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Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004

THE ZEIT GIST

When it happens, it happens

Community Page readers share their tales and thoughts of dating Japanese men

A whirlwind romance

Shortly before I was to return to Australia, I went to a Christmas party in the small town where I was studying Japanese.

One of the foreign English teachers brought some of her students to the party, including one really good-looking guy, who was around 30. By the end of the night he was acting a bit silly -- you know how Japanese men show off -- but we somehow managed to exchange numbers.

He called me two days later and, after a long period of chatting arranged to go out.

On the first date, we went for Indian, by the second date I knew I was in love, and on the third date, he proposed. Both of us were due to leave Japan within a month or so, so we only had a few weeks together. We spent a year apart, met again and married.

That was 13 years and three children ago -- we are still together. If someone had told me that I would fall in love and decide to marry in 10 days, I wouldn't have believed it. But when it happens, it happens.

Straight talking

One of the biggest challenges about dating a Japanese man is the language barrier. Unless one of you is bilingual it can be a strain or stop a relationship from developing beyond a certain point.

However, it also means that when you have a problem there is very little beating around the bush, as your respective vocabularies don't allow for the issue-skirting that a couple who share a common language can indulge in.

You have to cut to the chase, and can enjoy refreshingly direct communication -- which, contrary to popular belief, Japanese guys are actually very good at. However, you must show them that this achieves honesty and openness, as opposed to aggro, which will nuke the all-important "wa."

Don't underestimate the power of this short little syllable, or forget that most guys, of any nationality, just want a quiet life anyway. Their brains just aren't built to unravel complex issues through discussion like ours are.

The playboy

About a week before I was to leave Japan for good I went out for dinner with some friends. Also at the restaurant was my ex-boyfriend's boss, wealthy and well-known in the community, who sent over a bottle of wine and later paid a visit to our table.

Asking about my ex, who had since returned to the States, he said: "Oh, so you're a free woman now?" I replied in the affirmative, accepted his meishi and agreed to call him.

The next day I called and he asked me out. The first night he took me to karaoke with some of his clients. At two or three in the morning, he dropped me home and asked if he could see me again. I said yes, and for the next three nights we met.

Because he had been so direct at first, I found it strange that he never made a move on me. He didn't touch or even flirt with me.

On the night before I was to leave, he again took me out, this time to a private bar. After drinks we got in his car and he started driving around aimlessly. Eventually he parked at the sea and asked if he could kiss me. So we kissed for awhile, and then he started driving again.

As we drove past a love hotel, he said: "This is a love hotel. Do you want to go inside?" We did, and it was great.

Straight after we were done, he jumped out of bed and said, "Not bad for a 40-year-old, huh?" Then he took me straight home, kissed me again and wished me a good life.

Western men suck

It's a good thing that some women like their men "big, sweaty and ugly," otherwise who would marry rugby prop-forwards? But I'm sure the rest of us would agree that Japanese men have a good deal going for them.

I can't believe that they really don't know this; after all, western women moan often and publicly enough about the things they don't like about men in general . . . they don't care about their clothes or hair, they have no manners, they talk only about football or cars, they don't wash often enough, their feet stink and they carry their beer bellies like a badge of honor.

Does that sound like a Japanese man to you? It doesn't to me -- apart from maybe the football (or baseball) and the cars.

Odd man out

A friend of mine, who was studying Japanese in an American college, traveled here to immerse herself in the culture.

She got a job at a Japanese company, where she met her future husband. At first, she felt that he was OK as an office pal, but wasn't at all attracted to him -- and she said so. So when she told him she would like to meet Japanese men, he offered to set her up with several of his friends.

However, she never had more than one or two meetings with his friends, because each of them was "the date from hell." She would report back to her office pal that she didn't want to go out with this or that guy any more, and he would always say, "So he's not your type? Well, I think I know just the guy . . ."

She was always gullible enough to try the next guy, but each date was worse than the one before. Finally her office pal began to look pretty good compared with these characters, so she agreed to go on one date with him.

But one date, and thing, led to another, and they wound up getting married. She became re-acquainted with his friends after they were married, and they all turned out to be pretty nice guys -- much nicer, she thought, than her husband. It was only later she found out that her husband had instructed his friends to be obnoxious on the dates so that my friend would eventually decide that her office pal maybe wasn't as bad as she thought.

Plane-clothes

On a particularly boozy night out prior to returning to Australia for a vacation, me and my friend ended up drinking in some underground bar in Shinjuku. In the bar, I met (though I don't remember how) a Japanese guy called Yoshi. We hung out until dawn and then he offered to drive me to Narita as he was living in Chiba.

At the airport I did feel sad saying goodbye, but just assumed that I wouldn't be seeing him again.

Arriving back in Narita after a great vacation, I felt dazed and forlorn at the thought of returning to work the following morning.

As I stumbled around the arrivals terminal trying to figure out which train to catch, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Yoshi, who'd staked out all the flights arriving from Sydney on the day he knew I was returning, wanting to know if I'd like a lift home.

Two years later and going strong, I always say that if Yoshi were to give up his day job, he'd make one fine detective.

Taking it slowly

About a year ago I met a Japanese man while I was on holiday, and discovered that we didn't live far from each other in Japan. After about 10 minutes of chatting, he asked me to dinner.

I thought I expressed interest in his offer, and yet, after a few more minutes, he had not asked for my number, nor e-mail. He then repeated the invitation. I then accepted again. Still, no information exchanged. More chatting.

Then the third invitation. And the third yes. Finally, I suggested I take his number, which I did, and he reminded me to call him a few times before we parted company. I did and we began dating.

However, he works a lot, and over the year we have seen each other, on average, once a month. These meetings are usually for the better part of a day, not just dinner, though. We exchange keitai e-mails around five times a week, so I do feel that we are very much in touch. He only calls on rare occasions, if I've been sick, for example, or before I take a trip. Of course, a very slow-paced romance or relationship can be a concern.

My Japanese friends have assured me, though, that he is interested, but feels the need to build a stable career for himself before turning his attention to me. I've also been told that this is a trend in Japanese men in their 30s.

Recently we went out with my friends for the first time. They were relentless, eventually just asking: "You're boyfriend-girlfriend, right?" He said that we hadn't gotten to that point, and that he was a very prudent person who thinks very much before acting.

As I apologized later for my friends' bluntness, he told me not to worry about it, and there was no break in our e-mail exchanges.

This tells me that he wasn't scared off by the questioning.

I do still wonder what he is thinking, but take comfort in the fact that when asked about our relationship, he didn't just say: "Oh, no, we're just friends."



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