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Letters from Japan: ‘Dating An Expat In Japan’

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
April 15, 2022
Ask Hilary

Excerpt: Savvy Tokyo's resident "Love in Japan" columnist, Hilary Keyes, answers anonymous questions from readers on everything from dating in Japan to women’s health issues. Got a question you’d like to ask Hilary? Send it to askhilary@savvytokyo.com.

Hi Hilary,

I’ll just start out by saying that I’ve had nothing but horrible experiences dating in Japan for many reasons. I’ve continued to keep an open mind and have dated many Japanese men, but I’ve finally come to accept that the cultural differences are just far too different for me, especially when it comes to expectations in relationships here. 

That being said, I find it even harder to date foreign men here because it seems they are only interested in dating Japanese women—at least from my own personal experience. At this point, I’m wondering if there are any social/dating groups, websites, or meetups for foreign men/women specifically looking to date other foreigners? 

I’ve thought about asking this within the ex-pat forums on social media, but it feels really weird to put myself out there regarding such a sensitive and personal topic. I want to be culturally sensitive and make it known that I’ve genuinely tried, but realize there are just too many differences I’m comfortable with. Of course, these same feelings and issues can happen just as well by dating someone from your own country, but I’d be really excited to find someone who has the same understanding of where I come from. 

Keen to know your thoughts on this topic and any advice you might have regarding it. I really would love to find any groups that are geared towards ex-pats finding relationships within the ex-pat community itself. 

Sincerely, Affection Starved Westerner

Dear Affection Starved Westerner,

Cultural differences and expectations in a relationship can lead to dissatisfaction, can’t they? As you said, you’ve tried to keep an open mind and not had any luck, so you’re wanting to date someone closer to your own culture now is understandable. Everyone has different relationship requirements.

Usually I would have plenty of links to groups, events or even speed dating parties for ex-pats to share with you, but unfortunately for yourself and countless others looking for love, we’re still in the throes of a pandemic.

Most of the tried and true means for meeting people have been closed or under restrictions until very recently, and (at the time of writing) several groups for hobbies and activities in Japan are on hiatus or have had their websites and public profiles inactive for years now.

Everyone has different relationship requirements.

There’s also the added issue of fewer people coming to Japan for work and international tourists being banned outright at present. While restrictions on bars et cetera have been lifted, they could come back depending on the infection rates, so there are fewer events and activities being planned for the coming months overall as well.

The dating pool can seem more like a wading pool given the circumstances, but there are more options than you might think.

I’m not sure that I would recommend posting any dating profiles on ex-pat forums. While you could get some helpful comments from people, you’re just as likely to be trolled or end up with some nasty messages, and honestly, who needs that stress in their life?

However, there’s nothing wrong with making friends on those forums. Growing your social network means more opportunities to meet people, which means more chances of meeting others that may be interested in a relationship. I’m not sure which forums you’re referring to, but so long as you are mindful of your own safety both online and off, there’s no reason not to make friends via those channels.

Growing your social network means more opportunities to meet people…

In terms of dating apps, one with English interfaces such as Tinder or Bumble will be more beneficial if you’re specifically looking for a non-Japanese partner. This brings me to an issue you mentioned: foreign men wanting to exclusively date Japanese women.

That’s not true of every foreign man in Japan, of course, but there are plenty who are and others who don’t state it outright. There are also many non-Japanese men who are fine with dating other ex-pats but aren’t interested in any kind of serious relationship or commitment. Some may only be interested in casual dating as they’re living abroad and have plans on settling down back home, for example. It all depends on their individual plans for the future.

I assume from your email that you’d prefer a more serious relationship than a casual/hook-up one, so you’ll need to be honest and selective with the people you meet online. What are your expectations in a relationship? Being clear about what kind of relationship you want and what you expect is important for both yourself and any potential partners. This may make your search more difficult, but it’s better to get that established first than to cause yourself heartbreak when things don’t work out or your expectations of one another don’t match.

Being clear about what kind of relationship you want and what you expect is important for both yourself and any potential partners.

On the other hand, if you’d be more comfortable meeting someone in person first, visiting a bar with a foreigner-friendly reputation is an excellent option. The Hub (practically everywhere) or Albatross (Shinjuku) are two options that come highly recommended by friends. Just check their hours and any restrictions on their social media before making a trip out.

Another possibility is to join a hobby group or tour. For example, there are plenty of options available in English on Rakuten Travel Experiences, however, these are subject to the same restrictions as other services during the pandemic. Some groups are running on smaller numbers of participants, with masks being a must of course, but it’s still a good way of getting out there and meeting people.

You can also try searching for groups and hobbies on sites like GaijinPot Classifieds or Savvy Tokyo’s own What’s Happening, but again, these are limited at the moment. Just searching for events in Tokyo itself could prove helpful in looking for a relationship, if you have the time or inclination to go out and try them. Art galleries or exhibits at museums, in general, are an option if you’re not afraid of approaching someone and striking up a conversation.

…searching for events in Tokyo itself could prove helpful in looking for a relationship…

You may also find that trying a new hobby or signing up to learn a new skill is a good way of building your social network and possibly meeting someone in the future.

While things are much harder given the pandemic’s continued restrictions and your interest in dating another non-Japanese person, with the right proactive approach, you should be able to meet someone. Don’t get discouraged and good luck!

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