Japanese culture and dating

TOKYO —

My name is Mike and I’ll be hosting this column exploring relationships in Japan as well as Japanese culture in general and what makes it similar to, and distinct from, Western culture.

First, a little about me and why (as humbly as possible), I claim to be an authority on these subjects:

I was born into the culturally liberal “Generation Y” cohort of Americans who seem especially loath to follow the path their parents took in life. As such, myself and many of my kind tend to gravitate towards a sort of transient lifestyle and are endlessly hungry for new experiences.

I personally feel as though I’m at the tail end of what New York Times columnist David Brooks famously called “the Odyssey years” - a new life stage, unique to my generation, that is characterized as a striking out on one’s own for a period of years, postponing the inevitable entrance into the higher stratospheres of society; company work, graduate school, marriage, kids, etc.

My Odyssey began in my Sophomore year of college, when I felt listless and unhappy among my peers, living in the same old college town not far from my childhood home, wondering when life would actually become exciting for once. One day, on my way to Spanish class, fate intervened and compelled me to notice the study abroad office for the first time.

Six months later, I found myself in Japan studying intensive Japanese at a university in Nagoya. I lived with a very generous host family for part of that time, and to repay their kindness, I determined to understand and appreciate as many facets of Japanese society as my brain could possibly absorb.

Five years later, it’s still a work in progress, but I’ve definitely come a long way. My strange and unpredictable path in life has intersected with many different aspects of Japanese culture. I’ve lifted mikoshi at festivals, visited doctors and dentists, applied for a Japanese graduate school (unsuccessfully), eaten an eccentric variety of foods my parents universally describe as “grotesque,” gotten tipsy with Japanese businessmen, taught English, done a ludicrous dance routine on Japanese TV, volunteered, wrote and edited for a “Gaijin Magazine,” and worked for a Japanese advertising agency as the only foreigner in the company.

And, as a member of Generation Y, with unique and, to put it politely, not altogether conventional dating habits, I have had relationships of varying length with a number of women representing a long list of different nationalities, careers and backgrounds.

I hope this is something you won’t judge me on. I am not a womanizer or a playboy. On the contrary, I’ve loved and appreciated every individual I’ve been involved with.

I believe “love” is a woefully inadequate word we apply to a concept that is far too broad to encompass with a single entry in our lexicon. I find myself wishing that, like the Eskimos with their plethora of labels for snow, we had far more numerous descriptors for that feeling you get when you know someone has left an indelible mark on your life and that you will always cherish them for it. In the absence of these, love will have to do, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s an indispensable, yet completely unpredictable, hopelessly complicated aspect of life.

That said, I won’t purport to dispense dating advice with this column. I don’t have a psychology degree or any real credentials on the subject. I just find human relationships fascinating and have a lot of personal stories to share on the subject. Rather, I’d like to use this column to explore, together with my readers, the especially unique landscape of Japanese culture and dating in Japan.

I’d like this place to be very community focused, so I may solicit readers to provide opinions and anecdotes, will probably conduct the occasional survey, and may hop into the comments section myself from time to time. I’m looking forward to engaging with you and I think we’ll have a lot of fun here.

I hope you’ll tune in next time for my first real entry.

Author Infomation

Mike Oakland
Mike Oakland
Mike Oakland has lived, worked, and studied in Japan for most of his 20s. Fluent in Japanese, Mike is also an accomplished writer in English, with works appearing in Japanzine, Japan Today, and several publications in the United States. He has devoted much of his time to learning about the Japanese culture and way of life. He currently works at a Japanese advertising agency in downtown Tokyo.
  • -3

    Jeff Laitila

    Sounds interesting, looking forward to it!

  • 1

    nedinjapan

    This is too broad and you have not defined the scale of your survey. I have had a similar attitude and experience to you and I cherish every relationship I had but a few have left me with a bitter feeling. The problem is that for many Japanese ladies, dating which leads to a physical relationship, SHOULD lead to marriage even if the relationship does not work properly in other aspects. You may think this is a rather small issue but its percussions will affect so many aspects of the relationship that it may become frustrating for both sides. As an example, my Japanese male friends have advised me a number of times that my dates would be very different after marriage! According to them, a lot of sweetness you see in relationships will turn to sour after marriage because they were simply emotion work, fake, or marketing tactics! So you see, even when it seems that the relationship is working, you cannot be sure that is going to hold for long! There are all so many other issues that are raised because of the same root problem. I guess you can write a book on it ...

  • 0

    timtak

    "Loved!" Does this mean Mr. Oakland has indulged in serial relationships for the past five years? Ned sounds more on the ball, aware at least that the deal is different and that serial dating of the type that one presumes Mr. Oakland may have habituated is not the done thing. "Marketing Tactics!" Yes, they go by different names. I would like to read Ned's book.

  • 0

    HumanTarget

    Well, it's a little hard to speak as a dating expert if you're married....

  • 3

    sakurala

    And hopefully after he fills us in on the typical foreign man, Japanese women experience a woman can do the same for the much less frequent foreign woman, Japanese men experience ...

  • 3

    It"S ME

    Seen way to many J-experts that hit the 3-5yr mark in Japan and became experts, most disappear soon after.

    Don't get me wrong their info is fun and good for newcomers but for guys that breached the 10, 15, 20yr barrier ....

    I know guys that lived here and moved back that got some of the best understandings of local culture, really case by case.

    Myself not an expert and I have been here for a rather long time.

  • -2

    fabricij

    i can hardly wait...... Give me a break,

  • -1

    Ari94

    I read the entire article and did not find anything related with the heading "Japanese culture and dating". No matter you live in this country and learn even that there are some things foreigner can not understand. I can not express in words but those are natural.

    Not only Japanese every nation got its own style and system. If you look at the Pen friend ads or classified ads in online or in printed magazine. Most of the Japanese women want American, English, German etc. But this does not mean 100% women in Japan got same choice. Same goes with Japanese men. According to my research Japanese Male prefer girls from Philippines. Again these men are not representing Japan.

    So question is are you authority on Dating? If so then it is great.

    I will be anxiously waiting to read more from you. It is an interesting topic.

  • 1

    wolfbiscuits

    I'm also interested. Welcome aboard, Mike!

  • 2

    chuckbello

    Me too. Looking forward to the discussion. As a long term resident, I can't wait to read comments by a gaijin expert on Japanese culture and dating.

  • 1

    It"S ME

    I am interested in his views and experiences on dating and pickups outside the popular areas for foreigners and where there are only japanese.

    Also I always thought that dating was the startup for long-term relationships and marriages. So why should married peoples experiences not be considered as they seem to have scored the ultimate goal?

    Unless you think each date is a trophy to put on the shelf and consider it a goal to get more 'trophies' than the next guy.

  • -2

    oberst

    question.......................

    what your take on the married ladies attitude of getting a bit on the side ? acceptable ? urban myth aka wishful thinking of gaijin males ?

  • 2

    LoveNot

    what your take on the married ladies attitude of getting a bit on the side ? acceptable ? urban myth aka wishful thinking of gaijin males ?

    No, it is not acceptable, only losers do it.

  • 3

    WastingTime

    My strange and unpredictable path in life has intersected with many different aspects of Japanese culture. I’ve lifted mikoshi at festivals, visited doctors and dentists, applied for a Japanese graduate school (unsuccessfully), eaten an eccentric variety of foods my parents universally describe as “grotesque,” gotten tipsy with Japanese businessmen, taught English, done a ludicrous dance routine on Japanese TV, volunteered, wrote and edited for a “Gaijin Magazine,” and worked for a Japanese advertising agency as the only foreigner in the company.

    You're taking the piss, right? I'm trying desperately to see anything in there that is not completely par for the course in 2011 and I'm having a hell of a time with it.

    You missed the boat mate. 30 years ago this column would have spawned a best-selling series of books. These days it's just another variation on the same old tired theme.

  • 1

    Nicky Washida

    No, it is not acceptable, only losers do it.

    There are a shed-load of cute, bored, losers in this country then. Roughly half the Japanese married women I know are getting it elsewhere - and those are just the ones I know about!

    But I agree with you, it is not acceptable and I would never do it.. 9 years on and I still get a thrill every time my husband walks through the door. Id sooner cut my own limb off than do that to him. Unless of course I find out hes done it to me, in which case let the games begin ;) !!!

  • -3

    steve@CPFC

    What is wrong with meeting in real life. There are people everywhere, why go online to meet sleazy people, most of which will be of low morals. The people running these sordid businesses are like pimps. we didn't need these kinds of things before and life was better and relationships and marriages were more successfull.

  • 1

    cleo

    the much less frequent foreign woman, Japanese men experience

    There are many, many more foreign women married to Japanese men than there are foreign men married to Japanese women. You may not notice most of them because the ladies are Asian.

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