Overview – Dating in Japan

This will be the first in a series on international dating, a series that will unpack the intricacies of dating abroad and dating people from different nationalities. Each post will look at a different country. If this is your first post about dating that you’ve come across on this site, you’re in for a treat—this series will cover nuances on dating other nationalities in or out of their countries that you won’t find elsewhere.

A point of note: these posts are acknowledged (but well-examined) generalisations about dating particular nationalities and do not claim to represent a dating experience with every individual from that country on the whole. Individual differences can of course override factors stemming from nationality. The insights are intended to provide you with a knowledge base to operate from, not be rigid associations with every person from that nation.


I’m starting the series by covering dating in Japan, a country I’m intimately familiar with and one which has some pretty unique nuances in dating compared to most others. Let’s dive right in.

Five ways to meet people for dating in Japan

If you’ve read my keystone post on dating, you’ll know that there are five ways of meeting people for dating. Every single method to meet people to date falls into one of these five categories. Therefore it makes sense to examine dating in Japan from the perspective of each of these categories.

Social circle dating

Meeting people through existing friends and connections is as old as our species. In an ideal world, everyone would have a line of suitable companions from groups they belong to ready and willing to go out with them.

Yet for the vast majority of people, this isn’t the case. And as for being introduced via friendship groups in Japan, it’s easier said than done. Due to the Uchi-Soto concept that underpins much of the Japanese psyche, your status as a foreign ‘outsider’ won’t exactly have locals rushing to bring you into their in-group, single friends available or not.

Another scenario that many hope for across the world is meeting potential dates through work. It must be said that dating coworkers wherever you are in the world poses certain risks although many a couple have indeed met through their occupations.

However in Japan, dating a coworker is even more taboo. Companies in Japan are seen as second-families with loyalty and commitment to them being some of the highest values in Japanese culture. Your company wants familial devotion from you, but not that kind of family, and you risk coming across as scatter-brained and compromising if you date internally. It’s risky and unconducive to successful dating in Japan. If you do date through work, keep it discrete but don’t expect it when you move there.

Instead, when it comes to social circle dating in Japan, be proactive in meeting people to date by joining new circles. Find interest groups and organisations you’d genuinely like to join by searching online to increase your chances of meeting likeminded people.

Join a group which is open-minded in accepting non-Japanese and preferably has some people in the group who speak English or your native tongue. You’re more likely to meet people who are open to dating foreigners this way. Once you’re in a group, you’ll want to build interest in yourself and find ways to connect with people you’re coveting. See my tips on social circle dating on how to do this.

Dating In Japan Social

Dating events

As mentioned in my overview on dating from events, there are in essence two types of events to meet potential dates from: formal dating events and networking/meetup events.

Unlike other parts of the world, Japan isn’t exactly big on formal speed dating events. Instead, Japan has a unique cultural take on setting up people to meet others called goukon ( 合コン). A goukon is essentially a group blind date or mixer where friends invite others to mixed gender get-togethers, often under the pretense that people can spark a connection romantically during them. Goukons can of course fall under the rubric of social circle dates but the reason I’ve put them here is because the majority of foreigners looking at dating in Japan whether travellers or relocators won’t find themselves invited to goukons unless they’re connected with the right people and speak at least some Japanese.

Yet there are goukon-style venues out there with the industry finding ways to commercialise them to the public. One such example is Oriental Lounge, a chain of lounge bars that facilitates group-style connections. Their premise is connecting single attendees together in 2-on-2 or more-style dates easing the pressure that some might feel with blind 1-on-1 dating. Going with a friend is ideal but if you don’t have someone to tag along, the company has an app that allows you to connect with someone from the same sex beforehand so you can go in together and meet your blind dates.

Most of the time though, if you’re interested in dating in Japan through events, you won’t attend formal ones but will rely on international meetups and hangouts. There are an ABUNDANCE of these in the big cities in Japan. Meetup.com alone has a plethora and you won’t be short of parties to attend in Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama.

Language exchanges are hugely popular in Japanese cities—there’s always a chunk of locals looking to improve their English by communicating with foreigners. In fact, I would argue that the largest attempted dating method outside of online dating in Japan is language exchanges. Be aware that this can be a double-edged sword—if you’re looking to learn a language and make friends, people of the same sex at these events might seem like they want your company but the reality is they’re secretly hoping to meet the love of their life at these exchanges and you’re foray into their conversation with someone from the opposite sex is an intrusion.1

Otherwise, the standard advice for meeting people at dating events applies in Japan too: go first (especially in Japan where locals are often willing but timid about initiating interactions with foreigners), vibe and connect, and isolate if you sense something deeper. This latter point is easier if you have a partner accompanying you. Many people will come with friends and won’t leave them just to talk with you so an accompanying friend can make isolating the dynamic to a 2-on-2 scenario a lot easier.

Dating In Japan Events

Day encounters

Day encounters refers to meeting people in typical daytime scenarios such as the street, cafes, parks, bookshops and more. Day encounters are almost always initiated by men towards women (however if you’re a woman, feel free to also learn how to meet people during the day IRL). As such, we’ll be looking at this from the perspective of men approaching women.

The truth is, Japan is one of the strangest countries in the world for day encounters. In the major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, even if you’re calibrated with good intentions, Japanese women are very defensive about getting approached in the street or even in a mall. There are a few reasons for this.

First is a trait that many Japanese share—a timidity when interacting with foreigners, especially strangers. It’s not that Japanese people aren’t friendly, it’s that having grown up in very homogenised environments, they’re often uncertain on how to carry conversations with non-Japanese, particularly if those foreigners don’t speak their language. Coupled with the nation’s relatively low English ability and you can see why such shyness arises.

Another reason is Japan’s nature as a high context culture. Although high context cultures aren’t necessarily more wary of talking to strangers by default, Japan’s status as a very high context East Asian nation magnifies its wariness in this regard. Order and harmony are prized in this collectivist society and unexpected surprises out of the norm such as a new person talking to them out of nowhere in what is traditionally a non-social setting can be more triggering than elsewhere.

But the biggest reason Japanese women have for being guarded is an ironic one: Japanese men are already hitting on them during the day and have been doing so for decades! And it must be said, not in a very smooth way either. Your average Japanese nanpa guy strolls up to a woman, keeps following her even when she ignores him and tries hounding her with a barrage of nonsensical sentences in the hope that she’ll grant him eye contact, behaviour which would be considered borderline harassment in most countries.2

This doesn’t mean meeting and dating women from day encounters is impossible in Japan. Consider day encountering in smaller cities where the nanpa atmosphere is less heavy. Focus on women who give signals that they’re more receptive to you talking to them such as those that make eye contact.

But prepare for a lot of rejection and misunderstanding due to language barriers (dealing with the latter is covered below). And please don’t adopt an aggressive way of approaching as per some local men above. By doing so, you’ll perpetuate Japanese women’s defensiveness further and it will actually make you a worse dater with those in other countries.

Night encounters 

Compared to day encounters, men initiating conversations with women will face less outright rejection with night encounters in Japan. The main reason being that bars and night venues are expected settings for socialising which mitigates any perceived jarring taboo of talking to strangers somewhat.

The question then becomes “What venues can I go to as a non-Japanese person to meet Japanese locals?”.

The first piece of advice is to orient yourself towards places where locals are more likely to be open-minded in meeting a foreigner. In any country, there’ll always be a chunk of natives who only want to date fellow natives. Even in the UK where I’m from, a highly multicultural nation by international standards, huge numbers of local women won’t date a foreigner. However in Japan, there’s still a significant number who will and you’ll want to put yourself in the path of these.

The second point to note is that in Tokyo and Osaka, many nighttime spots can be sausage fests with a lopsided ratio of men to women. This has the adverse effect of making the atmosphere worse for everyone. Choose your time and venue wisely. If you’re a man, consider paying for entry even if women go free as this will make the ratio fit in your favour. More importantly, it’ll make the atmosphere of the actual venue better as women will feel like they’re not hounded on all night.

With these points in mind, let me go through different venue types plus recommendations. Japan has venue types that aren’t found in other parts of the world.

-> Bars/Lounges

Like other metropolises in the world, the major cities in Japan have no shortage of bars and lounges to mingle with others. As a foreigner (especially if you don’t speak Japanese), you’re better off hanging out in the parts of town with a slightly more international scene. In Tokyo, this would be areas such as Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi. In Osaka, this would be Namba and Umeda.

As mentioned, whether you’re a man or woman, avoid sausage fest haunts. Japan’s cities are great in that due to the urban density, there are loads of night time venues per square mile and if the vibe of one place looks unpromising, you don’t have to walk far to check out another. Nonetheless, consider going to a bar with a tiered entry fee (i.e. men pay more) for a better quality atmosphere. One such example is ‘The Public Stand’ which has several branches across Japan and offers an all-you-can-drink package plus re-entry if you want to bar hop throughout the night but return.

-> Pubs (Western-style)

As a Brit, this caught me off guard when I first moved to Japan but the country does indeed have a pub scene. In the major cities, western-style pubs have become somewhat exalted in the same way that Japanese-themed places are glorified across the world. Among other things, this means that some Japanese go to these places deliberately to be exposed to ‘foreign cultures’ meaning you could make their evening by striking up a conversation with them.

The most famous and popular pub chain is ‘The Hub’ with a ubiquity of branches located throughout the big cities. It’s a slightly romanticised and kitsch take on a British pub but it doesn’t do a bad job and even serves British food if you want that ‘pub experience’. Just stay clear of branches in Shibuya if you can, I once saw two women swarmed by a large mob of Japanese men like they were the last toilet rolls in an apocalypse being the only two females in the pub. Women and men, you have been warned.

-> Izakayas (Japanese-style gastropub)

An izakaya is another type of drinking establishment. The Japanese characters for the word (居酒屋) literally translate to “stay-drink-place”. However, izakayas are distinct from regular bars in that they specialise in serving Japanese food as well as alcohol and the rooms and decor are often Japanese-style.

If you’re looking to initiate conversations with locals you like the look of, it’s paramount you choose the right izakayas. This is because izakayas are a hybrid restaurant-cum-bar and approaching at the ones which are more restaurant-oriented isn’t ideal. Some even have partitions and separate rooms to segment customers.

Instead, focus on open-plan izakayas where sitting down isn’t restricted to where a waiter puts you. A yokocho (横丁) is good for this. The word means “side street” in Japanese but in modern parlance refers to drinking alleys with a range of izakayas and watering holes side by side. This makes striking up a conversation with someone you’re interested in easier.

In Tokyo, Ebisu Yokocho and Shinbashi Yurakucho Gado-shita (an area between two stations) are two drinking alleys conducive for night encounters. In Osaka, Shinsaibashi Neon Food Street (technically not a yokocho but similar) is an option.

Dating In Japan Izakaya

-> Clubs

No guide about meeting people at night would be complete without mentioning clubs. Clubs in Japan are no different than elsewhere in the world in terms of being high energy environments where dancing and physicality are more important when interacting with others.

As far as recommendations, Atom Tokyo in Shibuya and V2 in Roppongi are two major clubs in Tokyo that will also have non-Japanese attending. In Osaka, OWL Osaka and GALA RESORT are popular, the latter also having a higher number of non-Japanese going there.

Online dating

Of course no guide on dating in Japan would be complete without delving into the nature of its online scene.

Like in many other nations, online dating in Japan has become part of the social fabric in the country’s society. A contemporary survey found that dating apps were the most common way for couples who wed within a year to meet with more than 1 in 5 (22.6%) couples finding their love online. In fact due to Japan’s ongoing population crisis, the Japanese government has taken it upon themselves to subsidise the industry and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is even launching its own taxpayer-funded dating app!

Yet like other countries across the world, online dating in Japan has its foibles too (lopsided gender ratios, bots etc). One positive however, is your ability to stand out as a foreigner in the ethnically homogenous society of the Land of the Rising Sun. Your profile and photos will polarise Japanese locals who’re intrigued in dating a foreigner meaning your profile may be swiped left by more but you’ll likely have higher success with the ones you do match with than in a less homogenised country. Bear in mind that being a foreigner isn’t enough on dating apps, ensure your photos are still top notch and craft a scintillating bio before you take to the swipes.

Here are some of the leading apps for dating in Japan:

Tinder – the world’s most famous dating app. Still oriented towards casual dating in Japan. Large user base but be aware of the copious number of bots and fake accounts on the platform in this version of the app.

Bumble – also has a large presence in Japan. It’s considered the most gaijin (foreigner) oriented app in Japan with a higher number of English and foreign language speakers than other ones in the country, so you’ll have less need to worry about your Japanese language level.

Pairs (ペアーズ) – with over 10 million users in the country alone, this app is one of the most popular. It’s distinct in that it’s an app for serious relationships (as in “I’m looking to get married soon” serious) so it’s a no-go for those looking for something more casual. Just be aware that English ability is lower among this user base and while women can join for free, there’s a monthly fee for men (given the horrendous gender ratios on dating apps in the West, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing). The user age range tends to fall somewhere between late twenties to early forties reflecting the serious relationship leaning of the app’s ethos.

Tapple (タップル) – an app that focuses more on matching through mutual interests than bio perfection. Tends to require more messaging to get to know the other person before socialisation in real life compared to alternative platforms. Caters to a slightly younger demographic than the others.

HelloTalk – not strictly a dating app but used heavily as a de facto one. Connects users who want to practice learning languages with each other so has a larger user base more open-minded to meeting foreigners.

Specificities about Japanese culture when dating in Japan

Japan has one of the most unique cultures in the world. These creates specificities that can be harder to get your head around if you’re ill-prepared. But master these and you’ll mesmerise the locals with your smoothness when dating in Japan.

Language barrier

Of course language barriers exist in every country whose first language isn’t our own, that’s why we learn languages in the best way possible. But compared to most developed nations worldwide, Japan doesn’t fair too well in using English as a second language. If you’re coming from Europe, the Americas, many other parts of Asia, and of course the Anglosphere, you’ll notice a discernible gap in communicating in English outside of the main tourist areas.

This isn’t an insurmountable obstacle however. Many Japanese, especially the younger generations, have a solid passive foundation in English meaning they can comprehend, follow the grammar, and know a lot of vocabulary. Where they fair less well at is active English and the ability to converse.

If you speak slowly and clearly, there’s a good chance many Japanese will understand what you’re saying and convey what they want back. For large gaps in communication, consider using Google Translate on your phone to convert your messages to each other back and forth. If the chemistry between the two of you is good during a date, communicating this way won’t be as cumbersome as you think.

But don’t be surprised in running into people who don’t speak a word of English and it should go without saying that if you plan to spend a lot of time in the country, it’s worth learning the Japanese language to enhance your experience.

Dating In Japan Language Barrier

Don’t walk into rejection due to public displays of affection

If you’re from a Western culture, seeing and even engaging in public displays of affection (PDA) such as kissing in public is normal. But when dating in Japan, such behaviours are frowned upon, a trait shared among many Asian cultures in general. Japanese spend a lot of mental effort thinking how to harmonise well into their society without breaking the mold and PDA is unseemly in this regard. At most, you might see the odd couple holding hands but that’s about it.

So when you’re on a date with a Japanese person, don’t expect to get touchy-feely with them nor vice versa. If you’re used to physicality on dates, light social touching might be fine but in most instances, large acts such as kissing in public will be met with aversion. It’ll show that you don’t ‘get it’ in their society. Save such physicality for when you’re alone with your date.

Dating In Japan PDA

Be prepared to eat out

This won’t concern those of you already big on restaurant dates but for those of you who prefer lower-key dates based around drinks (like me), get ready for a change. Japanese people are BIG on eating out when it comes to socialising hence the ubiquity of the aforementioned izakayas not to mention having more restaurants per square mile than most countries in the world.

Drinking alcohol in isolation is considered somewhat strange and most Japanese will order at least a dish or two when drinking, even if only to share. This is even the case in karaoke booths (no joke). However, this needn’t be an issue for those of you less enthusiastic about forking out for food when dating in Japan. For one, the country has some of the most revered cuisine in the world that’s worth indulging in. And two, contrary to belief, Japan’s average consumer prices are very reasonable, even in Tokyo. This includes alcohol which is a very reasonable price for such a wealthy country so date expenditure won’t be exorbitant even with a bit of food thrown in.

Eating a few plates with your date will help smooth the experience for them and needn’t break the bank.

Dating In Japan Eating Out

Karaoke

As the home of the karaoke machine, it should come as no surprise that the infamous singing rooms are popular in Japan. Karaoke has acted as a popular date among locals for decades and continues to do so.

Karaoke in Japan is located in easy to spot huge colourful tower blocks with multiple floors segmented into sound-proofed karaoke rooms. Coupled with the activity of singing plus the accompanying food and drinks you can order to the room, it makes for a lively yet intimate occasion for you and your date. It’s a great way to build a connection with someone else whilst having fun.

If you’re shy about singing, don’t be. No one is expecting you to croon like Sinatra and you’ll often get a round of applause just for holding a tune in an English language song. And don’t forget to commend your date’s vocals (whether good or bad).

Dating In Japan Karaoke

Love hotels

No, I’m not commanding you to adore the paid lodging establishment. The accommodation type known as ‘love hotels’ is genuinely a thing in Japan.

Remember how I mentioned that public displays of affection in Japan are considered unseemly? Well it doesn’t just end there, even if all the bases are covered behind closed doors, if your neighbours can hear you ‘covering them’, it’s still uncouth. Japanese really do care a lot about what other people think.

Throw in paper-thin apartment walls and the fact that many locals live with their parents well into adult age and you have a problem with private intimacy, a problem that needs a solution.

Enter the love hotel—a short-stay establishment enabling couples to get down to business discretely. Love hotel styles run the gamut in Japan, from outlandish castle fortress exteriors to idiosyncratic anime-themed BDSM dungeons, everyone can find a type that gets them in the mood. Love hotels aren’t only nightly offerings, most allow customers to stay for just an hour or two if need be for a cheaper price.

And rest assured your privacy is held with paramount importance. The majority of love hotels prize discretion so highly, they don’t even allow their staff to see customers face-to-face. In person bookings are often made via monitors or with a screen covering the attendant’s face as their hands deal with the paperwork.

So if you’re ready to take your date to the next level and want more privacy than can be found at home or you’ve just missed your last train, consider a love hotel.

Dating In Japan Love Hotels

Japanese-style ‘confessions’

Spend some time in Japan and sooner or later, you’ll pick up on the circumlocutory and indirect nature of communication that Japanese people use from time to time. This is a result of their high context culture.

This cultural quirk seeps into their dating communication too. Japanese place importance on the kokuhaku (告白) or ‘love confession’ to someone they’re seeing. In essence, one party is expected to confess their feelings to the other and if the other reciprocates, the two are now formally a couple and the relationship is established.

What makes the Japanese ‘declaration of love’ unique is how it isn’t always qualitatively the same as an “I love you” in other places. When it comes to dating in Japan, locals can confess their feelings earlier in a dating phase than would be comfortable for most in the West. Furthermore, the Japanese word used most often in such confessions ‘suki’ (好き) means both ‘like’ and ‘love’ further adding to the confusion for non-Japanese. Hearing such a confession doesn’t necessarily mean unconditional love in the Western-sense, it just means they want to date you exclusively, helping remove ambiguity on the nature of your time together.

So be ready to hear it if you’re going on dates with someone multiple times or even dish it out yourself.

Dating In Japan Confessions

Gender differences when dating in Japan

For men looking to date Japanese women

Lead, lead and lead again.

Japanese women are more traditional in the sense that they want the guy to take charge and steer the direction of dates and initial stages of a relationship. It’s hardwired into their cultural fabric—if you don’t demonstrate that you can take the lead and instead put decisional pressure on them, it’ll be jarring. High-context people hate being jarred.

Japanese women appreciate men who plan the dates ahead. It subcommunicates you’re a socially intelligent man who’d be able to operate with assuredness within the confines of their society (even if you’re dating her outside of Japan) which they’ll find attractive. So know where you’re going beforehand on dates and have some backup places in case so you can adapt if needs be.

As touched upon before, as one of the most high-context societies, much of communication in Japan is indirect, euphemistic and subtextual. When you’re dating a Japanese woman, she won’t always tell you what she’s thinking, whether she likes something, or how she can be pleased. You have to learn how to “read between the lines” (空気を読む) to keep things smooth. Don’t fret into paranoia though, if you’re showing you can lead, not doing anything out of the ordinary, and can demonstrate normal conscientiousness on dates, you’ll do fine most of the time. Discrepancies between her “Japaneseness” and your “foreignness” that require you to read the atmosphere will be the exception not the norm so don’t overthink it.

For women looking to date Japanese men

Despite the prerequisite faculty of leadership Japanese women expect on dates, it’s somewhat ironic that Japanese men don’t always show this in sufficient capacity when dating in Japan. Most Japanese men know they have to plan dates and decide where to go and when, but they won’t always take charge or make a move in other ways. Be prepared to give larger hints about what you like in order to make him feel confident in what he’s doing although remember, don’t overdo the flirting or sex appeal in public.

Don’t expect a traditional Western masculine archetype, Japanese men are culturally distinct. Overall, they’re less showy, flashy, domineering and individualistic than westernised men. The plus side is that Japanese men are often more sensitive and patient to a woman’s needs than their Western counterparts.

Also don’t mistake a lack of bells and whistles with reservedness. Many Japanese men are outgoing but they place a lot of thought about the wants and needs of the person they’re with which can mean they sometimes hold back from expressing themselves in a manner non-Japanese might expect. But in a relationship, give them time and space and they’ll show their affection to you in their own way.

Summary – Dating in Japan

So there you have it, the ultimate guide to dating in Japan. We’ve looked at the five ways to meet people for dating in Japan including particular places you can go and platforms you can use. We’ve also covered specificities of dating Japanese people so you can improve your dating intelligence in the country tenfold. Plus we looked at those unique gender differences you can find when dating a Japanese person. You have all you need to start successfully dating in Japan or dating Japanese people wherever you are.

What country would you like to see covered next? Send me your requests or ask any specific questions you have about dating people from different cultures overseas.


1 I have all too many a story about observing defensive gaijin at these events. Despite the meetups being group socials, they were probably possessive due to an over-reliance on language exchanges as a means of meeting people instead of diversifying the ways they meet others for dates as I’ve preached many times on this blog.

2 For those of you curious, this is at its core a chicken and egg problem. It’s not that the local nanpa men are harassing, it’s that they feel the need to be persistent given the immediate recalcitrant behaviour of the local women towards strangers in daytime situations. Japanese women often don’t make their rejections clear, they just refrain from making eye contact but don’t verbally tell a guy they’re not interested in some way like most women do in other nations. So the men continue which would be perceived as somewhat aggressive by other nationalities.

To stop this rut, one group needs to change their behaviour which would affect change in the other group making day encounters more pleasant. Until this happens, day encounters in Japan are caught between a rock and a hard place.