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Dating culture may differ from place to place, and when it comes to love, understanding is always a key. The difference in societal views and culture shouldn’t always be a hindrance! Buff up your chances by knowing the dos, don’ts, and other important reminders of the dating culture in Japan.
Table of Contents
The dating culture in Japan is far more conservative in the sense that most interested couples do not rush into it or engage in the process casually.. For instance, in the west, getting a simple meal or a coffee together can, more or less, serve as a casual first date for a couple, who could either be close friends already or have only met for the first time. Most often, there is no need to agree it is an actual date. It’s usually agreed on by context; but there is no explicit word said or action done to confirm they are committed to anything serious at all.
In Japan, however, a date is usually defined as meeting during or after a man or woman explicitly tells someone that they like them (this is called kokuhaku or confession). In dramas and anime, this is sometimes shown through handing or sending letters rather than saying it verbally - however this method is usually only done by students. If the other person accepts the confession favorably, the two will follow more phases in the world-changing adventure of dating.
Knowing this first simple step is key because without it, intentions cannot be assumed. However, it’s important to judge based on your coexisting relationships. Agreeing to a meal or coffee one-on-one is often not done if you are not already well acquainted, so it can be seen as being a date. However, if you’re good friends, it can also be simply a meal between friends. Thus, the need for the verbal confession as a confirmation is necessary.
Before going into the details of how a couple begins the dating process, let us look at some certain unique practices of the meeting stage of dating culture in Japan. One practice is called the Gokon or Goukon, or more recently sometimes called a compa, which is a kind of preliminary stage for people looking for partners. These meetings, usually dinner or drinking parties, are casually organized by a group of friends or acquaintances and may involve other single women and men outside of their immediate circles. It is a safe and convenient way for usually younger Japanese individuals to meet new and eligible people who share the same background or interests in life.
Konkatsu Parties, on the other hand, is a more formal meet-up of singles looking to enter into a romantic relationship. These parties are usually organized by professional groups who provide services by organizing and advertising the event, accepting and screening participants and hosting them at a decent, comfortable venue. It generally allows personal interaction among potential steady daters and the potential finding of a perfect match with the same age, occupation, income-level and cultural background.
Once a closer relationship is established, partners may begin showing more intimate aspects, such as calling each other by their first names or some other terms of endearment. This may not seem like a big deal, but in Japan, first names are usually reserved for good friends and family and last names are more commonly used in society.
The couple will spend half a day or a whole day, and not just an hour or two as in most western dates, enjoying one another’s company doing worthwhile activities. Typical outdoor activities as dates include hiking and going to amusement parks, festivals and aquariums together. Japanese dates are often done exclusively by a couple and not with other friends. However the term “double date” is used when two couples go on a group date together. Japanese couples also enjoy staying home and spending hours enjoying each other’s company, watching movies, playing games or having meals together.
Couples may hold hands in public; but Japanese culture does not encourage showing public displays of affection (PDA), another conservative feature of this dating environment. It is also customary for both individuals to share the cost of meals or other expenses incurred on their dates. While men are expected to foot the bill during celebrations for special occasions, such as Christmas or birthdays, there is no compulsion for the men to shoulder everything on a usual basis. This is also the case on first dates, which may surprise people.
Nevertheless, here is one thing particularly quite unique about dating in Japan: Valentine’s Day. Most people in the west see it as a day for men to shower their love with presents, cards or chocolate, or at the very least, for both sides of the couple to do so. However, in Japan, the women take the initiative in expressing their deep love for their Valentine. She may give gifts, cakes or chocolate (often homemade) or even flowers to the man – a rare reversal of roles that may intrigue and delight most men, including those in Japan. Who would not want to be given loving attention by someone you also love?
But a month later on March 14 is a day called White Day in which the man reciprocates his love and buys presents and sweets for his partner.
Dating, it can be said, is essential in determining how the whole of society is strengthened, as it is ideally founded on mutual love and respect, shared responsibility and lifetime devotion, slowly but clearly understood, developed and accepted between the couple. The written marriage contract is but formal evidence of that real, whole-life application of the decision to commit to one’s partner, an essential role of a couple for a lasting relationship.
While it is typical for western people to express the tentative words “I like you” at the start of a casual or even intimate relationship, the Japanese take their sweet time before they truly open up and make their real feeling known. Like many others, they also want to avoid regretting their choice in the end. The Japanese language has three different words for love, namely: 好き (suki), 大好き (daisuki), 愛してる (ai shiteru), each one with an increasing magnitude of emotional impact for the individual as well as for the recipient. As the relationship blossoms in time, the couple may decide early on or much later depending on their pace, to think about settling down and raising a family.
Traditionally, marriages in Japan were arranged by parents and couples had no direct hand as to choosing their partners. With the present dating system, that has left the parents with the minor role of accepting and respecting their children’s choices; for as many casually say, the children will end up living with one another and not with the parents anyway, at least not right away.
Nevertheless, approval of parents is crucial for marital stability and endurance. And so, the formal introduction of the partner to the parents, has been replaced by casual encounters with either parents or families during the process of dating. It is part of the important process of getting to know one’s future partner and his or her family upbringing, values and aspirations. However, it is still a big deal to “introduce” one’s partner to your parents, as it symbolizes a sense of commitment. And you may end up living with and taking care of your in-laws in their old age one day, so it’s not to be treated lightly.
One reason given for the decline of the childbirth rate in Japan is the slowing down as well as the reduction of marriages because people decide to marry much later in life and, thus, decreasing their ability to reproduce more children. This is partly brought about by women gaining more access to and pursuing higher education and greater job opportunities in areas once exclusively delegated to males. Issues on sharing family duties such as caring for children or household chores become sources of conflicts that cause many unmarried individuals to wait a while or avoid getting married in the early stage of dating. However, despite this, it’s not necessarily expected that a couple will live together before marriage.
To foreigners new to some of the strange features of the dating culture in Japan, enter in with your heart intact and not on your sleeve, so to speak. Knowing and observing closely, armed with the basic knowledge presented here, might just be the key to winning the heart of a Japanese man or woman who will share your lifetime dreams of ideal family life. Soenter with open eyes and mind to fully cherish the depths of what love can offer you in Japan.
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