Dating in general is already difficult, so imagine looking for a partner in a country where much of the population rarely discusses your sexual orientation. Here, locals share what works for them.
Back when I taught English in Japan, I once led a discussion on coming out. No, this wasn’t some sneaky initiative to promote the gay agenda—the topic was actually in the book! As I went around the room eliciting stories, every single one of my eight fully-grown adult students admitted they’d never met a queer person. Ever! Of course, what they really meant was they’d never met someone who was out.
In Japan, it isn’t a crime to be homosexual, but it’s not exactly accepted either. From my experience, the general narrative accepted by mainstream society is that LGBT+ individuals simply do not exist. Hate crimes and public displays of discrimination are rare, but this may be because queerness is rarely flaunted and violent crimes often go unreported.
Though a significant portion of the populationallegedly falls on the LGBT+ spectrum, many queer people are closeted, which makes meeting them a challenge. Traditional ways of finding a partnermight not work for someone whose identity or orientation is a secret. I dabbled but had little luck—as a lazy bisexual, I mainly stuck to dating men and being a cis femme (someone who was born female, identifies as female, and dresses like a stereotypical female) so people always assumed I was straight anyway.
In order to get a better look into Japan’s queer dating scene, I enlisted the help of more experienced expats who identified as female. The result: insight into life as an LGBT+ living in Japan. As outsiders, expats simultaneously have an easier time coming out (in general, we aren’t held to the same standards as native Japanese) and a more difficult one (we may not fully comprehend local norms and social cues).
LGBT+ and Japan’s society
Japan is already a safe place for queers and is steadily improving its stance on gay rights. Queerness is also getting more representation in the media—a Terrace Housecast member came out on national television, a Japanese lesbian couple who traveled the world spreading awareness about LGBT+ issues received international coverage, and Buzzfeed Japan now hosts a heartwarming and intimate new seriesinterviewing queer folks.
So, how does one actually find a partner? The starting point for many is mingling at gay bars and clubs. These tend to work like those in other countries, but some may operate differently than what you’re used to.
Socorro said she found it “extremely bizarre” how a little bar she stumbled upon in Hokkaido in northern Japan operated. The Sapporo spot had just a few seats and the bartender interacted with all the patrons at once and made them become friends. “I went alone,” she said. “I was pretty scared and I actually went a couple of times and couldn’t get past the door because of my nervousness.” Eventually, she found the courage to enter and ended up making friends with whom she still keeps in touch with; one of them even introduced her to her current girlfriend.
Turning to dating apps
The scene at bars and clubs may not suit everyone, of course. Soccoro said, “I don’t believe I portray my best self when I am at a bar. And I think that is true for a large number of people.”
Sadie recommends dating appslike Tinder (where she met her ex) and HER (where she met her current partner). Though she adds, “Most queer people I’ve met through dating apps have been in Tokyo.”
She cautions to watch out for those on dating apps for a different purpose. “The most annoying thing…is the number of Japanese women who just want someone to practice English with or they just want foreign friends that will look cool on Instagram,” Sadie said.
“[…] acknowledge the fact that you’re in a different place than what you’re used to, so it’s not helpful to compare dating scenes.”
Ciera agreed. “Most women on [Tinder] were looking for an English teacher or don’t have any pictures of their face.” However, she found a way around this.
“I live in a place much smaller than Tokyo, so… I decided to upgrade to Tinder Plus. I was able to cast a wider net and swipe on people who actually identify as queer,” she said.
Meeting people IRL—the old fashioned way
There’s always the tried and true method of taking a chance with people you meet while going about daily life.
“I met my current partner at a small Japanese company while I was there as an intern,” Kay admitted. “I actually wasn’t sure about her orientation, but thought I’d ‘confess’ anyway ’cause I really liked her. Turns out she’s lesbian and now we’re happily together!”
She added that it helps to join LGBT+ communities online, like Stonewall Japan on Facebook or groups on Meetup, to find like-minded people.
Ciera advises foreigners not to give up when things seem rough, but also to “acknowledge the fact that you’re in a different place than what you’re used to, so it’s not helpful to compare dating scenes.”
Though challenges persist, it seems like as awareness spreads things are only going to get better for the LGBT+ community in Japan.