Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Monday, December 5, 2011

むずかしいね! Playing the Dating Game in Japan

So this weekend we had our annual mid-year JET seminar in Matsuyama. A chance for all 90-something of us Ehime ALTs to get together, get inappropriately sloshed share teaching ideas and collectively reflect on our time spent in Japan so far.

This year, the organisers had set up a wall outside of one of the meeting rooms divided into two sections: REASONS TO RECONTRACT and REASONS TO GO HOME。 There, JET could contribute sticky notes proffering their own ideas on the Big Question I myself started to confront below. Amid the patchwork of post-its in the REASONS TO GO HOME section (personal favourite of which read “Teabags”... which some hero had embellished to read “Teabagging”) was a note which simply read “Small dating pool”. I was immediately both surprised and relieved to see that someone else had vocalized my own thoughts. But what is it that makes it so difficult for us gaijins to find a potential partner in Japan?

If the evidence is to be believed, more Japanese people are single than ever before. So surely this should be a prime time for pairing off? Well, not when you consider that a sizeable percentage don’t even want a partner. The BBC quotes “a belief that it is impossible to find a good partner...[past] the age of 25”. It’s a belief which I myself have already come face-to-face with in my short time here. One particularly sensitive Japanese grandmother once explained it to me by analogy with a Christmas cake: explaining that she wanted to pair her 20-something granddaughter off soon, she based her desperation on the belief that “past the 25th, she’ll be good to no-one”. But, obviously, that’s a load of rubbish. If you’ve got enough tin foil, you can keep that motherfucker fresh well past Christmas day. Sadly, nobody seems to have told the Japanese that. It’s certainly true that they’re more prone to “settling down” much younger than we in the West are used to. Students have often acted with incredulity when I explain that, no, I’m not married, and the ring on my finger is, in fact, a birthday present, not a wedding ring. And I’m only 21. I can only imagine the kind of pressure a Japanese single four years my senior gets. 

Of course, the Christmas Cake myth is only part of the problem. The other part, whether we like it or not, is us. Love may be blind, but it certainly isn’t deaf, and the simple truth of the matter is that the language barrier between us non-Japanese-speaking gaijin and our potential mates can often signal an early death for a potential partnership. That’s certainly no revelation, but nonetheless it’s a whole new minefield of problems compared to those when we’re playing on our home-field. Just last Friday I found myself on my first intentional Japanese date (I say “intentional” because I’m sure I’ve been in situations in the past four months which have been dates without me realizing). Meeting at McDonalds at 7 (no, that wasn’t the venue of our date, just a convenient rendezvous point), it became almost immediately apparent that the night was going to be something of an uphill struggle when I couldn’t even ask my date where’d be a good place to drink for the evening. Thus, I was more than a little surprised when, halfway through, I was asked (in Japanese) whether I wanted to go for dinner together tomorrow. I smiled and said that sounded good, but when tomorrow rolled around, I made excuses for myself and said I couldn’t go. Of course, it wasn’t just the language barrier – I reckon if I’d liked my date enough in the first place, I probably would’ve persevered – but when even explaining your most simple interests can’t be accomplished without your phone’s inbuilt translator, you know it’s too much like hard work. And that was just the first date. 

So, the sad truth is that it looks like I might be needing some of my own tin foil for a while! On the plus side, I'm certainly not alone in realising this. And when all else fails, the awesome Life After the BOE comic series is here to remind you that, really, we JETs are all in the same boat. 

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Anonymous Rachel said...

oh the woes of the practically non existant dating scene here in japan... it affects us all. that article is crazy though, the bbc one... man.
is it enough to make us go home though? (no!)

December 5, 2011 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger stranger-in-seoul said...

Ohmygod, a comment... my life has been made. And yup, not quite enough to make me wanna go home! All I know is I'm going to be a dangerous person to be around when I eventually get back to the regular dating scene. Haha.

December 5, 2011 at 12:34 PM  

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