Living in Japan has a countless amount of benefits. It’s a very safe country to live in, the food is great, and it’s usually fairly easy for speakers of English to get a job in a language school. One of the downsides of living in this fantastic country, however, is that it can be very difficult to mix properly with the locals – that is, make friends with Japanese people.
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It’s very common, whether you live in central Tokyo or the rural countryside, to tend to spend most of your time with other foreigners. These may include people who work at the same school as you, locals who specialise in helping out newcomers, or that guy you happened to meet at the local bar, plus his ten friends. Whilst there is, of course, nothing at all wrong with hanging out with other westerners, a big point of living in Japan is to mix with Japanese people, whether you’re interested in learning the language or not.
The Japanese people who do hang out with foreigners tend to mostly speak English; perhaps they lived abroad for a while, and therefore want to maintain their English level by spending their time with foreigners. Being able to practise your Japanese, therefore, may seem impossible. However, here are some tips on meeting local Japanese people and making friends with them.
Friend Meeting Internet Sites
wck on Flickr
The Internet is plentiful with sites about Japan. Featuring everything from travel tips and maps to restaurant guides. You could even have a newsletter that you can sign up to via email. Some websites like Meetup.com and Metropolis Magazine classifieds offer many kinds of groups or ads you can select to go over and hang out with. With Meetup you can find a group that does activities that best suit you like a rugby group or a beer group. Tokyo Metropolis, while used mostly in the Kanto area of Japan, can be used to help you find a friend or partner. You can post your own information there – simply say you’re living in Japan looking for people to hang out with, and wait for the emails to reach your inbox. There is bound to be someone in this country who will regard you as a friend for life with just a click of the mouse or the tap of a finger. As always, however, be careful about posting personal information online.
daniel GILLES on Flickr
If you are interested in dating, there are plenty of websites available to meet special people in Japan. Not surprisingly, most of these people tend to be living in the Tokyo area or other large cities, but it’s not impossible to meet someone on these websites if you’re living in the countryside. Foreigners tend to be quite scarce on these sites, but they are nevertheless popular. Websites include Friends in Japan and MatchAlarm.com.
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Go to a local bar
Jayel Aheram on Flickr
Dress up nicely and visit a bar close to you. This is especially important if you can speak some Japanese, as you will be much more approachable if you can speak the lingo. It can be very easy to meet some cool people, and if you visit a themed bar, it’ll be easier to find hobbies in common with people you meet. Visit a quiet bar (not a club or a place with loud music) early in the evening, smile and make good conversation – that evening just might end up being the best night of your life.
Chris Donnelly on Flickr
Todd Lappin on Flickr
If you don’t feel confident enough in your Japanese skill to dedicate yourself completely to a night of Japanese, try visiting an international café – a place where people go to speak English, drink and generally have a good time. Popular international cafes include Mickey House in Takadanobaba and SpeakEasy Tokyo in Otsuka, near Ikebukuro.
Alícia Roselló Gené on Flickr
Check out the English club at a local university
Kevin on Flickr
Wherever you are, there is bound to be a university somewhere close to you, particularly if you live in one of the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya. An internet search should tell you whether the university has an English club or not, and if it does, this would be a great way for you to meet students. Try contacting the university and explain that you’re interested in helping out at the club. You might be allowed to go in, perhaps even get a free drink – and be able to speak in English and meet a lot of cool people who would most likely be interested in your country. You can also explain you’re learning Japanese, and arrange to meet them outside the university. Instant friendship!
Because of the ancient stigma against foreigners, it can sometimes be difficult for Japanese people to talk to Westerners, even if they are actually interested in chatting to you. Don’t take it personally – most people in Japan are quite shy, and it can take time for them to gain confidence when talking to new people. Just be friendly, speak Japanese if you can – and remember that having a few drinks doesn’t hurt either (just remember the drinking age in Japan is 20). Smile, be friendly and express genuine interest in Japanese people and their wonderful country, and you’ll have no problem at all making friends. Best of luck to you!