Letters from Japan: ‘How Do You Find A Good Man?’

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
February 23, 2022
Ask Hilary

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.

Dear Hilary,

Please advise me. Since moving to Japan three years ago, I didn’t have as much of a cultural shock as everyone said I would. I felt like I fit into the rhythm of things here quickly. That was, until I tried dating. I soon discovered that many men here have a very different idea of “loyalty” than what I was used to. I’ve now heard too many people say: “it’s just physical, so it’s not cheating.” What’s worse (if that’s possible) is women allowing it because “men have needs like that.” I was fundamentally shaken. My home country doesn’t even have a red-light district (that I’ve heard of) but the ones here are absolutely enormous! 

As for my personal experience, my ex cheated on me without so much as a sorry. Whether it was some services, an acquaintance or go-kon [groups dates], I don’t know, but he completely hid the fact that he actually didn’t think of those things as cheating and had blithely admitted it at some point, actually hoping I would consent. I felt like I had been naive, trusting and stupid. I then started to ask friends, and checked online and realized just how unfamiliar for me it gets here. From sketchy “massage” parlors, fuzoku [sex trade], to papakatsu [sugar daddies] and all kinds of perverted, either legal and illegal services, and how a huge portion of men take part in it. And how a surprising number of women allow it (even when most of them still dislike it). Not to mention I got groped on the train twice as well. Something I never had to deal with. 

Did you know the age of consent in Japan is 13 for females? That’s the third-lowest in the world. And if a man over 20 slept with a 14-year-old it would just be a misdemeanor. What’s with that?! I’m not against people doing what they like, if they’re two consenting adults, but it feels like there are often darker things going on here. I read that an estimated 50% of females have been molested on trains and 95% of crimes go unreported. Not to drag all that into this but, when I started going down the rabbit hole, things just got stranger and stranger. 

Obviously, it’s now extremely hard for me to trust anyone, although I logically know there must be good men out there. I just feel completely shaken to the core by all this all at once. How do I find a guy that doesn’t lie, and actually really won’t go there? Let alone, a few years down the line of marriage (where everyone tends to drift apart a bit, get older and look less attractive to their spouse etc). How do any men here stay loyal? Family life isn’t even emphasized here… And apparently, older men sometimes prefer to talk out their worries at one of the numerous snack bars instead of their wives. Help. 


Dear Overwhelmed,

I thought about shortening your message, but you made a lot of valid and important points that people should take into consideration before dating in general—let alone dating in Japan.

The statistics and industries you mentioned exist all over the globe; they aren’t uniquely Japanese whatsoever. While I don’t know where you’re from originally, I can almost guarantee you that there are red-light districts of some kind there, to say nothing of sex workers. The sex industry itself is a subject fraught with debate and discrimination the world over, which makes it even more difficult to speak of in regards to a different culture.

Aside from your ex’s possible use of said services, his admission and potential hope for your consent on the matter is what I want to focus on. I’m not sure how long you two were dating, but I assume that you considered it a serious, committed relationship. Unfortunately, either he didn’t feel the same way or he did but assumed you wouldn’t have the nerve to call him on his behavior. I’m glad that you did though. You shouldn’t be with someone that treats you like that.

You shouldn’t be with someone that treats you like that.

I previously wrote an article on adultery and how it may be changing. Off the top of my head, I can think of five previous Ask Hilary articles that dealt with cheating by either the Japanese or foreign partner.

From looking back on the international relationship experiences of myself and my friends, I’d say roughly 70 percent of us have been cheated on in one way or another by a romantic partner. Japanese and non-Japanese partners cheating with Japanese and other non-Japanese people alike. Physical cheating versus emotional cheating, “open marriages/relationships” that are only open for one partner, people cheating “because it’s expected” and so on.

Some friends have gotten divorced because of cheating, others are in counseling, still others left Japan entirely and went on to marry and start families overseas. Couples that weren’t married broke up and moved to different cities, some split up entire friend groups because “sides had to be chosen.”

I’d say roughly 70 percent of us have been cheated on in one way or another

People that claim they could never cheat because they’ve been the victim before can end up having affairs given the right combination of circumstances. People change and when faced with certain situations, with the right stressors, they can and will do the unexpected.

I’m not going to bash Japan either for the rates of cheating or how it’s viewed here strictly because I’ve seen and heard a near even number of Japanese and non-Japanese alike cheating on their partners. There is no one correct answer to cheating, no one culture that’s better/worse than the other and no way of knowing if a partner you have now will someday cheat on you.

The only thing you can know is what you yourself want and don’t want in a relationship. For example, if you are only interested in something casual without any plans to get married, you shouldn’t be trying to date someone that wants to get married and start a family. Or if you are looking for a serious, completely committed marriage, you shouldn’t date someone that only wants casual sex.

The only thing you can know is what you yourself want and don’t want in a relationship

That being said, when you start dating someone you can never assume that a relationship is serious and 100 percent committed right off the bat. Even marriage-centric match-making websites recommend “keeping your options open” until you’ve gotten to really iron out the details with a potential spouse. Some even recommend getting iron-clad prenups with adultery clauses for both partners, too.

After meeting someone and getting to know them, the next logical step is to see what kind of relationship, if any, you’ll have together. For some people, this is easily enough done in their  Tinder bio for example, but that’s not always the case. It can be awkward but it’s something that you need to do in order to prevent future heartbreak. To put it bluntly: it’s also a way to keep both of you from wasting your time on the other if your needs don’t match up.

Not only do you need to discuss what type of relationship this is (friend with benefits, casual/open dating, serious/committed relationship) but also the boundaries that you both have. Starting a relationship while being on a different page than your partner will lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and possibly cheating (unintentional or otherwise) down the line.

the next logical step is to see what kind of relationship, if any, you’ll have together

You have to know what your own hard lines are when it comes to a partner. What do you consider cheating? What would you not want a partner to do with someone other than you? These boundaries are entirely up to you to decide—however, you cannot force someone to comply with them.

If you think your potential partner going to host/hostess clubs, strip clubs or snack bars counts as cheating, then tell them that. If you think using a “friend-finding” app (like many may consider Tinder and Bumble) is cheating, then tell them that.

You also have to know and accept your partner’s boundaries, too. Just remember, though: what you and the other person consider a hard line might be different and could warrant further discussion, compromise or even ending the relationship if you can’t agree with one another.

What do you consider cheating?

As I said, it’s a discussion based on understanding one another and one that should be revisited from time to time if the relationship continues. Things can—and do—change between couples, but if you establish clear and open communication from the start, you and your partner will be able to find the right balance for your relationship.

I know that everything you read online and have experienced has been overwhelming, but you need to remember that there are good people out there. There are people who will fit in with your views, ones that will feel similarly as you do, and ones that will want to be completely devoted to you. It’s just a matter of putting the effort into looking for them and keeping that communication open. Best of luck.

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