Love Lessons from Japan

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My newfound obsession with Japan knows no limits. From the schizoid robot shows, to the ancient temples, to the food (the food!) to samurai practice in the middle of parks and entire streets dedicated to the most bizarre Japanese animé, the juxtaposition of the weird and the beautiful and the chaotic rings so close to my inner turmoil that I cannot help but feel a mysterious kinship with this culture. And so, I decided to investigate further and see if the Japanese dating scene held any gems that we could apply to our own lives, basing my research on a combination of articles, readers advice, and the conversations I had with a few people I met there. Here is what I found.

1. It all starts with a goukon. A goukon is a group date and is considered to be one of the most popular meeting formats for Japanese singles. A male and female acquaintance organize the gōkon in advance and each bring three or four eligible friends, who gather together in a restaurant or izakaya. Boys sit on one side, girls sit on the other, and everybody drinks, flirts and even plays games to reduce tension. Basically, the standard pre-school setup, with the same awkwardness level!

2. One-on-one dates are a serious endeavor. According to my reader who used to live in Japan, these guys take real dates very seriously. “Dates are pretty big events and can even last all day. It might be an afternoon stroll through the park followed by dinner and then drinks, or a drive through the countryside followed by a meal. They’re booked three weeks in advance. Part of that is because Japanese people are very busy. But another part is because Japanese culture respects intentional, mindful action and effort.” I actually quite appreciate this, especially since I got a chance to experience it in person – another reader  introduced me to a friend of hers who took me on a walk to Meiji Shrine, an impressively  thoughtful endeavor that few Western men would go through with.

3. There are no “limbo spaces”. Once again, I’m going to quote directly here: “Daily life and human relationships in Japan are very structured, and in many ways form is as important as function, and endings as important as beginnings. Limbo spaces, like the idea of dating several people at once, and then gradually defining a relationship over time, don’t exist (or are frowned-upon). There’s very little limbo room, or time in which the identity of relationships is ambiguous. Moments, relationships, and identities begin and end, open and close.”

4. Love starts with a kokuhaku. In Japan, the beginning of a relationship is marked by the kohukahu, which can literally translated as a “confession”. After one or two dates, a person professes their love for the other party with a bold statements à la “I love you, can we start seeing each other?” The interesting thing is that this can be done by both men and women, as there is little taboo about women making the first move. This sounds slightly bizarre and mildly terrifying, but, on the flip side, doesn’t it go with the whole “when you know, you know” mindset?

5. Cheating ain’t cool.  Japanese ladies want their partners to do two thing – work hard and stay faithful. Apparently, there is currently a trend for “surveillance-camera women” (kanshi kamera joshi) i.e. women who keep tabs on their men via special video cameras. Um… Can I get me one of those?!

6. The ultimate goal is marriage. Japan is a result-drive nation, hence they don’t mess around. Apparently, there is zero room for our useless “let’s date for 4 years till we get sick of each other and swap out for the next better option” scenarios (ref. to the anti-limbo space mentality). You like each other, you kokuhaku, you go on a long date in the park, you get married and procreate. Easy, breezy, I’m moving to Japan! Sayonara!


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