Dating in Japan

Discover how to traverse Japan’s dating scene by finding out about etiquette, customs, and how to make a good impression.

Japan dating

Updated 15-5-2024

Dating (交際, kosai) in Japan (日本, Nihon/Nippon) can be quite a unique experience. Entering the dating pool as an expat in a foreign country with a language and customs that seem different from what you are used to adds extra complexity.

Although the modern Japanese dating scene has similarities to other countries, you’ll still come across many traditional aspects. Understanding and respecting these are key to finding success in your dating life in Japan.

This article will provide you with the right tools to navigate it, including:

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An overview of dating in Japan

Traditionally, dating was not common in Japan. Marriages (結婚, kekkon) were often arranged and based on social status and practicality. Nowadays, however, young people seek more freedom in their dating lives. Still, you will notice that the dating culture in Japan is a blend of traditional and modern, shaped by cultural expectations. It is essential to keep that in mind to create stronger relationships and avoid misunderstandings.

A couple looking at a smartphone outside a Japanese restaurant
Photo: Johnny Grieg/Getty Images

For a start, public displays of affection (PDA) are not as common as in places such as Europe and the United States. Things in the Japanese dating world are a bit more subtle, and couples take it slow until they are in a committed relationship. For example, you’re unlikely to receive a goodnight kiss after the first date. In fact, if you get physical early on, the other person may consider the date as just a hookup.

Even if you have been dating someone for a while, it does not mean you are official. Generally, in Japan, people make it very clear when they want to call you boyfriend/girlfriend (彼氏/彼女, kareshi/kanojo). When you get a kokuhaku (告白), a confession of love, you will know it is official. Family (家族, kazoku) also plays an important role in determining how serious a relationship is in Japan and if marriage is in the cards.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (厚生労働省, Kose Rodo Sho), marriages in Japan have been on a downward trend since 2007. In 2020, the marriage rate was at its lowest since 1950, with a rate of 4.3 (per 1,000). Changing social norms and economic uncertainty are some factors contributing to marriage decline. Younger generations are simply becoming less interested in marriage, but not necessarily in dating.

How to meet people in Japan

People in Japan, especially younger people, face many obstacles that prevent them from dating. Japanese society emphasizes the importance of work (仕事, shigoto) and career. Long work hours make it difficult to find the time and energy to meet people. However, despite these challenges, people are still finding ways to get out there and meet potential partners.

Wooden heart-shaped tablets covered in writing, hanging on a fence
Ema (絵馬) tablets with prayers for love at a shrine (神社, jinja). (Photo: Satoshi Takahashi/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Online dating and apps

As with almost everywhere else in the world, online dating has become increasingly popular in Japan. The Japan Times reported on a survey by Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance (明治安田生命保険, Meiji-Yasuda Seimei Hoken) showing that dating apps (マッチングアプリ, matchingu apuri) have become the most common way for couples to meet. In 2022, 22.6% of newlywed couples had found love online.

Some dating apps and websites in Japan are free, but some come with a cost to access certain features. Certain apps may even have a strict screening process due to privacy concerns. However, there are many to choose from, and most are available in English and Japanese (日本語, Nihon go).

Popular dating websites and apps

Some of the most popular dating websites and apps in Japan include:

  • Pairs (ペアーズ, peazu) – One of the most popular dating apps in Japan, with over 10 million registered users. Offers features like chat, photo sharing, and match recommendations. This paid app is only available in Japanese.
  • Omiai (お見合い) – With over 5 million users, it is known for its strict screening process
  • Tinder (ティンダー, teinda) – Known for its simple swiping interface, it has gained popularity in Japan for finding love or hookups. It’s available in English and Japanese.
  • OKCupid – This website and app provide more comprehensive profiles and matches people based on personality and compatibility. Available in English and Japanese.
  • Bumble – Women make the first move in this app, which you can use in English or Japanese

You can also find and connect with like-minded singles in Japan through our own Expatica Dating site.

Meeting through work or school

People in Japan tend to spend a lot of their time at work (職場, shokuba) or school (学校, gakko), and much of their social life involves their colleagues or classmates. It is not uncommon to go for drinks or dinner with them at the end of the day, so it’s no surprise that romance blooms from time to time. However, it is important to note that some workplaces have strict rules about romantic relationships.

Women in a bar laughing
Photo: kokouu/Getty Images

Meeting through friends or family

A more traditional way of meeting a partner in Japan is through mutual friends (友達, tomodachi) or family. After all, the people closest to you tend to know you best. Someone might introduce you through a group outing, typically at a restaurant or bar. This casual approach makes it easier to break the ice and get to know the other person.

Group dating

An important aspect of Japanese dating is group dating, or gokon (合コン). It’s not as popular with young people but remains an essential tradition. Groups of friends, usually of mixed genders, meet up on a blind date to find a romantic partner. It is a great way to meet different people and get a feel for the dating scene.

Meeting through shared hobbies or interests

It is common for people in Japan to join clubs or group activities. From cooking classes to sports teams, joining a club is a great way for couples to meet in Japan. Romantic feelings can develop while people bond over shared passions and interests.

People at a cooking class
Photo: Satoshi-K/Getty Images

Matchmaking events

It has become trendy in the Japanese dating scene to participate in kon-katsu (婚活), or matchmaking parties. The purpose of these parties is to provide an opportunity for singles to meet a potential life partner. Often, you will need to pay a fee. Matchmaking agencies organize many of these events and advertise them on social media. Even local governments organize these events to encourage people to get married and have children.

Japanese dating etiquette

You may also want to learn some Japanese before embarking on your dating journey in Japan. While the process can sometimes feel like a marathon rather than a sprint, the connection can be rewarding. Here are some scenarios you may encounter.

A typical dating scenario

Whether you meet through online dating apps, friends, or work, the first date is typically casual. In the past, men (男性, dansei) were expected to initiate the first date, but these days it is not unusual for women (女性, josei) to do so. Just make sure to be clear that it is a date (デート, deto). It is not uncommon for people of the opposite sex to go to coffee or have a nice meal together as just friends.

A gay couple walking along a sunny street with bags of shopping.
Photo: JGalione/Getty Images

Spontaneous dates are not the norm in Japan. Typically, Japanese people like to plan their schedules in advance. Planning a date in Japan does not need to be complicated. Japan has a rich food culture, so many dates involve going to restaurants or cafes.

In fact, in a survey (in Japanese) conducted by Partner Agency, a matchmaking agency in Japan, 43.2% of men and 57.8% of women said they would choose “a stylish café or restaurant” as their first date. Other common date activities are going to the movies (映画, eiga), visiting amusement parks (遊園地, yuenchi), or visiting museums (美術館, bijutsu kan).

Dating behavior

Like anywhere in the world, it is important to be polite, respectful, and mindful of cultural norms when on a date in Japan. Being loud and aggressive is considered rude, but so is paying more attention to your phone than your companion. There are a few social rules to consider if you want to get past the first date.

Punctuality is of utmost importance in Japanese culture, so be sure to show up for your date on time or early. It is not only polite but shows you are reliable. Greetings are essential, too. Notably, refrain from hugs and cheek kisses, as these are typical ways of greeting.

In a more formal business setting, you may bow to each other, but this is often not the case in more casual situations. In most cases, you will use a verbal greeting, such as konnichiwa (こんにちは) or hello. Sometimes your date will bring a small present such as flowers or chocolates. This is a kind gesture but not required.

Dress to impress

If you want to make a good impression on your first date, it is best to dress neatly and conservatively. Avoid wearing anything too revealing or too casual. People in Japan tend to dress fashionably, even in informal situations.

Men typically keep a well-polished appearance. If you want to make a good impression, style your hair neatly, dress in well-fitted clothes, and avoid flashy colors. A clean black, grey, or navy dress shirt paired with tailored slacks is a safe choice. Unless you are going on a beach date, avoid sandals. Instead, opt for dress shoes or clean, stylish sneakers.

Two women meeting at a waterfront
Photo: kokouu/Getty Images

Women typically put a little more effort into their hair and makeup on first dates. They aim for a more elegant and natural look. It is common for women to wear knee-length dresses or skirts with a simple blouse. Showing some skin is acceptable, but avoid anything too revealing. Japanese culture values modesty. Colors should be neutral, and accessories simple.

Taboo topics

Conversation is essential when getting to know someone, but avoid certain topics on a first date in Japan. Negativity is generally looked down upon and considered rude. It’s also a good idea to stay away from sensitive issues at first, such as religion (宗教, shukyo), politics (政治, seiji), and money (お金, okane). There may not be a second date if you offend or make someone uncomfortable.

Privacy is highly valued in Japan. Questions about personal matters and family issues on a first date are inappropriate. It is also wise to avoid topics relating to work. As the business culture in Japan can be very stressful, it is likely not something your date wants to think about over a nice dinner. Dates are supposed to be a positive experience, so it is best to keep the conversation light.

Positive topics that can help you get to know someone include hobbies (趣味, shumi), travel (旅行, ryoko), food (食べ物, tabemono), and future goals.

Paying the bill

Traditionally, men are expected to pay the bill on a first date in Japan. However, times are changing, and younger generations seem to find it more acceptable to split the bill (割り勘, warikan). According to a report by the Japanese dating app Omiai, straight couples in their teens and twenties are happy to split the bill (in Japanese). Meanwhile, they found that those 40 or older still preferred the man to pay.

Moving into a relationship

Relationships (恋愛, ren-ai) in Japan tend to progress slowly. It can sometimes take months for a couple to consider a relationship exclusive. There is a strong value placed on building trust and understanding before fully committing. Therefore, patience is important when dating in Japan.

By the second or third date, couples tend to spend longer together – it is not uncommon to set aside a full day for a date. This is an opportunity to get to know each other and form a deeper bond. They are also more likely to hold hands, kiss, and be more open to physical contact overall.

Although Japanese society tends to favor traditional family setups, these views are changing due to economic factors and exposure to other lifestyles and values. As such, many Japanese couples take their relationships to the next commitment level by moving in together, without getting married.

Love hotels

Due to Japan’s high cost of living, some young couples cannot afford their own place, so living at home is a good way to save money, especially in big cities. The downside to this is a lack of privacy.

A dark building with red and blue neon lights
A love hotel in Tokyo (東京) (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Therefore, many couples dating in Japan use love hotels (ラブホテル, rabu hoteru). These short-stay hotels can be booked by the hour for intimate purposes. Love hotels are convenient, affordable, and private. Thanks to these hotels, there is no risk of being walked in on by your partner’s parents.

The role of family in dating

Often, a relationship is kept secret from parents until it is serious. Meeting your partner’s parents is a big deal in Japan. Family is very important in Japanese culture. Even into adulthood, parents play a significant role in their child’s life. It can take months or even years for Japanese couples to tell their parents about their relationship. Meeting the parents is a sign that your partner is serious about you and the relationship.

This is a great opportunity to get to know your partner’s family and hopefully gain their approval. Some ways to gain favor are to dress nicely, bring a small gift like high-quality sweets or fruit, and bow when greeting them. You can offer to help with chores as a gesture of respect and appreciation. If you are polite and sincere, you will be on the right track to a lasting relationship.

It is still traditional in Japan for men to ask for the family’s permission before proposing (プロポーズ, puropozu). While this is a formality, it is an excellent way to show respect and honor the family. However, each couple is different and may do things according to their personal values and beliefs.

Useful resources