This week’s guest post comes from my good friend Yuta. He’s also an author/blogger/YouTuber here in Tokyo and we run in the same circles. Recently he wrote an excellent about dating in Japan (he interviewed over 30 people about their experiences). These are some of the interesting things he learnt:
1. Japanese men may approach you subtly
When Leslie, a mixed Filipina woman, met Masaki, she felt they could be very good friends. They were at an international networking party in Tokyo. People would come to talk to them and leave, but they stuck together for the entire event.
They started hanging out together, going hiking, going to the zoo and spending time in parks. Leslie started wondering, ‘Are we just friends? Isn’t this a bit like dating?’
One day, they went singing karaoke with their friends and got drunk. Leslie began to fall asleep on Masaki’s shoulder. When she woke up, she realised that someone was holding her hand: it was Masaki! ‘Why is he holding my hand?’ Leslie thought. But she didn’t mind it at all.
After the karaoke incident, they went on a proper date. During their date, Masaki told Leslie that he loved her. ‘Love’ might be a strong word in this context, but in Japan, telling someone that you love her is a form of asking her to be your girlfriend.
Masaki’s approach up to the ‘I love you’ was very subtle. There was a lot of ambiguity; they would often go out with other friends instead of just the two of them. This ‘group dating’ thing is not unusual in Japan.
Japanese men often send subtle messages. It could be frequent text messages; it could be a subtle ‘I enjoy being with you’ slipped into a conversation; it could be an additional heart-shaped emoji in a text message.
I think Masaki wanted to get to know her well before making a move. Leslie says that casual dating is not his thing. He always aims for a long-term relationship.
2. Approaching Japanese men can get you very far
When Kala, an African American woman, saw the guy, she immediately knew that she wanted to meet him. At the time, Kala was teaching English in Kagoshima while learning Japanese. Her Japanese wasn’t improving much, so she started a study group with her friends.
During their meeting in the student building, a Japanese man with an awesome haircut passed by.
‘Who the hell is he?’ Kala asked.
‘I think he lives here,’ one of her friends said.
The whole study group started talking about how she could meet that guy, completely forgetting about studying Japanese. They came up with a plan to help her: some of them would invite the guy to the study group, and others would give her Japanese tips.
Their mission seemed to work well. They successfully invited the guy to join their group and he seemed to get along with them.
However, there was one problem: he had a girlfriend.
Kala was shocked when she learnt the news. She was at an international party, and saw the guy with his girlfriend.
But she wasn’t giving up. She decided to get to know him better, and hoped that eventually things would work out.
After a while, Kala threw a Thanksgiving party at her place. She obviously invited him. In fact, the Thanksgiving party was more or less an excuse to see him. She made a special map just for him, showing the way to her house.
He brought sweet potato balls to the party. They looked OK, but Kala noticed that people weren’t eating them. Feeling bad, she started eating them herself. ‘These are really good! Thank you for bringing them!’ Kala said to him, trying to show she was happy that he brought them.
Sometime after the Thanksgiving party, Kala finally decided to ask him about his girlfriend.
‘Oh, I broke up with her,’ he said.
Kala didn’t miss the opportunity. Shortly after, they started dating.
That was more than 10 years ago. Kala is married now. Her husband is the very guy she met in Kagoshima. They have been happily married for 9 years.
All this was possible because Kala approached him actively. Women who can approach men seem to do quite well in Japan. I have the impression that many Asian men believe that non-Asian women are not into them, so they need a little bit of encouragement sometimes.
3. But Japanese men may approach you directly
When Annie, a mixed Swedish girl, met Takuya, she thought, ‘He’s definitely not my type.’ She’d always liked fashionable, good-looking guys. But Takuya was neither fashionable nor handsome.
As for Takuya, his reaction was quite the opposite: he fell in love with her.
Takuya asked her on a date, but Annie instantly said no. For her, going out with Takuya was out of the question. Besides, Annie had been approached by many handsome Japanese guys in bars and clubs, although none of her dating experience was positive. The guys from the clubs only seemed interested in sleeping with her.
Takuya didn’t give up. He asked her out again and again. They lived in the same shared house with some other housemates. Sometimes, when she was watching TV in the lounge, he would deliberately do push-ups around her to get her attention.
One day, he and Annie found themselves alone. He told her that he loved her. This made Annie think that, perhaps, she might have been too harsh on him. Annie wasn’t so sure about her indifference anymore. After all, he seemed a genuinely good guy. She was sorry that she hadn’t known he felt so strongly about her.
Annie decided to give him a chance.
They went on a date to a planetarium in Shibuya. When they got home, Annie realized that she was developing feelings for him. She went back to her room, but she couldn’t stop thinking about him.
That same night, she went to see him again and gave him a kiss on the cheek. That was her answer. Takuya gave her a very passionate hug.
But a few months later, Annie had to go back to Sweden because her visa was going to expire. Takuya didn’t want to give up on her. So he worked hard with his part-time job, saved money and followed her to Sweden. They got married so that they could stay together, with the full support of their parents.
Japanese men have a reputation for being shy, but some of them are like Takuya, who pursued the woman in his life passionately.
4. And Japanese men confess their love
Natasha, a Russian woman, remembers her first Japanese boyfriend. She met him through mutual friends and, shortly after, they went on their first date.
On their second date, he said ‘I like you’ in Japanese. Natasha didn’t think a lot about it, and just carried on the conversation.
The guy was confused. In his mind, what he had just done was the confession of love, or kokuhaku. It was a Japanese way of asking her to be his girlfriend. At the time, Natasha wasn’t very familiar with Japanese culture, so he had to explain to her what the confession of love was. That must have been quite awkward for him.
Lily, a white American woman, is very familiar with the confession of love. Countless Japanese men have confessed their love to her. She is so used to it that she can always sense it when a guy is about to confess.
(Masaki and Tatsuya, who I discussed earlier, also confessed their love.)
In my opinion, the confession of love is one of the most interesting characteristics of dating in Japan. Japanese people usually prefer defining relationships clearly from early on. Lingering around somewhere between friendship and relationship is usually discouraged. Confessing one’s love is often considered the proper way of starting a relationship.
5. Japanese men may not be compatible with western women in bed
Some western women have expressed their disappointment with Japanese men in bed.
Natasha, the Russian girl, has dated two Japanese men. ‘I’m really sorry to say this, but neither of them was good in bed,’ Natasha says. She likes rough sex sometimes, but her Japanese ex-boyfriends weren’t up for it. ‘I wouldn’t mind them just pulling on my hair or something. But they wouldn’t do it even if I asked,’ she says.
Sandra, a Filipina-American woman, has friends who have dated a lot of Japanese men. According to her friend, Japanese men are very technique-oriented in bed. ‘It’s like a sport to them, but there’s not a lot of passion in it,’ her friend told her.
As a Japanese man, I can understand the technique-focused aspect. Call us geeky Asians, but a lot of information Japanese men receive about sex is technique-focused. I noticed that a while ago, there was an increasing number of sex-related books in Japanese bookshops. Some were technique-oriented, and some took a more holistic approach, but men seem to be more interested in the technical aspects of sex.
I would also like to acknowledge that Japanese people tend not to be emotionally expressive, which may affect their behavior in bed.
6. But Japanese men can be sweet lovers
Fortunately, I’ve also met women who enjoy having sex with Japanese men.
Sabina, a Russian woman married to a Japanese man, says sex has been good from the beginning. ‘It’s maybe why our marriage stays alive. He knows my body,’ she says.
Lucy, a Chinese girl, likes to sleep with Japanese men. She comes to Japan regularly and finds Japanese men to date. She says Japanese men are better in bed than Chinese men. When I asked why, she said, ‘Well, Japanese men are more into foreplay and have sex with me for longer.’
Lily, the American girl, talks about one of her ex-boyfriends, saying that ‘it was a really positive experience. We both thought it was good to talk about what we could do to make things better.’
It seems that women’s experiences with Japanese men in bed are very varied.
7. Japanese men can do housework
Japan has a bad reputation when it comes to gender equality, which is not baseless. But let’s not forget that there are always men who are comfortable with assuming non-traditional gender roles.
Takuya currently does most of the housework because Annie is the one who is working. He is still looking for a job and he often stays at home.
Sabina says to her husband, ‘I won’t do all the cleaning so that you can come home and just relax. It’s going to be 50–50,’ and her husband is accommodating.
Michelle, a Finnish girl, has had two Japanese boyfriends who cooked for her, which she appreciated because she couldn’t cook. ‘Guys who live by themselves usually can do all the housework: cooking, cleaning, doing laundry,’ she says.
However, not all Japanese men are keen on doing housework. Sean, a gay British guy, talks about his Japanese husband saying, ‘I’m a lot handier around the house because I prefer to have things done in a certain way. He’s happy to let that slide on his part.’ According to him, Japanese men are used to being taken care of by their mothers and they expect their wives to take care of them as well.
If you are curious about my personal opinion as a Japanese man, I would say that for a married couple where both partners have full-time jobs, the household chores need to be shared equally. However, I also acknowledge that in reality, things are not so simple because people have different opinions on what needs to be done, how it should be done, and how much it should be done. Nonetheless, I think it’s important that both parties are at least on the same page as to gender equality. Hiring someone to do the housework is also a good option.
8. Japanese men don’t always express dissatisfaction
One thing Kala has learnt in the course of her marriage is how to tell when her husband is unhappy with something. When she suggests a place to eat, he might say, ‘mmm’ or ‘sss’. Kala knows that he really means ‘I don’t want to go there.’ If she’s cooking and he is hungry, he will say, ‘Do you need help?’ Kala knows that what he really means is ‘Please hurry up.’ Kala has become good at decoding her husband’s non-verbal messages.
Michelle, the Finnish girl, remembers that her ex-boyfriend didn’t want to talk about bad things because he didn’t like conflict. When she broke up with him, he said, ‘I know the problem was that we didn’t talk.’ She said, ‘Oh, come on, I tried to talk!’
Lack of verbal communication seems a common problem with Western-Japanese couples. It’s true that many Japanese men tend to express their emotions non-verbally. For Kala’s husband, being hesitant is his way of expressing a concern. Other ways of expressing dissatisfaction may include unusual silence, reluctant tone of voice, incomplete sentences and unenthusiastic affirmation.
If you are from a verbal culture, paying attention to non-verbal messages can improve your communication with Japanese people. If possible, try to voice their concern by saying, ‘You seem kind of unhappy about this, do you think we have other options?’ This will make it easier for them to talk about things.
9. Japanese men can have emotional outbursts
As much as Japanese men tend to be emotionally inexpressive, some of them can’t hold it back once it starts to flood out.
Lily, the American girl, went on holiday in the States with her ex-boyfriend. At the time, he lived in the States and she lived in Japan (yes, you read it right). So they were going to meet in San Francisco and then have a holiday together.
Lily arrived in San Francisco one day earlier than him. She sent him a text, had dinner with her friends, went back to the hotel and went to bed.
The next morning, she left a message on his phone saying, ‘Hey, are you here? I’m so excited.’ Five minutes later, he called back and said, ‘I’m here, but I’m leaving. I’m going home.’
He said, ‘You didn’t text me after you went back to the hotel last night. And you didn’t text me this morning either. You’re a terrible person!’ Lily was shocked. They had a very emotional phone conversation. Lily had to do all this in Japanese in the hotel lobby in front of everyone.
Lily thinks that the reason some Japanese guys have emotional outbursts is that they are not used to expressing emotions. So when they start to express their emotions, it comes out in an unconstructive way because they don’t know how to control it.
In Japan, holding back our emotions in public is often considered good behavior. Japanese people feel as much emotion as people in any other country, but they try not to show it. So when we want to express our emotions freely, we suddenly realize we don’t really know how.
On a slightly related note, the way they changed the lyrics of Let it Go (from the Disney film Frozen) for the Japanese version is interesting. The Japanese version goes ‘I am going to show who I really am’ instead of ‘Let it go, Can’t hold it back anymore’. It’s too bad because I think what Japanese people need sometimes is to let it go and not hold it back.
‘Overall, I don’t think that intercultural or interracial relationships are any different from any other relationships. You have to work at them anyway,’ Kala, the American woman, says.
Nadia, yet another African American woman, says similar things. She dated several Japanese men before meeting her husband, as well as other nationalities including Latino men. When I asked her about Japanese men in bed, she said, ‘It’s the same. Dudes are dudes.’
Japanese men may come with their own quirks and exotic culture, but we are men after all, just like any other men.
Yuta Aoki is a Japanese author, blogger, YouTuber. He writes about Japanese culture, intercultural communication, and dating. He blogs at YutaAoki.com