Anime, J-music, J-fashion, the kawaii cult, and the Land of the Rising Sun--more and more women around the world have an ever-growing interest in Japan. The fascination towards Japanese men comes naturally--either from that cute bishōnen in the latest dorama, a popular singer, or even a manga character. However, when it comes to actually dating one, foreign girls often stumble upon cultural differences between them and the man of their dreams. It is perfectly normal and nothing to be anxious about; these differences might actually strengthen your relationship. Think Yin-Yang as opposed to circle halves--when opposites are brought together, they form a harmonious and indestructible bond, while two identical parts can only be put together loosely.
Anyway, when coming to Japan for a longer period of time, you might want to find someone to be all lovey-dovey with. Don’t let any of those bad relationship stories on the web scare you--there are different kinds of guys in Japan as there are anywhere else. Without further ado, let’s get you started!
Notice me, Senpai!
In an academic or working environment, at the club, or sitting next to you at Shibuya Starbucks--the perfect man might be just about anywhere. The first step in getting closer to him is making him notice you. Unlike in the West, in Japan, you are the one who should take the first step. Japanese men will generally not approach you first, unless they’re dead drunk or gaijin hunters, which isn’t a desirable situation. Aside from being generally shy around girls, foreign ones make them even more anxious. They tend to think foreign women are not interested in them and consider the language gap to be a barrier.
This is where your knowledge of Japanese should kick in. Approach senpai (or kouhai, for that matter) with the most suave ano, sumimasen… and ask for some help or advice. In college for example, you have plenty of options--try asking them where can you find a particular classroom (if you’re lucky, he might even walk you to it) or how can you get into the club he’s in (clubs are a big thing in Japanese universities, so you can never go wrong with that). If you’re feeling more adventurous, go for the "textbook" method. Ask them to kindly explain a certain passage or decipher a kanji compound you don’t understand. However, that requires a more advanced level of Japanese, so be careful. Don’t forget the arigatō gozaimasu at the end of the conversation.
Outside of the academic environment, adjust your discussion topics to the situation and be mindful of the man’s reactions. You wouldn’t want to bother a working colleague when he’s obviously busy or the guy who’s at a café with a group of friends. Be polite, graceful, modest, and confident--because you’re sure to succeed.
It goes without saying--Japanese people are obsessed with technology. The first waterproof cellphone was invented in Japan, for the sole reason that girls couldn’t go in the shower without texting.
So, hit that Facebook search button. Japanese guys are much easier to talk to on the Internet than face-to-face. Upon adding you as a friend, they’ll usually text a smiley face back just so you know they accepted your request. Also, most of them will spam you with likes and comments on everything you post. Keep up that online conversation and don’t let your spirits down if he still doesn’t talk much in real life.
Look your best!
Looks are a controversial topic. You can’t really put your finger on “what type of women do Japanese men like.” There’s this stereotype that they prefer slim, fair-skinned women, overwhelmingly shy, who wear girly and unrevealing clothing, and generally come under the term CUTE. However, I swear those preferences refer to their desirable Japanese girlfriend. I've met all kinds of mixed-race couples where the girls looked nothing like that--they had beautiful curves, all kinds of skin colors, and were not shy at all. So, even if you’re nowhere near Nadeshiko Yamato in terms of looks, go for that good ol’ “be yourself” cliché with your Japanese man.
A first date?
Getting a first date might be a challenge as well. If you see that he’s obviously interested in you but still does not even come close to the idea of asking you on a date, try doing it yourself. If you’re not brave enough, try asking him to accompany you on a night out with friends/colleagues, to karaoke for example. Karaoke is always a no-brainer. Everyone in Japan loves it--you see each other in the silliest of situations, get a good laugh together, and the risk of awkward silence and tension is reduced to a minimum.
Enjoy your meal!
A Japanese man will generally offer to pay for your meal as well. However, this only applies to dates when there’s only the two of you, so if it’s a karaoke night with your friends, the bill will probably be split.
Note: If you’re from a country where being a gentleman and paying for the lady is still a thing (hello East European sisters!), you will probably find this normal. Why am I stressing on it then? Because in other parts of the world this may be considered a sexist act. I, for instance, have this friend who has lived most of her life in Paris. She had just returned from a one-year internship in Osaka with her Japanese boyfriend. I invited them for lunch in a small restaurant. The guy was very open-minded for a Japanese man and spoke decent French, so there was almost no tension in our chat. Over a glass of wine, I asked them what the most annoying thing they had to overcome in their relationship was. They answered almost simultaneously: (S)He won’t let me pay for the meal!
We had a good laugh about it and continued our lunch. And if you’re wondering who paid for it, it was me. I grew up knowing that if you invite your friends somewhere, it’s automatically your treat.
Later, my friend complained to me: He gets really upset when I try to pay for my own meal. I’m frustrated as well--I cannot feel like an independent woman, and it always feels like I owe him something. I know a lot of Western girls have been raised thinking like this, but when you’re in Japan, it’s better that you go with your man’s flow. Do not insist on paying for your share and just enjoy the meal without guilt!
Take your time!
When dating a Japanese man, patience and understanding is the key. You probably won’t be able to meet every other day. Those myths about spending more time at work than with their girlfriend are generally true--they will sometimes cancel dates or forget about Valentine’s Day because of some corporate meeting or having to study for an exam. It happened to one of my friends who was there for an exchange semester. I came on a program which only lasted two weeks, but I managed to meet her boyfriend. It was just the time for Valentine’s Day, and we decided to hit a karaoke bar with some friends. We invited her and her boyfriend with us, but were quite surprised to see that she came alone. Trying to be tactful about it, we asked when he is coming along; after all, it was Valentine’s Day. He cannot come with us today; he has a meet-up with his professor to discuss his latest paper was her answer. Aren’t you mad about it? we asked. No, she said, I understand how important it is for him to get his degree.
Note: Know that his career is very important to him, and your role in this as his girlfriend is to understand that and support him. Also, have some fun while he cannot spend time with you--you know you’ve been ignoring your girlfriends lately, don’t you? Go out with your friends, find yourself a hobby, or spend a relaxing evening at home. Send him a supportive text and don’t over-think it. If he really cares for you, he’ll make up for the missed date.
Hold my hand!
You might’ve heard that Japanese do not fancy public displays of affection, and it is usually true. However, holding hands, putting an arm around the shoulder, and hugging is perfectly OK! Many guys will do that without embarrassment. If he does not, save the cuddling for more intimate settings.
Note: Kissing is a very affectionate and personal act for the Japanese. It goes without saying that doing it in public is a big no-no. Some couples even go on dating for several months without kissing a single time, so don’t worry if your man doesn’t rush your first kiss. As his girlfriend, you might want to take the initiative on this matter--actually a lot of Japanese guys find it really cute.
Remember what we said about looks? In the end, the same thing applies to your personalities, ladies. It’s very important to stay true to yourself--in the end, any man, Japanese or not, will only end up loving you for who you truly are. Don’t try to change too much and mold yourself to Japanese standards. Be aware of his cultural background and respect it, but don’t try too hard to become the ideal Japanese girlfriend. Be the alluring and confident Western beauty--and you’re sure to make him fall head over heels for you.
Nika is a full-time Japan researcher. She keeps her finger on the pulse of the Japanese culture--tackling any subject from classical literature to pop culture.