Dating in Japan as a foreign woman

Dating can be daunting venture, regardless of where you are in the world. Add cultural differences and language barriers to the pot, and you’ll have yourself a lovely trouble soup. So without further ado, let’s open the lid on Japanese dating!

But before we jump in, I trust you understand that every single word of this post is the objective truth and should be taken extremely seriously. I would not dream of generalizing or, you know, write mockingly about the significant and ponderous topic of Dating. You are warned.

So, what’s dating in Japan like? Well, for the countless LBHs* who have transformed into super Casanovas upon arrival, I’d say pretty good. I mean, being the center of female attention can’t be too shabby, can it? But what if you’re an ugly duckling? A shy little flower? Will Japan let you become Aphrodite reincarnated? Yeah…no. So much no.

Foreign ladies are scary
Everybody knows that foreign ladies are assertive and loud. They hold their own doors, pay their own bills, and fix their own pipes. But most of all, they have unreasonable expectations on men. For one, they expect their men to say “I love you” every day, give them flowers and serenade them à la Hollywood. They also expect them to do household chores (as a part of their paternity-leave training). One day, these piranha women might even want to hold hands in public – can you imagine? How are Japanese guys supposed to deal with all this pressure? Better to just avoid Western women, really.

How lady-like are you?
You must understand the competition. You’re up against soft, petite, lovely Japanese ladies who have perfected the art of being kawaii. Bashful smiles, non-confrontational tones, and wide-eyed fascination come together in a deadly combination with excellent makeup skills. They are also pro at things like walking 0.5 steps behind their men and downplaying their intelligence (see controversial HKT48 song about how “cute” is better than “smart“). One day, they will be perfect wives making perfect bento boxes for their husbands. What can you do, you tomboy? Burnt toast? (incidentally one of my specialities, alongside burnt omelettes).

Japanese dating 101
So, what if you are a Western, awfully independent woman? (no, not the Beyoncé variety) Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ll charge straight in and save thinking for later. In concrete terms, that means Tinder, Japanese dating apps, bars, gokons and everything in between. The amount of boring dinners, lunches and Starbucks dates I’ve suffered through have, apart from accumulating into a pile of wasted time, also enabled me to present some solid research results in this area.

The first rule of dating in Japan is that 5/10 people just want to learn English. “I want to learn English” is dropped in a way that most of us would say “I want to eat chocolate”. So let’s just exclude those from our research results. The remaining 5 types can be categorized as follows:

Shy Sato   
If you’re looking for conversation, this isn’t your guy. Although he is unfailingly polite, his bottled-up emotions are buried away so deeply, the word “stone-faced” will take on an entire new meaning. Shy Sato will agree with everything you say and avoid eye-contact during the inevitable long gaps of silence of your date. When he finally gathers his courage to ask you something, it will be safe questions like “Why did you come to Japan?” or “What Japanese foods do you like?” In short, he is petrified to be on a date. With a Foreigner. Speaking about Things. Eating Food. Holding a Fork. Drinking Foreign Wines. Communicating. Making eye-contact. AHHH! If you ever get serious with a Shy Sato, don’t expect him to take initiative – ever. Don’t expect him to say “I love you” – ever. He is high-context culture personified. No need for pesky words.

Brazen Bando
Bando is the centre of attention. You know, that un-Japanese guy with the loud laughter you can hear across the room. Bando loves his bleached hair and spends hours styling it to oblivion. He knows he’s special, cool and funny. But most of all, he needs you and everybody else to acknowledge this undisputable fact. He’ll make jokes, flirt shamelessly and flaunt his bravery by approaching you – The Foreign Woman. The plastered on, white-knuckled, fake confidence gets old after a few hours, but not as old as the English “I love you” he’ll start parroting after a few drinks. Clearly not boyfriend material.

Inferior Ito
This guy’s deal is to constantly feel inferior to the imagined virtues of Western men (and women). He will fish for reactions with comments like “Oh, but Japanese men are so short and so shy, right?” or just straight up “Do you prefer Japanese or Westerners?” Usually his type has never been outside Japan, which adds oil to the roaring fire that’s his inferiority complex. Naturally, Ito would instantly feel terrible if you were to talk about your solo travels and international experience. God forbid you earn more than him and/or went to a better university (see controversy on Japanese ranking universities by how “easy” their girls are). If you don’t fancy boosting his ego all evening, I recommend you abandon ship. Fast.

International Imai
Now this guy has been places. Where, you ask? Ah you see, actually, he spent his high school years in London. Actually, he attended Tokyo University. Actually, he did an MBA abroad. Actually, most of his friends are foreigners. Actually, all of his ex-girlfriends were foreigners too. Oh, and he works for an international organization with lots of foreigners around. If you like your sandwich with EVERYTHING ON, this is your guy. Imai is a rare breed and enjoys his special place in Japanese society. Privilege is the name of the game. He would quite enjoy the perks of a foreign girlfriend/wife. But don’t be deceived. His international-family-in-Japan fantasy is only a part of his chronic Special Snowflake Syndrome.

Salaryman Suzuki
Also known as the Japanese Boy Who Used To Have Dreams. Now his dreams are long-forgotten and his motto is “live to work”. If you’re into unromantic weekday dates after 21:00, this is your guy. Weekends? Forget it. He’s got work engagements. Want to call him up for some spontaneous fun? Sorry, he’s at a nomikai with his colleagues. Well, does he at least have hobbies? Thanks for asking. He likes eating nice food and drinking nice beer. So that’s nice. Once upon a time he used to be in the kendo-club at university. But now he is adult and doesn’t have energy to do things. So why would he go out of his way to find a datable foreigner? Beats me, to be honest.

The bottom-line is that your foreign-ness will always be the elephant in the room. So why don’t you just date a bloody gaijin instead? Well, if you’re into any of the following types, it might just be the thing for you: 1) Complaining, bitter men who’ve been here too long 2) Eternal weeaboos who see Japan through rose-coloured glasses 3) Short-term sweaty students from Germany.

But let’s be honest. Most of the above prefer Japanese women anyway (Casanova treatment). So, your chances aren’t all that great, are they? You better keep holding your own doors and fixing your own pipes. And seriously, don’t trust online articles about dating.

BONUS: YouTube interview “What Japanese Guys Think of Western Girls”

21 thoughts on “Dating in Japan as a foreign woman

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this and although I have no personal experiences, I’m inclined to agree with everything you’ve said.

  2. I have not been to Japan but this seems accurate. I am revising my internal stereotype algorithms and will approach a visit with a different lens.

  3. I wonder what foreign woman see in Japanese men? Why deal with all this trouble in a far away land? There’s def a delusional fantasy going on with these woman, and maybe the Japanese can see this.

    1. “Why deal with all this trouble?” – also known as the tagline of Moving to Other Countries. Excellent question, my friend.

  4. As much as i would not like to bring race into the equation it gets even worse if your skin is darker. As it seems very few are interested in actually getting to know you as opposed to dating you for novelty purposes . Japanese and foreign men alike. Quite short term are most of these relationships, because as soon as real issues surface they’re ready to cut and run.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I suppose there is a sea of Novelty-daters to sift through before finding the One. Or well, so we are told.

  5. I’ve dated a lot of ‘Brazen Bandos’ in my 30’s’. I’d like to say I didn’t know better but I think I was just desperate and they were the only ones with ‘guts’ or ‘interest’ in the foreign girl. As you said, not boyfriend material… they are mostly narcissistic, mostly just want ‘sex’ and then you don’t hear from them again, or if they date you for a while and they are 30 or older, you will later find out they have a secret Japanese wife at home. Sometimes they are so brazen they will tell you about the wife and act like it’s totally ok to keep seeing you. Sigh…
    the ‘International Ito’ also has the hippy broke version you meet abroad, not in Japan. They are interested in foreign women but are also not really interested in going back to Japan…. so dating (with marriage prospect) of Japanese guys… mostly if you are skinny and blond it’s possible (Intetnational itos like those most)… but chubby ladies… well… the future may well be a fabulaous single life or desperate flings with married men.

    1. Ah yes, the dangerous married man-trap. To be honest, I still get surprised every time it happens. It’s just whack. Re: chubby ladies, I can’t do anything but to agree wholeheartedly with this. Also, being “too” tall isn’t great either xD

  6. I live in Japan and have observed the above but it also seems rather negative and paints such a poor light on Japan.
    Sure, you’ve highlighted that western women (generally speaking) are not a match for Japanese men. But you also paint all the shortcomings on the men, because other than the rare “international Imai”, there is simply no match because there is something wrong with Japanese men.

    Maybe it’s due to a cultural difference? Or maybe there is something wrong with the way western women are approaching dating in Japan? You can’t just copy and paste western dating styles and expect it to work in Japan, similarly it wouldn’t work in the reverse. Stop playing the victim by trying to fit into a certain circle if you don’t fit in. There’s so many social circles and different type of people in Japan, keep searching. But no need to paint an entire negative brush on all Japanese men. Try and be more positive

    1. I had hoped that my negative painting skills would have been somewhat softened by the glistening coat of sarcasm. But of course, cultural differences and approach to life do matter. Luckily for little rays of sunshine like me, I can whinge about failings and shortcomings online. But back in real life, there are those aforementioned cool circles of people that make life worth living (phew, right). Cheers for the comment!

  7. To be honest, you’re right. And if you swapped this and took out the Casanova treatment, maybe sprinkled in a few minor changes, you’re looking at a man’s perspective of living in Japan too. Shit’s not easy for most of us. That is, like you said, unless you’re a lbh turned-Casanova, a bitter foreigner (god bless po’ ol’ TINK-TINK. Everything is hard for them), a rose lensed weeb or a German student.

    Rock on, sus. Keep up the good fight. I hope it pays off.

    1. Wow! I like the gender-swap idea. Very good mind-exercise. But I am glad that some of my woes resonate with actual people out there. Let’s all hang in there (or here, I guess). Thanks!

  8. Oh my goodness those Shy Satos. I don’t know how you even discern if they like you.

    I had one I knew and I was always initiating the conversation, so I thought I was like a somewhat intimidating acquaintance. I was too new to Japan at the time to notice the VERY subtle signs.

    One day he went past his train stop to keep talking to me and then at my stop while I was waiting for my transfer (and he for his return), he bought me a vending machine drink and then fled.

    That, I think, was meant to be that he liked me. Just say so! Hoe can you be so attractive and so shy….

    1. Oh dear, he missed his stop for you? In popular music terms, I guess that would be translated to “catching a grenade for you”. What a brave chap.

      Jokes aside, it can be quite hard getting under the skin of those. Although, I hear that excessive alcohol consumption speeds up the process somewhat.

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