Beyond Meetups and Coworkers: Making Friends in Tokyo
During my first few weeks in Tokyo I instantly entered into a whirlwind of new coworkers, floormates and expats, yet when the dust settled I found that most of the foreign friends I had made had returned home, and that my floormates and coworkers went back to their busy lives. Luckily, I worked with absolutely wonderful people that rarely ever let me feel truly alone, but even with one or two friends Tokyo can be a lonely place if you do not make the extra effort to connect with others living here. Below are three ways in which I made long lasting friends with English speaking Japanese women and other foreigners in Japan for the long haul.
Sake Brewery Tour
Started by a young and very friendly English speaking Japanese guy named Naoto, who also leads the tours, Anchorman Inc. aims to share its knowledge of sake with people from around the world. The three-hour-long English language tour of a sake brewery near Higashi Murayama station that I attended was aimed largely at foreigners and Japanese women.
Before heading to the brewery, I received a delicious, full course Japanese meal all while making conversation with some friendly women living in Tokyo. I quickly bonded with a very kindhearted and absolutely hilarious woman from Tokyo; two dinners, a night of fireworks, and an afternoon in Disneyland later and I cannot imagine what my last few weeks in Tokyo would have been without her.
The tour itself was fascinating, with many chances to take funny pictures and learn everything you would ever want to know about sake. From the funny badger out front, to climbing into an empty sake vat, to getting to visit a rarely seen room where an essential part of the sake is made, the guides made sure to make the tour special and fun for everyone. The best part of the tour is the sake party held at the end, where we were able to taste five different kinds of sake that were brewed on site. After a half an hour everyone was smiling, and the mood was extremely fun and convivial.
Overall, I absolutely loved this tour! I went alone and left with two new friends with whom I am still in touch, a new appreciation for sake, and a slew of silly photos. Even if you arrive in the most unsocial of moods, you will leave with a big smile on your face and a few new people to add to your friend circle.
English Camp for Kids
Getting involved with volunteer work is another great way to make friends in Tokyo, while also making a difference! One great program I participated in is the International English Camp, which provides a free weekend camp for children affected by the devastating earthquake in 2011. The camp seeks English speaking volunteers for its weekly camps in the Kanto region, covering all necessities and expenses throughout the weekend for campers, as well as volunteers.
This weekend was simultaneously one of the most exhausting, rewarding, and fulfilling experiences I have ever had either in or outside of Japan. The kids were so energetic and full of love that they filled the camp with an atmosphere of kindness and childhood giddiness. Though most of the kids do not speak English well, my group of students and I were able to communicate, with significant effort on both sides, in our own patchwork of Japanese and English words. Since the premise of the camp is that only English can be spoken during the weekend (though that is more of a goal than a rule), most of the Japanese volunteers speak English, making it easy to bond with fellow counselors. In fact, one of my favorite memories was staying up hours after the kids had gone to sleep, deep in conversation with my fellow volunteers from India, Taiwan, and Jordan.
Even after the camp ended, a Japanese English teacher and I lingered afterwards to eat together and talk about life and teaching. From my experience, this camp is what you make of it. Even if you are a naturally shy person, try to get out of your comfort zone, if only to make the kids start giggling uncontrollably at your attempt at singing “Let It Go.” To really have fun and get the most from this experience, I suggest getting a lot of sleep beforehand so that you can put all of your energy into making the weekend fun for both the campers and yourself.
Run for the Cure Foundation
Another fantastic volunteer experience I had was through Run for the Cure Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness among the Japanese public on breast cancer and supporting breast cancer patients and survivors. The foundation hosts various events throughout the year, such as a Casino Night and the annual Run for the Cure Walk for Life, and several others for which volunteers are always needed.
As I a summer intern, though I have not yet been able to volunteer at one of the foundation’s events, I am able to see the amount of passion and effort that goes into planning every single event, which reflects not only in how the event turns out, but also in the people who come to support the event, volunteer or otherwise. Any one of the events, whether it be Pink Fest or the annual run, offers volunteers a chance to meet positive and bright people looking to make a difference in Japan.
Because it is a bilingual organization, Run for the Cure Foundation appeals to both Japanese and expats, which shows in the people that attend and volunteer at the events. Many young, English speaking Japanese women, as well as a handful of expats, volunteer for events, such as the annual gala event, Casino Night, and beauty parties for breast cancer survivors. The foundation provides volunteers with bentos, t-shirts, and the chance to help spread awareness about breast cancer alongside likeminded men and women.
Like I said before, Tokyo can be lonely, but by putting in the extra effort—especially at the start of my time here when I had the most energy—to go out and make solid friendships with other Tokyoites, I found myself with a trustworthy group of girlfriends who I can easily message to watch fireworks together, or ask for advice, or to simply spend time together. When people ask me the always popular “why Japan,” I often simply say that I fell in love with Tokyo, but the truth is that I fell in love with the people of Tokyo.