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Culture

Understanding Japan Through ‘Love is Blind’

What can Netflix’s reality show tell us about dating, marriage and communication in Japan?

By 4 min read

Based on the American reality dating show of the same name, Love is Blind: Japan brands itself as a social experiment to see whether romance can bloom without laying your eyes on your partner. Men and women go on “dates” in the show without ever seeing their partners. Instead, they can only hear each other’s voices. Then they go on vacation, live together and ultimately decide whether to have a wedding.

Of course, it’s all played up for dramatic effect. There aren’t any trips to the ward office, but impending matrimony’s ticking clock makes the participants think seriously about what they want in a partner. For us living in Japan and binging Love is Blind: Japan at home, what can we learn about communicating in Japanese and the dating world?

And remember, reality shows involve real people interacting in unreal scenarios—produced, directed and edited for an entertaining narrative. So let’s approach Love is Blind with an open mind and kindness for the folks involved.

Full spoilers for Love is Blind: Japan ahead. You have been warned!

Reading between the lines

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What do you mean, Dr. Mori?

In the Japanese language, much is left unsaid.

Take Minami and Mori’s decision to break up. In the show, Mori says he wants a partner “who will support me and my dreams.” Minami responds by reiterating how she wants to continue her career. Mori answers, “So, in conclusion, we should end our romantic relationship at this point.”

With, again, the caveat that we saw only a highly edited sliver of these peoples’ lives, one interpretation might be that Mori was looking for a partner who would place consideration for him over everything else: her own financial security, her communication style and her lifestyle. Such subordination based on gender is, historically, the social norm. They have a shared understanding of that norm—which is why some things can be left unsaid—but Minami chafes at it.

Stigmas about divorce, tattoos and blond hair

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Just because his hair is blond? Dang.

During the initial blind dating, several participants confessed to some aspect of their appearance or personal history that might seem insignificant depending on a viewer’s culture.

A few spoke about being divorced with some degree of shame. Motomi, for example, said, “My insecurities stem from my divorce” and that “It’s been a problem for some men, which makes me scared to talk about it.”

Other potential stigmas included tattoos, which historically have been associated with organized crime in Japan. It’s the same reason many onsen (hot springs) turn down inked clientele. Another is dyed hair, which is sometimes associated with delinquency. Ryotaro, who sported bleached hair for most of the show, went back to black before meeting his fiance’s father.

Making comments about weight

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How important are appearances?

One plot in the show was that Midori wasn’t 100% attracted to Wataru, her fiance, after meeting him face to face.

Toward the end of the season, Midori acknowledges she had “told him to do something about his belly” and that Wataru had lost six or seven kilos in three weeks. While Midori appears to have been struggling with the idea of marriage overall, not just her partner’s looks, it was surprising to see someone’s weight discussed so frankly, especially as a precondition to love.

Recently, body shaming has received backlash in Japan, such as online ads for supplements or beauty products that portray heavier people as undesirable. Like most places around the world, Japan is on a journey to rid itself of body shaming. Keyword “on.”

In the end, Midori was impressed by Wataru’s commitment to losing weight, and going to the gym became an activity they did together. So it seems appearances still do matter, but effort counts for something as well.

A housewife? In this economy?

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Motomi warns Ayano about Atsushi.

Participants also took time to understand each others’ views on gender roles, such as the division of household chores or how much a wife should work.

For the women, it’s a legitimate concern. Minami, for example, mentions she has met many guys who “think women should not just work but also take care of the kids.” Her experience appears to reflect real changes in Japan. Although the number of dual-income households has steadily increased over the last decade, Japan ranks 120th in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report.

Love is Blind: Japan’s most old-fashioned participant was Atsushi, who says to the camera, “I think the kitchen is a woman’s domain” and that he wants “to be with someone who likes housework.”

He didn’t make it past the blind dating phase.

What parts of Love is Blind: Japan did you feel accurately represented the dating scene here? Did you see any similarities to your culture? Let us know in the comments below!

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