Updated November 9, 2023
Dating in Japan: A Comprehensive Guide
In case you haven’t heard, dating in Japan can be tough.
Not only is it hard to find a date due to the closed-off nature of the country’s culture, but even if you do find one, navigating it can be a difficult task on its own.
I’m talking about dating Japanese people as a foreigner here, of course. Dating other foreigners is usually easier — you share the same community and the unique experience of living abroad. However, dating Japanese people if you’re not from Japan is a challenge.
In reality, this challenge isn’t unique to foreigners at all. One study states that the younger population in Japan, which is on the decline anyway, is also getting lonelier — they’re losing interest in dating, and being single is becoming more and more desirable.
All of this may make it seem like dating in Japan is much more challenging than in other countries, but I’d say it’s just different. Yes, it’s true that dating is on the decline among Japanese youth, but as long as you know how dating works in Japan, finding your soulmate is well within the realm of possibility.
In fact, this is why I decided to write this guide. I’ll share everything you need to know about relationships and dating in Japan, including the best dating apps and outlets where you can meet new people.
So, hop on, and let’s take a ride through Japan’s dating scene, starting with a lesson in Japanese dating customs and taboos.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
The Dating Culture in Japan: Japanese Dating Customs
Just like everything, dating in Japan has a learning curve. In the beginning, it may seem like there’s a lot to learn and be mindful of, but once you get the basics, you’ll feel as confident as you would in your own country.
Basically, the biggest differences stem from the fact that Japan’s culture is so distinct from that of Western countries, and social interactions are more reserved.
Just look at my post on the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. Putting on a different face in public and reserving your truest feelings to yourself is just a part of the culture here. Another big part of it is being respectful and not moving too fast, which may not be the most intuitive for a foreigner. It’s just unpleasant to think that someone may think you’re coming off too strong while all you’re trying to do is show affection the way you were taught.
So, as long as you keep the conservative culture of Japan in mind, you’ll find yourself getting used to the way things work much faster. That being said, you still need to learn about some specifics here and there that may baffle you at first sight, which I’ll cover below.
Speaking of the conservative culture, I should also note that the cis-gendered, straight dating scene in Japan is, just like anywhere else, vastly different in Japan. While LGBTQI+ people may not openly face violence or disrespect as gay dating is somewhat safe, Japan is still a conservative country for even straight people, so, I recommend keeping this in mind at all times.
Also, another important thing to point out here is that most of the customs and rules I’ll cover below mostly apply to heterosexual dating in Japan. Queer dating differs quite a lot and isn’t so much bound by the country’s conservative culture, or the rules that stem from it.
Casual Hangs and Hookups Might Not Be The Best Idea
To start things off, let’s talk about casual dates and hookups. As you may have deduced from my introduction above, seeing people casually is a bit harder in Japan.
I’m not saying that it’s not possible, but dating in Japan has more rules than you may be accustomed to, and the parameters of dating are much more clear-cut and definite. If we’re absolutely going by the books and thinking in the most traditionally Japanese way, even a kiss on the first day may feel like too much.
I’ll get to this in a bit, but relationships and dating are much more defined in Japan, so it’s common to make it clear whether you’re serious with someone before anything physical happens.
Of course, this isn't always the case, and hookups are accepted as a part of life in Japan, so, no need to feel bad about it if you’re only looking for casual fun. However, if this is the case, I recommend less traditional dating routes and online dating apps, which I’ll also introduce later in this post.
Get Ready for Day-Long Dates
Another thing that may easily baffle you if you don’t know it’s a thing are day-long dates, which are common in Japan.
While a quick coffee date may be what you’re used to, if you’re dating a Japanese person, it’s best to be prepared to spend much more time on a date.
In Japan, it’s not unheard of to spend all day or at least half a day together when you go on a date with someone. It makes sense too. If you want to get to know someone and enjoy the time you’re having together, a full-day date can bring you closer than a simple cup of coffee ever could.
Besides, this will also give you a better idea as to whether the relationship will work out or not or whether you’re even compatible.
Of course, if you’re the type who doesn’t want to commit to a day-long date and doesn't like to waste time, you may get the idea that dating in Japan just isn’t for you, but don’t worry. This is why the talking stage before a date is usually taken much more seriously in Japan.
I’ll explain this in a bit, but let’s just say that the way things move forward is much more defined in Japan’s dating scene. There’s no room at all for blurred lines when it comes to defining relationships, and this culture ensures that those who are able to find a match stay together longer and have healthier relationships.
Here’s what I mean.
Relationships Have an Official “Start” Date
As I just prefaced, the way romantic relationships are formed is much more defined in Japan. After the initial flirting stage, both sides usually declare their romantic interest in one another, and this means that they are now officially dating.
Relationships work differently in the West: each relationship is allowed to have a unique beginning stage, and some relationships may not even have an official title at all. The more traditional Japanese dating style, however, doesn’t really allow for grey areas, blurred lines, and indecisiveness: you’ll need to make up your mind and officially start dating the person after the initial flirting and “getting to know one another” stage.
So, if you’re dating a Japanese person, especially one who has a traditional upbringing, you may want to refrain from dragging your feet too much, especially if you think that you like the person. There’s a good chance they may dislike the vagueness, give you an ultimatum, or choose to leave you.
A Home Date: What’s That?
In Japan, having dates at home is totally acceptable and normal. In fact, you may even be invited over for a date very early on. It’s not considered weird, and it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an “ulterior motive” either.
While an invitation for a date at home may seem like a hookup date in disguise, don’t be quick to make a judgment if the person offering is Japanese. Chances are high that they’re just inviting you for a cozy movie date, or they may be planning on cooking a nice dinner for you.
Looking at it from a practical side, it just makes sense. Going out can be costly, and staying in is the best option if you’re planning to spend the whole day together, which is often the case in Japan.
So, if you’re seeing someone, don’t hesitate to invite them over. After all, a home date can offer a great bonding experience even if nothing physical happens.
Show That You Love Your Partner
Considering my advice not to be vague about your intentions and the importance of becoming “official” with your partner right away, you may think that Japanese people like to be as direct as possible when it comes to relationships.
However, this isn’t exactly the case. While it’s true that a person with a traditional Japanese mindset does seek stability and assurance in a relationship, they also may be subtle about it and find indirect ways of showing it rather than using literal words.
So, if your partner takes their time to say “I love you,” don’t worry. This is normal, and if you want to form a good relationship with them, you’re better off showing your love anyway.
Relationships in Japan: The Do’s and Dont's of Japanese Dating Culture
Let’s now take a look at some do’s and don’ts of relationships so that you have a better chance of making it work if you happen to find a person you really like.
Confess Your Love, or Miss Your Chance
This one ties in with my advice regarding relationships having an official start date, and it’s important to emphasize it. After you start dating someone, if you really like them, let them know!
From a Western standpoint, this may seem counterintuitive or even flat-out risky as it can seem “desperate.” But I encourage you to adapt to the Japanese mindset: if you like someone, just say it, or even better, show it in a meaningful way rather than being literal with your words.
If things are going well and if your partner likes you too, they’ll say it back, and you’ll officially become a romantic couple. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get married right away, so don’t freak out.
You do have to keep in mind, however, that the traditional Japanese mindset favors relationships that end in marriages. Women who think this way, in particular, might see non-serious relationships as a waste of time.
No PDA For Me Please, Thank You!
I get it, not everyone’s a fan of public displays of affection or PDA, but some do, and it’s important to know that Japanese people are unfortunately not into it.
This is another thing you should know before dating, as it can cause quite a bit of heartbreak, but when in public, it’s best to refrain from showing physical affection as much as possible. This is especially important when you’re in the early stages of dating, where boundaries are of utmost importance.
Look at it this way.
Your partner may not have a personal issue with PDA, but if they’re Japanese and haven’t been living under a rock since they were born, they know that PDAs aren’t received well by the public. This alone is enough to make your date uncomfortable and embarrassed, which aren’t exactly the kind of feelings you associate with a successful date.
While this is an easy adjustment for most people, it may be harder to take in if your love language is physical touch.
If this is the case for you, make sure you have open and honest communication with your partner, where you can acknowledge each other’s feelings and find a compromise that can work for both of you to avoid getting anyone’s feelings hurt.
Don’t Get Too Clingy
Continuing on with another “don’t,” keep in mind that infrequent texting is very much the norm in Japan, even among people who are into each other and are “seriously” dating.
Work-life and personal responsibilities are seen as much more important than romantic dates or sending flirty texts in Japan. So, if someone’s not getting back to you immediately or replies to your “what’s up” text a few hours late, don't take it personally.
Similarly, if you’re dating a Japanese person, don’t expect them to text you at every opportunity or be demanding about it, as this may severely hurt your chances of moving forward with your relationship.
So, if you ever find yourself being ghosted by a date, it may be useful to take a step back and look at things from an outsider's perspective to see if you’re being too clingy or demanding.
Feel Free to Go “Dutch”
In many cultures throughout the world, there’s an unspoken rule that men pay for the first date, or at least they’re expected to offer.
You’ll be happy to hear that this isn’t the case at all in Japan. In fact, being equal is sort of the norm when it comes to paying for dates or taking on responsibilities later on in the relationship.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that exceptions don’t exist. For instance, if a man asks a women out on a date, it’s common for the man to pay. This is especially true for the beginning stages of dating, before a couple becomes “official.”
However, as things get settled and the relationship becomes serious, both parties become equals and splitting the bill becomes the norm.
Luckily, Japanese dating is progressive in this way, and you don’t need to worry about offering to pay the bill unless you asked someone on a date. It’s, after all, an unpleasant topic that might easily disturb the romantic atmosphere.
Of course, all of this isn’t to say that you can’t treat your partner to a nice meal on your anniversary or other special days like Valentine’s Day or White Day (the reverse of Valentine’s Day).
Also, keep in mind that in relationships where the man earns more and is older, it’s common for the men to pay more frequently. That being said, women still pay in these relationships occasionally.
All in all, if a couple is officially dating and both sides are of equal economic power, splitting the bill or going “Dutch” feels not only logical, but it also shows your partner that you see them as your equal.
Online Dating in Japan: The Most Popular Dating Apps
Although I already covered the most popular dating apps and introduced each one extensively in my post on dating apps in Japan, let’s talk a bit about the landscape of online dating in Japan and which apps are the most popular before we move on.
First things first, you have the usuals: apps like Tinder, Bumble, and OKCupid are just as popular here in Japan as they are pretty much everywhere else in the world. However, out of the three, I’d say that OkCupid offers the highest chance of forming a meaningful connection with someone.
Tinder and Bumble are still pretty popular, but less so among Japanese people who are looking for life partners or at least long-lasting romantic relationships. These apps are mostly popular among foreigners and Japanese people who speak English and are looking for casual dates or hookups.
Not that exceptions don’t exist, but you’re much better off going with OkCupid, or JapanCupid as it’s known here, as the app allows you to match with people who share the same interests or world views as you based on the questions you answer on your profile.
While these are all great apps if you’re a foreigner, looking for foreigners, or want to meet Japanese people who speak English or have traveled to the West before, if you’re wondering what apps Japanese people use to find serious relationships, keep on reading.
Japanese Dating Apps: A Whole New World
There are many more dating apps that are wildly popular here that you may have never even heard of.
However, an interesting point to know about Japanese dating apps is that while women don’t have to pay, male users usually have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to use the app.
It may sound weird, but this is done to keep a balanced male-to-female user ratio. Unless you’re using international apps like Tinder or Bumble, this will be the case with nearly all Japanese dating apps you’ll encounter, so don’t be surprised.
Another thing to keep in mind when using Japanese apps is that you need to have at least intermediate-level Japanese because although the English fluency rate has been on the rise in Japan, it’s still not very common to speak English, as I mentioned in my post on speaking English in Japan.
Offline Dating in Japan: Socializing With a Side of Romance
Online dating may be the go-to option for many young people today, but before there was online dating, the only option was to meet people in person.
The idea may seem bizarre in today’s world, considering that the sense of individualization in society is much more prevalent, however, Japan is a fairly conservative country that actively nurtures its customs and traditions.
This conservatism can easily translate as shyness in most social settings, which makes meeting people out in the wild very difficult. This is why Japanese people have developed their own methods.
So, for those of you who are looking to personally connect with someone and don’t like meeting people online, let’s now take a look at a few Japanese dating activities and events you can attend to meet new potential romantic partners in person.
Goukon: Speed Dating, Optimized
If you’re familiar with the concept of speed dating, you’ll understand the concept of Goukon, or Gokon, fairly easily. Basically, a goukon is an optimized version of speed dating and a modern way of meeting people in person in Japan.
Depending on how it’s organized, a goukon can be made up of random people or of carefully selected individuals. Usually held at a bar, an izakaya (a traditional Japanese bar where you can also get food), or a regular restaurant, these group dates are where an even number of men and women come together to meet and, hopefully, form a meaningful connection.
Unlike regular speed dating, people who attend a goukon are usually within the personal circles of the people who organize it.
For instance, a couple who both have single men and women friends can organize a goukon to bring their friends together. This way, all parties know that the people they’ll potentially meet are from close social circles, which acts as a filter, in a way, and ensures that you won’t waste your time with someone who’s from a completely different walk of life.
Keep in mind that while it’s usually held at a bar, a goukon doesn’t have to be a sit-down event. Sometimes, a couple can even organize a group trip where they invite their single friends to mix and mingle.
Of course, a goukon doesn’t always have to be among friends. Bars and restaurants also organize larger events, but these are less personal, and the general profile of the crowd is more random. These larger events usually go by a different name. Let’s take a look.
Machikon and Shumikon: The More The Merrier
If you’re into speed dating but want to be surprised or have more options, a goukon may not be the best event for you. After all, these events usually bring together people from similar social circles, which you may not be into.
Luckily, due to the high success rate and the convenience of goukons, variations of the event have also begun to pop up. These events are less personalized but usually include more people and also have the element of surprise for those looking for something more unexpected.
A machikon, for instance, is a bigger speed dating event than a goukon. There are more people involved, but the numbers of men and women are still kept even to ensure everyone finds a match.
Machikons are usually organized by restaurants or bars, and there’s usually an entry fee for men, while women can enter for free. While this may sound strange, it’s only an attempt to keep a balanced crowd, as the demand from male attendees is generally much higher than that of female attendees.
As goukons and machikons have proven to be quite successful in the past, nowadays, there are much more focused versions of these events that offer a bit more personality, and these are called Shumikons.
Unlike a machikon, the attendees of a shumikon are people who share a certain similar interest. Although it’s not unheard of for machikons to have prerequisites such as being above a certain height or earning above a certain amount of salary, this sadly doesn’t mean much in terms of connection, so shumikons offer a great alternative.
Basically, shumikons are for people who share the same interests or hobbies to meet each other, but the event isn’t limited to a simple meet-up at a restaurant. As this is a more hobby-focused event, these groups can even do workshops, trips, or activities regarding their shared interests, which makes them inherently more fun.
Aiseki Izakaya: Exchanging Tables… And Numbers?
A name originated from the largest bar that started this type of event, Aisekiya, the Aiseki Izakaya is a type of get-together where an equal number of men and women can share tables at random and get to know one another.
These events are usually held at izakayas, the traditional Japanese bars where you can have drinks and food (see my post on Japanese alcohol and drinking culture).
However, unlike the other types of speed dating events I’ve covered so far, people sit together at random at these events. Once again, women don’t pay an entrance fee, while men have to pay for every 30 minutes or hour they stay at the event.
The way it works is simple. Usually, you are seated at a random table with the help of the staff, and you talk to each other. The concept is usually open bar and all-you-can-eat buffet, which motivates people to get comfortable.
After a while, if there’s no spark, anyone can get up at any time to go to the rest room where they can fill out a “table exchange card” to hand it over to the restaurant staff. A staff member will then come by to your table at a convenient time with an excuse to change tables so both participants can meet new people.
The restaurant staff are trained to handle these exchanges as professionally as possible, and they try their best to make up a solid excuse to change the tables. So there’s no need to worry about seeming rude as long as all parties attending agree to take the staff’s word at face value for the night.
Tips for Dating in Japan: Date Ideas and Recommendations
Now that you have a date, or at least know how to look for someone to go on a date with, let’s talk about going on a date in Japan.
Generally speaking, other than the fact that home dates are a thing and that dates run longer than what you may expect, you’ll find that dates aren’t all that different in Japan. For instance, some of the most common date activities are simple things like going to a restaurant or a cafe, or to see a movie, or visit an amusement park.
Of course, more active dates are also totally possible. You can go for a walk in a park, go hiking, or swim at the beach if it’s the season. Anything goes, and the sky is the limit here.
However, if you’re planning a first date, you may want to put a little more thought into it, and be reasonable with the activities you plan to allow for having meaningful conversations. For instance, in addition to a classic cafe or restaurant date, you can also visit an aquarium or a zoo.
Activities of this kind can even give you opportunities to get to know one another better. A simple walk in the zoo can turn into a deep conversation about your childhood pet or your upbringing in the countryside.
For similar reasons, a picnic accompanied by a walk in the park is also a great idea that’ll allow for some variety in activities, some light exercise to energize you, and a relaxing time to chat and get to know one another.
Of course, if one (or both) of you are shy and don’t enjoy talking too much, you can always plan a more involved activity, like seeing a movie or going to a theme park. Not only there will be lots to talk about, but you’ll also have other things to focus on if you don’t feel like talking.
The “Next Step” for Dating in Japan: What to Expect
Just like the culture of dating, relationships in Japan also have their cultural differences you may want to be mindful of if you want to avoid hurting your partner’s feelings or causing unneeded tension without meaning to.
So, before I conclude, I’d like to share a few tips that will give you a better idea of what you can expect in the next steps as a foreigner dating in Japan.
Meeting the Parents Is Big
In most relationships, meeting the parents is inevitable, and the same is also true in Japan. This admittedly-much-dreaded moment is seen as a pretty big step in Japanese relationships, and it can be a make-or-break-type deal for most people, especially if they have a traditional upbringing.
So, when you meet your partner’s parents for the first time, make sure to get on your best behavior and present yourself in the best light possible if you want your relationship to continue smoothly.
Japanese people care very deeply about relationships, especially ones that are formed by family. So, even if you find them too traditional for your taste, if you want to have a sustainable relationship with your partner, fostering a good relationship between you and your partner’s family is one of the best investments you can make for your relationship.
Oh, and did I mention the relationship between Japanese people and tattoos? It’s not the best, and I explained why in great detail in my post on tattoos in Japan. Head on over there if you’re curious, but I’d highly advise you to cover up any tattoos you may have if you’re meeting your Japanese partner’s parents.
Lastly, keep in mind that meeting the parents is a very serious step for relationships in Japan. While it doesn’t directly mean that you’ll get married, it gives the idea that the relationship is headed in that direction. So, tread carefully.
Living Together: Not So Common Before Marriage
Another point to keep in mind when dating in Japan, and especially when dating a Japanese person, is that the concept of living together before marriage isn’t as common as you might expect.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts about the gift-giving culture of omiyage, the traditions of New Year’s in Japan, or the importance of addressing people the right way in how to say hello in Japanese, you’re already familiar with Japanese people’s devotion to customs and traditions.
Japan is a traditional country through and through, and like most traditional cultures, it’s quite heavy-handed when it comes to being conservative. This means that living together before marriage may not really be well-received by your partner’s parents.
While the amount of young people living together has been on the rise in Japan, living together still isn't super popular due to preference. Couples don’t spend too much time together anyway, as I mentioned previously, and the idea of personal space is just too sweet for many to give up before committing to someone for life via marriage.
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