Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dating in Japan: Lessons in Communication

Try as you might, in any relationship there will be instances of miscommunication. However, when the two (or however many) people involved are native speakers of two different languages, brought up in very different cultures, with different ideas about context, the possibilities for missing the mark grow exponentially.

I went over to Nagano with Matcha-kun to spend New Years with his family. Things started out a bit off, as I ended up getting to my station early, and let Matcha-kun know that I would go on ahead. In my message I did not include where we would meet, since I assumed that we would do so at the place we had discussed previously. 20 minutes later a flustered Matcha-kun showed up at the norikae station, having rushed over, looking rather annoyed.

Lesson 1: Although Japan is a high context society, it is best to spell things out clearly, just to avoid confusion.

We got to Nagano safely, and headed over to his grandmother's house for dinner. Having met most of his family previously the ackwardness was kept to a minimum, and I finally got to meet his younger brother as well. We chatted and munched on awesome food (including the family recipe, tomato spaghetti springrolls), generally having a great time. His mother drove me back to the hotel, and I asked if I could bring anything for dinner on the 31st.

Next day, over lunch at the beautiful Fujiya Gohonjin, Matcha-kun informed me that since his father had to work on the 31st there would be no get-together that evening. A combination of stress, embarassment, shock at not being told beforehand and trepidation at being alone for NYE, led to me bursting into tears in the middle of the Fujiya's lovely dining room. A bit of an overreaction, especially since we ended up having a nice evening, but nonetheless...

Lesson 2: Make sure plans are properly discussed beforehand, with clarifications if it seems that either party is a bit confused.

Fortunately, Lesson 3 was more successful: Sometimes you have to bite your tongue to maintain harmony.

While I am usually opinionated, especially when I hear ignorant comments, there is a time and a place for everything. It is not polite for me to reel away from baby pictures (yup, I am even uninterested in the baby pics of my beloved), tell people to let up about family members' weight or go into great detail about why I don't eat meat. This lesson also includes more daily interactions, picking your battles and being supportive, even when sometimes you are not terribly interested in your significant other's hobbies.

I guess none of these points are exclusive to Japan, but the trip to Nagano was a good reminder to not get complacent!


  1. Hey, here's some tips for improving your communication. I hope they help.

    Nice blog by the way, I hope to visit Japan sometime soon!


  2. Good tips! Communication is so different here, even with friends it can be tough. Having people make comments about weight makes me so angry, especially when the person in question is perfectly healthy! But, yes, we must pick our battles and accept the differences we might not want to embrace!

    1. So true about the weight thing, it drives me nuts!

  3. So let me get this straight...

    1. You arrived early to Station A that goes to Nagano and said to Matcha-san, "I have arrived at Station A, I'll be going to Nagano now." And Matcha-san turns up at Station A instead of Nagano.

    Oh and the baby pictures... ugh. It IS really difficult to pick your battles. I hear some Japanese people are always commenting on someone's weight, whether they've lost or gained.

    1. Heya,

      No, nothing so drastic. I told him I was leaving from my home station, with the implication that I would meet him at Tokyo station. He rushed to Yokohama station (the switch-over station), and was a bit cross (although his crossness is not exactly scary)