A week after I first arrived in Japan in 2014, my all-American punk rock boyfriend broke up with me. Surprised? Maybe. But, oh well, it was time for a rebound. At that time, I was living in the countryside and had no idea of the best way to find guys in an attempt to move on. Unless I wanted to date in the small pool of assistant language teachers in my area (not much of a choice — all great guys weren’t interested in women), how else could I meet some boys?
You knew it was coming: Yes, I joined Tinder in its heyday when “swipe right” and “swipe left” were acceptable ways to communicate if you were planning to bang it out or not. Oops! I said it (again), but if you know the Japan dating scene, you know there’s no time to be coy about it because it’s gonna get rocky.
Sometimes not going on a date is just as exhausting as going on one.
Knowing nothing, I decided to try Tinder and see what happened. The subtext of these eight dates is that my experience highlights just how different Japanese guys are — like any other group of people — and really shouldn’t be stereotyped as one kind of guy. Rest assured that none of the events have been modified or changed for dramatic effect. Laugh, cry or hate-read, it’s your choice.
1. The aggressive boy
This is how I learned where Saitama was because I am pretty sure people are only traveling there for booty calls but, for the record, I never did. As we started chatting, it became clear he was not stereotypical and got super “direct,” the opposite of what people tell you about “Japanese guys.” We chatted for just a few days, and after the 20th time of him asking me to treat him like a baby — sexually — and me saying “no” to it, his aggression climaxed when he told me to f*** off (among other things) if I wouldn’t do it. Then he texts me like nothing happened the next day. That’s a full-on “nope!” He wasn’t hot enough for all those sudden, forceful creep vibes, plus, he was in Saitama.
Lesson learned: Sometimes not going on a date is just as exhausting as going on one.
2. The 3-years later guy
Had a dreamy date involving a sushi boat, a dive bar, gin and an artsy boy in Koenji. Never met up again. But he did text me three years later (exactly!) to “hang out.” Wow, how far back did he have to reach for that? We all know it wasn’t just to hang out…
Lesson learned: You are never off the roster.
3. Mr. Indoor Voice
It was the best situation: Japanese guy with a British accent who loves Elliott Smith and lives in Kyoto — and says he’s looking for a woman to “take control.” *raises hand* But… I lived in Chiba, a 3-hour bullet train ride away and a lot of money to spend on a commute for someone who you’ve seen three pics of. So, I did what any girl would do in my situation, met up with him ASAP. But after a few months, dream boy showed his true colors. He cut off all communication without warning, and I never knew why. Then, about four months later, when he randomly (or mistakenly?) texted me “Happy New Year!,” he finally admitted why. I had raised my voice, and he got “really scared” of me. That was why he stopped talking to me.
He was a self-proclaimed anarchist who still believed in Japanese decorum.
Looking back, I think it was a mix of cultural differences (showing emotions, not straying away from conflict) mixed with the fact that this guy is a bit of a wuss. Still, experiencing the beautiful Kyoto with him was a wildly romantic gesture I can’t regret.
Lesson learned: Just because things don’t work out doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun.
4. Fake Model Guy
Met up in the swanky, overpriced area of Tokyo’s Omotesando. We got coffee on a back street from a place that (duh) had a long line and only one barista. We got to talking, but he — tall and more fashionable than me, for sure — wouldn’t tell me his job or anything about him. But, apparently, he *used to* be a model, which was, unfortunately, the most interesting thing about him. Was he a spy? It got really awkward. He described all the trendy clubs we’d go to on our next date, but in the end never talked to me again. Is this something boys learn at school? Say you want to go out again, but then vanish instead? I don’t mind, really — just be honest about it.
Lesson learned: Yes, his profile pic is charming, but vet him first, goddamnit!
5. The app boy
Met up for another date after texting in English because I only really knew basic Japanese. Hit up the Hub somewhere in Tokyo but then realized that he didn’t actually speak English and was just using a translator app the entire time we were texting. It wasn’t one of those fun language-doesn’t-matter-because-we-speak-the-language-of-love times. No, it was just awkward.
Lesson learned: Pay more attention to ensure you aren’t trying to hook up with an app.
6. The Google guy
Connected over our undying adoration for the dirty beatnik poet Charles Bukowski. To give you a frame of reference on both of us, here’s a quote from a Bukowski poem:
“Don’t undress my love
you might find a mannequin:
don’t undress the mannequin
you might find my love.”
His awkwardness preceded him but in a cool, can’t-look-away… way. Doesn’t act like a “typical” Japanese so people incessantly ask him if he is Korean and instead of getting irritated, he always just says “Yes.” We met a few times but just decided to be friends. He eventually worked for Google, making the equivalent of around $ 9,000 a month. Oh, and did I mention, he had a mohawk? All the right ‘90s in all the right places. He is still one of the funniest, least pretentious people I have ever met, and we are still friends! In a world where everyone is trying to be something, he stays remarkably himself — that, I admire. Always.
Lesson learned: You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a person who is as weird as you (and has the same taste in books).
7. Not the right Speed…
Madness. I admit that is one of my downfalls when it comes to attraction. This guy was a crazy Osaka madman who moved to Tokyo for a job he eventually lost — a sporadic retelling of all the guys I loved (but didn’t love me) in college. He was a self-proclaimed anarchist who still believed in Japanese decorum. Hated Obama (the sane person before Trump) and Abe (the guy who has Japan in a choke hold) and always yelled passionately no matter the venue: “Obama Too F***!” and “Abe Too F***!” Texted me one day that he got junked on speed, but it was through a needle, so I think it was heroin. End of story.
Lesson learned: You know what a drug addict is like, so stop telling yourself it’s edgy.
8. The happy ending
What did you think I meant by “happy ending” in the title? I matched with a MAN holding a cigarette in a formal black-and-white suit — that’s not exactly my type — but his profile said just two things: where he used to live (U.S., Malaysia, New Zealand) and “犬大好き” (I love dogs.) That being said, I guess I forgot to mention that I totally changed my tinder profile pic to me in a chicken hat with the sole intention of filtering out the normal ones. Apparently, it worked.
So the Tinder chat romance was runnin’ hot until he asked me to go on a date at an event on June 21, 2015. (You’ll see the importance of that soon.) I said “maybe,” and went on with my life. The Friday before June 21, I (aw, yeah!) late-night texted him all like “So, you still wanna hang out tomorrow?” He said yes, never mentioning that he had actually asked me to go on a date on Sunday, not Saturday (I am the worst person ever with dates). Before going on the date, I had decided that it would be my last Tinder date. Tinder can be a beautiful, dark and tiring game and enough was enough.
But that isn’t exactly true, because three years later, we still go on dates, laugh about the chicken hat, what was he thinking with “I love dogs” and how completely perfect that first date was — for us. Though enveloped in a slight chaos neither of us could have predicted, we ripped up Tokyo from Odaiba to Shimbashi to Shibuya to Shinjuku to Asakusa in one night. About a month or two later, (before we were official, official) he casually mentioned he had deleted his Tinder. (That’s the ultimate swipe, isn’t it?) And without having to force “that” discussion, I had already done it: “Me too,” I said, trying to hide an embarrassing smile.
Sometimes, I still find myself attempting to comprehend how it all worked out. It was my last Tinder date, with the right guy, and I (and a lot of other people I know in Japan, actually) have a silly dating app to thank for it.
So, what are some lessons you learned in the dating scene in Japan?
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