As I grew up, one of the adjectives that seemed to become an affiliation in describing the Japanese as individuals was the word ‘shy’. It seemed so ironic that a country founded on becoming well-known for one of the original styles of martial arts, that had an ever-growing and technologically advanced culture was also so rooted in ancient customs and traditions still common today. Their cultural traditions can make them seem ‘shy’ and ‘reserved’ to those not familiar with their cultural background, so it’s not a surprise that they might find the Japanese strict moral code somewhat restrictive, even ‘old-fashioned’. Within those ‘old-fashioned’ cultural traditions there is also a traditional method in courting, or described commonly as dating in Japan. While many of these traditions have undergone a transformation in response to globalization and decline in the birthrate, here are a few conventional dating approaches you might still notice while in Japan.

Public display of affection: It is a modern breakthrough, but still not acceptable to some in Japan.

If you ever have the grand opportunity to explore Japan, one of the things you will notice is that very few couples are seen displaying their intimate affections toward one another by touching, kissing and holding hands. These physical displays of affection might be a normalcy in places like Western Europe and America, but it is not considered acceptable by some people in Japan. They might be seen as too intimate to be displayed in public. If you don’t care about their views on public display of affection and want to sneak a kiss with your partner in public while visiting Japan’s vast amount of cultural sightings, you will be fine. It is frowned upon but they are polite enough look away simply because they figure you might not ‘know better’.

A man, a woman and a child walking down the street in traditional clothes

Making the move: If they can’t show affection toward one another, how do partners become ‘partners’?

It makes us wonder how, in such a strict and conservative society based on traditions and strict moral codes, do they express themselves when it comes to love? According to Airi, aged 26, “The younger generation learn to be respectful toward their elders. As a consequence, a lot of them are shy and are not good at speaking their mind especially about love. Because of that, the younger Japanese prefer to act as a group.”

While men are typically expected to play the leading role in a romantic relationship, women are also often seen to make the first move. “I think because many Japanese men are nervous about speaking to the females in fear of getting rejected, they wait for the female to talk to them,” says Suzy, aged 31. “But when the men get older, they become more comfortable with women. Men in their thirties or older will be more aggressive and often seen approaching women first.”

Finding a partner: There is a word that means telling somebody you like them. It’s called ‘kokuhaku’ (告白) or ‘confession’.

When the younger generation want to date but are too shy to approach somebody they like, they turn to a common dating scheme called ‘gokon’ (合コン) or ‘group date’, which consist of the male asking his other male friends like soccer team mates to join him on a group date, and the female asking her female friends the same. They are almost always an even number of boys and girls invited, so the encounter is less awkward and nobody feels ‘left out.’

“They reserve a table at an izakaya (居酒屋, bar/pub) for a group in which they will spend approximately two hours. If the group date was successful, they will schedule the ‘nijikai’ (二次会) or the after-party,” adds Suzy. “The second one is not mandatory and is usually split into smaller groups and go to different bars and pubs.”

a group of young people hanging out in an eatery

Steps toward marriage: Some of their traditions are also commonly seen in other parts of the world.

“One of the first things they do after meeting each other’s friends is to introduce each other to their families as boyfriend and girlfriend. Then, both of their families meet each other. After that, they have an engagement ceremony, or ‘yuino’ (結納). Finally, the wedding and into marriage,” explains Suzy.

The steps toward getting married are not so different as other parts of the world. However, the Japanese hold a more classical approach toward feminine and masculine roles when it comes to marriage which are still very relevant to many couples. “Once they are married, the woman takes onto being the housewife even if she is working too,” says Yoko, aged 40. “She will then have a baby within two years. She will then give up her career to stay home and take care of the baby and the household chores. It is easy to do that in Japan because the husband receives an income tax deduction if the wife stays home with the baby.”

people in traditional costumes walking down the street

While these traditional approaches are still commonly observed in the Japanese society, many of the younger generation nowadays are finding them hard to keep up with. Japan is undergoing a big change in perception and practice of dating and marriage, so if you take a close look, you will be able to find a diversity of opinions among themselves.

A man and a woman standing in front of a temple in traditional clothes

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