This article is mostly for the benefit of Western readers. However, I feel it can also help Japanese readers who would like to better understand the Western perspective of Japanese dating. I’ve included my thoughts as a Westerner on Japanese dating culture for that reason. Virgin or veteran, I feel for any Westerner or Easterner who dates or aspires to date inter-culturally this is worth a read. Who knows? You might just understand the other half a little better after this.
I’m going to start out with a disclaimer: Every person- and consequently every situation- is different. I’m sure people can find exceptions to what I am putting forth as general rules. But they are just that: generalities. I am by no means an expert. I am going off of my experience and some discussions with my Japanese friends and friends who have lengthy experience with the culture. Additionally, I am a man, so all of my understanding comes from the perspective of a man. I would love more input from the experiences of others. I would especially love to hear back from my Japanese friends with their thoughts and perspectives on the topic. Ladies especially. Any more I can learn will only serve myself and others better. That being said, let’s dive right in.
Japan, and as I understand it most of Asia, has a very different dating culture than that of the West. I can best describe it as courting with initial ambiguity. Things also move much more slowly than in the west.
Initial dating, or the lead up to dating, always begins in a group. You go out with mutual friends, or a group of your friends and a group of her friends together. You will probably only bring friends of the same sex. Bringing a friend of the opposite sex can often be misinterpreted. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but more of a rule of thumb. Being in a group diffuses the pressure and allows each party to take stock of the company the other keeps. Meeting their friends and having the friends’ approval can be very important, but not always. In the group, you focus almost solely on the one you are interested in. If you can, you may break off from the group as to only talk with each other. This is how you show interest.
After several outings like this, say five or six, you may ask to do something just the two of you. A movie, grabbing coffee or going to the park. Typical date type things, but generally in public. This allows each of you to gauge how you feel about being alone with the other. After spending time together outside of the group for a while, also probably five or six times, one person will confess their love for the other. This is called “kokuhaku,” and is in most cases done by the man. If the other returns those feelings, then they become boyfriend and girlfriend. The relationship then proceeds as relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends do. There ends any significant differences.
At the point of kokuhaku is where we consider two people to begin dating. Everything before that is considered getting to know each other in a friendly manner. In the West we would argue that dating is simply getting to know someone better with romantic intent to see if you would like a relationship with them, so that the time spent outside of the group would be considered dates. From my understanding the Japanese do not see it that way.
Also to be noted is that no physical intimacy occurs until after becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. I don’t just mean sex, but kissing and I think even hand holding. All of that comes after the relationship. Attempting a kiss can make a Japanese person think you are only interested in sex or a physical relationship and not a serious or romantic relationship. A lot of miscommunication can occur here. For example, often a Westerner will want to kiss someone they are seeing and the Easterner doesn’t want to be kissed yet. The Westerner will think the Easterner isn’t interested in a relationship with him/her. The Easterner will think the Westerner only wants to sleep with him/her and doesn’t want an actual relationship. Since we in the West use kissing as an expression of romantic intent and as a stepping stone to building a relationship, it can be especially confusing and frustrating. So far as physical intimacy after becoming boyfriend and girlfriend: I believe everything is fair game. Eastern cultures don’t have the religious stigma of sex before marriage being a sin, so most are open to premarital sex. Obviously how soon they are willing to have sex after becoming boyfriend and girlfriend is based on the individual.
The use of kokuhaku is also a bit of a culture shock for Westerners. Love is a very powerful word and concept in English. Telling someone “I love you” in such a manner as kokuhaku is consequently very serious. In Western dating one would only tell someone “I love you” after being boyfriend and girlfriend for a good amount of time. One says those words only with someone they feel they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Westerners try not to say those words until they are sure of that feeling. We use the less powerful word “like” until then. But even telling someone “I like you” can be tricky. Saying those words makes the thing real and in the open. It makes you think about their feelings, your feelings and adds pressure to the situation. One worries about hurting the other person’s feelings and it turns a once playful situation very serious. For those reasons most Westerners prefer romantic actions over confessions of love. With an action you don’t need to think, simply to do. One will feel what they feel and it clarifies any concerns or confusions. Most commonly we use a kiss. Kissing is a very clear sign that someone likes and wants to date you. Unless they are drunk. Then all bets are off.
Because of the kokuhaku culture expressing interest in someone can also be tricky for a Westerner. The Japanese language does not contain gradations of the word like. All of the general words used to tell someone you have feelings for them in Japanese (好き suki, 大好き daisuki, 愛知てる ai shitteru) are equivalent to telling someone you love them. Each one is just a stronger way of saying that you love them. So far as I know there is no Japanese equivalent for “like” in the way it is used in English. This can be confusing as 好き which is generally translated into English as “like” isn’t used in the same manner when applied to people in Japanese. If a Westerner tells a Japanese person in English “I like you” or in Japanese “好きだよ” it will be interpreted as “I love you.” Most likely they will think you are giving a kokuhaku and asking them to become your significant other. The Westerner in this case most likely only wants to go on a few dates and learn if they would be interested in becoming boyfriend and girlfriend if things work out.
From a Western perspective this style of dating can seem a bit childish and immature. Some of that feeling stems from the Eastern style of dating being similar to how we in the West date during high school. Adult dating in the West moves a bit faster than the East. For adults in the West we use physical intimacy, kissing especially, as a way of determining compatibility. To remove physical intimacy from dating in the West is to make dating the same as building a friendship. If a person does not want to kiss us or be physical with us, we take that as a sign that they are not interested in us as a boyfriend / girlfriend. We assume they just want to be friends.
As I stated at the beginning, these are generalities and there will be exceptions. Easterners who have lived abroad, are a little bit older (late twenties on) or live in a major city may be more open to dating differently. With a Westerner, especially, they will expect there to be some cultural differences. They may even be aware of your cultural norms. But less traveled and young ones are more likely to be surprised by things outside of their cultural norms. There are also people who are just looking for- or are open to- one night stands, sleeping around or being friends with benefits. Roppongi in Tokyo is infamous for being rife with bars and clubs where Japanese women go to look for a one night foreign boyfriend. This is all well and good if that is what you are looking for, but seeking one night stands or a quick lay isn’t dating. Different rules apply. Some people find relationships this way but it won’t always be the best way to find one. It’s also a small subsection of the population. Not surprisingly one many foreigners find their way to.
For all the differences in dating culture one thing holds true in both: Dating can be confusing, trying and stressful. It can also be fun, wonderful and rewarding. Dating is called a game for a reason. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The more you play, the better your chances of winning. But it always helps to know the rules of the game.
The problem with solutions is you aren’t always happy with them. An irresolute situation creates more confusion, worry and strife than a negative solution. But a negative solution at least creates closure. You know what the situation is. You know what to do. You can move forward. Even if it doesn’t make you happy.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact you are unhappy.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with what the friend zone is. Men especially. Most people will settle for this either because they hope they might have the opportunity to break out of it or that what attracted them to a relationship in the first place is also appealing as a friendship. Most people convince themselves of the latter when in reality it’s the former. I say they are both useless. But for most a consolation prize feels better than nothing.
I met a woman tonight who often finds herself in the friend zone. She is beautiful and charming so this is a bit surprising. Japanese, but not as shy as many I know. She says she doesn’t know how some women get men to ask them out. Essentially, she doesn’t understand flirting.
Still, knowing how aggressive men can be and knowing she wants a boyfriend this seems unprecedented. And I feel guilty finding pleasure in knowing this happens to women too. That it’s not only men. That it’s not only me.
If learning to flirt is the issue, that’s certainly something I can teach. And if she’s interested in Westerners there is more reason for my upcoming posts on the different dating cultures.
I don’t see a relationship with the woman in question. Just another friend. I suppose I’m adding to the problem. But finding a place in yourself, secure like your home, is important. If we ever get back home, we’ll gray out our blues.
I’m starting to get a bit more settled here in Tokyo. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but it’s a process. Big city, new situation, millions of people, all that jazz. I took the time to take stock of my life and decided I’m pretty much happy with it. I have a place to live in an awesome city. I am employed and health insured. My job is fairly easy, gives me a decent salary and allows me a good deal of free time. I am moving ahead on plans for life post teaching English. I’m developing a network of friends and starting to solidify the core of it. This is also allowing me to keep my social calendar as full or as empty and I wish of it. Everything is, for the most part, pretty darn good. Are things perfect? No. I’d be lying if I denied that something big is missing.
It is no secret that I want a relationship. There is also nothing wrong with that. I am human; this is how we are wired. We are social creatures, and while friends fill certain aspects of our needs, little else provides the companionship and intimacy of a significant other. I do miss those. The issue is I was pursuing relationships in a western fashion. I mean, why not? Doing so worked perfectly well for me before. Lately, however, it caused me a bit of trouble. The result being my life is a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Highs and lows, things going really well then plummeting down to the gutters. All while I am left frustrated, disappointed, confounded and clueless. I’ve also had a combination of the best and the worst luck dating wise in quick succession. I have a number of stories I would be happy to share, but this would not be the right forum for it. What I will say about my romantic attempts with the opposite sex is this: I wish things turned out differently. I wish I had better timing. Especially with the most recent one.
But, there is nothing one can do to change the past. You can only move forward.
From all of this I am learning that Western dating culture and Eastern dating culture are vastly different. A conversation with a Japanese lady friend of mine who found herself equally confused after a few dates with a Western man began this realization. I have since spoken with a number of my Japanese friends and come to learn a good deal more about the Japanese way of doing things. From a Western perspective, the Japanese style of dating seems very regimented, strict, serious, immature and perhaps even prude. From a Japanese perspective, the Western style of dating seem brash, arrogant and slutty. Both side views the other as crazy. The Japanese language not having any gradation on the words like and love certainly doesn’t help either.
In my case, a number of people misunderstand my actions as hunting for a girlfriend- thinking that anyone will do- and that all I want is sex. This is far from the reality, and it bothered me quite a bit. Then I decided that whoever likes me and will be my friend is going to like me for me and will try to understand me. Whoever doesn’t simply isn’t going to regardless. The ones who aren’t going to like me can jump off Skytree for all I care.
I’m going to write two posts following this. One of the Western culture of dating, and one on the Japanese / Asian culture of dating. These are going to be fairly big posts, and I’m looking for input and feedback from others on this. Keep tuned you Western boys and Eastern girls. It could be useful. Or at least interesting.
I was told the other night I should be more confident. This is not a thing I disagree with. I should be. I would love to be. Sadly, it is not that simple. What, after all, is confidence? A belief in oneself? And where does that belief come from? Achievement? Goal attainment? If one has certain goals, or certain ideals for what things should be and does not match them, wouldn’t that be cause for a lack of confidence? I am such a case.
There are three core issue for my self image and my lack of confidence. The first is achievement. Irrelevant to anyone else I had one of two goals for my life. Either be heavily involved with a career in film -for richer or poorer- or be married with a steady office job. I have neither of those, and neither seem terribly likely for my upcoming future.
I have without question lead an interesting life. I have a story for every hair on my head. But this was never the life I intended for myself. Is this a bad thing? No. I simply need to readjust my course. Make new goals. Force myself to pursue them. That last part has been tricky. I have no idea what I want to do or what direction I want to go in. And I am not a person who is fond on uncertainty.
The second issue is women. Or I should say woman. No matter what course my life takes, I have always wanted to have someone to share it with. I have rarely been good at that goal. Meeting people? Having fun? That’s never been at issue. Making and maintaining relationships unfortunately are not my strong suit. Acquaintances and friends are easy. I am a good guy and fun guy (or at one point I was.) I have known some amazing, beautiful, enchanting and fun women. Not just beautiful physically but with engaging personalities. Women that all men want to know. Women that men want to meet. They call to us like sirens amidst the rocks, and they were in my confidence. All who wanted to hang out with me. Yet just as friends.
That drives a man crazy. When you are good, so good, but not quite good enough. Sorry, but let me tell you about the other guys I like, who treat me like crap, who I’m concerned about. I want a guy who treats me like you do, but more attractive and not you. Let me get drunk and flirt with you and then tell you how I’m glad we’re only friends. Sometimes I am happy for these friendships. Sometimes. They can be very good people; they can be fun to be with and can make excellent friends. Sometimes. They also often have hot friends they can talk me up to. Throw me a bone. Even without this I like the attention.
I like being part of peoples lives and caring for them and hoping they in turn care for me. Maybe they won’t care to the same extent. I might want that but it’s not realistic. Yet some of the more admirable women I have known seem to view me as less than themselves. I am not as they are. They do not treat me the same as they treat others. I find much of my value in how those I care about view me and treat me- men and women both. I want people to view me in a certain, positive way and that is often not the case. Secretly, I want to be one of the cool kids.
A sub issue from this is physical appearance. I have always been tall and skinny. I am a bit lanky and awkward as such people can be. I don’t quite fit in the norm and I’m not sure where to go. I enjoy the ability to reach high things, but would rather be smaller and fit in with the rest. Hitting my head on low doorways in this country also gets old. Really fast. Subconsciously I slouch and crouch down as a result. It makes me look even more awkward and worse: weak. I don’t own my stature like I should. I’m not even sure I know how to. Neither do I grow muscle mass quickly. There’s more space to spread it over I suppose. But no matter how much I work out, I stay my lean self. I want to be bigger, stronger, more fit and attractive. I want women to look at me and want me. I suppose everyone does. And I’m working towards that now. I tried before half-heartedly. Now I’m putting in much more effort. I worry it may be too little to late. None of this comes easy to me. But no matter how hard I work out I can’t change some aspects. I’m losing my hair. My nose is kinda long/big. I’m a hairy mother fucker. Some people don’t like that. What can I do about it? For all my work, will I ever be ideal? No one can guarantee. There will always be others more attractive than me. I suppose that’s true for everyone. It would be nice to be number one for a little while, though.
In the realm of dating I have more failures than successes. My success are often short lived and end poorly (to put it lightly.) More frequent are failures to launch. Girls I will go on one or two dates with that will go really well and then they lose all interest. And I am left baffled. Sometimes they met someone else. Sometimes not. In any case I get left in the lurch. It tears a man down.
I am human and I need to be loved. Just like everybody else does.
The third and final issue is stability. I have a job for the year. If I want I can have the same job next year. It is not much of a job. It provides enough for me to survive. Not much for savings. Not much for a future. Not much for others. There was a time I had a good job that paid well, set a nice nest egg and gave me security. A combination of the economic downturn, unemployment and my foolish actions have garnered me a notable debt. I’m working hard to nullify it, but it is a constant concern. I don’t know what I will do for my future and what sort of security I will have. I am a skilled, moderately intelligent and adaptable individual yet without a career. I imagine I’m not alone in that but it is certainly not comforting.
I want to be able to provide for myself beyond my basic needs. Fiscally I want to be comfortable and never have to worry. I want money to be a non-issue, but I don’t seek to be rich. I want to be able to provide for whoever is in my life: family, friends, a girlfriend, wife or children. I do not like not being unable to do that and I am lost on how to achieve that goal with the current state of my life. Uncertainty is my greatest enemy. Were I to take a set path with some assuredness, I would be better. As in days of yore when I cast aside these regards and dived into life with full force. These times were mostly in San Francisco. But I don’t know that I can find such liveliness again. Largely because I don’t know where I’m going.
Going back to women, there are two things they seek in mates whether they realize it or not. The first is fitness, generally viewed as physical attractiveness. Does the person have features viewed as attractive by the viewer and society? Is the person fit, muscular and in theory virile so they would produce good offspring? Whether or not we are conscious of this, lust (the physical desire and draw to be with someone) comes before love. It’s the spark, the chemistry that drives things at the beginning. Biologically all people are driven to reproduce, and to do so with the ones that seem most fit.
The secondary thing a woman seeks is support. If something goes wrong, can this person support me? Someone who makes good money or has the potential to make good money does well here. Will they be available emotionally? Will they help them when they hurt, give them a good life and make them happy? The ability to do this is less important than the appearance to be able to do so. It creates a sense of security.
I don’t fit into either of those categories right now.
I can end with cliched child psychology. Spend enough of your life being bullied and told you’re not as good as everyone else and it sticks with you. You start to believe you are not as good as everyone else. Sure, my parents and friends tried their darnedest to be supportive and counteract this. There’s only so much they can do, though. Toss in a few betrayals from former friends and your trust begins to fade as well. Of course I am not blameless. There past actions I regret and I am ashamed of. Things I have tried to learn and grow from.
Why don’t I have confidence? Right now what do I have to be confident in? Physical appearance? Nope. While I am not ugly I am far from highly attractive. Accomplishment? Not really. I have no accomplishments I can tout. Stability? No. My life is far less stable than I want. It at times feels like I am treading water. Relationships? Barely. I’ve lead too nomadic a life to form many close bonds. The ones closest to me I’ve failed to keep contact with. A big penis? Well, yeah but that does me no good given my failing dating prospects. I see the way I want to be. I see the kind of life I want to have. I don’t have that, and I don’t know how to get it. That is why I am unconfident.
I hope all this is temporary. I am a worrier. Really I wanted to be a warrior but my personality has a speech impediment. The upside is it makes for better writing. Despite my worries and my lack of confidence I am trying my best. But it can be hard to keep your head up when you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Once I build my life in the direction I want things should get better. I just need to find how to take that first step.
I’ve bid farewell to Kansai and migrated north. I will miss living amidst Kobe, Osaka, Himeji and Kyoto along with all of my friends there. I will not, however, miss the countryside. You can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy. Last year was proof of that.
Like most moves, I wish I could take certain places and people with me. If I could transplant b. polpo and everyone from there down the street from me, that would be awesome. Alas, I can no more do that than I can teleport Post and Camellia here on a whim. At least not until portal technology is invented / improved upon. Though that could lead to unforseen consequences. Probably best not to cause a resonance cascade and stick to appreciating what I have for now.
While most of Kansai was left behind in the move, I am fortunate to have my best friend from the area working in Kamakura this year. While Tara lived only one town over last year, I have seen her more this past week than I did the last four months. She lives four times farther away, yet with the miracle of public transportation I can see her much more easily and quickly than before. I really don’t miss the countryside.
The move to Tokyo is a positive and fortunate one. There wasn’t much choice in leaving Kansai, as I was not recontracting with my old position and I was unable to secure another one in the region. There was a period where I was greatly concerned where I would live and work in Japan. The possibility of being unemployed and homeless was very real. Thankfully, that did not come to pass. Maybe the Big Guy Upstairs likes me after all.
Finding a position in Tokyo was accomplished thanks to a little bit of proactive job hunting aggression on my part and a lot of luck or divine providence. Prior to the foreigner exodus, jobs in Tokyo were not easy to acquire. Even after, good jobs in Tokyo and the 23 wards are hard to get, and I secured mine before the flyjin phenomenon. I will be teaching in Ota-ku. For those of my friends who understand a little bit of Japanese, yuck it up. “Hahaha you’re teaching in geek! How appropriate! What, is it an extension of Akihabara?” Yes. Exactly. Hilarious. Ota-ku (大田区）is the southern most ward of Tokyo. Its kanji means big rice field ward, and is pronounced differently than otaku. Though it is similar enough that I must admit it is kind of funny.
The flyjin phenomenon left many apartments and guesthouses that were previously occupied vacant. An excellent situation for me as I needed to find a place in a very short amount of time. As I am yet to fully realize my budget, schedule, schools, or the neighboring areas there-in I have elected to stay in a guest house for the next three months. In that time I can find a suitable apartment to fit my needs. I am happy with my guest house so far, and will go into more detail about that in another post.
My time in Tokyo so far is brief, yet the consequences of the recent tragedies remain. Tokyo feels very un-Tokyo like. Normally quite decadent, bright and loud there is an air of solemnity and concern. Many of the neon lights, massive television screens and megaphones that would normally blare day and night are turned off to conserve energy. There are fewer people in a rush, and fewer people out in general. The normal intensity of Tokyo appears toned down.
I am often asked if I am afraid to be in Tokyo, both from people in Kansai and from people I meet in Tokyo. There are fewer foriegners and tourists. I’ve stayed in near empty hostels that are normally packed and rarely see other foreigners in Akihabara. There is much concern and worry over what may come, but that appears to be subsiding.
In time I expect everything will return to as it once was. In the meantime I get to observe a post disaster Japan recover from the inside. Despite media claims there is little to fear, but Japan does need support. The best way you can do so is come to Japan. Recovery comes quickest with the help of tourism dollars.