True story. He really didn’t talk to me, not even one bit, the first time we met. I remember, because every other people in the room came to ask me questions about me being a Canadian traveling in rural Japan, except for him, the most handsome guy in the place (of course!).
[For those of you who missed it, check out the guest post I wrote on Texan in Tokyo’s blog about how Hitomi and I met!]
At first, I thought it was because he was not interested in me at all, but he told me later that he wanted to talk to me, but was not confident in his English skills and was a bit intimidated. I didn’t speak much Japanese at that time, so it’s understanding that he had this reaction. To be honest, I was intimidated, too.
I come from a country where it’s usually the men who “make the first move” (although sometimes it’s the women who make it). So, if Hitomi wouldn’t have gave me a gift and talk to me the second time we met, if he hadn’t ask for my Facebook, if he hadn’t flirt with me, I don’t know what would have happened. As weird as it sounds, the fact that he clearly told me he was interested in me made me even more interested in him. I like when a man goes for what he wants, so it was very flattering to me.
But doing some research for my blog posts (I always do a bit of research before posting), I stubbled upon many forums or websites where people — usually foreign women — were complaining that Japanese men never approached them in Japan. Some of them even said that they felt like they were scaring them off.
I think the reason why is because it’s hard to approach/get approached by men in Japan if you are not introduced to them by a mutual friend. Japan, being 99% composed of Japanese people, is not used to seeing foreigners, and is also not used to speak English that much. Moreover, there is a strong feeling of shame regarding to making mistakes or being bothersome to others. Rejection is hard for anyone, but I believe that in Japan, it’s even worse. Being introduced by a mutual friend, or going to a goukon (which is like a “group date”) makes it a lot easier.
Of course, this is a generalization; there are Japanese men who are very obvious (sometimes a bit too much, actually) and who flirt a lot.
But still, even between a Japanese woman and a Japanese man — especially in their twenties or younger –, it’s sometimes hard to start a love relationship without feeling awkward. Japan tends to divide the genders a lot, so it’s rare to see a man and a woman being just friends and hanging out. In any group or class, the women are usually on one side of the room and the men on the other. It’s just how it works.
So imagine if above all that, you are a foreigner, and you don’t speak any Japanese. Not to mention the stereotypes some people in Japan can have against foreigners, sometimes way overrated or sometimes very creepy (for example: foreign women are crazy about sex). Of course, flirting gets a bit difficult. Hence the fact that they might not come talking to you at all.
Is this reaction by Japanese men like shyness? I don’t think so. In my opinion, it’s mostly cultural.
If he’s not looking much into your eyes when you’re talking with him, it’s because in Japan, it’s awkward to stare for too long in the eyes of the person you’re talking to. There were times where I was asked to “Stop looking at me like this!” by Japanese men, only because I was looking in their eyes for a prolonged period of time (without even noticing it). In my culture, talking while looking the person in the eyes is polite and shows interest; in Japan, it makes some people uncomfortable.
This is not shyness, it’s cultural manners. Japanese men are just like any other men; if they’re really interested in you, and if you’ve been talking a bit, you’ll soon notice that the infamous “shyness” will quickly disappear. Of course, it also depends of the personality of that person.
If you are a woman looking for love in Japan and reading this, my advice is to just go on and try to approach them. Talk to them a little, make them feel comfortable (extra points if you can speak Japanese), don’t be pushy, and if they are interested in you, it will be fine.