Love In Japan: 6 Do’s and Don’ts On Your First Date

Tips To Guaranteeing That Second Date

By Hilary Keyes
September 28, 2016
Lifestyle

Finding a partner in Japan takes some extra planning, cultural awareness and the ability to adapt and compromise — and just like back home, the first date is decisive. Here are some do's and don'ts for your first date in Japan.

Having lived in Japan for 10 years now, I have had my fair share of dating nightmares and wonderful experiences. In the past decade, I went from a casual dater to engaged idealist to a shocked single with a cheating ex-fiancé.  I started dating with very poor Japanese skills and raged against any thoughts of compromising my ideals for any man. But with the years I have mellowed and reflected on my experiences and those of my friends and realized that the process of dating in Japan for Western women could be a lot less frustrating if more women knew what to expect — starting from date one.

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Mind Vs. Body: Which is it?


Don’t: Mack on Your Date

Japanese first dates are neutral — there are no public displays of affection and no overt physical or verbal displays of desire.

On one of my first dates in Japan I made the rookie mistake of clinging à la rom com style to my date’s arm — he peeled me off him and sat a good meter away for the rest of the (short) night.

This may seem completely at odds with the Western image of a romantic kiss goodnight, or with the stereotypes of Japan’s kinky comics and “weird” fetishes, but overt displays of affection or attraction have long been considered a taboo in Japan and it’s always safer to stick to the conservative front. My Japanese female friends unanimously agree with this, telling me that allowing the physical side of dating to take over early rarely results in a good relationship. And that could be why many Japanese women usually hold out until the third or even fifth date before holding hands with their date, while many Japanese men tend to think that any overtly sexual or physical contact from their companion implies that this is not a date but a booty call.

Do: Hold Your Horses!

This is true for most parts of the world, but if you have had a wonderful time and would like very much to see your Japanese date again, leave him hanging — no matter how close you are to the nearest love hotel.

It’s old-fashioned, but no hugs, no hand-holding, not even a peck on the cheek.

Friendship first, as hard as it may be, creates a chase situation that many Japanese men want in an ideal partner. Having said this, however, make sure you imply that you want to see them again, because otherwise they may question your interest in them and a second date that you actually want might disappear. Something that I would like to point out though – and I learned this the hard way — don’t tell your date that you’re having such a good time that you don’t want to go home. This is apparently the secret code for “find the nearest hotel/empty karaoke box so we can hook up”.

To Pay or Not To Pay?


Don’t: Pay Your Way

On first dates in Japan, men feel that they must pay. According to a 2014 survey of 109 men between 22 and 39 by Mynavi Woman, 74.3% of the respondents said that they want to pay everything on the first date, with some of the predominant reasons being “want (her) to have a great time on the first date” and “in order to be a gentleman.” Another similar survey from 2015, also proves this point, with 65.6% of the surveyed men answered that they usually pay on a first date.

For many  Japanese men, paying on the first date is a way to show their potential partner their stability and financial security.

While split payments are more common for regular dates, as to the first one, allow your Japanese men to show off.  

Do: Offer to Pay Your Share

Having agreed that you should allow your date to cover the payment on your first date, the courtesy of suggesting partial contribution will always be appreciated. When it comes time to pay, go to the register together and take out your wallet as your date does – ask him, politely, how much the bill is and see what happens. In many cases, he will simply say “I’ve got it”, and you can put away your wallet and thank him for paying. Other times, he may say a ridiculously low amount (I was once asked to pay only ¥1,000 for a meal that cost ten times that), but that is a way of compromising without bruising anyone’s egos too much.

Man on Japanese yen bill

She’s Got The Look … or Maybe Not


Don’t: Go Full Fashion Model

My grandmother used to say that women wearing too much makeup look cheap, and that way of thinking still exists in many parts of the world, Japan included. While I personally prefer electric purple lipstick and extravagant lashes, in Japan it is always better if you wear something simple and neat and have natural makeup on your first date.

When I first came to Japan, my go-to date outfit was a flashy hot pink pin-up dress and shiny black heels, but those dates never lead to much.

On the other hand, whenever I went out in my work clothes (the ubiquitous eikaiwa teacher business attire), I always got a second date or even a relationship. It’s not that bright fashion, gorgeous makeup and loud hair colors are bad per se, but somehow, regardless of the type of man that you meet, the first date always features rather conservative styles. That apparently gives the impression that “you’re not trying too hard” and that makes you more wanted. For most Japanese men, it seems that this sort of “standard” look, gives them a better impression – one friend went so far as to say that he prefers seeing his dates at their most natural, so that there aren’t any surprises in the future and vice versa (he’s a lovely guy but very sloppy when it comes to haircuts).

Young happy woman trying on new blue dress and shoes to wear in the wardrobe

Do: Dress Like a Girly (Girlier) Version of You

This is the hardest part for me – I live for dark colors and leather jackets, but some of my most successful first dates have happened when I caved and wore something more feminine, even if it were paired with a pair of Doc Martens. The majority of my Japanese male friends say that wearing a “frilly” dress or something with delicate-looking fabrics really got them interested in a woman. Later on, if her style changed, they didn’t mind at all, but the first impression was the key. The same goes for makeup: a fresh face was more exciting to them than the magic that contouring and the MAC collection could provide. I had a make-over done once before a first date — I had the works done, I was gorgeous, I felt so pretty… and all he could talk about was how I looked “better than he expected”. That is not what you want to hear on a first date, or ever, from someone that you want to go out with.

…And a few more additional tips

While out on your first date, there are more things you will encounter that can affect your chances of a second date. Conversation wise, there may be language barriers, issues between hobbies or interests or you might just not be into one another once you meet up – but don’t stress about this! Keep to general, safe topics like what you like about Japan, where you’ve both traveled, what you both like to do/eat/read/watch.

But whatever you do, never, ever, ask your date too many questions about his job or how much he makes — that’s a big taboo in Japan.

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If you are comfortable speaking Japanese, watch your pronouns – calling him ‘kimi’ or ‘omae’ is a big no-no, and ‘anata’ could come across as too personal, so use your date’s name. If you want to break the ice painlessly, ask them why they chose that particular restaurant/date spot.

In the end, culture shock impacts all areas of life, and dating is not the exception. The takeaway from all of this though is that, no matter what, if you want to start dating in Japan, you might encounter these sorts of cultural differences, but you don’t have to change yourself entirely to find love in this country. Don’t forget: for your second date, be you — face contoured to the limit, low-cut dress and your hand on his backside all the way to the date spot; he (and you!) will enjoy this culture exchange.


For her Love In Japan series, Hilary addresses issues that crop up in dating in Japan—everything from how to meet men, what to expect in a relationship, how to handle issues of cheating, engagements, marriage and of course, break-ups. If you have any issues you would like Hilary to tackle in the series, leave us a comment!