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Hi Blog. To commemorate today, Debito.org’s 2000th blog post since 2006 (yes, it’s been almost five years since Debito.org 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 Debito.org 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
85 comments on “Post #2000! Special Discussion: Making “friends” in Japan, successfully?”
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…
Good grief, from what I’m reading here, I have to wonder why you’d wanna be friends with those dorks anyway!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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”.
“..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”.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
@ 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!?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
More than 7 years on, and having since left Japan, I have been able to keep in touch with just two or three people in Japan out of 1000 phone contacts, and one of them is because I owe him money.
I think you have to be in Japan to interact with most people in Japan, otherwise they think whats the point of a long distance “friendship”?
I don’t count liking posts on Facebook as “contact”.