Dating In Japan: Foreign Women Share Their Stories

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Thing Called Love

By Hilary Keyes
June 28, 2017
Lifestyle, Relationships

What's it like to be a foreign woman dating in Japan? This is a topic that isn't often spoken of, and can cover a wide range of experiences both positive and negative. Here are some real life stories that will make you laugh and cry.

Being a foreign woman and trying to date in Japan comes with its own benefits and problems, all of which can deeply impact your emotional well-being — even down to how long you will stay in the country. When I first got to Japan, I tried the “when in Rome” approach and attempted to be more feminine in the way my Japanese co-workers were. I grew my hair out, changed my wardrobe completely, tried to be more delicate in my mannerisms — but all that did for me was empty my wallet and leave me doubting my own self-worth.

After I went back to being myself, I was called a “Christmas cake,” because I still wasn’t married at the age of 27 (you know, cakes are supposedly inedible after the 25th of December… ), which really stood out in my mind at the time. But on the other hand, I’ve been praised by past partners for my independent thinking, and had many other positive experiences that I don’t think would have been as meaningful if they had occurred overseas.

As a white Western woman, I’m not really in a place to say that these are the shared experiences of all foreign women in Japan. So, I reached out by email to 40 different women of various ethnicities ranging in age from 23-34, that were raised in the U.S., Canada, Australia, or Europe and had lived or live in Japan, to find out what their dating experiences were/are like in Japan. Here’s what they had to say.  

How have your dating experiences in Japan been overall?

“I’d have to say that there have been mostly good ones. I mean, it’s much easier to remember the jerk that broke your heart than it’s to think about the good relationships that just didn’t work out. That being said, I can remember feeling like I was always having to be a model woman — like if I had to blow my nose I was just gross or wrong. That definitely caused a few fights between me and my boyfriend at the time” (Emily, 33, Caucasian UK).

“I didn’t really have the confidence to approach anyone back home, but here it’s like, unless they’re drunk, if I don’t make the first move, nothing is going to happen. So I think it’s been positive for me because I feel more confident in talking to guys now.” (Sue, 29, Taiwanese American).

“It wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time, but I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted in a relationship, and I honestly think that things would have worked out better if I hadn’t been trying so hard to be part of the culture instead of myself.” (Rita, 34, Caribbean Canadian).

[T]hings would have worked out better if I hadn’t been trying so hard to be part of the culture instead of myself.

“Ugh — it was rough. With my guy, there was a huge language gap. We met through Tinder, and he could write pretty well in English, but when we actually met in person, not so much. That didn’t stop us from seeing each other, but we had to spend so much time figuring out how to express ourselves clearly to one another. It was hard, no, it was awful, and we ended up breaking up because neither of us was happy in the end.” (Jane, 28, Latin American).

“Sometimes great. Sometimes flabbergasting. I went on dates with a few different types of Japanese guys, but the weirdest part was some of their willingness to “ghost” ya! I didn’t really care if they didn’t want to see me again after one date, as these things happen… But, one thing that happened to me a few times was the guy would actively say they wanted to go out again, and then I would never hear from them again. Well, one of these guys texted me 2.5 years later… What!?” (Victoria, 30, Greek American)

How are (were) you treated by Japanese men?

“I felt like we’re here for Japanese men’s amusement instead of to better ourselves.” (Katie, 24, African American).

“I went out with a Japanese guy for a few weeks, and then one night, he told me we couldn’t date anymore because he was sure I’d had plastic surgery because I was Korean, and that’s what Korean women do to find husbands. I’ve never even dyed my hair before.” (Sarah, 26, Korean American).

“Generally, my experience was marred by the fact that the Japanese often assumed that because I’m of a Filipino background that I’m in Japan as a sex-worker. I can’t tell you how many times the police stopped me to check my gaijin card and then incredulously ask if I was really there to work for my company. It was almost a weekly occurrence. It didn’t help that I would go home past 10 in the evening. I have been asked “How much?” by many Japanese men and this question was often accompanied with a lewd hand gesture or an unwarranted exposure of genitals when I was minding my own business.” (Anne, 31, Filipino Australian).

[T]here are times I have to take a step back and tell them I’m neither Beyoncé nor Nicki Minaj.

“My male coworker once told me that saris were sexy, and wanted to know if all Indian girls had to learn the Kama Sutra… I didn’t even want to think about dating in Japan after that. I mean, if that’s what my coworker would say, what can I expect a stranger in a bar to say to me?” (Mary, 31, Indian Canadian).

“I’ve been lucky to be treated well so far. But one time, I was in a rush and cut in line and my Japanese boyfriend said it was a stupid thing to do. He said, ‘Japanese people would not say anything to a fellow Japanese, but they will to you as a foreigner.’ It made me realize that he is conscious of me being a foreigner. I’ve been here so long that I forget about this sometimes. It also made me feel as if I’m expected to be a “good example” all the time. But sometimes I just want to let loose.” (Annie, 31, European)

“If you haven’t noticed, there aren’t a lot of black women in Japan. We are, as I often put it, unicorns; we are so rare that Japanese people not only stop and stare, but also give a vacant smile as if they’re witnessing something that only happens once in a blue moon. This means that when I’m dating someone, there are times I have to take a step back and tell them I’m neither Beyoncé nor Nicki Minaj — both of whom are lovely women who I have a deep admiration for, but both of whom evoke a sexuality that I just don’t have. But being a black woman often means being pegged as sexual.” (April, 25, African American).

How has dating in Japan affected your current relationships?

“I’m currently in a relationship with a different Japanese guy, one that has lived overseas and is more worldly than others I’ve gone out with. It’s actually a much more enriching experience, since we’re on more equal terms with feeling like outsiders in Japan, we both want to support each other more — there isn’t some ‘let me show you around’ kind of attitude getting in the way of our connection” (Emily, 33, Caucasian Australian).

“I actually took a break from dating because I wanted to work out some of the issues that dating in Japan brought up in me.” (Jane, 28, Latin American).

“The person I’m engaged to now is very similar to someone I met in Japan, but they are a lot more open-minded and adventurous than my Japanese partners were. We’re building a house together, and it’s been a massive undertaking, but it feels like we’re a team instead of two people that share sweets and a bed sometimes. I couldn’t imagine any of my [Japanese] exes being able to handle this level of commitment.” (Lisa, 27, Chinese American).

What’s your dating advice to other foreign women? 

“Don’t date those club boys in Roppongi!” (Laura, 34, Caucasian Australian)

“Know the difference between having your culture respected and having it treated like a fetish — and know when to walk away from a relationship like an adult.” (Jane, 28, Latin American).

“Just because one Japanese guy broke your heart, it doesn’t mean that all of them suck. Lots of them might suck, but that’s the same for every culture, don’t blame Japan for your heartbreak.” (Paula, 29, Korean American).

“The advice I would give is 100 percent just be yourself. But, be careful to be a good listener. Japanese guys are often more subtle than we’re used to in the West. Listen and always reconfirm the meaning, even if you think you’re sure. I found that this is actually a very useful skill in any situation, not just for dating and not just for dating someone outside your own culture.” (Victoria, 30, Greek American)

Just because one Japanese guy broke your heart, it doesn’t mean that all of them suck.

I want to say a huge thank you to all the women who answered my email and, despite the time differences, chatted with me about their experiences. I think I can finally see how my earlier dating experiences in Japan were affected by my own preconceived notions of what dating meant, and now I understand why some relationships weren’t going to work out — those club boys are a good idea to avoid!

While everyone had both good and bad experiences to share, it seemed that what we all could relate to the frustration that culture shock caused us, and how much we took certain things for granted in a relationship. But, it has also taught us more about who we are as people, and gave us a better idea of how we can also learn and change our own ways of thinking, too.


How have your dating experiences in Japan been like so far? Share your stories in the comments or send an email to editorial@gplusmedia.com! 

Originally from Niagara Falls, Canada, Hilary Keyes has lived in Tokyo for the past 10 years. A passionate renaissance woman, Hilary also works as a silver accessories and fashion designer, and dabbles in painting and bonsai maintenance. You can invariably find her wandering about Harajuku, Shimokitazawa and Koenji shopping and checking out the local color. As a single woman navigating the neon city lights, she's seen just about every incarnation of modern dating, both good and bad, and has the low-down on how sisters are doing it for themselves these days.

Other Articles by Hilary

Savvy News