Is Dating Hard in Japan? – Myths and Reality

It is commonly believed that dating in Japan is easy for non-Asian (particularly white) men and hard for women. I came across a blog post by zoomingjapn, a German girl living in Japan, writing about dating in Japan as a foreigner. She expresses this view.

She writes, ‘It is comparably easy for a western foreign man to find a Japanese woman or to have a nice relationship here in Japan’, but ‘it is extremely tough to find a date as a foreign woman here in Japan.’

Her story is interesting in itself but the most interesting part of the article is the huge number of comments gets – 162 comments (or about 30,000 words!) at the time I am writing this article.

A lot of people who commented actually disagree with her. In particular, non-Japanese guys tend to disagree because they don’t think it’s easy to date Japanese girls. On the other hand, girls tend to agree with her.

Overall, does it mean that it’s hard to date Japanese people regardless of your gender? It seems so. If you are in a foreign country with a completely different culture, it is logical that you might have a hard time dating. Dating often involves a lot of hidden rules and non-verbal cues. These are not the kind of thing you learn in your language textbooks.

However, there are many people who are successful at dating in Japan. Many people provided counter-examples in the comments. My personal experience also tells me that dating in Japan is completely feasible and a lot of my friends seem to be doing OK with dating here. Then the real question is this: what is the difference between successful and unsuccessful people?

Fortunately, thanks to zoomingjapan, I have a good sample of comments on this.

Judgmental attitude

A guy says that it’s very hard for him to have good relationships with Japanese women. ‘My biggest problem is that most girls my age (~25) are very childish’, he points out.

He might be right, but the word ‘childish’ makes me think that his culture might have a different concept of maturity. Being ‘mature’ in Japan can be seen as ‘childish’ elsewhere and vice versa. He might be judging Japanese women based on his cultural values without taking into account the Japanese context.

Since he didn’t specify what made him think that girls of his age were childish I can only speculate, but if he doesn’t make effort to unlearn his cultural values and learn new sets of values, he is likely to continue having difficulty.

I’m not saying he should adapt himself completely; it’s ultimately his choice. He might just not be compatible with the majority of Japanese girls. To be fair, I used to feel that most kids of my age weren’t mature enough. I am less judgemental now because I realise that I might simply have had a differently way of measuring maturity.

Helpless cute girl

I have noticed that cute girls tend to be quite bad at approaching guys. They always get approached by guys and don’t have to make the first step themselves. In short, they lack practice. It’s always interesting to hear all the boring questions they ask when they try to hit on guys: ‘What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?’ etc.

Isabel, a German girl who has been living in Japan for about half a year, is a good example. She is studying computer science and surrounded by a lot of guys. Despite that, she is having difficulties with dating. ‘In Germany I never been single for longer than a few months, I had never had problems about dating a guy. I’ve been living here since 6 months now and I didn’t have a serious date yet. I’m currently the only Western female student here, so I get quite some attention, even from other foreign students. But Japanese guys are still a big mystery to me’, she writes.

She seems to be clueless in situations where her charisma doesn’t work as expected. ‘I fell in love with one Japanese boy in my research team. I wrote him many cute love letters in Japanese and English but he didn’t reply for many months. After some time I finally asked him in person and he told me that he can’t date me because we work in the same team.’

Clearly, he was not interested but she wasn’t giving up. ‘I basically tried everything to convince him. I made him a Bento, baked a cake for him and organized a super-fun birthday party for him a few weeks ago. Because it was his birthday I decided to go for a final attack and made a personal present for him.’ Her strategy was ‘push, push and push’, which was obviously not working.

But she didn’t stop there. ‘I bought an empty book and filled it with the story of my love for him. How I fell in love with him and about all the things I like about him. Every page had about 2 or 3 sentences in English and Japanese and a drawing. I’m horribly bad at drawing but I put lots of effort and I got honest praise from the people around me whom I showed the book. There was also one page with a drawing of his face. The book ended with telling him that I was still willing to date him even though he turned me down with this obvious excuse of working in the same team. On my last page, I told him that it’s his story now and that there are still many white pages that can be filled.’

It might be obvious to many people but doing all this to a guy who is not interested (and possibly not used to dealing with girls) is not only ineffective but also counterproductive. It scared the hell out of him. I can easily guess what was going on in his mind. ‘Oh my God, is this girl crazy? Why doesn’t she understand that I’m not interested? I want her to stop doing embarrassing things in front of people but I don’t know how. I don’t understand girls. Hopefully it will stop as time goes by.’

She was giving emotional gifts he couldn’t reciprocate, and that put him under a lot of pressure and made him uneasy. If he was experienced in dating, he could have said something like, ‘I know that you are interested in me but I just don’t see you that way. I appreciate that you are making an effort but I don’t think it’s going to work. Maybe we can just be friends?’ But there’s only so much you can expect from a Japanese computer science major boy.

The ending was sad but predictable. ‘Over three weeks later that he completely ignored the whole thing’, she writes. Her friends weren’t any help. ‘All of my friends told me that this is just such a wonderful present that he has to fall in love with me’, she writes. But such an emotionally loaded gift would only work if he was already madly in love with her.

I’m not saying that ignoring her was the right thing to do; it was terrible. But, as someone who has supposedly more experience in dating, she should have realised that she was doing everything wrong. She reminds me of the film ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’: she did do everything she wasn’t supposed to do. Well, she’s still young and I think she will eventually learn better ways to approach guys.

Some girls figure out Japanese guys

Some girls seem to figure out Japanese guys well. ‘If you are a western girl living in Japan and interested in dating a Japanese guy, my advice would be GENTLY make the first move. Don’t be overly assertive’, writes a 25-year-old American girl who has been married to a Japanese man for five years.

She mentions some interesting things. ‘Accept that Japanese men are not going to be like the guys back home. They are generally not affectionate (at least in public), they are typically shy, and they work a lot. But, there are plenty out there that are interested. After several drinks, several of my husband’s friends openly congratulated on him “getting a beautiful white girl”, told him they respected him more now, and asked me to set them up with some friends of mine. They would have NEVER said this if they hadn’t been loosened up by alcohol, but it definitely left me wondering if I should be offended or flattered! ;)’

I don’t quite appreciate these guys who think ‘getting a beautiful white girl’ is some kind of trophy, but the point is that she seems to understand how Japanese people loosen up when they are drunk. This is a minor detail but I believe paying attention to details eventually makes you very good at understanding a given culture. Apparently, that was what she did.

Figuring out subtle cultural cues is, of course, not always easy. Some people overlook important details and don’t notice what’s really happening around them. A German guy talks about his German female friend who failed to understand signs from a Japanese guy. ‘She didn’t notice anything although he kept asking her out all the time’, he writes. Some girls who think that guys are not interested in them simply fail to detect the signs coming from guys.

A girl who is in a serious relationship with a Japanese guy says, ‘I have found that what “helped” me to be easily approached by several Japanese good looking guys is my behaviour.’ She seemed to know how she could slightly modify her behaviour so as to facilitate interaction with local people. It’s also about manners. I would advise girls to be gentle and not necessarily pursue the man of their interest, but make him do the first step. It worked out for me.’

Coincidentally, a lot of Japanese women’s magazines and dating advice books focus on how girls can be approachable and make guys ask them out. I don’t necessarily agree with this approach, but I can totally see it can be effective.

Are Japanese people ‘cold’?

A lot of people – often Japanese themselves – say that Japanese people are ‘cold’. For example, this girl says, ‘My Japanese boyfriend told me something similar about Japanese women: they are passive, cold, lacking passion, don’t touch/hug/kiss randomly, even at home.’

I don’t think ‘cold’ is the right word. It’d be more correct to say ‘not expressive’. Contrary to what people believe, Japanese people do express their feelings. It’s just very subtle and indirect. This inexpressiveness can be seen as ‘cold’ in other countries but in Japanese context where indirectness is the norm, it’s not necessarily a negative trait. Japanese TV drama, films, novels and manga often depict silent expressions of love and gratitude. Needless to say, people have no problem understanding these subtle ways.

Some Japanese people do prefer a more expressive communication style, and they tend to date non-Asian people. A Mexican guy who is dating a Japanese girl says, ‘From what my girlfriend told me, she did mention that Japanese men are cold. She does admit that she likes how Latino and Mediterranean men are warm, passionate, romantic and affectionate type of men, even more than other Westerners such as Americans or Nordic people.’ Her choice of dating a Mexican guy makes perfect sense. She is getting what she believes is hard to get from Japanese guys from her Mexican boyfriend.

Multicultural background

I know a lot of people who are successfully dating Japanese guys and girls. There’s one tendency among them: they are multicultural or multilingual. Many of them have mixed parents or speak more than two languages. I found a similar tendency in the blog comments.

  • A Mexican-American girl who met her boyfriend in a hip-hop club in Shiubuya – She says that dating was not something she had in mind when she came to Japan. She speaks English and Spanish perfectly even though she doesn’t speak Japanese very well.
  • Another Mexican-American girl who has a Japanese boyfriend. – She seems to have a well balanced view regarding different cultures. She writes, ‘I don’t believe that Japanese men or women are in general ‘cold’! Their behaviour is just, of course, influenced by their culture, where it is considered inappropriate or embarrassing to show your feelings for another person so directly.’
  • A non-Asian girl married to a Japanese guy – I don’t know where she’s from but, judging from the way she writes, I think she’s from a non-English speaking country. I also assume she speaks good Japanese because she says, ‘All my friends are Japanese girls.’

I’m not 100% sure if this is a general tendency. I might just be cherry-picking examples. My personal experience is quite biased since I tend to make friends with culturally open people; most of the friends I have in Japan are very open-minded as opposed to ethnocentric which, I believe, most of the people on earth are. Let me know what you think.

They myths of easy Japanese girls

In the comments, a lot of guys point out that it’s not easy to date Japanese girls. ‘Japan’s a terrible place to meet chicks. If you’re a good-looking guy with a reasonable amount of game, your odds are better back home’, says Ken Seeroi, ‘a handsome foreign guy’ as he puts it.

I have a similar impression. While there might be a few girls who lower their guard for white guys, they remain a small percentage of the whole Japanese female population. There are certain places where you find a lot of these girls but if you go anywhere else, thing’s won’t be as easy. Most importantly, they are not necessarily the kind of girls you want to have a relationship with.

Sure, I hear war stories: ‘I went to Japan and I got a lot of chicks’, ‘These Japanese girls are being too easy for white guys’ etc. But a lot of western guys I know are not having a particularly easy time in Japan. They are normal guys with decent social skills and not ‘losers’ back home. If you are a highly educated, cool guy looking for a cool girl, Japan won’t necessarily make it easy for you.

So, is dating hard in Japan?

Dating in Japan can be a bit harder, compared to a more socially open country, because Japanese people tend to be reserved and cautious with strangers. Every time I go to North America or Europe, I notice how easy it is to talk to random people. If it feels harder to date in Japan, maybe it really is.

From my experience, simplified workflows of dating western and Japanese women would be like this. (Mind you, there are many exceptions so this is by no means definite.)

A western girl:

Meet her -> Get to know her a bit -> Ask her out

A Japanese girl:

Meet her -> Get to know her a bit -> Get to know her some more -> Ask her out

(Edit: I updated the workflow because the previous one seemed to have given the wrong impression of how I think one should approach women.)

This ‘getting to know her some more’ phase can be quite long so you often need to be patient. Dating Japanese people requires a few extra steps.

For example, some girls prefer hanging out in a group before going on a real date with you. I don’t like it when this happens. I remember this girl I met at a party. She was nice and rather cute so I asked her out a few days after. She replied by saying that she would prefer hanging out in a group with her friends first to get to know me. I didn’t like the idea, so I made it clear that I wanted to meet her alone. She wasn’t up for it.

Fortunately, not all Japanese girls are like that, but I definitely feel that Japanese girls generally need more time. People can be quite cautious of strangers here. (This might be the reason why western-style online dating has never been really huge in Japan.) Older women seem to be more laid back but I don’t have a lot of experience with them. Overall, you have a much better chance of meeting someone through your friends or acquaintances than hitting on random people in public.

In fact, there are many ways to meet people in Japan and it gets easier once you learn how. Sure, dating in Japan can still be harder but ‘harder’ doesn’t mean ‘nearly impossible’. I know plenty of westerners and other foreigners in Japan who have good relationships with Japanese people. Your origin shouldn’t be a definite obstacle. I can easily think of white, black, South Asian, Latin American, European and African people who date Japanese guys and girls. In the end, what random people say online doesn’t matter as much as how open you are and what you make of Japan.

If you are interested in sex in Japan, I would recommend my new book There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan.

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23 thoughts on “Is Dating Hard in Japan? – Myths and Reality

  1. Guillaume

    Like always, interesting and well written. But if I can agree the surface, I can't agree the bigger picture.
    Note that this is just an opinion, based on my experience, observation and the collection of other people's experience. But overall I think the whole question “is dating more difficult in Japan” is wrong. Dating is difficult. Japan is no exception. Let me explain my point.

    I am a strong disbeliever of any cultural explanations. I don't think Japan has a thing that make its people a different brand. Neither is Europe, or America… I assume, and my idea has been proven right 100% of the time so far, that the same proportion of humanity is outgoing, or shy, talkative, interesting or boring, silent… and lets be honest, cute or less cute (or handsome), clever or less clever.
    Being Japanese, or Chinese, or French, doesn't make a big difference.

    And fact are that dating is first and foremost the meeting of two creature with good communication or a common goal, in other word: something in common, or a way to build something in common.

    So the problem of how hard it is to date is three folds: how easy to meet, how easy to communicate, and how easy to have/build something in common.

    What's make Japan MAYBE harder is that society is organized and favored behavior that does not favor easy dating. And then we can find most of the elements you've rightfully mentioned :
    – work a lot is not a good starting point for dating – and many dates are actually people met thru work, or introduced by co-workers…
    – communication is less expressive (more subtle) – that's how the social work is working. It is not Japanese are shy, it is that acting bluntly will make them look like barbarians! How deep such behavior is then interriorized depends on people… Sure it creates a barrier to those of more direct society.
    – not to mention the complexity of communication when having language barrier.
    – Japanese society has a general disdain for flirting – except for a very specific subset of people (university students) maybe. You described it as the “get to know each other” .
    – The same can be said of romantic and passionate behavior – rather tragically connoted in Japan, whereas in western world it is the veil that covers all kind of relationships… Dating is about feelings in many places – or at least it is supposed to be so. In Japan, it is sometimes more of a serious business, social status, than “fun” or “love”.
    – and the expectation of dating – the common goal – is also an issue. Even the successful foreign male in Japan who get girls after girls usually catch the idea that for these person, they were more of a new trend accessories than “someone to build a relation with”.

    The huge number of tips, books, comments on “how to date” or “how to find a date” in Japan is proving that even Japanese people finds it difficult. Or at least, some of them…
    But isn't the same in any hyper urban societies?
    On the other hand, outgoing, good looking and rich personalities (or simply rich…) will always be “successful” in dating. Japanese or not, in Japan or not.

    And overall, dating is like searching your lost home keys… They are always in the last place you searched, by definition! You'll complain while searching, you don't care anymore once you found.

    Reply
    1. yuta Post author

      You can of course say that it all comes down to personalities. But then the question will be this: how much is your personality nature and nurture?

      Identical twins are known to develop different personalities depending on the environment they grow up in. They may share some common traits, their personalities won't be exactly the same. Nurture does affect your personality.

      Also, different cultures have different sets of social rules. When you go to a grocery store in France, you are expected to say 'bonjour'. Failing to do this will be seen as rude and antisocial. In Japan, this is not necessary. There are numerous hidden rules like this in different cultures and not understanding them make it harder for you to deal with local people.

      If you are from a culture similar to Japan, your dating life won't be that much different. However, if your cultural values are very different, you are likely to have a harder time.

      It is more realistic to say that it's your innate personality tendency AND culture that affect your dating life. It's neither 'completely nature' nor 'completely nurture'.

      Reply
  2. Ken Seeroi

    Hi and thanks for your comment at the Japanese Rule of 7 Facebook page. You've got a great site here, and I think you and I are addressing many of the same issues related to living in Japan. I look forward to reading more of your stuff. Feel free to drop me a comment on my site as well.

    Best,

    Ken Seeroi

    Reply
  3. Karol

    I laughed so hard when I read "I can easily think of white, black, South Asian, Latin American, European and African people". As if Europeans were anything other than white people 😀

    Reply
    1. gazaDave

      There is such a thing as black Europeans yknow, Arab Europeans (Germany has had a large Turkish population for decades) asian Europeans etc. Europe doesnt have just one ethnic group. And besides small differences due to background they generally conform to the larger culture. I'm a Black Jamaican and Black Jamaicans are very different from Black Germans.

      Their personal culture is that of Germany.

      They're Germans who just happen to be of African descent.

      To sum up..many..many Europeans are not White at all.

      Reply
    2. Aaliyah

      Some Europeans don't consider whites, or Caucasians in America, as Europeans. I assume it is the same for Africans and blacks, or African-Americans. This is because they don't normally use the terms blacks or whites to describe themselves but since we (I am African-American btw) uses these to describe ourselves, that's just what is used now.

      Reply
  4. Bob

    I must belong in Japan instead of a western country then. I want to meet a girl, get to know her, then ask her out. I'm not really into asking out random girls, seems creepy. Don't see the point in asking out someone I don't know much about. :S

    Reply
  5. Kenchan

    I disagree with how you portray and talk about western women. I am a western woman and I strongly dislike that you seem to think you can just meet me and then ask me out. This is one of the creepiest things Japanese guys do. Just approach me and without knowing anything about me say they want to date me. Ew. And FYI dating in Japan is very difficult for western women, I am one and I talk with many many others and it is an often lamented fact. The how's and whys would take forever to explain but it is what it is. I stay here for my job which I love and my lifestyle but have totally written off ever dating a Japanese man after the nightmarish past six years!

    Reply
    1. yuta Post author

      Thank you for you feedback. I have a question: do you dislike being approached regardless of the way men approach you? Or maybe you don't like to be approached only by certain types of men?

      > I am one and I talk with many many others and it is an often lamented fact.

      I think it's party selection bias. I know a lot of western women who don't have any difficulty dating in Japan. I interviewed a lot of them for my book, so I know their stories in detail. Maybe western women you know are more comfortable with hanging out with other western people, while the ones I know tend to socialise with more diverse people, including Japanese guys? It's just my guess though.

      Let me know what you think!

      Reply
  6. White dude in Japan

    The biggest issue is probably the language barrier. Although I'd definitely have more luck at home, dating in Japan has been pretty easy for me. Shit right now I'm seeing four different women and the only real thing holding me back is time and money. Christmas presents / White Day / お土産 / etc x4 girlfriends adds up fast.

    My biggest piece of advice is learn the language and just start putting yourself out there. Just like everything in life those who put in the time in energy are those that come out ahead. If you think that occasionally showing up at the local foreigner bar with your dorky white friends is enough to land you a girlfriend, you may be waiting a while.

    Reply
  7. Kalvin

    I think it is the same in any country. Just depend about your feel in and your sex apple. Even in Thaïland can be difficult if you find for a serious girlfriend. However, thank for share your experience.

    Reply
  8. Rainbows

    It might be very hard for Yuta to give or understand the perspectives of foreign men, Japanese women, or foreign women (though he might have some dating experience here). Because understanding such a problem might lend itself more to people that grew up in multiracial or multicultural environments, where it's easier for them to see the different perspectives.

    What are effective dating strategies for Japanese men, won't usually work for foreign men or foreign women. In Japan, each group has to play their hand differently. Something quite different than in America or Canada, where strategies can have a lot more in common, because it's more of a multicultural/multiracial country. Japan isn't, so arguably you have to play the game very differently. Which can make it very hard, if you are say a Japanese guy trying to figure out how Vietnamese guys, American Black guys, or French White guys can be successful in dating with Japanese women. The common politically correct or Cinderella fantasy advice often doesn't apply.

    Reply
  9. John

    I couldn t see any practical tips for dating japanese girls.
    I ve been seeing this girl for months who keeps smiling at me but never goes any further than ”how are you”.

    Reply
  10. Payal Sinha

    Pune independent escorts are so well experienced and having exceptional communication supremacy, they get prepared themselves so well that it gives a suitable perception if you having one Pune Escort.

    Reply
  11. Someonewhoknows

    The reason why for many Western people the whole dating with Japanese feels difficult or weird, overall if you are from Western Europe, is because they are still very much a patriarchy. Men still want to be in charge, still want a pretty tophy wife and don't want to listen to loud opinionated women. For women from Denmark or Germany or countries where women are pretty much upfront, it becomes hard to see a Japanese man expecting her to do home chores and not work but stay home once married. Some American women are still old fashioned in traditions and accept some of the ridiculous demands put by some Japanese men.
    When this man said Japanese women are childish it is exactly what I mean with them still living a social patriarchy. Women there behave child like as in a cute manner and pretending to be sweet and innocent because that's what is attractive for Japanese men, the whole beibg fragile, vulnerable-like is a virtue and continues to be sought for in Japan, men want someone who they feel they must protect and women do play this game. It's their social norm and their culture. There are a lot of things in Japan that wouldn't be accepted in Europe and would be decried by women. Japan is a patriarchy and Western Europe is feminst (favouring women in many cases) so the behavioral norms and ways clashes a lot. This is something a lot of foreigners don't think about when being in Japan. America is is still not full blown feminist like Western Europe which doesn't make me surprise if some women give up their careers to be home stay mom to a little toddler.

    Reply

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