The Hobo Guide to Dating Men in Japan

The Hobo Guide to Dating Men in Japan

Take two steps in Japan and straight-away, you’ll realise that its population boasts some of the nicest people on Earth. They hand out free tissues, they let you drink on their trains… one gentleman may even direct you via bicycle to your Airbnb, despite it being midnight and a 10-minute ride away.

However, if you’re a girl who’s into dating Japanese guys, this politeness can prove more of a hindrance than a help. Nana, a 20-year-old woman who moved to Japan from Thailand a few years ago, explains, “They’re very polite, but most of the time they don’t say what they truly mean.”

“For example, a guy can say that you’re cute, have a great sense of humour, and be interested in knowing more about you, but the next day, he’ll suddenly stop texting and disappear from your life forever.”

So, what other rules and dating norms should us gaijin (foreigners) know before swiping right on those Tinder profiles?

Well, rather than let you navigate this big bad world of dating on your lonesome, we chatted with Nana and a bunch of other foreign women who’ve done the dirty work for you, and from their experiences, compiled a list of tips you should read before jumping into the exciting underbelly that is dating in Japan.

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Do allow the guy to pay on the first date

Especially if he’s older, or the one who did the asking out. Yes, it’s old-fashioned and goes against every feminist bone in your body, but according to Nana, it’s how Japanese men show they care. It’s also their way of displaying how financially stable they are – so if you’re like TLC and don’t want no scrubs, you’re in the right place! Her sage advice is to “offer to pay just to be polite, but in the end the man will pay on the first date”.

Don’t get too handsy straight away

While there’s bound to be exceptions here and there (and if it’s exceptions that you’re after, a steamy underground bar in Shibuya is your best bet), Japanese people generally don’t have sex on the first date – or even touch their date in some cases. As Jenny,* a 25-year-old Kiwi living it up in Tokyo, noted, the speed that relationships progress in Japan is much slower than what you might be used to.

“After I’d been dating a guy for about three weeks or so, my Japanese friend asked me if we had held hands or (gasp!) kissed yet! I couldn’t break it to her that we had done a lot more during our very first date,” she tells me.

Don’t freak out if he says he loves you early – he probably just means that he likes you

On multiple occasions, many a Japanese-dating friend has told me how shocked they were when their partners early in relationships – as early as the first date, in one case – have declared the tumultuous, “I love you!” phrase.

But don’t worry! He’s probably not a stage-five clinger. According to 22-year-old Kotaro, a Japanese male, most times it’s just a simple case of mistranslation. In Japanese, I love you is aishiteimasu, but almost no one uses it, reverting to the more casual sounding daisuki desu, meaning “I really like you”. Therefore, daisuki desu is used to say, “I like you” by some, but also “I love you” by others. Hence, confusion.

In saying that though, 24-year-old fellow Australian-cum-Japanese dating expert Megan – who once got a super sweet love letter from a student while teaching English – says that some Japanese guys are just big on love confessions! So, you’ll have to use some intuition when it comes to this scenario.

Do learn some of each other’s languages – because communication barriers can get pretty fucking tiring sometimes

“He was really cool, but it just faded out,” explains Megan of a former date. “He couldn’t speak English super well, and my Japanese is bad, so it was hard to get to that deeper level of intimacy.”

These are Megan’s words, but they hit a little too close to home, no? I hate to state the obvious here, but in every relationship, communication is key. And even if your Japanese beau is Adonis on steroids with a beautiful heart and amazing hair that dances in the breeze, if you can’t speak Japanese (or he can’t speak English), then the relationship can only go so far. But since you’re most likely in Japan long enough to date anyway, why not brush up on those niggly particles and sumimasens?

Don’t go to Disneyland or ride the duck boats in Inokashira Park with your date

This titbit might sound like a weird one but trust us – while they sound like the ideal spots for a first date, avoid them like the plague. According to Jenny and local superstitions, “Everyone knows they put a curse on your relationship.” Unfortunately, Jenny’s been around the block before and experienced the “Disneyland Jinx” firsthand. Stuck, and feeling awkward as hell, she tried and failed to make forced small talk with her date during the hour-long wait for Pooh’s Honey Hunt ride.

Learn from Jenny people.

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Now that you know some of the ins and outs of dating in Japan, I wish you gambatte (good luck), and happy swiping.

*names have been changed upon request

Cover by Chris Yang