Finding Love in Tokyo: One Western Woman’s Trials, Tribulations and Tips

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In 2019 Emma Watson defined being single as being “self-partnered.” Watson is a London-based actress (and women’s rights activist) and all the sticks the Harry Potter star has ever handled work magic. I am a Tokyo-based single expatriate woman and the only stick I get to handle is from my landlord for being late with the rent. I am most definitely self-partnered.

I should qualify – I am no stranger to single life. Before turning 18 it was my mother’s regulation (recreationally violated); after 18 it was a choice. There was always a healthy proportion of attention from men. Some experiences would nowadays make the cut for the #metoo hashtag, some would be the topic for #girlsnightout, some are just not worth mentioning. But it was nice to have a choice. Things changed when I moved to Tokyo.

Here, if a man looks at me in an interested way, chances are he is a hiring scout from a hostess club. If I accidentally bump into a man on Shibuya Scramble Crossing and my belongings fall down, in the best case he will say, “Sorry.” In the regular case he will continue walking, shooting his next Instagram story. The chances of finding an eligible man in Tokyo are equal to those of getting a free seat on the Yamanote line.

Admittedly, I tend to date Western men, even though I’m in Japan. Problem is, looking for a Western man to date in Tokyo is like going to a steakhouse to order a salad.

In addition, as a Western woman, the main cards I can play are pasta boiling skills, winning an Oscar for the occasional weekend drama and being open to exploring the world together. I am competing against Japanese women who should most definitely win Oscars for their ability to remain zen and picture perfect in all circumstances.

The Sorrow of Dating Apps

So I turn to dating apps. These coded matchmakers of modernity are always there for us – to give hope when we are alone and vulnerable, and take it away in the middle of the first date.

Tinder taught me, in Tokyo, never to trust a guy who has “networking” as a purpose of his presence on the app. Every time I meet this type for a coffee, I have deja vu. An English teacher experiencing a mid-life crisis. A loveless marriage and two kids.

Of course, this is not the only type on Tinder. There are always people traveling for business and tourism. But they are just like discounts at supermarkets – convenient but rarely long-term.

Tokyo is Singles-Friendly

On the plus side, Tokyo is an accommodating city for singles. Friends from the remote West sometimes complain about that disturbing feeling of empty space they would like to fill in with a soulmate. As I listen to them, my legs are rested on the commode since my sofa can only fit half of my body. I try to pay attention, but all I can think of is how uncomfortable it would be if I shared my 17 square meters of habitat with a soulmate. My friends complain they don’t cook because they see no purpose in cooking just for themselves. I look at my 30cm-wide cooking surface and thank God there is no-one to cook for. Then I tuck into my 10cm-diameter pizza and thank God there is no-one to share it with.

How to Find That Love Match

Living in one of the biggest megalopolises of the planet doesn’t make it easier. But there are ways. If you are a single woman in Tokyo looking for a man and all your Roppongi missions result in lonely rides back home on first trains and heavy hangovers, my first piece of advice is forget Roppongi.

Ban yourself from that place and send your enemies instead. Rather, pick smart ways to chill. English comedy shows, live music events, improv nights. Chances are you meet someone in the audience and you won’t even need an ice-breaker. And if you don’t meet anyone, at least you had fun.

Mix business with fun. Tokyo is a gigantic hub of international fairs, business conferences and networking events. Participate. You never know which business card may change your life. Professionally or otherwise.

Most importantly, stop chasing love. For the more you chase it, the further it runs from you. There is nothing desperate about being single.

In the worst case, you can always cryopreserve your oocytes and genetically edit your baby with CRISPR when the time comes.


[Note] This is an edited version of the original article.

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