Japanese Tinder In Real Life: Aisekiya
When the app just isn't cutting it
Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid—yes, dating apps are a nice ego boost and a good way to kill time, but how often do you actually meet someone from there? Aisekiyas are the middleman between dating IRL and dating via your phone.
Today is the age of online everything—online shopping, online entertainment, online research, and arguably the most important, online dating. Thanks to traditional dating websites like eHarmony and the ever-infamous Tinder app, society is starting to lose one of its most basic social skills: having a face-to-face conversation. Am I the only one here who misses the simple things like that?
We’re human beings and I think it would be hard to argue that human beings are not social creatures. Our ability to express our thoughts, feelings, and emotions through verbal communication is one of the unique characteristics that set us apart from every other animal on this planet. That and opposable thumbs. So why are we limiting this basic human skill to meer digital messaging where our words are oftentimes misinterpreted anyway? I’ll tell you why: We’ve become so used to digital communication that a face-to-face conversation is now scary and uncomfortable. *Sigh*
So am I doomed to search for love in Japan via 2D photoshopped pics staring back at me from my phone screen?
That’s when my roommate told me all about Aisekiya.
What is Aisekiya?
Aisekiya (相席屋) is a combination of the words, 相席 (aiseki, sharing tables) and 屋 (ya, shop). Take Tinder and speed-dating, mix them together, and throw it into a Japanese 居酒屋 (izakaya) and you’ve got yourself one Aisekiya. Walk inside and you’ll see a dimly-lit restaurant filled with table booths, except the main purpose for these booths isn’t for ordering a meal. It’s so you can chat it up with your assigned pair (although a buffet and drinks are available as well #score).
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If you’ve ever heard of 合コン (gokon, joint dating party), this is very similar to that group dating concept, but Aisekiya is different in that the pairs meeting each other are totally random and have no connections whatsoever. You sit down at the booth, you’re paired with a couple of guys, raise your glasses and cheers to a (hopefully) enjoyable night.
How Aisekiya works
No need to set up a reservation here! You do have the option to download the Aisekiya app (new male customers can receive a discount on their first reservation), but as this a more casual way of meeting new people, most people go without one.
The first thing you’ll be asked is how many people you’re with (most people will go as pairs) and then wait to be seated in a booth. While you’re waiting, the waiter will ask for your photo ID (no one under the age of 20 is allowed in) and what you’d like to drink. For the ladies, you’ll be handed a red card (blue for boys) with a letter on it—this is like your group ID card. Once a booth has opened up, you’ll be seated in an empty booth to await your pairs or be seated in a booth with a pair of guys already sitting down.
Grouping is done according to the time that you enter Aisekiya. If there is a couple of guys who enter right before/after you, chances are that they are the guys you’ll be paired up with. Keep in mind, this is group dating so if you go alone, you won’t be able to get in (go for the bars for that!) If you go in a group of three or four, they will try to group you with another group similar in numbers. That being said, pairs are the most common so I recommend going with your one bestie linked to your arm.
Something worth mentioning is that I was the only foreigner in the entire izakaya, so if your Japanese is a bit rusty, I highly recommend going with one of your Japanese friends. Chances are the men you’ll be paired with are Japanese so this is a great opportunity to practice your language skills!
Here’s where the Tinder aspect comes into play: although you can’t literally “swipe left” the moment someone you’re uninterested in sits down, you do have the power to change partners whenever you want. Unlike Tinder, however, the people you don’t want to talk to anymore are sitting right in front of you so you can’t just be a savage and yell “next!” Aisekiya requires you to be a little sneaky in your tactics: “Go to the bathroom” or “get yourself another drink” and while you’re up, secretly hand your group ID card to a waiter. Within 5-10 minutes, the waiter will come to your table and say that it’s time to switch and voila! You’ve successfully swiped left.
Fun games and conversation starters
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Another reminder that you’re no longer staring at a 5-inch phone screen. You’re conversing with your male counterparts IRL so you won’t have time to think about some fancy line that makes you sound way cooler than you actually are (embrace the dorkiness within you). Sometimes the conversation won’t flow so easily and there can be awkward moments of silence. Luckily, Aisekiya is prepared for that! The waiters will come around periodically with quick card games to spark some liveliness in your group—and they’re surprisingly effective. The time that I went, we were lucky enough to have a magician come over and perform close-up magic tricks. Talk about working that Aisekiya magic!
You didn’t think Aisekiya came without any rules, did you?
- Wear appropriate clothes (I assume this means nothing too casual or revealing).
- Once you’ve sat down, raise your glasses for a kanpai (toast)!
- Introduce yourself in a fun and simple way.
- Be mindful and respectful when smoking (don’t be blowing smoke in people’s faces).
- Don’t force anyone to drink!
- Have fun taking shots and playing games!
- Don’t ask or say anything rude.
- Ask for contact information after you’ve gotten to know the other person a bit more.
- Be smart when arranging your nijikai (afterparty).
- No business or sales in the restaurant.
Attention boy and girls: while waiting to be seated, the all-you-can-eat buffet and drinks are free!!
Mon to Thu (all-you-can-eat and drink)
|First 30 min||¥1,500||Free!|
|Every additional 10 min||¥550||Free!|
Fri, Sat, Sun, and the day before national holidays (all-you-can-eat and drink)
|First 30 min||¥1,800||Free!|
|Every additional 10 min||¥650||Free!|
*Part of the menu is not included in the all-you-can-eat buffet: some desserts, food for penalty games
I know what some of you must be thinking. While it’s understandable why a girl would want to go (I mean, everything is free), why would a guy choose to spend money to go? My Japanese roommate gave me this insight: “Aisekiya puts people in a situation where they get ‘assigned’ to each other. For a lot of shy Japanese men, this makes it worth spending the money because they can’t muster the courage to speak to women on their own. This kind of set-up is very Japanese.”
While Aisekiya doesn’t have as much of a “hook-up” vibe as Tinder might, definitely don’t walk in here with the expectation that you’re going to meet your future hubby. The harsh reality is that some of these men are just looking for a one-night stand or already have an SO back home (disgusting, I know). Just be smart, cautious, and careful, my friends. Savage boys still be running rampant on the streets of Tokyo.
Aisekiya puts people in a situation where they are ‘assigned’ to each other. For a lot of shy Japanese men, this makes it worth spending the money because they can’t muster the courage to speak to women on their own. This kind of set-up is very Japanese.
All that being said, if you’re looking for a break from the casual digital dating world or aren’t quite ready to take off your dating training wheels, this is a great way to mix things up! If you meet someone worth your time, great! If not, you’ll have some fun dating stories to tell. Aisekiya is a fun and exciting way to meet new people—with someone you totally trust right by your side—and now you can do it the (somewhat) old-fashioned way!
Where: Multiple locations, check here for one close to you
When: Most open at 5 p.m. (check above link for details)
Recommended for: anyone sick of swiping, a fun night with your bestie
Have you ever been to Aisekiya? Share your experiences with us in the comments below or send an email to email@example.com!