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Letters from Japan: “Is He Lying?”

Ask Hilary: Questions From Readers Answered

By Hilary Keyes
March 30, 2023
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.

Hey Hilary,

I’m 27, she/her, American. I’ve been living in Japan for a few years now. I used to live in Osaka but moved to Tokyo in 2019 for work. Not long after I moved to Tokyo, I met a Japanese guy (he’s 30 now) and we started dating. We made it through to fall 2022 then his company decided to downsize their office and they transferred him to Osaka. He’s been living and working there ever since. I still have friends there and love the area. We’ve been talking about the future and are thinking about getting married.

My issue is that, for the last six months, I’ve been the only one putting in the effort when it comes to dates. He never comes to Tokyo. I took the bullet train sometimes twice a month to see him, but that was getting too expensive so I started taking the bus but that’s honestly more of a time-waster. He says he has to work too late to make it back to Tokyo for weekends and that he wants to move back to Tokyo and maybe get a new job, but I don’t think he’s trying very hard. I show him job listings and he says “it’s not that easy to change jobs.” I asked him if there was someone else and he proved to me that wasn’t the case, and I believe him.

I’m pretty much staying in the country for his sake at this point since my current job is one I can do anywhere in the world. Does he not seriously want to move back? Or is it like my Japanese friends have claimed and it’s too hard for him to change jobs at his age? 

Work Work Work

Dear Work Work Work,

It sounds like aside from the traveling issue you two have an otherwise healthy relationship, which is great—and a relief I’m sure. I can understand how taking the bullet train would add up, as would taking the bus that frequently. Likewise, I can understand how you’d want to go see him as often as possible, as well as your friends that also live in the Osaka area.

As I’m sure you noticed upon moving to Tokyo yourself, it’s not cheap living here. Tokyo is a high-cost-of-living city and has seen prices rising on a monthly basis for the vast majority of consumer goods. Now add to that the increase in utility costs and the burden of finding a new place to live, sorting out key money, et cetera. If you had only just moved 6 months earlier to somewhere even remotely cheaper, would you be trying to move back to somewhere that’s more expensive than it was when you left?

It is true that the older you get, the more difficult it can become to find a job that meets your needs and requirements. This isn’t unique to Japan, however. While 30 is still very young to be worrying about ageism, it’s also been common for decades now for Japanese companies not to offer full-time (正社員 seishain) but contract (契約社員 keiyaku shain), or temporary/dispatch (派遣社員 haken shain) options to new employees. If your boyfriend likes his company/job and has a reasonable contract, then it would take finding something more lucrative, better paying and so on to entice him away from that career/financial stability.

have you considered moving back to Osaka?

I’m not sure whether or not this might have occurred to you but you said something in your message that should make one option crystal clear to you: “I’m pretty much staying in the country for his sake at this point since my current job is one I can do anywhere in the world.”

If you are only staying in the country for him and can work anywhere in the world, then have you considered moving back to Osaka? You said as well that you have friends in the area and like Osaka itself. If you don’t need to worry about finding a new job if you move, and you and he are having serious marriage discussions, then what’s stopping you from moving to be with him?

You should discuss the idea with your partner first-hand of course, but if you are both on the same page about your future, then maybe you two should start looking for apartments together in the Osaka area. Best of luck.

Hi Hilary,

I love to cook food from my own culture, but I can’t do it so easily in Japan. I started to see a Japanese guy and after we had a great conversation about my culture, I invited him to my place so I could cook him my favorite traditional foods. I had to spend a lot of money on the ingredients and used almost my entire day off cooking for him. I think he is worth the effort.

He came over and ate the dinner and I sent him home with extra food too. He seemed to like it but his behavior changed when it was time for him to leave. I’m not sure why but he’s not as talkative in text messages now compared to before, and we haven’t been on a date since. He says he’s just busy but I don’t think that’s true. 

Hurt and Confused

Dear Hurt and Confused,

I can understand why you’re confused about the situation, and I would be hurt too if I had gone to so much trouble for someone only for their behavior to change. 

Unfortunately, I think there might have been a miscommunication between you and this Japanese guy. I asked no less than 10 of my male Japanese friends and all 10 said that, if they were dating someone and that person invited them over for dinner, they would assume they were spending the night at that person’s home. “I’d think she was trying to take our relationship to the next level. Getting sent home would confuse me.” (Japanese, 29).

Chances are good that he had assumed he was spending the night with you—as in, he thought you two would be having sex. It’s not uncommon for Japanese couples, if they have their own places, to invite their partner over for dinner and to stay for the weekend for example.

I’m not sure how long you two have been dating or if you have a physical relationship, but this seems to be the most plausible scenario. 

he might think being sent home means you’re rejecting him

While it’s wrong of him to assume that a home-cooked meal means sex, I don’t think he had any bad intentions. He may have just assumed he was being snubbed, or maybe even that he’d done something wrong enough to warrant him being sent away. I don’t know him personally, but if he’s still texting you (even though it’s less than before) then he might not be sure where he stands in a relationship with you. That would also explain why he hasn’t asked you on a date since the dinner.

I don’t know what your background or beliefs are but if for whatever reason premarital sex is not an option for you, that’s fine. However, if your Japanese partner isn’t aware of this point, then he might think being sent home means you’re rejecting him, or not interested in him romantically or physically.

If you aren’t, that’s fine too. If you are interested in pursuing a serious relationship with him though, then you need to talk to him about any taboos or cultural differences that could impact a dating relationship. Misunderstandings and miscommunications can happen, but if both parties are open and honest with one another, things tend to work out. Once you clear the air, then you two can decide whether you wish to continue your relationship or part ways. Good luck!

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