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Ghosted: Non-confrontational Dating Culture in Japan

Getting a rejection in Japan isn’t always a clear no – sometimes, you have to read between the lines.

By 4 min read 1

If you’ve used dating apps in Japan, you might be familiar with a few frequent scenarios after making a connection. Messages slowly go from quick replies to just “read.” Or you open the app and find you’ve been unmatched without much reason. If you do score a date, you might find they schedule it months in advance, only to cancel the day before.

While “ghosting” is not a Japan-only move, you’ll hear it brought up a lot by foreigners. After a few times, you might be unsure of exactly what you’re dealing with—pandemic or not—you can’t be that unlucky. Right? Is Valentine’s Day (and White Day) really that bad here?

Unlike dating in the West, where people often outright say they’re not interested, dating in Japan can seem odd, as people are less likely to be so upfront. You can have what seems like a great spark that dies when it’s time to meet up or someone who keeps making excuses instead of just declining.

To get a feel for what you’re experiencing, let’s look at how rejection might manifest and what you can do about it.

Not reading the air (kuuki yomenai)

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Sure you are.

It’s pretty obvious if someone is not interested when the only replies you get are one-word answers. You could keep pushing and trying to force a spark, but it probably isn’t happening.

This is basically what the Japanese slang term kuuki yomenai (also called KY) is—not being able to read the atmosphere and continuing regardless. “Reading the room” is a big part of Japanese culture and can be much more difficult to spot if you’re not used to it. Here’s an example of how it might show up in a conversation:

You: Do you want to meet for some drinks?
Them: I’m working on a big project at work, but I will let you know if I find some time!
You: Sure, when works for you?
Them: Can we meet [specific date and time early in the morning, three months in the future]?

Most rejections like this aren’t confrontational. This won’t always be the case. Of course, some people will be more than happy to tell you they don’t aren’t into you. In general, though, these passive rejections are part of the culture around dating in Japan. There’s a stigma of rudeness or impoliteness attached to being blunt, so lying or avoiding the conversation is considered more acceptable. Add in the relative anonymity of the internet and you can see why these can be attractive options for rejection.

The Emergency/Change of Plans

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Try not to take their excuses personally.

A common move in dating is having a friend call you during a date to give you an easy way to leave if you’re not feeling a connection. If your date gets cold feet in Japan, they’ll usually tell you they “caught a cold.”

It might go a little like this: 

You: Hey, are we still meeting tonight?
Them: Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve been feeling sick all day. I can’t come out.
You: Okay, I guess. Another time?
Them: Yeah, we’ll find some other time [Narrator: They didn’t.]

Of course, there’s always a chance of a change of plans or a cancellation on the day for an illness or other urgent issue that popped up. So remember that sometimes life does really get in the way. If it is just a temporary setback, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep talking and eventually reschedule, so don’t jump to conclusions. 

How do I deal with it?

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It’s never easy getting rejected but that just means there’s someone even better out there!

You let it go. If it’s not something that comes naturally to you, it’s a skill you’ll develop over time. Of course, life does sometimes get in the way, and there are reasons people need to change plans, but it shouldn’t be a constant occurrence.

These are soft rejections. Rather than a hard “no,” you’re being given subtle hints that they’re not interested anymore. It might be because they’ve found someone else in the fast-paced world of dating apps or don’t feel like going out to meet a stranger. The ball is in your court here.

Listen to what’s being said implicitly—if someone is coming up with reasons why they can’t meet you and no solutions as to how they can, the message is clear. They’re not interested. It might feel bad at first, but consider how much of a red flag it is if someone can’t be upfront with you or communicate honestly. It’s their loss. Not yours.

Have you experienced any of these? Or maybe we’ve missed another method? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Ron says:

    I dated a Japanese lady that I met at a coffee shop. We had a first date in a coffee shop and on the 2nd date we went out for a dinner. I can speak Japanese and we had a great conversation. We got tipsy and went for a 2nd drink in another place and then to my place together. She stayed for a couple of hours and went home by taxi. This long evening was great and I felt as we had a great connection. Before she went home I walked her to the taxi, she hugged me and said she had a great night. Also texted me when she arrived home. I mention all the details as according to western standards I had all the signs she’s interested in seeing me again. However the following day I asked her how she felt and she just said “元気です!” I asked her if she have plans but she never responded and also blocked me on social media. But here’s the punch. It’s the 2nd time something like this happened to me! Almost exactly the same. A great date (according to western standards) and then she ghost and block me. I asked a few Japanese friends and they said it happens sometime here as people don’t like confrontation. I wonder if anyone has any insights?!?

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