Looking for Love: The Trials and Tribulations of Online Dating in Japan

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Photo by Yasu Art Studio

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

Tinder

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.

Ok Cupid

Positives: free, lengthy profiles, search people based on compatibly or specific criteria.
Negatives: lots of creeps and unwanted attention.

Japan Cupid

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.

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Intercultural explorer, matchmaking choreographer, dating in Tokyo since 2011.
  • Chris Coates says:

    You must be insanely picky to date for 5 years and not find anyone. These shy Japanese men you describe, who actually want a serious relationship, sound exactly like me, except I’m not Japanese.

    I feel so dejected with dating and unwanted.

  • Justine_matchmaker says:

    Online dating can be very practical option to meet someone but it can be very time consuming and stressful process…all the information is self claimed so you must be very careful at first if your expectation is to have a long term relationship that leads to something more permanent. There are many people who chose to work with matchmakers if their intention to meet someone as ready to have relationship as you. The relationship readiness / timing is important..if one person is ready to settle and the other one just wanna have fun then, you are back to the singles start line. Many Japanese people join the marriage consulting agency to meet spouse-to-be. This is as practical as online except the profile information is backed by the proof and both people are ready to settle down.
    I thought I’d share this about Japanese culture in finding love point of view and to say that online dating is just one of the many options for you to find love.

  • The Honest Truth says:

    Finding Love for anyone is very difficult these days which even Online Dating sucks, especially for us Good men looking to settle down.

  • john says:

    http://www.letspal.com
    I found one of the best dating / make friends website while language & culture exchange practice
    ,and also site is free , here is a bit with similar face,twitt,insta or more all collected in one , you able to add more friends from over the world and post anythings what you like to share about your life -your life style ,music ,movie , leave the messages/like/share to the other post and have some blogs , easly add the members . and most of the members are really qualified nice person, I love ” LetsPal” communication

  • samurairasta says:

    “tough and manly karate coach turned into a pink shaking mess” lol is there any hope for us Japanese guys??

  • Carlos Lugo says:

    Dating in Japan have a huge difference for foreign men and women, for a not-so-ugly guy could be very easy to find anything pretty fast, online or in a bar. In overall, Japanese men feel afraid of western women, because she tend to have a not-so submissive personality compared to a Japanese counterpart, and I have to agree about it =P
    Want to become perfect girl for a Japanese? then become good at: obento, karaoke, video games, baseball, golf. And many other hobbies that Japanese guys tend to have.

    • Queenash says:

      Please cut the crap about, ”then be this”, ”be that”. If a person has to change her personality in order to get a man, then it’s a fail before it even begins and not worth it.

    • Haribo says:

      I am surprised to hear that Japanese guys have hobbies at all. Many stereotypes in their 20’s will answer the question only with Izakaya and Karaoke. ( they don’t want to mention video games).

      Hobbies in Japan is associated with cost more than in other countries.

      IF baseball, Golf , tennis etc. comes into the picture they have either visited a university or are over 30.

      I think best way to meet Japanese is when they life abroad.

      The people having lifed abroad are the people who have a more international mindset.

      Those people will also be able to forget about all those social rules that exist only in Japan – but that is only until they arrive back at Narita or Haneda.

  • Heimrik says:

    Very interesting article, thank you for sharing your experiences. I personally want to move to Japan in a few years from now and find information like this very insightful. Finding love isn’t really in my plans but being prepared never hurts.

  • aldo1492 says:

    Hi Sara,
    Very fresh article.
    I tried Tinder and OkCupid over a year.
    I noticed like people i met from Tinder as nothing interesting, someone who slide right or left the people can’t go very far.
    But in OkCupid all was very different, just register an account take at least 1hour.
    You need to make a very detailed descripsion about yourself otherwise nobody will talk to you.
    And other people are doing so interesting description of themself it is like reading a book sometimes.
    Finally I ended up by meeting my future wife and recommend this appli for everyone.

  • Sky says:

    What I want is a post about how to find guys who aren’t in Tokyo, Osaka, or Fukuoka. In the more rural, but not inaka, areas it’s nearly impossible.

    • QueenPushyCat says:

      That depends on what you’re looking for. I am actually living in the most inaka place in Japan (Ibaraki) You have to seek out other places that are more… populated. Internet dating is somehow surprisingly the main tool to reach out to people.

    • Haribo says:

      Or join expat communities

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