🔖 5 min read

Dating in Japan can be tricky at the best of times! 

Getting a foreign perspective is handy before arriving, as It’s easy to come off as rude or out of place when trying to impress a cute local who keeps laughing at how well you speak Nihongo (or not!).

Cities like Tokyo and Osaka are filled with people, crazy to meet foreigners and learn about other cultures, so here’s some advice to take on board once you land yourself a date!

Dinner Etiquette in Japan

Dinner on a first date has proved the test of time, so being accustomed to eating in Japan will be a good starting point. 

Firstly, learning how to use chopsticks on the fly won’t fly! Most restaurants do have forks and, by all means, use them, but doing a crash course on Youtube and practising at home will stand for you later.

After learning the art of chopsticks, Itadakismase and ‘Gochisousama’ are two phrases to have in your back pocket. It means, ‘I’m happy about the meal’ and ‘thanks for the food.’ Little details like this show you’re making an effort, which your date will appreciate. 

Now, language barriers over dinner don’t mix. It’s handy learning a few words before you land to make things easier. Having said that, manners are manners, no matter the country or language, so knowing some goes a long way. We don’t have to cover basics like being on your phone or chewing loudly. However, slurping loudly isn’t much of a problem in Japan.

In the UK or anywhere else, slurping while dining will only get you dirty looks. If you happen to stumble into one of the many ramen spots in Japan, don’t be shocked if your date is slurping noodles like it’s their last meal on earth. In Japan, it shows appreciation to the chef.

To a show a typical Japanese meal

Respect is embedded into Japanese Culture

Okyakusama wa kamisama is a term that means ‘the guests are god.’

Japan is a customer-valued country, and respect is everything. Therefore, endless amounts of effort ensure that customers are well looked after. 

Don’t take advantage of this ritual!

Some do and act as if they are ‘higher’ or essential. Not a good look to have, especially during a date. Show you’re not just another loud Gaijin, fresh off the boat. Be extra polite, smile, and show appreciation to the staff, and before you know it, that first date is followed by a second. 

And one more thing, DO NOT TIP!

No Tip Rule

Yes, Japanese people don’t usually tip. In western cultures, it’s a standard gesture to show appreciation for service. In Japan, it’s not expected.

The Japanese culture believes people should take pride in their work, no matter what profession; therefore, a good service should always be provided, with or without tips.

Shoes at the Genkan – Very Important!

This tradition goes back to the Meiji Period and is sacred within the Japanese culture, so if your date invites you back to their place PLEASE REMEMBER to leave your shoes at the genkan – an area, inside the front door.

It’s a well-known ritual and definitely worth a mention!
And FYI – for brownie points, place you’re shoes facing the entrance but don’t worry too much about that.

PDA in Japan

A couple not showing PDA

Soon after arriving, you’ll notice a lack of Public Displays of Affection within the Japanese culture. In the UK, a couple kissing in public wouldn’t be a surprise. In Japan, its a rare sight. You might see some hand-holding or the odd hug, but that’s about it.

Japan’s culture considers it rude to show affection in public. It‘s becoming less of a taboo but still a presence, so as a foreigner dating in japan, don’t be upset when it‘s taking forever to land that first kiss.

Minna no Koe, a Japanese-based internet survey site conducted a poll to find out when people usually share their first kiss with a date? Most people (33%) said they would only kiss on the 3rd date so probably best to let them make the first move and try not to be clingy! 

Stay Humble

Everyone loves to let loose on holiday, but remember, most Japanese people are reserved and quiet. Stay humble and don’t be that loud Gaijin who the locals find annoying. Also, when it’s time to indulge in Tokyo’s notorious nightlife, chasing a fantasy can be a problem, especially for guys!

Some have this perception that Japanese girls love western guys when this is simply not the case. Yes, some may find foreign guys attractive, but going there, expecting every girl to go crazy whenever they catch a glimpse will only land you in a taxi for one.

Again, stay humble!

Photo Credit: Pexels / Alex Knight

Dating Long-term – A Cultural Image 

Happy couple on a date

Many Japanese girls in their 20s live with their parents, so dating a Gaijin will undoubtedly spark a few conversations over dinner. 

For long-term relationships, image plays a part. Over 2% of Japan’s population is foreign, so interracial marriages are rare. However, acting the part and embracing the culture will impress your partner’s family and friends. 

Yes, in Japan, this matters. Being familiar with local culture and adapting to the Japanese way of life shows your commitment to the long term and may prove marriage material. 

Too Direct – Japans Unspoken Language

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / buritora
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / buritora

In general, Japanese people are never too direct when speaking. Avoiding consultations and not standing out is the traditional approach within their culture.

For dating in Japan, this can be good and bad.

Firstly, Japanese people are not used to being complimented by their partners, so if compliments are your thing, then go for it.

Nothing beats “you look nice tonight” when least expected. More often than not, a smile will come in return.

However, be mindful that it’s not an everyday habit. Speaking your mind too much and saying how you feel may work against you. Even though you mean no harm, it’s easy for one or two words to get away, and they might read you wrong.

This leads to our next point – Kukki o Yomu.

‘Reading The Air’

Kukki o Yomu is a Japanese term that means, ‘reading the air‘.

When dating in Japan, this really could make or break your night. It means being aware of a person’s feelings or thoughts by not actually speaking to them, or to put it simply, ‘reading between the lines.’

Even for foreigners that have a grasp of the Japanese language and culture, this can be tricky. In most western cultures, speaking your mind is encouraged. In Japan, it’s harder to read social situations as it’s naturally an indirect speaking country. As a foreigner, being aware of Kukki o Yomu will give you a heads up on what to expect during that first date.

Effort is Key with Japanese Culture

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / WildSnap
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / WildSnap

So it’s fair to say a certain amount of effort is key for dating in Japan. As a Gaijin, the mysteries and wonders to find are endless and the dating scene is no exception. There are plenty of tips and tricks out there so don’t panic.

Strolling down the tourist path and believing everything you hear before arriving is easy to do, so understanding the culture, while embracing all that Japan has to offer, will prove its worth on a date.

You’ll be welcomed with a sense of delight, not by how well you can pronounce “Menyu Onegaishimasu” but by the effort you put in, learning about a country that is much different than your own.