5 Tips for Making Japanese Friends | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
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5 Tips for Making Japanese Friends

By Guidable Writers May 27, 2021

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified) Japanese Chinese (Traditional)

Humans are social animals. We all need friends in varying degrees. Some have a very small network of trusted friends, while others make friends everywhere. Though Japan has a very distinct culture, I have found Japanese friends to be like people from any other place on earth. They have emotions, and they like meeting new people, having relationships, and having a good time.

Want to Know Tips on How to Make Japanese Friends?

You can walk up to a person and strike up a conversation. While this strategy could work fine, understanding some cultural differences could go a long way in making solid friendships. Although each individual is different with different preferences, the following are a few common traits of Japanese people that could help outsiders understand their culture better (from my point of view and personal experiences):

The Language

Language is always a barrier for a newcomer when it comes to making local friends. Most Japanese people are not very good at speaking English (or other foreign languages). This is one of the major reasons why many Japanese refrain from interacting with foreigners even though, otherwise, they would like to. If you are conversing with a Japanese person, always use simple, short sentences. Also, be patient while listening to their English. This often provides confidence that you really care to listen and know their opinion. I found this practice very useful. Of course, if you come across a Japanese person who speaks good English or if you are proficient in the Japanese language, then you need not worry about the language barrier.

japanese friends

Why So Shy?

Japanese people, in general, are formal and conservative when compared to other parts of the world. They seem to worry about saying the wrong word and offending a foreign person. I found that Japanese people are very shy, even when they speak to each other, but more so when they speak to foreign residents.

A useful tip to engage with a shy Japanese person in a conversation is to ask for some help. They often like to extend help to foreign residents. Ask the meaning of a Japanese word you would like to know or ask about what weather we can expect next month or about the famous festivals coming up or the nearest post office. It will act as a good conversation icebreaker.

japanese friends

No Sarcasm, Please

If you are like me and rely on sarcasm for your humor, then the Japanese won’t find you amusing. Many Japanese people simply do not get sarcasm. I believe the reason for this is the way Japanese society is structured. Japanese avoid sarcasm or any confrontational conversation in their day-to-day lives. Even family members call each other respectfully, and not many pranks or silly things are going on. So, make sure to reduce your sarcasm in the initial interaction phase with a Japanese person. Allow them some time to gauge the difference between when you actually mean something and when you don’t. It took my Japanese partner about a year to understand my sarcastic remarks

japanese friends, sarcasm, cultural differences

Credit: Quickmeme

Avoid Contentious Topics

As much as you would like to know the Japanese view on some of the controversial topics in Japan, it is better to reserve them for a later stage when you have established trust in your friendship. The Japanese generally avoid confrontation on many issues as they feel arguing against somebody’s thoughts is disrespectful. Furthermore, any slight reference to something bad in Japan makes many think you dislike Japan. Each country has its shortcomings and also great things. If you come from a culture that encourages speaking your mind about shortcomings, you are bound to offend people in that country. But, Japanese usually don’t express their feeling of being offended directly to you. So, be careful when discussing such topics if you have just met a Japanese person. Some of my Japanese friends have formed the opinion that I hate Japan because I have complained about some things I don’t like in Japan. Eventually, many of them realized that I liked it a lot but had complaints about only a few things. Once, they become friends with the gaijin (foreigner) they are more open to criticism and debate.

Be Prepared for Politeness

One would be amazed at how polite a Japanese person usually is, but there is a downside to such politeness. I was often dumbfounded when some Japanese people I know repeatedly expressed interest in doing something together but never actually happened to do it. Apparently, Japanese people think saying no to a plan will offend someone. Instead of saying no directly, they will make up an excuse. If this happens more than once, wait for the person to take the initiative next time. Japanese people often understand this polite way of declining a plan well. For someone from overseas, it could be misleading. Hence, the next time you encounter this behaviour, ask the person politely about it and move on.

Making Japanese Friends – and Friends Around the World

Although the points covered above could also be common to other cultures, they were listed based on my personal experience living in Japan. Wish you all happy friendships in Japan and around the world!