘she is very insightful. I definitely should listen to her songs.’
When I heard her voice on Quelqu’un m’a dit, the first song of her album, I immediately liked her. I would listen to her day and night, and I developed a strong interest in French. But I was hesitant to learn a new language because I knew it would take a long time.
Eventually, I gave in to the temptation.
When I decided to go to university, the first thing I thought about was the study abroad programme. Initially, I was thinking of Britain, but my French was becoming better, so I chose France. I liked the idea of going to a non-English-speaking country. I’d always been fond of doing something different from everybody else.
I was very excited because for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to live abroad.
What I really learnt in France
I studied philosophy and literature in Lyon for one year. There were a lot of international students (mostly European) in my university. I absolutely loved meeting people from different countries. Unlike when I was in high school, I made a lot of friends. We all spoke French, and there was a strong sense of community amongst French speaking expats.
I also realised I was quite ignorant about the world. I asked my Brazilian friends a very dumb question: what language do Brazilians speak? They answered patiently, ‘Portuguese’. Later, I found out that Portuguese was a romance language like French, which made me curious about the language.
One day, my Brazilian friends took to me to a mini-carnival parade in Lyon. I saw a Brazilian group playing samba. As soon as I heard them, I fell in love with Brazilian music.
The second semester in France, I took a Portuguese class because I wanted understand the lyrics of Brazilian songs. By that time, I was regularly going to a local Brazilian party. I asked my friends for song recommendations, and I would listen to Brazilian music all the time.
I made some French friends through Brazilian music. One day, I was walking down the street and bumped into one of those friends. She said, ‘Hey, I live close by, would you like a cup of tea?’ So I went to her house.
She told me she was going to a Latin club that night, and asked me if I wanted to come. I was curious. I had never been to a Latin club before.
What I saw in the club was something entirely new. Men and women would pair up and dance together. The dancing looked very sophisticated. I tried to figure out their steps, but it was too complicated to follow. It was as if they were performing magic tricks.
My friend told me the style of the music and the dance was called Salsa. I was greatly interested, and decided to learn how to dance Salsa one day.
A few months later, I was taking weekly Salsa lessons.
So that was it: I went to France and learnt Portuguese and dancing Salsa. What happened to philosophy and literature? Well, I forgot all about them.
My life can be divided into pre-France and post-France. France made me realise I would thrive in a multicultural environment. After France, I sought international communities in Japan. I started making new friends. It felt great: I’d never known what was like to have many friends because I had had a rather solitary young and early adulthood.
Writing a book
In 2013, I was on the Narita Express on my way to the airport. I was going to Jamaica to spend the New Year holiday. I was thinking about my life because I felt I hadn’t achieved much in my twenties.
I’d always wanted to write a book, and suddenly, I realised all I had to do was start writing; I already had what it took to write a book. By the time I got off the train, I already had book ideas.
I chose to write about multicultural dating in Japan because I thought I had something valuable to offer. I knew it was hard to find reliable information in English on the subject. A lot of what I found on the Internet were disrespectful comments towards Japanese women, except for a few good blog articles.
Writing the book was nothing but fun. My favourite part was interviewing people. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their life stories, and I believe they are worth sharing. The best way of learning something is learning from your mistakes; the second best way is from somebody else’s mistakes. That is why reading books is so valuable.
My book is called There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories about Mixed Dating in Japan, and available on Amazon, Kobo, and iBooks.