If you’re single, in your 20’s to 30’s, and looking to move to either Japan or the U.S, you should definitely consider the vast differences in dating culture between both countries. While this summary doesn’t aim to cover even half of the differences, it does provide an overview of a few key concepts you should keep in mind if entering a new dating scene.

Dating Culture in Japan vs. The Western World

First Dates

Generally speaking, the two cultures have somewhat contrasting viewpoints when it comes to first dates. For example, American college students or recent grads going on first dates may be open to a range of physical possibilities on a first date; holding hands, a hug or kiss goodbye, a 1-night stand, marriage, and everything in between.

In other words, there is a lot of diversity in what options the two individuals have at their disposal if they are looking to show their interest in the other.
The Japanese generally are a bit more conservative in this setting. Usually, being in the same physical space as your date is about all you should expect if going on a meeting them for the first time.

While of course there are always outliers, Japanese people in their 20’s prefer to save a lot of the signs of affection, or 愛情表現(aijouhyogen), after the confession to become their significant other happens.

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Then How Do I Know He / She Is Interested?

This is a question that even the Japanese struggle to answer, but the general standard is that if you make it past the first date, and the other person continues to agree to see you, that means they are interested, and would like to get to know you better.

This is not very different from Western culture, where Americans who find making a move to risky have to gauge interest based on future commitments and other subliminal messages.

告白(kokuhaku) vs. Personally-Handled Discussion

One major difference between the dating culture in Japan and the U.S is the term 告白 (kokuhaku), which is defined in Japanese as the confession of feelings for another.

To navigate their way into a relationship, the Japanese literally confess their feelings for the other person (by saying they like the other person, あなたのことが好きです) which is later followed by a call to action (the direct translation of “become my girl/boyfriend”, 私の_になってください or “date me”, 付き合ってください). This generally is done earlier rather than

later, where if it is clear that you want to date, you follow these steps and begin dating the person.This is somewhat different in the Western world.

Firstly, physical boundaries may have been past which allow them to smoothly transition into a relationship, whereas this would be considered rare in Japan.
If this is not the case, relationships can also form from having a relatively longer, free-form discussion about their feelings, where they are elaborating more on the rationale for why they feel the way they feel.

In summary, American dating culture tends to possess a more free-form set of characteristics coupled with a number of relationship types, whereas Japanese dating culture is represented more by formally guided, conservative characteristics.

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