Dating A Japanese Man – An Insider Guide
Hey guys, my name is Yuta. I’m a Japanese blogger, YouTuber, author, etc. (I do a lot of stuff!)
You might be wondering: what is this dude doing here? Well, I recently wrote a book called “There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan“.
Jasmine’s blog “Zooming Japan” has been a great inspiration to me, so I’d like to share some of the best stories with you guys!
Kala’s Story (Black American)
Kala remembers when she saw him for the first time. Back then, she lived in Kagoshima where she taught English. One day, she was practising speaking Japanese with her study group when she saw a guy with an awesome hairstyle.
‘Who is that guy?’ she asked.
‘Well, I think he lives here,’ someone said.
Their conversation turned into something completely different: a strategic meeting to work out how to meet that guy. Before the meeting was over, Kala had a plan. Her friends had different roles: inviting him to the group, giving her advice, etc. They called it “Mission Get That Guy“.
The mission seemed to go well. They managed to invite him to the group, and later Kala had a chance to be alone with him. She asked him to teach her Japanese, which was obviously just an excuse.
One day, Kala went to an international party for foreign students. The guy was there too. But when Kala greeted him, a Japanese girl came up to him and put her hand on his back. Kala was shocked.
‘What’s happening?’ she asked her friend.
‘I’m sorry, but I think the girl is his girlfriend,’ her friend said.
Kala was disappointed, but she wasn’t giving up.
‘What can I do?’ she asked.
‘Maybe you can get to know him better. What is he interested in?’
‘Do you know anything about it?’
‘Do you know Pele?’
‘What is Pele?’
Well, football is not exactly the most popular sport in the US.
After a while, Kala decided to throw a thanksgiving party and invite him. She made a special map showing the way to her house, just for him. The guy brought sweet potato balls to her party. They weren’t very popular. Feeling sorry for him, Kala started eating them.
‘Thank you for bringing them! They are very good,’ Kala said.
Soon after, she found the courage to ask him if he was still dating the Japanese girl. He said no!
By that time, he was beginning to understand that Kala was interested in him. They started dating.
‘I left Kagoshima in 2001 and went back to the States,’ Kala recalls.
That was more than 10 years ago, and now they are happily married.
When I asked her if there was any cultural miscommunication in their relationship, Kala said her husband doesn’t always express his thoughts verbally. When she suggests something, he often says ‘sss’ to show his discontent without talking about it. Kala ‘translates’ his non-verbal message to understand what he means. She calls it an ‘automatic translator’.
It’s not uncommon for Japanese men to not express themselves verbally in order to avoid conflict. I will discuss this more later.
Sabina’s Story (Russian)
Sabina had been in a bad relationship with a Japanese guy. She had met him in a Roppongi club. He had been a host and had a lot of money, but he treated her as if she were his possession.
Sabina was a model, but the guy told her not to work. When she protested, he said he would give her 10,000 yen (about $100) a week.
When Halloween came around, he was working as usual. But Sabina wanted to see him, so she visited the karaoke club the guy owned.
‘Hey, you can’t come here,’ the guy scolded her.
Sabina was upset. She didn’t understand why he was so mean. But she couldn’t do anything about it, so she left.
Next morning, the guy said, ‘I don’t want to stay with you anymore.’
Sabina didn’t protest. She already had doubts about their future. She also had another reason to want to leave him. There was another Japanese guy who had approached her in a club, and she had been thinking about him a lot. When she broke up with the host guy, she called the new guy and started going out with him.
There was something about him that she really liked. He was a calm, nice guy. Before she knew it, they were spending time together almost daily. The new guy was very caring, and showed her around Tokyo.
Sabina still remembers the time they went to Yokohama. She found a toy giraffe and said,
‘Wow, I really like this.’
Seeing that she was excited, the guy bought the giraffe for her. She was really happy.
Then she had to move out of her flat which she shared with her friend.
‘I have to find a new place,’ she said.
‘Why don’t you live with me?’ the guy asked.
She accepted the invitation. She really liked him, and they had been spending a lot of time together. When she moved in, she already knew that he was the one for her.
On Saint Valentine’s Day, he proposed to her.
‘Would you like to be my wife?’ he said in Russian. He had learnt a little bit of Russian just to propose to her.
Fast forward to 2015, and they have been happily married for ten years. Even though the initial excitement of dating seems to have faded away, they manage to keep the fire alive.
‘My husband is best for my body and for my feelings. He knows my body,’ Sabina said.
Her husband doesn’t express his opinions much. When she asks what he wants to eat, he often says ‘whatever you can cook’. Sometimes Sabina thinks that he needs to be more expressive.
However, he does have an opinion about something. Once, they went to the cinema. They would usually see whatever Sabina wanted to see, but that time she had chosen an action film that he liked.
When the film was over, Sabina was tired. She wanted to go home.
‘What? Let’s see another one!’ her husband said excitedly.
She gave in. She wasn’t a fan of action films, but she wanted to see her husband happy.
Sabina’s husband is not the only one who doesn’t express his opinions much. But here’s something to consider: even when people look like they don’t care about anything, there are often a few things they truly care about. I think knowing what’s really important to them is the key to a happy relationship.
Lily’s Story (White American)
Lily speaks Japanese fluently and has dated many Japanese guys. When I asked her about the secret of attracting Japanese men, she said, ‘You just go for it. The best way is just to plough them over, and then they’ll have no choice but to submit.’
She met her ex-boyfriend when she went to karaoke with her friends. She started flirting with him.
‘Let’s go to your place,’ she said when everyone was leaving.
That was how they started going out together.
One day, the guy said he wanted to see her. She said yes and he took her to a park.
‘I like you, Lily,’ he said in Japanese.
Being familiar with Japanese culture, Lily knew exactly what this was: kokuhaku, or the confession of love. When a Japanese man confesses his love, it usually means that he is asking you to be his girlfriend.
Lily said yes, even though she’d always found the kokuhaku situation a bit funny. She appreciated the gesture. ‘That was a good kokuhaku,’ she said.
However, he turned out to be a very jealous guy. Every morning, she had to send him a ‘good morning’ message, and a ‘good night’ message before going to bed.
After a while, they decided to have a holiday in the States because he was living and working there. They planned to meet in San Francisco. They had actually met in the States when Lily was there temporarily. Lily had to come back to Japan, so it was a long-distance relationship. The guy didn’t speak English at all even though he lived in the States. He was just there for work.
Lily arrived in San Francisco one day earlier than him. When she arrived, she sent him a brief text, had dinner with her friends, and went to bed.
The next morning, she sent him a text.
‘Are you here? I’m so excited!’ she wrote.
It was around the time that he was arriving at the airport.
‘I arrived, but I’m leaving.’ he texted back shortly.
Lily was confused and wondered what had happened. According to him, he was angry because she hadn’t texted him after she had gone back to the hotel the previous night. She had to calm him down on the phone. She was still in the hotel lobby. It was embarrassing having to fight on the phone and cry in front of everyone. Even though they still managed to go on holiday, it was very awkward and tense. After the trip, she decided to break up with him.
‘If something was bothering him, he wouldn’t say anything, and instead, he would just get angry or sad about it,’ Lily said. It seemed that he didn’t know how to express his emotion in a constructive manner.
While I don’t attribute this tendency entirely to the culture, this is one of the recurring themes of dating in Japan.
Michelle’s Story (White Finnish)
Michelle met Tatsuya, her first serious Japanese boyfriend, in a bar. It was Tatsuya’s American friend who talked to her first, and then he introduced her to Tatsuya. Michelle and Tatsuya hit it off well.
‘Do you want to go out sometime?’ Michelle asked. She liked him from the start.
The next Tuesday, they went on a date. They took purikura together.
Everything was moving fast. Two months later, she met Tatsuya’s family. Soon after, they moved in together.
Despite their seemingly smooth sailing, the happy days didn’t last long.
After a while, Michelle had to go back to Finland to finish her university course. During the four months she was away, Tatsuya didn’t want to talk on Skype.
When she came back to Japan, Tatsuya had changed.
First, he had made new friends. But his new friends didn’t behave well. Michelle remembers that his friends hit on her at a party, even though Tatsuya was there.
And then one of his friends informed her that Tatsuya had been cheating on her.
At first she didn’t believe his friend. But one day, she had doubts and checked his phone. His friend was right: he had been cheating on her.
That was the end of their relationship.
What kind of person was he? Michelle says that he was in a financially difficult situation.
Tatsuya hadn’t been to university and had never had a full-time job. His employment situation was unstable and he drank a lot.
He spoke some English because he had learnt it from his American friends who were in the forces. Michelle was a bit sad because he seemed interested only in American culture and didn’t care much about Finland.
I have the impression that he might be someone who has trouble fitting in with Japanese society. I would extrapolate that his intense interest in the US came from his desire to escape from reality.
Lynette’s Story (Mixed American)
Lynette lived in South Korea before coming to Japan. She thinks Japanese guys are less aggressive than Korean guys. For example, she gets approached less in Japan.
Nonetheless, she met her boyfriend in a club. He bought her a drink and they danced together.
They made out in a club. He wanted to go to a love hotel, but she said no. Instead, they went for dinner.
When he told Lynette he was Korean, she was confused. He had a Japanese name, and he didn’t speak Korean at all. Everything about him seemed Japanese. In fact, she knew more about Korea than he did. That was when she learnt about zainich Korean, who have permanent legal status in Japan while maintaining their Korean identity.
But behaviour-wise, he was more Japanese than Korean. Once, Lynette found out that he was going to a wedding the next day. She was upset.
‘Why didn’t you invite me?’ she asked.
‘Why? You don’t even like dressing up. Besides, with Japanese weddings, you have to offer some money,’ he said.
She understood, but she was still a bit puzzled about why he hadn’t invited her. At that time, she wasn’t very familiar with Japanese culture.
Apart from the wedding incident, Lynette doesn’t feel that there’s a huge cultural barrier. He has travelled widely and he speaks English well.
Her current concern is that he doesn’t communicate a lot. He is very busy with his new job and he hardly has time do to anything else. ‘You are supposed to work to live, not the other way around,’ she told him. But he didn’t say anything.
Tips on Dating a Japanese Man
I have chosen these stories because I think they illustrate some interesting aspects of Japanese culture.
Not verbally expressive
A lot of western women comment that Japanese guys don’t express their emotions, especially negative emotions that could possibly lead to a conflict. I can understand this. I am not a big fan of expressing negative emotions either, although I try to be open about them when it’s necessary.
But Japanese men do often express their emotions non-verbally. Kala’s husband is a good example. Even though he doesn’t explicitly say ‘I don’t like that option,’ he appears hesitant.
There are many non-verbal signs of discontent: tone of voice, passive-aggressive behaviour, silence, hesitation, incomplete sentences, sudden disengagement, unenthusiastic affirmation, etc. The problem is that when the implicit messages are not understood, men can be more non-verbally aggressive, which can cause more misunderstandings. It’s a vicious circle.
Nonetheless, I don’t think understanding Japanese men is that difficult once you are used to reading their language.If you are in doubt, I think it helps to verbalize his emotion.
You can say:
- ‘You don’t seem too happy with that. Am I right?’
- ‘I think maybe you’d rather go somewhere else? What do you think?’
- ‘I’m open to other ideas. Do you have something in mind?’
The trick is that you are not forcing him to express himself, but you are giving him a chance to chime in if he has something to say. Men (and women) can get defensive very fast when they feel they are under attack.
Of course, reading too much into his behaviour can be a problem. Many people simply don’t have strong opinions about everything. Again, Sabina’s husband is a good example.
Looking for signs of interest
In the examples of Kala, Lily and Michelle, the women were the ones who took the initiative in the beginning.
I think that is part of the reason that neither Lily nor Michelle think that dating in Japan is difficult. I have the impression that many Asian men believe that white women are not interested in them. This is sad, but when women show their interest, it can overcome Asian men’s fear of rejection.
I’ve met many women who don’t like making the first move, and if they like men who are more forward, I can understand that. There are certainly Japanese men who take the initiative. (I include more examples in my book.) But if you are OK with making the first move, it’s worth trying.
In my opinion, asking guys out is quite acceptable in Japan.
Being a couple in public
Lynette was upset when her Korean-Japanese boyfriend didn’t invite her to his friend’s wedding. What she didn’t know was that not bringing your date to a wedding is completely normal in Japan. In fact, not introducing your partner to your friends and family is also common when you are not engaged.
Being a couple is often considered a private matter. This is part of the reason that Japan is also not big on public displays of affection. If you think your Japanese boyfriend is not acting the way you think a boyfriend is supposed to act, I suggest you ask him about it. It can be something completely normal in Japan. Of course, you don’t have to do everything the Japanese way, but understanding the Japanese way helps.
Defining the relationship
Romantic relationships in Japan tend to be clearly defined from early on. Confession of love (kokuhaku) serves this purpose. It is something like a relationship proposal.
On average, kokuhaku seems to happen on the third date, although this hugely depends on the person. Also, as they get older, people seem to do less kokuhaku, but there are always people who appreciate the practice.
In a way, getting a Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend is easy. All you have to do is say, ‘I like you; would you be my boyfriend (or girlfriend)?’ If the other person says yes, you are officially a couple.
I feel that I haven’t presented a very good image of Japanese men. So you may ask Why would I date a Japanese guy then? Well, for the same reason that you date any man. There might be a few cultural problems, but in the end, men are men. If you like someone, go for it. Japanese men are not that difficult to understand.
If you are interested in dating in Japan, I encourage you to check out my book!
“Dating A Japanese Man – An Insider Guide” is a guest post and any information and opinion is provided by Yuta. Therefore Zooming Japan doesn’t take any responsibility for the content.
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Events in Jan/Feb 2017:
- Jan 15: Matobakai (Kumamoto)
- Jan 15: Toh-shiya (Kyoto)
- Jan 17: Bonden-sai (Akita)
- Jan 28: Yamayaki (Nara)
- Feb 3: Setsubun (nationwide)
- Feb 3-12: Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi
- Feb 6-12: Sapporo Snow Festival
- Feb 7-12: Asahikawa Winter Festival
- Feb 15-16: Yokote Kamakura Festival
- Feb 17-19: Tokamachi Snow Festival
- Feb 18: Naked Festival at Saidai-ji (Okayama)