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Going Steady: Committing to Japanese Dating Words

Understanding some old and new terms and ideas related to “going out” in Japan.

By 3 min read

If you want to become お似合にあいのカップル (a perfectly matched couple), you will not only have to navigate the tricky world of デーティング (dating) but also the equally confusing world of Japanese dating terminology… and we’re not just talking about the vast number of words for love in Japanese.

Make no mistake: whether you want to join the hallowed ranks of the おしゃれ (fashionable people), イケメン (hunks), 美人びじん (beauties), 可愛かわい (cuties), 大和撫子やまとなでしこ (idealized traditional-type woman) and 九州男児きゅうしゅうだんじ (the incredibly manly people from Kyushu!) or simply enjoy a bit of water-cooler gossip — dating words are very important.

Some of these are, of course, similar to the English way of thinking. Take for example this playful way to ask for a date: “あそびにこうよ (Shall we have some fun)?” After the relationship has progressed, however, saying that you are still 遊んでる (playing) is a sign that the relationship is not at all serious — which may or may not be what you want!

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Interestingly, much like English speakers may say that we’re “stuck on someone,” Japanese speakers use the word く (attach) to describe a relationship. This is typically paired with the word う (to meet) to form 付き合う (to date).

For example, the phrase 付き合ってくれる? can be used to take the lead and initiate a relationship by being the one to ask someone on a date. This may look weird to foreign people since くれる is typically attached to giving gifts and other things that are being done as a favor for someone else, but it’s quite normal to attach くれる to dating verbs as the date itself is something that another person “lets the speaker have.”

Another illustration of how formality can creep into even the dating world is the use of 正式せいしきにお付き合いをしてくれますか? — since 正式に is typically attached to things that are ceremonious. Using this phrase with your object of affection is really an indirect, polite way of asking whether the two of you are formally dating or not. Basically, it confirms if your relationship has progressed to true “couple” status, rather than remaining something less serious.

It’s quite normal to attach くれる to dating verbs as the date itself is something that another person ‘lets the speaker have.’

The Japanese language also has a tendency to repurpose verbs for other uses in much the same way English verbs like “going steady” have very different meanings in the world of dating. A good example of this is 口説くどく. It’s typically used to coax someone to do something, however, in the dating world, it’s repurposed to form 口説き文句もんく (pick-up line), which is closely linked with ナンパ (smooth talker or ladies’ man) and being もてる (popular with the ladies).

If this sounds a little overwhelming, foreigners can luckily use a simple  English word. There is a fairly good chance that the person you’re into will likely understand it as many common words in English have made it into Japanese. A short list shows the influence of Western ideas about dating in Japan:

Japanese English
ガールフレンド girlfriend
ボーイフレンド boyfriend
デート date
デートスポット good spot for a date
ブラインドデート blind date
オンラインデート online date

Or you can simply mash the worlds of English and Japanese together and refer to you and your romantic partner using a beautiful, Japanese-Western hybrid created from the Japanese word 馬鹿ばか (stupid, ridiculous) and the English/Latin-origin word カップル (romantic couple).

The resulting word — バカップル — describes couples who may be perfect for each other precisely because they demonstrate it every chance they get — showing too much of their “love” in public (PDAs) to the irritation of onlookers. Perhaps an appropriate metaphor for the world of dating in Japanese with its fascinating mixture of Western and native influences!

What are some of your favorite Japanese words for dating? Do you have any surefire Japanese opening lines to start a conversation or terms to refer to people you are — or would like to be — dating? Let us know in the comments!

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