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.
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.
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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