Looking for Love: The Trials and Tribulations of Online Dating in Japan
By Sara Who
On April 17, 2016
When I moved to Japan about five years ago, I quickly realized that finding love in this country was not going to be an easy task. Most western men I met were either gay, in a relationship or only interested in Japanese women. I did find Japanese guys very attractive, but they would never approach me, being notoriously shy around foreign women. I could sometimes detect a flicker of interest, at most, before they ran away.
The courtship process in Japan puzzled me. From what I gathered from my Japanese girlfriends, it seemed to involve a lot of passiveness, indirect communication, text messaging, misunderstandings and patience. After wasting months subtly pursuing a guy at work only to discover he had a girlfriend, I quit the Japanese way – and bento making, also described by my friends as a boyfriend magnet in Japan.
The courtship process in Japan puzzled me.
Two of my single western guy friends suggested online dating – as long as I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I was new to the online dating scene and a little hesitant at first. That was back in the days before Tinder became popular and online dating wasn’t as socially acceptable. After a particularly gloomy weekend, I decided that some no strings attached action sounded a lot better than no action at all. I joined Japan Cupid, a dating website and started combing through profiles of creeps, charisma men and thankfully, potentially interesting Japanese guys.
To my surprise, I got a lot of attention, especially from the ever so shy and elusive Japanese guys. Hidden behind their computer screens, they could now safely approach me. Most were also pretty international, could speak English and were looking for a chance to meet non-Japanese people. Overall, I’d say that they were also more gentlemanlike than their western counterparts and most didn’t make me feel like they were only looking for sex. Some also claimed to be looking for friends or even language partners; though I’m not sure why they would be on a dating site if they were not also looking for something else…
I soon found myself having dinner with a string of attractive Japanese men – the same ones that would never approach me before. Most first dates were a bit nerve-wracking, as you are after all meeting a complete stranger or potential psychopath, but getting to know each other was quite easy. If conversation topics ran out, we could always talk about life in Japan or abroad, or worse case scenario, how good I was at using chopsticks. In a way, being from different cultural backgrounds made it easier to find things to talk about.
If my dates were always very friendly, it was sometimes hard to tell if they were interested in me or not.
If my dates were always very friendly, it was sometimes hard to tell if they were interested in me or not. Where western guys would perhaps try to kiss you goodnight or try to invite themselves for a late night coffee, Japanese guys would awkwardly shake your hand, at most. I never had to make the first move back home, but I quickly understood that if I wanted anything to happen on the first date, I would have to put on my big girl pants. After a tough and manly karate coach turned into a pink shaking mess when I invited him back to my place, it became apparent that a subtle approach might work better. I discovered hand holding and dark karaoke boxes did wonders with shy Japanese guys, giving them all the signals needed to take things further, i.e. taking you on a casual stroll through Dogenzaka, also known as Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya.
One thing that surprised me the most was that online dating was not only for casual hook-ups and one night stands. Though I admit I had my fair share of fun. Some guys were genuinely looking for a relationship, but found it difficult to meet people the traditional way, especially if they were interested in foreign girls. I did end up meeting three of my boyfriends online and about half of my friends also met their other halves the same way.
But let’s be honest here, if you are looking for more than the occasional tryst in Kabukicho, online dating will often frustrate you. For one, it takes time to find quality matches, especially on Tinder. You will also probably have your share of disappointing dates… but sometimes, you will also meet a great guy that will make it all worthwhile.
Popular dating apps and websites in Japan
Positives: free, fun, endless matches, swipe right to say yes and left to say no, match first then message, great to keep the creeps away.
Negatives: Time consuming, very little info to go on.
Positives: free, lengthy profiles, search people based on compatibly or specific criteria.
Negatives: lots of creeps and unwanted attention.
Positives: lots of choice if you are a paying member, non-paying members can contact paying members, lengthy profiles.
Negatives: A bit expensive, a few unsavoury gentlemen.