Looking for Love: 4 Ways People Break Up in Japan

On September 13, 2016

While breakups always suck, they can be extra painful when cultural differences are added to the mix. In a country where people try their hardest to avoid direct confrontation and generally prefer a more passive-aggressive approach, what can you expect when it’s time to part ways?

If a recent split left you confused or if you’re looking back at your past single life with envy, the following patterns could give you some insight into the Japanese way of parting ways.

The “It’s Not You, It’s Watashi” Act

Japanese people are masters at rejecting without anyone’s feelings getting hurt. You might not even realize you’ve been turned down at first. A woman you’ve invited for dinner might say she’s too busy — repeatedly, while looking genuinely sorry every time. Japanese guys — bless them for their lack of creativity — might tell you their phone has been acting strange and they haven’t received any of your text messages.

You get the picture. You’ve been rejected, but no one is losing face over it. This technique can also be used to break up with someone.

By suddenly making themselves less available and only replying to text messages sporadically, the dumper tries to remove him or herself from the relationship slowly, without causing pain. What they’re trying to convey: It’s not your fault, it’s external circumstances that have led to this point. Shoganai.

I had a girl break up with me because of her job. One month into the relationship, she started acting weird: less affectionate, distant, stuff like that. Then she sent me a message on Line saying she couldn’t be with me because she was busy at work. Plus her mother didn’t like me.—Kai


Have you ever stayed friends with an ex? In Japan, it’s not uncommon to completely cast an old flame out of your life after breaking up with them. While ghosting seems to be on the rise in the West, it is still viewed as a cowardly and disrespectful way to treat someone back home.

In Japan, ghosting is completely acceptable and most people would not want to remain on friendly terms with an ex. Ghosting is a way to steer clear of an unpleasant confrontation by literally ignoring the person altogether. You basically just stop talking to them. In theory, the jilted will simply come to the conclusion they “naturally” drifted apart.

When asking a work colleague whether he had a girlfriend or not, his brows furrowed and looking very confused, he replied: “I think… I… don’t…”  Turned out, the guy had been dating a girl for four years, but they hadn’t spoken in six months and never officially broke up.

And ghosting doesn’t only relate to romantic relationships.

There was a guy at my office who, one day, just didn’t turn up for work. We were calling and calling, but no answer, until somebody found a Post-it on his desk that said, ‘I’m quitting. Please don’t call my parents.’ —Erica

Family Interference

You might be in love, but if you and your partner are thinking marriage, it could mean the death of your relationship if your prospective in-laws don’t approve of you. It’s not uncommon for controlling parents to put pressure on their children — and even threaten to disown them — if they go against their wishes.

On the bright side, if you’ve ever been broken up with because of parental interference, count yourself lucky. Why would you want to be with someone who can’t stand up for themselves and their partner?

My friend was living with her Japanese boyfriend back in the U.S. and it was pretty clear that his mother wasn’t happy with her son being (what she saw as) kidnapped from his own family. Anyway, soon after they moved in together, she sent them a care package with presents from Japan for him — and a box of tampons for her. —Jen

Life Events

Back home, we tend to value productivity and the ability to multitask over perfection. In Japan, the opposite is usually true. Japanese people often believe they should focus and perfect one thing at a time. It’s not uncommon for couples to break up when studying for entrance exams, job hunting or when starting their career. They might still love you, but the timing isn’t right and they can’t spend as much time as they would like with you. This might come as a shock to foreigners here trying to juggle work, family, friends and hobbies while still aiming to maintain a steady relationship.

When I was working as an ALT in a Japanese high school, it seemed that lots of the kids had boyfriends or girlfriends right up until the last year when suddenly there would be a wave of abrupt breakups. I’d ask them why and they would all repeat the same phrase: ‘I need to concentrate on my studies for the university entrance exam.’ It made me feel sad for them that they had to choose between one or the other.—Nik

Have you ever broken up with someone in Japan? What are the main differences between ending a relationship here and in your home country? [Editor’s note: If someone can please explain what the deal is with couples breaking up at train stations around last train, we’d really like to know!]


Intercultural explorer, matchmaking choreographer, dating in Tokyo since 2011.

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  • Aaron Siegel says:

    So in other words, people in Japan break up exactly the same way as people in other countries? THat’s some high class “exploring” you did there.

    • Robert Chandler says:

      I dont know 4 is a little different but the rest yep. Of course there is 5 straight out being mean and saying we are finished.

  • Seadaddy66 says:

    I think American women or men will often cheat with someone else before having the guts to move on. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to be alone or they need to see that there is something better out there first? Not sure, although I’ve done it and don’t know why I did it, other than I was too young and immature at the time to be married.

    • Robert Chandler says:

      Yeah I think its like looking for a new job you want one before letting go the old one as horrible as it sounds and is.

  • SOPHIE says:

    I have been dating with a japanese guy for 10months, basically we lived together. My exchange program has been ended so I had to go back to my country but we promised to try our best together and not to break up. 2 weeks later he stopped texting me and disappeared fromy life. I was in panic cuz I thought something happened with him… About 1 month later he answered me that “sorry i went back to my parents house i had a talk with them and i relalized that i have to concentrate on job hunting. ” it happened 5years ago, it was so painful and it is still painful cuz there was no proper ending of this story.

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