Looking for Love: Cheating in Japan

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On January 27, 2017
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This past Sunday, I was having brunch with a good Japanese friend of mine, lamenting the lack of men who could juggle work and personal life in this country. My friend stirred her coffee and, after a pause, simply said: “There’s an easy solution to your problem. Why don’t you just date two guys at the same time?”

I made her repeat, just to make sure my sweet, Disney-loving and innocent friend was really encouraging me to be unfaithful.

“Well, if the guy you are dating is too busy to meet once a week, just get another one on the side. That way, you can have a date every week. What a guy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

I made her repeat, just to make sure my sweet, Disney-loving and innocent friend was really encouraging me to be unfaithful.

Apart from not wanting to cause anyone pain, I don’t think I could ever be cunning, or practical, enough to be two-timing someone. Yet, what my friend said made me wonder why cheating is so readily accepted, or at least, tolerated in Japan.

50 shades of cheating

What constitutes cheating in Japan? Apparently, a survey by Internet portal R25 found that 23 percent of Japanese women do not consider sleeping with another guy as cheating. I’m not sure what else could top that in terms of being unfaithful!

If the definition of what is and isn’t cheating is open to interpretation, some girls and guys don’t even try to hide it:

A few years ago, this guy I had been seeing for a few months took me out for dinner on my birthday. He had prepared a cake and even gave me this really nice pendant from Tiffany. After dinner, we went back to his place and I went to the bathroom to take a shower. My toothbrush was nowhere to be found, so I opened the vanity cabinet. There it was, on top of at least 10 other toothbrushes! I confronted the guy and he told me he wasn’t cheating on me – he was using these toothbrushes to “clean his bathroom.” Um, as if that was a better alternative! I took my gift and left. – Cath

Lover’s paradise

Honestly, this country is basically a paradise for cheaters. The long working hours and enkai office parties provide endless excuses for late arrivals home. Love hotels are everywhere and, for 6,000 yen, will buy you three hours of discreet and anonymous fun. No willing partner to be found? Soaplands will offer tired workers the happy ending they need before their long train ride home.

“I came to Japan with my now ex-fiancé, as he was an engineer and got offered a position in Osaka. I had been warned that guys here had trouble staying faithful with all these beautiful Japanese women around, but I never thought this would happen to him – until he started spending time with a colleague from the same section. I wasn’t suspicious at first, because they would go for drinks with other co-workers and I was sometimes invited. Also, he would complain to me about her all the time, saying how she was annoying and talked funny. The fact that my fiancé’s new friends were all cheating on their girlfriends should have been a red flag, but I trusted him. Then one day, I got curious and went through his phone. I saw a conversation between him and his friend, mentioning how he had gone to this girl’s place the night before, that she was crazy about him and how he should have “tried” a Japanese girl sooner. We broke off our engagement and he started dating that girl from work within weeks.” – Ariana

Turning a blind eye

More interestingly, married couples will often turn a blind eye to their partner’s indiscretions as long as the family unit is not endangered. Some women will not even consider their husband visiting a soapland as cheating, since it is only relieving a physical need and feelings are not part of it. It is just not a good reason enough to divorce, especially if children are involved.

“A good Japanese friend of mine discovered her Japanese husband had been using an app to sext women. His phone was full of naked pictures and videos. They had a one-year-old baby. After she found out, she left the house. Her mother-in-law came to visit and told her it was normal for men to do that and to just ignore his behavior. If she didn’t come back home, her daughter would suffer because of her selfishness. The sad thing is that she went back to her cheating husband.” – Niki

Back home in Canada, married people are expected to work hard to keep the flame alive, even more so when they have kids. A lack of sexual intimacy is seen as an issue that must be fixed. Struggling couples are encouraged to seek counseling and work on rekindling their relationship. In Japan, on the other hand, it is generally expected for sex to dry up after having kids. It doesn’t help that couples start referring to each other as “mom” and “dad”, instead of “honey” and “darling”.

No sex please, I’m married

However, if the couple becomes secondary, it doesn’t mean married people stop having the urge to have sex – just not with their spouse!

“I once went on a date with a guy who turned out to be married with kids. The evening was going really well, when I mentioned I valued honesty above all. The guy started fidgeting and admitted that he had a wife and kid, but that the marriage wasn’t happy anymore and they were sexless. He couldn’t believe it when I told him I would not be seeing him again! He kept repeating that he and his wife lived like roommates – like that would make a difference!” – Jenn

Even if married Japanese men cheat more than their female spouses, do not doubt for a second that women looking for an affair are having any less fun than their male counterparts. Since soaplands and other services of the sort are usually geared towards men, some economically savvy ladies have found another discreet way to satisfy their cravings. That’s what we call killing two birds with one stone, or since we are talking about Japanese housewives, having your cake and eating it!

“I used to work for this Eikawa where most of our students were bored housewives in their forties, and most of the teachers were gaijin guys with a serious case of yellow fever. I’m sure you can imagine the rest. We all knew how these private lessons really ended, and not just because the guys would boast about their conquests all the time. They would even give the women nicknames! You might think these guys were assholes, but one time, a disgruntled housewife had a guy fired because he didn’t want to go out with her a second time. She complained to the boss he was doing a bad job… and then she tried to ask me for private lessons. Let’s just say I told her I was too busy! – Mark

A universal issue

Even though this article focused mainly on Japanese people and their perception of cheating, we shouldn’t forget about a part of Japan’s population we have not directly mentioned in this article: gaijins! Because let’s face it, cheating is certainly not a problem limited to Japanese people or any specific nationality for that matter.

“Nao, a good Japanese friend of mine, used to date this German girl. They were long distance for a while, then she came to Japan on a working holiday visa. Nao let her stay at his place for a few months while she was looking for a job and paid for everything. One weekend he was away on a business trip, I saw her in Roppongi kissing another Japanese guy… Of course, I told Nao about it and they broke up. Turns out she had been hooking up with different guys for a while and other friends had seen her but didn’t have the heart to tell him. He was crushed.” – Ken

Be warned

One last word of warning though, if you are planning to cheat on your spouse or have an affair with a married man or woman, be sure to be extremely discreet. In Japan, a scorned spouse can not only sue their unfaithful partner, but also their lover! So keep that in mind the next time you go on a date with someone wearing a ring on their finger.

Is cheating in Japan an acceptable norm in a relationship? Or is it that the definition of “cheating” here is different? Do you agree with the writer? Share your thoughts below!

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Intercultural explorer, matchmaking choreographer, dating in Tokyo since 2011.
  • Tess de la Serna says:

    In the Philippines, if the husband cheats the neighbors blame the wife for not making herself still attractive. My sister is still very attractive but her husband still cheated on her not once but many times. Most wealthy Filipino guys think that they can also afford morality. Marriage never last even if both parties agreed on “cheating” each other. Cheating is cheating: the moral meaning of the term never changed.

  • John says:

    Cheating in Japan can be as far as meeting another girl alone for non business related stuff. Guys have to be really careful. Also wife can be crazy, they will check your emails, your friends, what you do. If you say you have a female friend, please say goodbye to your friend, your wife will drive you nuts until you stop talking to her.

  • Mike says:

    An interesting topic. Though I’d say distrust and ransacking other’s mobile do not seem legitimate on their own. E.g. I have a stack of old toothbrushes (washed) for cleaning small things but it does not mean they are leftovers from my secret affairs.

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