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  • Post #2000! Special Discussion: Making “friends” in Japan, successfully?

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 15th, 2011

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    Hi Blog. To commemorate today,’s 2000th blog post since 2006 (yes, it’s been almost five years since went daily as a blog), I would like to devote the next day or two to an important discussion regarding assimilation.

    I got together with some old friends for beers some time ago (we do this whenever I’m in town), who all together have a combined tenure of more than a century of experiences living in Japan. We’re all English-native Caucasian males, for what it’s worth.

    Our conversation suddenly took an interesting turn when one of our group asked a poignant question:

    “How many of us have any Japanese friends with whom we can get together like this and talk as much in depth?”

    There was a long pause, and we all realized, when it came to Japanese males, the answer was zero. Yes, zero.

    We all said we had made Japanese female friends (we are guys, after all), finding J-women more curious and open-minded than their male counterparts (and that included relationships that weren’t all physical).

    But not Japanese men.

    Several theories abounded. One was that Japanese men in general make their friends in school, and view other males as rivals and competitors from that point on in life, as they climb the social and corporate ladder. Japanese men are thus some of the loneliest people in the world.

    Another was that Japanese men just weren’t all that interesting. Not only are they completely work-oriented (as opposed to women, who also had social lives outside of mere drinks after work), they seemed to keep their personalities closely locked up inside, only showing a professional or socially-attuned mask to the public no matter what. So conversations inevitably went boring (notwithstanding the incipient language barriers), basically boiling down to the food and chopsticks questions if not the occasional comparative culture stuff, but nothing that would make for an interesting conversation about life in Japan or in general.

    Yet another was that people did initially make male friends, but months or years later, realized that their “friend” was basically out for the “gaijin experience” (kinda like the Jimi Hendrix Experience).  Felt like they had a curious cultural succubus (in male form) voyeuristically leeching off them as a gaijin, instead of a true friend out to share life with them. So they toned it down or broke it off.

    Whatever the reason, the fact that ALL six of us despite an extended period felt that we had made NO particularly long-lasting friendships with our Japanese male counterparts was shocking. I thought I’d ask Readers if they have similar or different experiences, and your theories why.  People who also can speak to the female-female side of the experience are of course welcome to comment.

    Keep it nice and constructive, please. It’s an essential question when it comes to issues of immigration and assimilation. Arudou Debito

    83 Responses to “Post #2000! Special Discussion: Making “friends” in Japan, successfully?”

    1. Jeff Says:

      Great topic! This has been my experience exactly after eight years here. Lots of girlfriends and female friends, but no serious Japanese male buddies.

      I usually meet Japanese men at my work. We do the going out for drinks with other co-workers and “Wow, you are great at chopstocks” thing, and that’s about it. I thought this would change as my Japanese language skills got better but it didn’t. This seems to be the common experience among *my* North American friends too, none of whom have had real Japanese male friends after years and years of living here.

      I think there is some truth in the theory about Japanese men not being interesting. In truth, I haven’t met many Japanese males that I really had much in common with other than work, work, and more work. Nobody I would really love to chat with for hours and hours.

      I think it might also be possible that the Western version of “a good friend” just doesn’t exist here. Men are focused so much on work that they barely have time for their families, let alone outside friends who just share common interests. We may be looking for something that doesn’t exist — even between Japanese men.

    2. jeff Says:

      Hi Debito!

      I live in Otaru, and I find what you share to be the same for me in Otaru/Sapporo,. When I lived in Tokyo, I found
      it very easy to make friends with men or women. Generally People in Tokyo I found were quite real about being friends-and not suddenly canceling for clearly ridiculous reasons after making plans or other forms of “Tataimae” you might find in Otaru/Sapporo.
      The “Honne” in Tokyo was pretty clear, and People much more interest in shared activities.Pro-active as verse to in-active approach to friendship. This of course is just my experience and MHO. I have been married here in Hokkaido for 4 years and 1 year in Tokyo. There is so many avenues to talk about in relation to the oddities of life in japan, but i’ll stop here!Thanks! jeff

    3. tkyosam Says:

      I don’t know dude, you’re been here waaaay longer than me, but most of my friends that are Japanese dudes don’t speak English at all and we still talk about stuff like that.

      But, I do think that I make a more deeper relation to dudes that have lived or want to live abroad. Shizzle

    4. dude Says:

      As your frequent “HO” illustrates, Japanese men largely see the world differently than well, most other people.

      I lived in Tokyo for 10 years. Many male acquaintances, but no friends. Was it me? Or them? Try both. I found myself unable to relate to the Japanese males I encountered through work, social activities, business, etc. But in all fairness, maybe they thought the same about me?

      Many Japanese men just do not hang out with women, unless they are dating.

      This could prove to be an educational discussion. It will be interesting to see what HO thinks…

    5. Harry Says:

      I am so happy you posted this. 

      My profile: Made regular trips to Tokyo at least once a year (avg. Stay 4weeks-2months). I did this for about 5 years before moving to live in Japan. Been living here about 4 years. I am not high-level fluent, but make out ok in Japanese. 

      I should also mention that during my first 1.5 years living here, I went out of my way to befriend Japanese males, only spoke Japanese, and mostly frequented places and events that were 99% japanese.

      In almost 9 years of Japan experience, my only significant relationships have been with other foreigners.

      In fact, when the big quake happened, several of my American friends I havent spoken to in 5+ years tracked me down and asked about me. Not one of my Japanese friends here reached out. None. And when I reached out to them, although it was quite obvious that they were upset, I could tell that my inquiries as to their well being seemed awkward for them. 

       Like you guys, I ‘have’ made deep connections with Japanese women, but eventually even these are revealed to be mostly shallow. For a while I thought something was wrong with ‘me’. But then I began collecting stories from other people (Japanese and foreigner alike) and I began to realize that this isn’t even specific to foreigners. As you said, most Japanese men (and, to a lesser extent, women) are quite lonely here. I think it’s part of the cultural construct. I also think this is connected to the abnormally high suicide rates here. The huge “human disconnect” here is only slightly worse for foreigners, Japanese mask a lot of emotional and social disconnect by participating in many group activities. But “acting” like you’re part of a group doesn’t mean yiu are truly emotionally connected to that group. And no matter how “different” Japanese people are, they are still human, and still subject to the emotional needs and care that most humans experience. Much of that is neglected here.

      On a personal level, although I still find many Japanese women quite attractive, in the last year I have found myself dating mostly foreign women–from all different countries. Life is too short to pretend I don’t need/want a full connection to a woman. I still try to date Japanese women, but I lean towards the ones with international experience that extends beyond just tourism. As for the men, I’ve largely given up trying to be their friends–with ONE exception. I find that the guys in their 60s and 70s are often VERY cool and fun to hang out with as buddies (I’m 36). Strange, but that’s my experience. 

    6. PKU Says:

      I don’t know, my Japanese mates are just as normal or abnormal or average or weird as anyone else. Not sure where this particular entry is coming from- food for thought. Perhaps because I’ve edited all the boring people out of my social life.

      As I’m non-corporate, I have a bunch of different social circles. I have crazy drunk Karate mates and we have a great time, I have mates from different walks of life and they are just mates to me. Because they are Japanese their frames of reference are different from my western mates. I treasure them, but I don’t feel having close Japanese mates is especially difficult is it?

      Obviously you need to have good Japanese for Japanese mates who can’t speak your native language. And they have often different frames of reference.

      But those great mates or friends have come through shared experiences- hobbies or shared interests or strong agreements about certain ideas or points of view.

      I do really get the point about weeding out the ones who want a pet gaijin though. But you can spot them a mile off (or a kilometer off if you will). Yes some of those.

      And definitely status-conscious guys and those that believe the rubbish that’s thrown at them by the mass media. Never get beyond the pet-gaijin phase with those people (particularly those educated to be emotionally stupid- academics and mid-level bureaucrats, etc.)

    7. Douglas Says:

      I see your point – 20 years and counting and i have more female ‘friends’ than male (thanks to my wife) But I do have male friends that I cna call in for a drink or a chat. I also play Mah-jong which I’ve done from day 1 – this could have a major impact on your discussion. Pachinko – horse racing or mah jong will bring you your best mates! I talk about anything with my 3/4 best Japnese buddies (haven’t left the same area for 20 years though …)

    8. Jules Says:

      I think the question is “Why am I friends with the people I am friends with?” And I suppose the answer is that you share a language, a certain cultural heritage, a set of circumstances etc. – you probably look more like each other than you do compared to the locals! I think it’s as simple as that, really. I have two good Japanese male friends, one of whom I lived down the corridor from in Bangkok for two years (hence the shared circumstances) and the other is my Japanese teacher.

      Does that make sense?

      I don’t wish to offend anybody but I think the “they are boring”-type says more about the person who says it than it does about Japanese men.


    9. beneaththewheel Says:

      Good question.

      In my experience, making Japanese guy friends is easiest with a shared hobby. My friend joined a local soccer team, and made tons of friends with the guys on the team. At a bar, talking to a guy, we found out we both like punk music and the conversation went from there into other things. Work friends seem more like an obligation and as you said, the mask cannot come down easily (I feel similarly in many work situations).

      I’m not sure if this is a Japanese thing or a global thing. When I think about the foreign friends I made in the past, they were of my English teaching days, and always friends of friends. In the Englsh teaching community in my area, many people become friends regardless of differences (as there’s the big similarity of being a foreigner in Japan). You can put next to no effort, and automatically have lots of acquaintences, and everyone wants to make new good friends. If it’s back home, everyone already has their good friends, and it’d be much harder. I think the ease of meeting foreigners has made introverted little me have a harder time to make an effort with people who don’t automatically cling to me just for being a foreigner. Is it the same for all English teachers in Japan? All expats in Japan? All expats in general? I’m not sure.

      Then, when I think about the Japanese girl/friends that I have made, they have all made a major interest in foreign culture. I don’t think that representitive of Japanese women, but it’s representative of the majority ones who want to talk with me blindly (i.e. at a bar). Where are the guys with Western interests? Not sure. Talking to my foreign ladyfriends maybe? Flirting is easier than small talk. I think it’s a global trend though that women are more interested in foreign languages than me. I don’t have a link to back that up though.

      Anways, having just started grad school (in Japanese), I hope to be able to make more male Japanese friends.

      As a final aside, here’s someone’s blog entry from a few months back about the topic. It’s of a different focus, but related:

    10. bornagain Says:

      Agreed, great topic. After 13+ years here, I have zero Japanese male friends. I did have some good times working with some Japanese coworkers, but never became friends. I think its a cultural thing, most Japanese I know dont socialize like you see in HK or the U.S. The “eigo dekinai” is the usual excuse but also most Japanese are very guarded people. I find it to be a very tiresome effort and usually not even worth it when making friends with japanese males. I see Im not alone.

    11. Tamsin Says:

      Making friends with Japanese people is the same as making friends with any other people – if you share interests it happens naturally. I love music, so I hang out and jam with other people who love making music.

    12. Tim Says:

      I have lots of good, solid relationships with Japanese men. These relationships are usually deeper and more interesting than the ones I have with Japanese women. I’ve been here for 34 years and am pretty much bilingual. If you ask me, this whole thing depends on your Japanese ability. I am saddened by the stereotyping going on here of Japanese men. Given that this whole site is supposed to be about getting rid of discrimination against NJ, I find it very odd that you are more than happy to encourage racial profiling of Japanese men.

      — No I’m not. Chill.

    13. Scipio Says:

      Being a shallow and a very private person myself, my relationships with Japanese males are on par with most of my relationships with Japanese females and non-Japanese people. I like it this way.

      However those people who ‘defend’ the Japanese male along some relativist strategy of ‘they are the same here as anywhere in the world’ are really missing the boat.
      Jean Pierre Lehman wrote a brilliant article in the Japan Times about 10 years ago about the social interactive failings of Japanese males in a global world and how they were fossilized into some sort of mid-1960’s time trap, and that Japanese women were excelling in the modern business world and leaving their male counterparts behind.
      I’ll look for the article, when I have time.

      They, Japanese males of a certain age, definitely remind me of my grandfather’s generation, who were born into an Edwardian Britain, in the way they relate to others outside of their work and family circles.

      I notice with some of the young Japanese males, those under 30, that they seem to break with the mould, but still ……..

    14. OsakaGurl Says:

      Great topic Debito and congratulations on post 2000!!!

      I might be the only woman posting on this one, though I hope not. I’ve lived on and off in Japan for extended periods of time and here are my observations.

      One, as a foreign caucasian woman, it’s pretty hard to make any close japanese friends. I’ve been told by several of even my close japanese women friends that I could never possibly understand the obligations of a j-single woman, j-wife,and j-mother, etc…

      Two, forget even thinking about making a j-man friend – heh – unless they have had a few drinks. However, when they have had a few drinks, they become a little well, you know – I’m a very tall blond with a bit of a chest, so perhaps a bit intimidating? (at least that’s what I have been told by the older j-men, especially the 60-70 year olds that Harry refers to above!)

      My conclusions about all of this, (and I have been thinking about this a lot lately) in the context of this foreigner against each other, japanese against foreigners, etc… There is so much going on.

      I’ll put this out there and perhaps others can comment. I feel like this is all a competition!

      And here come the big generalizations…(sorry) the NJ-men are necessarily in competition with J-men for a place/space in Japan (place/space encapsulates all lively hoods including family, work, women, etc…).

      There is limited space for NJ-men. This creates competition between NJ-men both with J -men and other NJ- men (and with NJ-men perhaps the most, this compettion is at times healthy, while at other times very destructive as evidenced by the activities/comments of the J-men/women, NJ-men/women and here on Debito’s site and of course the other troll sites).

      This competition between J and NJ-men has been especially shown this week in this line of posts – Its now apprently a competiton of who does more to help the NJ community! Really?

      As for NJ women, well I’m still thinking about this – because a) I am a little biased obviously, and b) because its a sensitive topic, usually NJ-Men try to put me in my place by saying that its women like me that drove them to Japan and therfore Japanese women – what hehe? c) I’m definatley not a feminist and I’m still pretty optimistic about Japan.

      As I am a rather friendly, and actually very non threatning NJ women, I’ll hope you will comment and I’ll just leave this with “why can’t we all just get along…”

    15. james grey Says:

      Speaking for myself, having graduated from a Japanese university, and having lived here for 10 years, I have a few Japanese male friends, but none of them really close at all. In general I find Japanese men to be rather shallow, childish, narrow minded, and arrogant. They all have said to me at one time or another, something along the lines of ‘gaijin are dangerous, I don’t like gaijin, but you’re ok’.
      Now that Japans economic bubble has well and truly burst forever, Japanese women, on the other hand, are coming to see what a waste of air most Japanese men are since the old financially stable salary man is fast becoming the exception and not the rule. These women are waking up, and looking for something else. They are more open minded and willing to leave their comfort zone.

    16. jonholmes Says:

      A lot of anecdotal responses to this thread so I ll chip in with a few of my own. I originally learnt Japanese and not Chinese in the 80s because, in the words of one Hongkongese I met at the time “We have our friends and family and feel it is enough” (when I complained I couldnt find a teacher out of the 3000 Chinese on campus who would even exchange a sentence with me).
      Fast forward to another university in 2006 and things seem to have gone full circle; both the teacher and another western student said to me “there is a huge wall up between this year’s Japanese students and us from Nagoya compared to previously”. Anecdotal, but it just seemed to confirm that Japanese students abroad were becoming, or being perceived as becoming, more inward looking as opposed to the Chinese students. I know this is rapidly becoming the latest cliche but it is hard to argue to the contrary.

      Someone above commented “many people become friends regardless of differences (as there’s the big similarity of being a foreigner in Japan).”

      I actually think that basing friendships on nationality is where I went wrong because when I started getting interested in Japan, some aspects of it’s culture (not anime, thank you very much!) and the language, of course I sought out Japanese people. And in retrospect they were, in many cases, not my kind of people. In my naivety I met not a few bigots or wierdos, which I put up with and put down to “cultural differences”. I made allowances because I was desperate to learn the language and was fascinated with Japan. By the same token, not a few of them thought I was a “henna gaijin” for a variety of reasons, not least for being interested in traditional aspects of Japan which they did’t seem to be, and then the fact that I had stepped off the career path in my home country, etc etc. So to some extent they were right; I wasn’t a conservative stereotype of a western businessman or whatever; I was a bit eccentric or “kawateru”, as they put it.

      However, after a couple of years I learnt to be more selective of my friends, regardless of nationality. I deliberately ended a few high stress “friendships” with Japanese people I had met because, well, we were not really friends. I had wanted to meet Japanese people, and their friend had introduced them to me so I suppose they tolerated this “henna gaijin” out of a sense of obligation and patience. We just did not have that much in common at all.

      Thats what I learnt; shared interests regardless of nationality lead to long-term friendships far more often than ones in spite of the differences; the latter just raise stress levels as you (or they) “tolerate” you as a pet gaijin/nihonjin sensei more than genuinely like you.

    17. Jair Says:

      Fantastic discussion. Oh, I really would have wanted to read about this when I moved here seven years ago.

      I can really relate to Harry’s experiences. Even before coming here I started thinking there might be something wrong with me, because I couldn’t make good Japanese friends for the life of me.

      I think we’re asking for something they don’t know exists. Pity them, and pity us too if you will.

      Really, I think for most people in Japan, men and women, friendship is meeting for booze or for a common hobby, and only if it’s convenient. No bothering to keep in touch anymore if you move. No getting in touch after the quake.

      The two exceptions I’ve known have already been mentioned in other comments: friends from school or childhood (おさななじみ), and friends from a common hobby you practice often (martial arts, sports)…

      It seems what they really value in Japan is being part of a group. More than being friends with Tarō, Hiro and Ken, you’re part of the karate group or jazz circle. Just try quitting karate and you might be surprised you’re no longer part of their lives a few months later.

      I’d never say blokes here aren’t interesting. I’ve met quite a few of them, but they couldn’t be bothered to keep in touch in the long run.
      The few very good male friends I have are either half Peruvian, or have lived in Spain half their life.

    18. musician in Japan Says:

      Tamsin has quite a good way of making male friends, at least medium term; through the shared language of music. Just so long as it isnt J pop or they dont use your band as a platform to push J Nationalism in musical form, by that I mean trying to force you to listen to something cheesy just because it is Japanese (one girl tried to push Komuro Tetsuya and Smap on me as the “Japanese Duran Duran”..errr we think not).

      A couple of examples
      Me “Imai Miki’s “I miss you” wow, what a deep meaning!(Said ironically)
      J guy: (without a trace of irony) “mm, yes it is. (Singing) “I missssu yoooo”.

      J guy calling me about a music ad: “We like Matsuda Seiko. Like her, we want to be successful in USA”.
      Me: “huh? She came back in tears after not doing so well, it was on the news..”
      Him: (defensively) “Err, guess again, guy! Her single was near the top of the, errr, West Coast Disco Charts, etc”

      Other times I ve had successful relationships with Japanese male musicians, but after a while they ve kind of drifted off, never to respond to email again, to focus on their own projects.

      I thought this odd, and unfriendly, thinking we could at least meet for a beer or just say hello some time, or then I started to feel that I had offended them in some way, until I read the following on a site called “”:

      “Japanese may consider it rude to prolong a relationship once it’s original purpose has been achieved”.

      I m still trying to get my head around this-why would they think it rude? I supose they think its pushy in an odd way, completely at odds with a western style friendship.

      But if true it certainly does explain the “disappearing” friends and band members I ve had over the years (the ones I havent offended, I hastily add before some wag pops up and suggests it was because I had “done something wrong”).

      — Re Duran Duran: I also think not!

    19. Tony In Saitama Says:

      I am honestly stunned by this question, especially coming from Debito. I could understand it coming from someone who did not understand the language and culture very well, as many people in such a situation have told me that they find Japanese socialising through English to appear somehow false, which I have observed in the past to be mostly a result of the Japanese “acting a role” due to their limited English, rather than just being themselves.

      In my own case, I would say the ratio among my friends is about 50 – 50 male to female, as I have never noticed any tendency one way or the other, and probably about 9 to 1 Japanese to foreign.
      If I had to rank my friends here, the top five would include three, maybe four Japanese males.

    20. A. Breton Says:

      I have been in Japan for a number of years and I do have some Japanese male friends. I am not friends with them because of English language or because they want a gaijin experience but simply because, like any other friendship, we get along well. We just happened to share some common interest; appreciation for beer, women or pro wrestling. I think that it’s quite possible for Westerners to be friends with Japanese but just like any other friendship, it takes a long time to build. I’m not sure why it seems difficult to find some friends here, except for the fact that when we arrive in this country, we are at an age where we naturally have less friends and we tend to always be so busy. In my opinion, Japanese guys are just like any other guys. Being friends with girls is a completely different matter, obviously!

    21. Premster Says:

      Agree fully w Tasmin – I have several close Japanese buddies, along w other nationalities, that grew out of shared interests. Also agree w Harry – many of my buddies tend to be older guys, I’m 34. But that I find to be true also of friends of other nationalities. Must be me…. :-) of course if we count, female friends far outnumber the male ones but that’s normal too isn’t it?

      I think you guys are reading too much into the coincidence that all of you happen to have zero j male friends. Maybe you all have a similar social context, if you allow me to be bold, being relatively isolated from urban centers and therefore the more international japanese male or female populations? I think big cities everywhere tend to be better melting pots vs smaller communities anywhere. While there’s no denying small town Japan is probably more internal/insular than some other cultures, I don’t think it’s particularly extreme.

      Cheers, p

    22. richard Says:

      @Jeff. I wish you were right when you say “Generally People in Tokyo I found were quite real about being friends-and not suddenly canceling for clearly ridiculous reasons after making plans or other forms of “Tataimae” you might find in Otaru/Sapporo.”

      Sadly, it hasnt been my experience in Tokyo. Which is why I will only meet people either near my work or near my home. Been let down too many times when I went out of my way to a location of their choice.

      There is no excuse for it what with cell phones, but actually this is what I perceive as one of the negative results of cell phones since the 90s; people can cancel or be late at the last minute now by just sending a text.

      I hate to say it but as a “gaijin” one is way down the list of priorities for some-not all- people. First comes work, then socializing with colleagues, then the family and/or school friends etc.

      One time I got a text from someone cancelling due to “work” then 5 minutes later I saw her walking into a local bar with her colleagues. So I called her phone, she came out and saw me and said something like “oh, errr I don’t know how to explain (that socializing with colleagues is a form of work that takes priority over “private choice” friendships)”.

      Feel free to disagree; it was just my experience in Tokyo, but I ve heard some truly ridiculous excuses in my time.

      — Okay, we’re starting to get off topic by slicing things down by region, so everyone please remember to relate things back to the original point.

    23. Chris B Says:

      I have a follow up question, how many very close male friends of any nationality or culture have you made since University? I think it is tough to develop that kind of trust as one gets older and it may not be a cultural difference after all, or at least its a factor which coupled with a larger or smaller degree of culture-barrier may make it difficult?

      — Me, lots and lots.

    24. Allen Says:

      First off, I’d like to congratulate you on your 2000th post. Secondly, I would say that it all depends on the person. It might be really hard to strike a conversation with the average salaryman but increadibly easy to talk to the guy at the local store. The guy friends I have are mostly from shared interest groups such as being in a acting troupe or a men’s choir. I think once you have a single thing in common, the ice can break and a friendship can start.

    25. Max Says:

      My after a decade in Japan theory.
      Some of Japanese males are interested in making friends with us, white males.
      But the unwritten rules of friendship here are complicated not to mention the language, especially if you try and speak Japanese.
      Humor is different, izakaya Japanese is a completely diffent language.
      But let’s supposed you manage to overcome these hurdles. Then there is another one: Japanese males are very sensitive. If you say the wrong word, if you get too emotional, if you talk about the wrong topic then it is the end.
      You would need a councellor next to you when you hang out with a Japanese male just to do the right steps not to hurt his psyche.

    26. PKU Says:

      I hadn’t really thought much about this but I think that others’ experiences resemble mine- to have a close friend you have to have a shared experience and a common frame of reference – for example a hobby or beliefs or something.

      It seems just the same as anywhere really. I do feel though there is an issue of programming here. There is so so so much pressure in the education and media to emphasize and build walls between Japanese and gaijin. For example, in Karate, I have great mates and yet to others I will always be the gaijin.

      I remember recently at work, we had the fresh meat in so I took a couple of guys in the section out for lunch. I’d been chatting along with them fine and they seemed to be getting past the gaijin entertainment scenario just fine. Then someone older in the office spotted what was going on and decided to invite himself to lunch and so all normal conversation stopped; I’d try to talk about something and the worker in his 30s sought to re-establish the rules; so we were back to “can use chopsticks” and him explaining that “they do this and that in his country.”

      The juniors got the idea and by 14:00 I was safely gaijinized- the pet in the corner, back in the box. (But not quite, one of them is very good at keeping the mask up, but we do chat normally when others aren’t looking).

      I say this because I think despite all the crushing pressure in Japan to gaijinize foreigners, a lot of people can and do think for themselves and are more than aware of what is going on, though many don’t of course.

      But I realized how difficult it is to have any form of really decent relationship with someone at work- there you all are thrown together in some concrete box wearing your silly salariman uniforms and going through the motions of all the silly rules and rubbish for your salary whatever- and you’ve got nothing in common with each other really.

      What I am trying to say is I think it’s even harder to make friends or find friends at work for me than it was at work in the country I left behind because of the extra pressure to exclude gaijin and the extremity of the social and corporate programming here.

      I hope that makes some sense.

    27. Steve v. Says:

      Making friends with Japanese people is not so difficult if you participate in activities where like minded people gather for a common purpose. I have circles of friends from my involvement with the local Toastmasters club, my condominium’s management committee, and various drinking and karaoke places I frequent. I also had circles of friends who I met through my Japanese cultural studies — tea ceremony, flower arranging, calligraphy, etc.

      Obviously, there are problems with language fluency and I often find myself playing dictionary with any in-depth discussion. Nevertheless, there are Japanese people with whom I meet, socialize, and converse on a regular basis. My conversations with them are more interesting to me than conversations with English native speakers who only want to talk about surfing, teaching, and chasing after women.

      — We don’t get much talk about surfing up here, pity.

    28. James Portoeus Says:

      Debito, How’s things? Interesting topic you have here.

      Something about me: high school in Japan for a year followed by a full degree from Kyoto University.
      My major was politics. And I was the only blonde kid in my faculty.

      My view is slightly different. In Japan as we all know, we have a hierarchical society here to deal with.

      So what does this mean?
      Basically that you are either douki, kohai or sempai.
      You can be friends sometimes if you are douki, as with the hobby thing some people have already pointed out

      However if you’re a Kouhai you are in somebody’s clientelle (as in Ancient Rome terms) or if you are sempai they are in your clientele. So you can bet a Japanese male is asking himself which one is he and which one are you. That’s why you see a lot of guys pandering o their sempai. They want to make it clear they are Kouhai. Remember, not long out of feudalism here and their feudal system was dismantled from the top, not fought and overturned from the bottom up.

    29. Jeff Korpa Says:

      Hi Debito.

      “Whatever the reason, the fact that ALL six of us despite an extended period felt that we had made NO particularly long-lasting friendships with our Japanese male counterparts was shocking.”

      I have a theory that I think might explain this situation – of the male Japanese friendships that you and your acquaintances have, are any of them based *exclusively* in English?

      I ask because I have hade made friends with Japanese males lasting 14 and 7 years (would you consider these long-lasting?). These friendships have real substance (the friends of 7 years even helped to line up an interview for me with a life insurance company in Tokyo), *but* they are based completely in English; there is no interaction in Japanese whatsoever.

      My theory is that it is the Japanese language itself which is the barrier to accessing deep, quality friendships. As to why 日本語 might be the cause of this phenomenon, I suspect that the answer, quite literally, lies in Japan, namely socialization – with English (or some other non-Japanese foreign language), the slate is clean – there are no Japanese language-based notions or experiences coloring the individual’s thought process and behaviors during the process forming and maintaining friendship (e.g. 建て前 vs. 本音 or サークル活動 and クラブ, etc).

      Your thoughts?


      — Quite possibly. For me, however, I had much deeper relationships with Japanese with whom I communicated in Japanese than in English. The conversations were far more interesting and complex in Japanese. That said, I still have a bit of trouble feeling, over the long term, like they were empathetic “friends”. Sooner or later, we’d get hung up on cultural explanations instead of interpersonal ones.

    30. Joe Jones Says:

      In my experience, internationally-minded men and women tend to take very different paths in Japan. Men tend to go to university here, get into a good company or government agency, and do their international time in the context of that job (either as grad school or as an overseas posting of some kind, or both). Women tend to leave Japan earlier, go to university somewhere else, and then (if they still want or need to) return to Japan for their career. Both strategies make a lot of sense when you consider the way Japanese and foreign employers hire people and the sort of rampant gender discrimination that exists in most Japanese companies. One side effect (maybe) is that women are more comfortable with the sort of “free-form” socialization that Americans take for granted, since this is how they have to make “friends” in the absence of the more structured Japanese university/workplace/sports team context.

      It’s also possible that us men are simply kidding ourselves about all those women being our friends.

    31. Moses Alucard Says:

      Well, to answer this question one has to look at it from the Jpns male perspective.

      As everyone should know, rank & status are paramount in Japan, in regard to interpersonal relations.

      So- are you his sempai or his kohai?

      If you’re his kohai, you’ll probably end up no more than the pet gaijin.

      If you’re sempai, well, who the hell wants a gaijin sempai? It’s degrading! So you will be avoided on that account.

      To put it simply, gaijin are outside the conventional jpns social heirarchy, and therefore are a contemporary form of social “untouchables”.

      Sad, but true.

    32. Eric Johnston Says:

      After 23 years in Japan I can say that I have three or four good Japanese male friends, all of whom I met long ago, and none of whom is in the same profession I am. But I’m not the type of person who makes good friends easily, so I can’t say that I’ve been particuarly disappointed. Obviously, I have lots of good acquaintences, as do most people who posted. Cultural reasons like the forging of a group mentality at a young age (and the view that males outside your group are competitors to be, if not feared, then at least viewed with caution)also strike me as having a lot of truth. And I suppose it depends on what one’s defination of a “good” friend is. Mine is somebody I can talk to about serious issues and who will, and has been there, for me when the chips are down and vice versa. The length of time between conservations is less important than what we do say and, more importantly, do when we contact each other.

      Still, like a lot of other people who posted, I’d be very interested to see and learn more about this subject.

    33. Olaf Says:

      Others have pointed already out the obvious: shared interest and openness towards each other are requisites for friendship. Just one line about me: I live in Hokkaido since 17 years; in Japan for 19. Married since 22 years with a Japanese; 4 kids.
      My male Japanese friends can be categorized in 3 groups: work-, hobby-, and church-related. All my friends have in common that they either have lived abroad or have a foreign wife. The topics we talk about vary, but when I write that we talk about science or work, this means that we talk about it from a personal perspective. It does not mean the day-to-day administrative type of talk. What I find interesting when looking at this group of friends: four out of of six are older than me.
      One is my former boss at Hokudai. I left his group 11 years ago. We talk mostly about science and family.
      One is coworker at my university. He had a life changing operation, and we live near each other. We talk about work and family.
      One is scientist at Tohoku U. We talk about philosophy, faith, science, and teaching.
      One is cycling buddy and church member. The things we talk about are obvious.
      One is a former banker, church member and daihyou of an NPO. We talk about faith, family and NPO stuff.
      One is legally not Japanese, but he came 50 years ago as a 2 year old and speaks Japanese as mother tongue. Church member and we talk about everything.
      One took Japanese citizenship in his 30ies (if I remember correctly). Does that count as Japanese for this discussion?

      This makes half a dozen of people. Of course there is a blurry line between friend and aquaintance, but I find it hard to have more than around 6 close friends.

    34. Padraig Says:

      I have been in Japan about nineteen years and have no close male friends. I think the cultural differences make it hard to become friends.

    35. Olaf Says:

      Its maybe just a technicality, but all of your friends you were together with actually HAVE a Japanese friend.
      Debito, you did not commit any fallacy, because you mentioned ‘caucasian male’, but your friend who asked the question
      Quote: “How many of us have any Japanese friends with whom we can get together like this and talk as much in depth?” Unquote
      blundered BIG.
      Interesting that it escaped your attention.

      — No it didn’t. But all of these people have known me since before I naturalized. They still have a bit of a time not calling me “Dave”. Anyhoo…

    36. Douglas M. Says:

      What a hot topic!
      I also had a similar conversation with four non-J friends, all of whom have been in Japan 10+ years like myself. All reported few or no significant friendly relationships with Japanese men. I was partly relieved that I was not alone, that the problem wasn’t “with me” so to speak. But I was also saddened by the rather sobering fact.

    37. Eric Kalmus Says:

      My best friend since 1989 is a guy named Tsukasa… he is closer than my brother. He does live in the USA however since 1988, but we go back a long way and connect like family. Through him, I have been introduced to many japanese males over the years and have had no trouble remaining good friends with them. I think it is an individual thing. Perhaps the fact that we know each other outside of Japan is a key factor?


    38. Hoofin Says:

      I became friends with a lot of Japanese, both men and women. The social life was one of the toughest things to leave behind.

    39. Ariel Says:

      Here are my stats for reference: 27 year old white American female, lived in Japan 4 years.

      I usually found it easier to hang out socially with J men than J women, and the people that I look most forward to seeing next time I’m back in Japan are, with one exception, male. Conversations with J women usually seemed to revolve around romantic gossip, which I’m not terribly interested in. My male coworkers one the other hand covered a variety of topics and were less likely to try to match-make me with common acquaintances…

      However, like several others have mentioned, I usually enjoyed hanging out with guys at least 10 years older than me the most. There was definitely a “little sister” vibe going on, but that’s fine with me, and I would expect a similar dynamic back in the US.

    40. Peter Says:

      When I was in Japan, I did what poster #9’s friend did, I joined a local soccer club.. one of my british friends who was on the team introduced me to it. Mind you, I joined the team because I wanted to play football, not meet new friends. Played lots of games, went out drinking, karaoke, etc. Lots of fun, but I wouldn’t say any of the J-players and myself became close mates.. a few of them, who spoke decent english, and I still keep in contact with through emails from time to time.

      I made closer friends with people who spoke english while I was in Japan.. mind you, they were my co-workers so I spent most of my time around them.

      That being said, my wife (who is japanese) has made some close friends since we came to Canada. A few of them she sees regularly for coffee/lunches and they are not Japanese women either.. so perhaps its more of a gender thing than a nationality thing.

    41. Michael Weidner Says:

      Thanks for posting about this. I probably one of the only foreigners in this country who has gone out of his way not to make foreinger friends. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here; I’m just letting you know my situation.

      As for the making of friends, I agree, it is a difficult thing in general for foreigners to socialize with Japanese people. Our socialization patterns and methods are much different than that here in Japan even if there isn’t a language barrier to get in our way. That being said, most of my close friends are Japanese males. Being a teacher however, most of my friends are a lot older; I’m 28 and they are usually married and with kids so it the late 40’s to early 50’s range.

      From my experience, we tend to, as foreigners, to make friends quickly and then strengthen the friendship over time. Whereas here, and Japanese men esspecially, strengthen the relationship over time until they become friends. Shared experiences and working together does give birth to stronger relationships that can foster those friendships that you may be looking for.

      But I do agree with the above posters in saying that yes, it does take quite a while to get past the whole “pet” or “weird foreigner” phase that many Japanese people have ingrained into them.

    42. Jack Says:

      A few stories:

      I joined a couple of local sporting clubs partly to make friends and partly because I like to compete. My experience was quite similar with both. At first they were quite friendly but after the initial meeting they basically ignored me. During practices when they talked to each other I ended up standing by myself a lot of the time. I initiated conversations often but they were mostly one-way. I asked questions, they answered and the conversations died. Eventually I caught the hint and stopped going to practices. The president of one of the clubs called me and asked me why I stopped going to practice. I told him it was too lonely to go and be ignored. He told me that everyone really wanted me there and strongly asked me to come back. He said they would try to be more friendly. I heard later from a woman friend who he was friends with, that one of the reasons he wants me there is because it makes his club more noticeable, because they have a foreign member. I returned to the club because of the competitive opportunities but not much has changed. But I am used to it so I don’t really care as much.

      I had two Japanese male friends for several years. The last time I went to see them in a different town, we went out to dinner and I thought we had a good time. After that they stopped answering my emails. I have no idea why.

      Lastly I have a Japanese female friend who is friends with many westerners. She tells me she takes a lot of abuse from other Japanese for being friends with foreigners.

      I have lived in Japan for 18 years and I have talked to many westerners. I would say that 90% of them are lonely.

    43. bornagain Says:

      I think soto/uchi has allot to do with it as well. As soon as you enter japan society with the intention to live, your now quasi uchi, but not the full thing. As a base worker, UN employee, expat etc, your soto, and will be treated actually better than us uchi gaijin. Ignorance is bliss in this situation. Just observe the foriegn directors of many MNC companies in Japan who dont speak Japanese. The gaijin who take the leap into the uchi will find themselves alienated longterm, while the soto gaijin are shielded from this, and represent something different and refreshing for the Japanese, thus his bliss remains perpetual. The uchi gaijins bliss vanishes and its replaced with perpetual insanity and struggle. He/she tries to cope with it by hunkering down harder, displaying defensive behavior or attacking other foriegners. This strict social structure is part of what is holding Japan back.

    44. Dr. H Says:

      I remember watching a Youtube vlogger discuss how the Japanese won’t talk about their problems, as if it’s improper to complain about difficulties at work or disappointments with life. For other people, friends are people to commiserate with, as well as just cut loose and have fun with. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable “opening up” with foreigners because they barely open up with each other? In other words, they can’t discuss their common ground in the negatives of life?

    45. scotty Says:

      I’ve been here almost twenty years. I have had Japanese friends, who tend to be on the whole 10/15 years my senior, but they have run there course. We conversed in Japanese, so it wasn’t a “we want to practice English” dynamic. I agree with what Jack says: I would say that 90% of them are lonely – meaning foreigners. I also think that Jeff Korpa’s observation – “My theory is that it is the Japanese language itself which is the barrier to accessing deep, quality friendships” – is bang on. I have never thought of it like that before, but I am in full agreement.

    46. jon Says:

      I really relate to the suddenly dwindling emails. I read in some study on the Japanese mind (cant remember the title but it was a scholarly work) that “it is considered rude to continue a friendship if there is no objective”.
      I take this to mean being friends for friends sake.

      About the president of the club “He said they would try to be more friendly. I heard later from a woman friend who he was friends with, that one of the reasons he wants me there is because it makes his club more noticeable, because they have a foreign member. ”

      This should be in a cross cultural book as a case study, its so apt in my mind.
      1. He spoke for the group, but it was in fact tatemae, to achieve a (business) goal.
      2. He wants foreigners for “window dressing”, something I first read of in a book called “working in Japan” published 1990.
      3. And, I m a tad cynical, but it seems the powers that be want or need foreign participation for monetary reasons ie. want foreign money or for improving their image as an “international” one, but members of the rank and file could care less, and carry on as normal, making no attempt to help the “gaijin” fit into the group.

      In short, an example at the micro level that is really symptomatic of Japan at the macro level, as a whole.

    47. Bucky Says:

      In twenty-five years “In-country” my grand total of “real” Japanese friends (by my admittedly culturally-determined definition of friendship) is…(drum roll)…Zero.

      btw, no language barrier in my case (at least not in many, many years)

      Sure…, I know probably hundreds of Japanese men well enough to have a “hey, hisashiburi, let me buy you a beer” relationship with them when we run into each other, but we don’t call each other to socialize, or even e-mail or FB each other.

      I guess the closest I came to having Japanese male friends was having fairly regular J-drinking buddies when I was living in Shizuoka in my 20s and early 30s. To this day I’m still not sure what the exact status of our relationship was — it’s possible they may have just kept me around for laughs as the goofy drunken gaijin clown (don’t get me started on my Joe Pesci impersonation here…).

      None ever helped me in a fix, or, outside of a wedding or two, invited me to be part of important areas of their own lives. Perhaps tellingly, I lost almost all of them when I became a university professor (they’d first known me as a penniless, J-illiterate self-employed Eikaiwa “teacher”) — it was my impression that they were uncomfortable with what was, in THEIR eyes (let me stress), the drastic change in my J-social status. Suddenly I was not a good fit in their social universe anymore. In my eyes, I was still the same beer-guzzing gaijin goofball I’d always been, but for my old J-acquaintances, I had suddenly become someone THEY felt obligated to treat differently than what they had been accustomed to, and again, they seemed extremely uncomfortable with that.

      I’ve since made no Japanese male acquaintances to replace the ones I lost upon my “status shift”. Current work colleagues are all SUPER introverts apparently satisfied with their own little worlds and networks and not — at least in the ten years I’ve been working side-by-side with them — interested in making me part of those worlds outside of the workplace, and I have long since given up — after myriads declined offers — on inviting them to become part of mine.

      All of my “real” friends — i.e., those I can talk with with the most candor, honesty and depth of feeling, and those to whom I can most reliably go to for help if and when I need it — are fellow gaijin (even non-native-English-speaking and/or non-Japanese-speaking ones I have otherwise have significant trouble communicating with). This has always been the case.

      I do not, however, wish to give the impression that I consider the responsibility for my current state of J-friendlessness to lie entirely with my cultural hosts. I think that, the causality is a two-way street that, more than anything, all… comes down to drastic cultural differences re: standards, criteria, ground-rules, expected levels of commitment, and, more than anything, DEFINITIONS of what is supposed to constitute a “friendship” relationship.

      Rather than go into a lengthy academic analysis (which we can always come back to if anyone wants to get into that), I think it might be best if I offer an anecdote or two from some of my early encounters with what we might term “the Japanese friendship” wall;

      something along the following lines happened to me several times:

      I would meet a Japanese male, either in a work, neighborhood, study or hobby (I’m a plastic model otaku, among other things) setting, and we would begin the opening steps of a friendship courtship dance, if you will. Then he would introduce me to the all-important friend “Group”, and one or more of the members — of longer standing in the group and, of course, Japanese — would express discomfort, in one way or another, at my presence, and then that would be it. Instant reversion to mere “acquaintance” status, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

      Here’s another version of The Wall I encountered many times (maybe even more than the above scenario):

      All of the steps and stages as per above scenario would be repeated, minus the “objecting members”. All would seem smooth sailing — Eureka! My arrival, at long last, into Japanese society, with full membership in the Almighty Group — when a certain occasion would come along when I was unable to participate in a certain designated Group activity because I had arrangements with other friends, then the first “Group” members became aware of the existence of my “Other” friends, upon which time I would be accused (either openly or implied) of being a “happou bijin” (八方美人), and once again, instant reversion to mere “acquaintance” status, if I was lucky, or complete ostracism, if I was less fortunate.

      After years of this runaround (and, along the way, encountering some VERY relevant scholarly material on J-sociology), I finally realized that my own cultural upbringing and limit on acceptable levels of encroachment on personal space and range of freedom of social movement meant that I was not — and most likely never will be — prepared to make the sacrifices of individual autonomy that are necessary to participate in a relationship of “friendship” recognized as such by Japanese standards.

      In turn, Japanese people seem to be able to instinctively sense that I have a certain boundary of personal space and “comfort zone” or desired range of social movement that I do not want encroached upon by others (hell, even by a family member!), and that this being the case, that I am not a suitable person to approach for, again, “friendship” by the Japanese understanding of the relationship. Where I see THEIR friendships as smotheringly limited, I suppose they see MY friendship relations as being confusingly fluid, scandalously wide-cast, and thus, hopelessly shallow and counterfeit. And never the twain shall meet…at least as true “friends”. And that’s their loss, I think, as much as it is mine.

      But then again, echoing the last line of Jon’s post above, looked at in the big picture, I guess this is a very effective way for Japanese culture to protect its borders from (unwanted/unregulated) extra-cultural influence.

    48. Graham Says:

      Perhaps I’m a special case, but here’s my situation: I was born and raised in Japan, and in my case it’s pretty much the reversal of most other people here. I have several Japanese male friends, but no real long-term foreigner friends here in Japan. I’ve always had trouble adapting to the “gaijin environment,” especially since most of the time they are quite critical of the Japanese culture to a certain degree, much like the discussion you had with your two friends you talked about (not something that makes me feel comfortable). We have conversations and meet up once in a while, and it’s all fun and good. Some of those people I’ve known for several years.
      Finding female J friends, now that’s a whole different story…

    49. giantpanda Says:

      You know, I wonder if you asked Japanese men as a whole how many true friends that they have, what the answer would be? Isn’t this not a J/NJ problem, but a problem with Japanese society as a whole? From my point of view, a lot of social interaction in Japan involves hiding your true self and true feelings as much as possible. There seems to be an almost paranoid worry that someone who obtains this information could use it against you in future. Moreover, the barrier between professional and personal life is strictly maintained. Colleagues that I have worked with for 10 years only reluctantly admit, and even then, with a great deal of embarrassment or discomfort, when they have gone through such life changing events as a marriage or the birth of a child! This seems to apply even between Japanese colleagues.

      Having said that, an accesssory such as a child or a dog can make a huge difference to your ability to make friends in Japan. My circle of acquaintances expanded rapidly post-kids.

    50. jonholmes Says:

      I back up Bucky’s group theory, and the wall. You have to make friends with the group and you have to go along with the group, and its usually too much for a westerner to do.
      This anecdote is from the 90s but has stayed with me due to its violence; I was only 23 when I was hired, along with another NJ, (an older person who made her own travel arrangements and who was not affected at all), to work with a group of self styled bohemian artists and sculptors from Tokyo as part of Sendai’s city festival.

      I was enjoying the experience, smiling a bit too much apparently, as one control freak suddenly lurched at me and PHYSICALLY ATTACKED me over dinner for “enjoying yourself too much”. His girlfriend concurred. The group concured. And then, to my surprise, my J girlfriend concurred! Sat a couple of tables away a group of artists from Okinawa beckoned me over. “We saw what happened, it was unfair” they said. “come and hang out with us”. So I did and we are friends to this day, almost 20 years later.

      Now, I had agreed to take part in this art event, so I decided I would take part anyway-at least the first day- but you can see in the pictures I look decidedly serious, which is perhaps what Mr. Group Bully wanted. He himself remained stressed out for the whole event and I really do not see why as everything was arranged by the kind people of Sendai City Hall and local volunteers whom I became friends with; Mr Group Bully just took it upon himself to schedule everything down to the minute and tell us what to do; he seemed annoyed when I even spoke to the local volunteers in a friendly manner. Maybe he thought I should only socialize in the group I came with.

      Things got decidely ugly after the event though, when I thought I d better do the group thing and “show my face” at the hotel room of the main sculptor and friend of mine. I was shocked as all 20 of them were crowded in a circle in his room late into the night. One guy really had it in for me “You one man play!” he said angrily and drunkenly.

      I d actually been gone only 3 hours or so, and despite my apologies that didnt seem to be good enough for him; most of them looked on me as having betrayed the group for another group or solitary activity, and they wanted to stick together 24/7, just drinking and patting themselves ont he back as they viewed the day’s event on video. And then my girlfriend-soon to be ex girlfriend-joined in “You are so selfish!”
      Only the main sculptor, my friend,remained calm, forgiving and aloof; the rest of them all seemed really angry with me. It may be a factor that he spoke the best English.Or that I was actually staying in his house previously. Maybe some hangers on were jealous, I really do not know.

      And it was at this point, confronted by a room of angry people when I really did not feel I had done anything so bad as to warrant such a violent reaction, that I returned to my own room, sans girlfriend who had chosen her national group over me, and took a taxi to the shinkansen station.

      I had fulfilled my contractual obligation but not my obligation to that angry group, but I had at least made lifelong friends in Okinawa.

      What I learnt was that there were no “bohemians” in the western sense; groupism and sempai/kohai relationships remain strong even among corporate drop outs, sculptors, dancers, and even DJ duos. Interestingly, an older producer in his 60s later said the same thing to me about younger DJs “I am surprised they are still sticking to this sempai/kohai system when I d rather just work with the more talented one of the two”. This echoes the comment above from someone, about the older guys being cooler than the younger ones sometimes. If it is generally true, then I d hate to think Japan is going “backwards” or more “inward”.

      This was in the 90s, but I wonder if it has really changed much at all.

    51. Heymans Says:

      Frenchman here, been living in Tokyo for 3 years. I too have zero japanese friends in the western sense. Aquaintances yes, but no real friends. While it is true that I didn’t go out of my way to make japanese friends (I speak fluent japanese so language wouldn’t be a problem), I am a very social person and I’ve never needed to make an effort to have G friends, and I have some still. As has been said already, the western friendship probably doesn’t exist here…

    52. Becky Says:

      Good grief, from what I’m reading here, I have to wonder why you’d wanna be friends with those dorks anyway!

    53. HO Says:

      What is the meaning of “a friend in Western sense”?

      Does it mean having dinner together, partying together, playing games together, and socializing together?
      Or does it mean a state of mind of respect, attachment, love, and trust?
      Saying that he is an acquaintance but not a fiend is like saying I know him but I do not like him.

      By the way, why do not we see usual buzzword 遠慮 here?

    54. Dr. H Says:

      This is sort of unrelated, but might shed some light on cultural differences. When I was in grad school, we had a new post-doc researcher join our lab from Poland. My PI was German, and had been living in the US for nearly a decade. When the post-doc first came in, he had no car, no contacts, and no idea of how to get an apartment or phone or anything like that. After a few days, I noticed that our PI was not helping him out in the least; in my Southern belle manner I offered to drive him to Best Buy to get a phone and to all the other places he needed to go that were beyond walking distance. He told me that in his extensive experience in Europe, he determined that Germans simply don’t help you. Polish and Belgians and other Europeans will do things like that, but it’s just not a part of German culture to go out of one’s way to help someone. If anyone is German and this is wrong, please correct me, I’m just repeating what I heard. I thought it was sort of expected that the professor who invited the post-doc from overseas had a responsibility to help them get started, but clearly my PI didn’t see it that way.

      On another note, how are Japanese male friendships depicted in the media? Dramas, movies, etc..? Are they indicative of what you guys see in the real world?

    55. mauro Says:

      I did love reading this thread. I can relate to many of the comments.
      I have been here for five years, and besides some female friends from my wife (NJ too), I dont have any male friend +/-15 my age. However, I do have a couple of good friend over 60. Nice people, hard working, down to earth. I got some NJ friends in the same situation.
      About NJ friends… some come, some go, but indeed there is a large pool of people to relate too.

      In fact, I am so sorry for J guys. It is a sad situation if you think about it.

    56. Tasha T. Says:


      This is a weird discussion. From what I see here not sure lack of Japanese male friends reflects unflatteringly on Japanese males.

      That aside–there is surely a lot to be said for the “busy busy busy” aspect of Japanese life. Perhaps those cool guys in 60s or 70s have more time to chill. Of course life experience could be part of the equation as well.

      From life in a relatively small city will also say that male or female, my friends tend to be outsiders from other areas of Japan–as in people born here have such intimate cool friends from kindergarten that we outsiders cannot compete or keep up with that collection of early childhood memories.

      Maybe it also really has a lot to do with age? Men in 30s and 40s do not have the leisure available to my female friends–neither do my professional working women friends. Especially if the have a family.

      Comments about work friends–well…there are colleagues who become friends and vice versa—but generally speaking colleagues are colleagues!?!! Watch your back!!

      Will say that if you want good friends from any country– try going to church.

    57. Shinrin Says:

      Dear D. H

      My experience socializing with Japanese and German males might shed some light on what you described.

      I live in Japan and spent quite a few years in Germany. To keep it simple, once you challenge, intellectually, a German subject, he will become interested in you and its is likely that you will be able to build up friendship. They love this kind of “dialectic” interaction…Try to make a political assessment of German History and the German subject will respect you as a “peer”.
      Make a good “critique” of something “illogical” in German society and you got his utmost respect…In Japan, this kind of “strategy” does not work, because bonding is a very sentimental issue down here. Japanese males get offended with very simple disagreements.

      In my experience, to build up a friendship with a Japanese male involves skills compared to getting a “girlfriend” in Germany.
      The interpretation is open. It could be that German ladies have a stronger “male archetype” or the Japanese males have a stronger “female archetype”.

    58. john k Says:


      “..Saying that he is an acquaintance but not a fiend is like saying I know him but I do not like him…”

      You have just exposed what most NJs know about “friendships” in Japan.

      A freind in Japanese is part of a quid pro quo relationship, the “in” and “out” groups. There is nothing altruistic about friendships in Japan. There is always a rainson d’etre. Once you no longer provide a quid pro quo….you’re out.

      Ergo, for you having an acquaintance doesn’t fit into the “i help you, you help me”…so that person, by your own admission, you don’t like them because they have “no value”.

    59. Mark Hunter Says:

      Ho raises a very good point. What does ‘friend’ mean, anyway? The qualities he lists are all admirable,IMHO. Thanks Ho for touching on something that some people may not want to learn. Also, gotta agree that older J men, free of some of the cultural constraints, can be a real hoot, faithful and helpful.

    60. HSSL-TYO Says:

      I’ve been here for 2 years, and I made a couple of real JP friends over here. We talk music, girls, relationship trouble, crap you get at work, politics, the whole 9 yards. JP people always comment on how ‘open’ I am about everything, and usually they open up to me too. They drop their guard pretty quickly, in my experience.

      Mind you, my best friends for life are people from back in the day in high school. We go way back, and that’s key in friendship I think. I went back ‘home’ last month and after not seeing them for a year, we just picked up where we left off, it was really nice. That kind of friendship will probably never be equaled, anywhere in the world…

    61. Klausi Says:

      Same experience here, after 4 years in Japan, no male Japanese I even socialize with. I believe all the aforementioned reasons contribute, the tendency of Japanese men to make friends in school, them not being all that interesting & only into their work.

      One thing I observed is that I had an easy time making friends with the Japanese folks I met when I was living in the US. Is it that the creative, non-conformist people (my crowd) are the ones to be more likely to emigrate from Japan?

    62. Nevin Says:

      I think you’ll find that once you have kids and a career, it leaves little time for male friendship. However, I do have close male friends in Japan, and I attribute to a) playing sports like handball and badminton and b) getting to know my inlaws.

      Culture is a bit of a challenge. Drinking is obviously a big part of Japanese male culture, as is visiting hostess bars. It’s not something I’m really into, so those sorts of excursions are always awkward, and don’t result in male bonding.

      On the other hand, Facebook has provided some great opportunities to connect with Japanese folks on a deeper level.

    63. Bob Says:

      A few years in Japan, and most of my friends in Japan, including close friends who I can talk with about anything, are Japanese. I find it easy to make friends with people anywhere I have lived, but Japan has been especially good to me. I have had shared work and school with some of them, but others I met randomly at a party and we shared a hobby or just hung out.
      Part of it may be generational, part personality (some people have an easier time making close friends than others), part luck, part location.
      I think it is natural to make friends or sympathize quickly with other foreigners, since we go through many of the same struggles and experiences. Friendship is born from a sense of commonality, I think. I am good at seeking that commonality in others, and I find I have made many enduring real friendships in Japan as a result, some foreign but most Japanese. In fact, a majority of my Japanese friends are male, now that I think of it, at least close friends. I have heard from some foreigners the typical “Japanese men are boring”, “hard to make friends with”, etc. lines, but I think this is not true at all in my experience. I can’t explain why it is hard for many foreigners to make Japanese male friends (or why they don’t try to in some cases), since that is not my experience.

    64. Christiane Says:

      One poster said:

      “we went out to dinner (drinks) and I thought we had a good time. After that they stopped answering my emails. I have no idea why.”

      I think this basically sums up “a lot” of my interactions with Japanese people, both male and female. There is no sense of respecting human feelings in the sense that, if you have no interest in hanging with the person, you at least do the courtesy of letting them down easy or giving some excuse. Nope. Many people in Tokyo just vanish. I come from New York, so I am accustomed to cold, big city behavior and transitory relationships, but Tokyo is colder than anything I’ve experienced. It is absolutely no mystery to me why so many here commit 自殺, I think the Japanese people here are far more lonely than any foreigner will ever be.

      Also think the comment that “it is considered rude or impractical to continue a friendship if there is no specific purpose to it” is very correct my experiences in Japan. To me, friendship for friendships sake is the most true, genuine friendship. But here, that kind of friendship seems to be deemed an inconvenience or strange behavior. The only thing that doesn’t make me feel crazy for still being here after 5 years is reading all these comments from people who have been here 10-20 years who have experienced the same thing but haven’t left.

    65. Tasha T. Says:

      One last thing!? Sure the concept of friendship varies. Childhood friendships here tend to trump all others and last lifetimes. Friendships made between adults tend to be of significantly lower significance and duration.


      MAYBE your International group of friends with which this discussion began and ended are just REALLY GREAT friends–even war buddies, and your relationships with the Japanese men you know just can’t compete.

    66. Blackrat Says:

      There’s nothing much I can add here except to confirm what a lot of people above have already covered. I lived in Japan for 17 years, then returned for a while six years ago and intend on being here a couple more. I have to say that during that time I have seldom had much success making friends with Japanese men. To be brutally honest, I haven’t really made much effort for the past three or four years. My experience since I returned here was of men who just wanted to practice English, or the “pet gaikokujin” thing that earlier posters mentioned. My sole male friend here was in his late 60s when we became acquainted, and he is 93 now, so I echo what others said about older men being more likely to become friends.

      For women, it seems easier since they tend to have larger social circles as in the west. It might be a gender thing. Japanese women are easier to befriend, although it seems hard to meet up on anything like a regular basis. Jack (message # 42) reckoned that 90% of foreigners here are lonely. Most of the ones I know seem to be fairly isolated socially regardless of their Japanese speaking ability. The regular lonliness I experience here is one reason I have decided to return to my homeland as soon as possible. I am married to a Japanese woman but that doesn’t help much as we spend very little time together. She has her business and I have mine, and we are more like roommates these days.

    67. Peter Larson Says:

      I don’t know where this is coming from, unless you guys don’t speak Japanese. I have many male Japanese friends despite the fact that I haven’t lived in Japan for 10 years. NONE of my Japanese friends have anything to do with work. They are as good of friends as any of my non-Japanese friends and always eager to hang out when I’m in Japan. I am bilingual and positive that it makes a difference.

      Our conversations are equally as deep as any conversation I have with my friends in English. To be honest, they are sometimes even deeper. Mostly, I find that gaijin too readily stay within gaijin circles, which is absolutely the worst place to meet Japanese people, unless they are eikaiwa students.

      — Obviously we do speak Japanese. That’s not an issue.

    68. Peter Larson Says:

      I don’t think that you’re predicament is isolated to Japan. Foreigners in every country often complain about social isolation and difficulty in making friends.

    69. Sugar Says:

      I’ve been here since 2005, am a fluent Japanese speaker, and my best friend is an ethnic Japanese guy, and we’ve been best buds for about 4 years now. We like to mack on the chicks, we share some of the same hobbies, have heated debates about economics, investment, racism, etc, we’ve got each others backs. And he can’t speak English beyond ordering a coffee or reserving a hotel room.

      Making real friends in Japan with men or women requires all the same ingredients that are needed in any country.

      – Ability to communicate with each other. Hand signals and just broken bits and pieces definitely hinder a relationship.
      – Being in a similar phase in life, able to share interests, and connect to the person

      If you want to be someones friend, but you realize you cant really communicate with them, or you dont really share interests, or connect with them, you might want to reevaluate how realistic this friendship is.

    70. TS Says:

      Very interesting question and discussion. I’ve found myself wondering the same thing before.

      I also find it interesting that a lot of the posts here have been trying to figure out what’s wrong with Japanese males and their culture that makes friendships difficult. Perhaps it is easiest to point fingers and speculate from the outside. Some have even wondered if Japanese males just don’t have friends, even Japanese ones. We might also be focusing more on the question, What is it about us foreign males that deters friendships? I think a couple of posts have already brought up important conditions that might be factors that go beyond cultural stereotypes, like foreigners not liking to fit into a sempai/kouhai framework and so forth. I imagine we are generally difficult to deal with, albeit with the best of intentions, even people who have been here many years and are adept at communicating. One particular issue also might be that western foreigners seem to have a tendency to voice their criticism of Japanese social norms (explicitly or implicitly) once in a while without understanding the framework they fit in in the way that Japanese men do. Perhaps that’s a deterrence; others have mentioned that complaints in general don’t bode well. Japanese women I think, generally speaking, find the criticism more constructive or at least tolerable, but then again I’m guessing there’s less of an ego issue with women regardless of culture.

      Also, though there has been a lot of insightful speculation, does it strike anyone that there is not a single opinion from a non-naturalized Japanese male here in 69 responses? I’m curious as to what they would say. We have already seen posts from westerners born and raised here that don’t seem to have trouble making male Japanese friends, and actually have trouble making foreign friends. If it’s the case that no Japanese males post here, maybe someone could ask a Japanese and post the gist of their response here.

    71. Blackrat Says:

      In response to TS, the opinion of a Japanese male. My brother-in-law comes to visit his mother for Obon and New Year and that is the limit of his “social life” as he put it. I remember asking him the last time we met (last summer) if he had any friends. His response was that he didn’t have any, didn’t need any since he was too busy working to bother trying. His wife seems to have a very small circle of other young mothers (they are both in their mid-thirties) My wife, who is very sociable and gregarious tried drawing him out of his shell but apart from droning on about his job and reminiscing about his childhood, he had nothing much to talk about. Her other brother is single and aged about 40. He used to have some friends he met to play soccer with. He seems to have a regular social life and a small circle of friends. I suspect that single men in Japan as elsewhere have more friends outside of work or their family.

      Some male students of varying ages I have taught told me they didn’t have enough money to socialise. I pointed out to them that they regularly spent 1,000 yen on lunch and smoked a pack of cigarettes per day. They could easily economise and have enough cash left over for a night out once or twice a month if they chose to. I suppose they aren’t that bothered.

    72. Richard Says:

      I’ve been here 8 years. Have one regular Japanese drinking buddy. He’s alright and you can have a bit of a laugh with him. He’s the only one though, and he lived overseas for years too.

      Mostly, I find talking with Japanese men, even those with the same interests and hobbies, to be a very boring experience. It’s not down to language; they have a few pet phrases topics and beyond that they are lost. I’m not interested at all, and apart from work, have no interactions with them anymore – when I first arrived I was very openminded and tried to be quite receptive. The more I engaged, the less I enjoyed it. Now all my male friends are gaijin (Brits, Yanks, Europeans, Ozzies, etc. – no problems).

      Yep, Japan is a lonely place. Get on the train in Tokyo. It’s just silence. No communication, no interaction or spontaneity. People look at you as a total wierdo if you try to spark up conversation with them – I did this when I first came from London (which is very common). No wonder so many of them have such poor social skills. Unless someone is from a familiar group most people get extremely lost. Boring.

    73. Clare Smith Says:

      I think Peter Larsen has a point.

      It is easy for us to point the finger at Japan being an unfriendly place for foreigners, but have any of you thought about your own experiences with immigrants while living in your home countries?

      The best example I can think of is the guy who cleaned our office. He was from somewhere in South America and only spoke Spanish (for the most part), but he obviously knew basic English. Still, not a single person in the office ever talked to him. Most never even greeted him when they saw him. It was like he wasn’t even there. Sound familiar?

      Of course, I never thought that he shouldn’t have rights or anything, but I didn’t reach out to try to be his friend either. It probably would have been awkward, what with me not knowing any Spanish (even though I had taken it for a few years in JHS) and the other standard excuses: I don’t want to bother him. If he doesn’t understand me it will make him feel self-conscious. etc.

      So it’s not just Japan where foreigners and immigrants have a tough time making friends. But I will say that I get the “World’s Loneliest City” feeling from Tokyo. Dang that place is brutal…

    74. Dr. H Says:


      I disagree. I talk to everyone, and make everyone feel welcome. Sure, in my place of business some folks fall through the cracks, so I go out of my way to talk to them. It helps that I am genuinely interested in other cultures and learning from the wisdom of all people, no matter what their profession is. I would guess that every commenter here is too, or else they wouldn’t go out of their way to try to understand Japanese people and culture.

      True, most people won’t talk to someone like your office janitor, but it only takes one person to reach out and introduce him to the fold. My mother did that with an Indian immigrant at her work. She invited him out to dinner, and *made* all her friends acknowledge him, and he became one of the liveliest and most entertaining of her group. Because she reached out, I got to reap the benefits of learning about Indian culture and I got to eat some of the tastiest home-cooked chapatas and curry. We made some wonderful friends because one person wouldn’t tolerate her co-workers ignoring the “Indian guy.”

      Maybe that’s the lesson for everyone here. Let’s all, as individuals, make it a point to reach out to someone and make a connection. We can’t make the world a more tolerant place alone. But if we each do something small, make one foreign person feel welcome, make one Japanese friend, volunteer at one event, donate our time and energy to cultural clubs, whatever….that can make a difference.

    75. scampi10 Says:

      I am an British female and have been living in japan for 7 years. I have a comment to make from the Japanese male side.

      My boyfriend, who is Japanese, has made many foreign friends, before and since we started dating. His English isn’t fluent, he’s only ever travelled outside of Japan once (a high school trip to Korea) and I am his first foreign girlfriend so I wouldn’t class him as someone out for the “gaijin experience”. Anyway, he has had a few good foreign male friends over the years but some of them haven’t worked out because a) they go home or b) they turn into the dreaded “charisma man”! I have to say not all of course but one particular foreign male friend of his sticks out in my mind. He was very grateful to my boyfriend for helping him out when he first moved to Japan and they both were always saying how, even though there was a language barrier (which got less and less as they both studied each other’s language), they could and would talk about anything and everything. But as time went on and the foreign male friend’s head got bigger and bigger due to Japanese girls flinging themselves at him (he’s tall, really pale and has blonde hair), my boyfriend found it more and more difficult to talk to him normally. The conversation would evolve around his foreign friend’s latest conquest and drunken clubbing nights. The last straw, I think, was when this foreign friend became a host and just lost touch with reality. His Japanese became very kitanai and he was either drunk or hung over when my boyfriend met him. They still talk now a bit but my boyfriend has decide to keep his distance a little.

      Don’t get me wrong, this foreign male friend has every right to have fun and experience a completely different and exciting life out here. However, I just wanted to show that sometimes it’s not the Japanese male’s fault that friendship with a foreigner of the same sex can be difficult.

      Thank you for reading my comment.

    76. richard Says:

      wow, Scampi. the charisma man cliche still exists! But he became a gaijin host, its not really either a typical example nor one that most of us non blonde,non tall or non caucasian gaijins can relate to.

      But here is a riposte. When I first came to Japan I had some Japanese male friends who were very critical of me anytime I spoke to any Japanese female, some of them even put me down or belittled me in front of said female.

      I ll let people draw their own conclusions as to WHY they did that, but lets just say with friends like that, you dont need enemies (unless you want to be a kind of sexless, gaijin kohai of this kind of guy). I thought so too, and distanced myself from them, and went for it and married said female.


    77. lljunglefever Says:

      I think the straight Japanese male may latch on for the foreigner experience like you said, for professional gain more than personal. There aren’t many Japanese men, single or married, in my eyes that truly know themselves or the possibilities of life outside of work and marriage, as they are fast tracked into from the beginning of their education. I feel the Japanese guys that have experiences abroad, in my experience more gay Japanese males than straight Japanese males, prove to yield potentially deeper and long lasting relationships.

    78. Jack Says:

      Great topic.
      One that me and my foreign male friends have often discussed.

      None of us has any male Japanese friends after decades of living here.

      I`m involved in soccer here and have many J associates through several years of that.

      After 2 or 3 years of soccer together, being friendly and jokey, all in Japanese, attending drink parties and living nearby, I often consider them friends.
      Yet, invariably, there`ll come a time when another J person sees them chatting with me, and they`ll get all giggly and start saying dumb things like `English no!`(hands crossed in front) or `Eigo Wakanai, hehehe` and then start talking to the J`ese observers as if I`m invisible….it`s curious.

      And I think many of us would have often experienced the phenomenon of being in the middle of answering a question in J`ese, when the asker is interrupted by another J`ese (in J`ese) – you will no longer exist.
      This seems to indicate that they think talking with a NJ is a bit frivolous, to be immediately cut short if a J`ese wants to talk to them.

      I`ve heard all of Debito`s points mentioned by my NJ friends before.

      And let`s face it, if someone fundamentally believes, (as do a great many J males),
      that this country is superior in every way,
      and he has not travelled much,
      has developed his world-view through Gov`t school/propaganda,
      believes that there really is no radiation problem, that all food is safe, the gov`t will take care of us,
      Japan is richer and smarter than elsewhere,
      doesn`t speak another language,
      believes NJ are lazy, dumb….whatever,

      Then they , or you, are not going to have much of interest to talk about over beers…

    79. flyjin Says:

      @ Jack, its just because gaijin are always kept at the genkan (hallway), and as for the but where you are ignored, to quote the Charisma Man strip- You have become invisible!

      Or maybe just disposable friends, as “Japanese consider it rude to continue a friendship when there is no further benefit to be gained” . Like disposable labour. After all, “you re going to go back to your home country at some point aren’t you!?”

    80. Michael Says:

      I notice most of my japanese acquaintances and friends only befriend me as they see it as an opportunity to have a foreign friend abroad. This gives them the opportunity to travel to a country and meet with that friend. I see no harm in this.

    81. IIII Says:

      Is this forum open to asian NJ’s as well? It seems to me that most of the comments are from the perspective of the western NJ, so perhaps you guys might be interested in the opinions of an asian NJ.

      Anyway, I’m a Malaysian male. Not white obviously, not black either. Not entirely hopeless in 日本語 (I believe I am able to transmit and comprehend rather complex ideas in Japanese, most of the time). 3 1/2 years in Japan. Doing a PhD, will be working here immediately after.

      My opinion – if westerners think they have it bad, it’s even worse for asian NJs. At ‘least’ westerners get to become ‘pet gaikokujin’ or whatever you call it. Not so for non-white, non-black NJs, or at least not to the same extent. To the Japanese, there is nothing ‘cool’, nothing to show off, about having an asian NJ friend. Japanese girls aren’t interested, either. And no, you can’t learn english from non-whites, too, so making friends through that route is out.

      To be fair, I do have one Japanese friend who I can consider to be a ‘real’ friend. But then this guy is a little odd for a Japanese.

      That said, yup, a lot of what has been said may well apply to ALL non Japanese in Japan. Sadly so.

    82. Tania Says:

      Great discussion. My own experience is that after living in Japan for 16 years, I discover that I have very few, if any, real friends, whether male or female. Now I am back in Europe and for seven years now I realize that I have zero friends.I find that in the West the difficulty of making friends and keeping them is the same as in Japan. Actually I find that here, although we cam discuss just about everything, there are no real feelings there, and no long-lasting ties, all remains in the surface. I am now in my fifties so maybe this has something to do with that and also to the fact that I miss Japan very much. In Japan I still have some acquaintances but here I have none, save for the occasional encounters in the church hall.That’s my own experience. My conclusion is that in order to make friends and keep them, you must love them as they are for friendship is a kind of love.I wish you all the best in Japan.

    83. Ken Says:

      Having spent some time in Japan, I feel like I’ve made some good friends with whom I can talk pretty freely with and connect with. I’m Taiwanese American, so at first glance people generally assume that I’m Japanese (until I open my mouth and hold a conversation that lasts longer than three minutes). To be fair though, most of my Japanese friends have been pretty international or aspire to go abroad at some point. While it’s been true that I’ve felt ignored when some of my Japanese friends are approached by another Japanese person and I get somehow pushed out of the conversation, I’ve had good and genuine friendships with people, especially in private. I have however felt increasing pressure to conform to social norms, especially as my Japanese improved. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve had to really deal with the “gaijin game” as much as my Caucasian/Black/Non-Asian friends.

      There is, however, a perception as far as I can tell from speaking with my Japanese friends (and from living in Taiwan) that (visible) foreigners in Asian countries enjoy “special privileges” or “白人の特権”. It’s not a perspective that I necessarily agree with completely, but I think it is certainly true that Western foreigners in particular are treated differently in Japan (and really, all the other East Asian countries, just possibly in slightly different ways. But mostly the same), in some ways more leniently and in others more harshly. Getting into the real “in-group” is particularly difficult. (Whether or not you actually want to, is another question, considering the things that you might have to give up.)

      On the other hand, though, despite speaking fluent English and holding a U.S passport, I feel like I’ve had similar experiences in the United States – there have been a number of times when I’ve been treated as an absolute foreigner (by Caucasian men, in particular), and personal differences explained away by way of “Asian culture” differences. On a number of occasions I’ve had traits and mannerisms that have been attributed to me simply because of the way I look (with stupid chopstick and small, slitt-y eye and stereotypical Asian “nerd” comments) And this is in a country that has had quite literally hundreds of times more experience with immigrants and foreigners than Japan has.

      The way I look at it, as an aggregate whole, most societies really aren’t that different in the way many of their members deal with perceived outsiders. It just depends on degree of exposure and individual differences.

      Lastly, on another note coming back to the original topic, I think the lack of middle-aged Japanese male friends really is in large part due to the fact that many middle-aged Japanese (and East Asian in general) men really don’t have that many good friends that they’ve made past their college/grad school years. Also, personally, I think a lot of middle-aged Asian men in general are pretty emotionally scarred on a number of levels because of their upbringing and are simply bad at communication.

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