How to Make Friends in Japan
While if you visit Japan you're bound to come away glowing with happiness at the politeness and friendliness of people, it can be surprisingly hard for foreigners living in Japan to find a friend group. Here are a few hints on how to find 'your people' to hang with…
Japanese friend groups can be surprisingly difficult to get in to. Lots of groups have been hanging out with each other since school and do not want to let anyone into their group. While this may seem a little pre-school to any foreign graduate, this is just how the friend group system works in Japan, so don`t be surprised if your Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't invite you along when they have a nomi-kai (drinking party) with their friends from school or work, and try not to take offence.
Other Japanese friends may tell you that it's because the Japanese are a little bit hazukashi-gari (shy) – even if you can speak Japanese, they might be nervous about meeting a foreigner because they've never met one before or they think you will try to talk to them in English the whole time. Not all Japanese groups will be like this – there are certainly some extremely friendly groups that will be interested in you as a person and will want to hang out together. If an opportunity comes up like this, take it as it`s a great way to make friends and you may not get another chance as easy as this!
For English teachers, like JETs, finding friends can be quite easy. Not only can JETs make student friends, but there's a great system where they get to meet other JETs from the area and from other schools. However, even though you may meet other JETs, maybe you don't gel that well, have different senses of humour, or straight up don't get on. The easiest way to meet 'your peeps', people that you get on with well and you will be able to hang out with for a long time, is to first of all meet as many people as possible. Then you can get down to narrowing down the people you want to hang out with more or the people you want to know more about.
There are lots of different ways to meet people in Japan. First of all, if you just want to make friends and don't care whether they're Japanese or a gaikoku-jin (foreigner), then why not visit a group meeting in Tokyo? There is a huge variety of different clubs or groups to join, most searchable on the internet. These include everything from knitting, singing, church, or doing crafts, to almost any sport you can think of. Check out the Tokyo Noticeboard for information about some groups in Tokyo. If you're a US citizen, why not join the Tokyo American Club? Only catch is that it costs money, but you do get a whole lot of benefits if you join. If you're from a different country, no worries – there is a high possibility that there is a club in Tokyo for your country as well.
For people not living in Tokyo, things may not be so easy. If you are living in a large city, try to check online if there are any clubs you are interested in joining in your area. If not, could you commute easily to a place where there is such a club? If the answer is still no, no worries, there are a few more options for you.
Going to clubs or bars on the weekend or on a Saturday night is an easy way to people (we suggest bars over clubs because the chance of you being able to make conversation over the music in a club is small). Another option is to turn an invitation on its head. For example, if your boyfriend or girlfriend has been invited to another nomi-kai by their friends, why not (a few weeks later) invite his or her friends around to yours for a party. This way they can't exactly not involve you in the party, because you've invited them, and they might be able to get to know you a little better and may even be more willing to invite you out more often. If you feel like this is forcing your way into someone else's group and that particular group is best alone, here are a few more ways you can meet people.
Go on a trip. That's right, go to somewhere else, inside Japan, by yourself. One of the best places for people on their own to meet is a guest house (like a youth hostel in Japan). These places offer cheap accommodation, often a range of activities, and chances are that there will be other Japanese and foreign travelers staying there to talk to, eat and drink with, and get to know. The only gamble with this option is that the people you meet may not live nearby you. However, you are almost guaranteed to make friends – it just means that you may have to contact them by Line rather than face-to-face – and they may organize meet-ups in a city near to you every so often..
If none of these options sound right for you, try out some other methods and, if worst comes to worst, simply try the old-fashioned starting a conversation with someone on the train or in a coffee shop!