Features - February 3rd, 2006

Exactly how many Japanese female friends do you have?

by Michiko Asama

As a foreign woman living in Japan, do you have any Japanese female friends? It seems that many foreign women here would like to have many Japanese female friends despite having only a few or none at all. What is behind the phenomenon of living in Japan without having close Japanese friends?

On the Being A Broad (BAB) discussion board (, there was a hot discussion on this very issue. It seems that many ‘expats’ would like to have a close Japanese friend, but found it dif­ficult to meet one. The other problem was that once an acquaintance was made, some women were suspicious that their new Japanese ‘friend’ was more interested in practicing English than be­ing friends.

After talking with both foreigners and Japanese,
I realized that most are interested in friendships
but each group has the same two problems:
meeting and communicating.

On the fiipside, i asked several  Japanese women ranging in relationship,  age, and career status if they had any foreign girlfriends. Similar to the foreign womens’ response, most of them said they didn’t, but expressed a desire to have one or more foreign female friends. The most favored reason for not having any foreign girlfriends was that it was hard to make the initial meeting. The second reason was that once they made a foreign friend, it was too diffi­cult to communicate. Naoko, a Tokyo businesswoman, says it’s more difficult to have foreign girlfriends than boyfriends, because girls want to constantly chat and without a common language, it’s difficult.

After talking with both foreigners and Japanese, I realized that most are interested in cross-cultural friendships but each group has the same two problems: meeting and communicating.

When moving to a new place, we’re so eager to make friends that we’re willing to socialize with any­one that is nice to us. However, for a longer lasting friendship, it is important to meet people with similar interests and passions. Akiko, a Japanese female surf­er, said it’s more important to find common ground like hobbies, opinions and experiences so the friend­ship can develop despite the language barrier. There are many ways to meet people with similar interests. Some foreign women said they took classes (art, cul­ture, cooking) to meet Japanese friends and volunteer­ing was another popular activity. Classes conducted in English can be found through your local ward office, and the Japanese attending or running these classes are both proficient in English and usually very interested in other cultures. A few of the Japanese women said they met their foreign friends at church and there are even websites specifically aimed at finding Japanese friends and e-pals.

However, don’t be too selective or judgmental when initially meeting potential Japanese friends. You might be surprised by the friendships you make with unexpected people. Katie, a teacher and a BAB discussion board member shared an experience she had with two of her students. “[They had] platform shoes, blond hair, ruffles and tans. I assumed they were bimbos, but… [they] turned out to be the top students in the class. They both wrote incredible graduation theses on very difficult topics… I may not have liked their fashion sense, but it didn’t really have much to do with who they were.”

Once you find a Japanese friend, work at the relationship. Any friendship a lot of work but with a foreign/Japanese relationship, you have to be willing to invest extra effort. Sarah from the BAB discussion board says it best: “Perhaps my ‘foreignness’ was an initial attraction for these friends, but [they] have commented on attempts to keep in touch with them as other attractions.” Even if a Japanese woman initially approaches you for other reasons, like practicing her English for example, she may still turn out to be a great friend, so give it a chance.

It’s important to understand the cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings. Sarah also says, “One of the problems I have encountered with Japanese friends are [sic] the family obligations that many of them have. My best Japanese friend must ask her live-in mother-in-law for permission before I can go to her house to visit. Some of what you may perceive as ‘aloofness’ and lack of commitment on the part of Japanese friends may be due to those types of commitments, which we know nothing about.”

Making friends anywhere can be difficult so give it time before giving up in frustration. Try different ways to meet Japanese friends and be open to all types of people. Be willing to work at the relationship and understand where that person is coming from. One of the greatest things gained out of your experience in Japan could be a Japanese friend. A 6,000 member online and in person foreign womens’ support organization. Another website aimed at meet­ing Japanese friends online.