When dating in Japan, especially early in the relationship, avoid drawing attention to yourself in public.
When dating in Japan, especially early in the relationship, avoid drawing attention to yourself in public.

In general, avoid drawing attention to yourself or your date (no PDA’s). Be polite, follow the “ladies first” rule and brush up on your basic Japanese table manners before going out. Remember, proper dating etiquette is going to depend a lot on the age, gender and cultural awareness of your date.

Avoid Making a Spectacle

Avoid doing anything that draws public attention to your date: Japanese culture emphasizes modesty and blending in. If, for example, you meet a man or woman you are interested in and want to ask them for their phone number or to go on a date, do so in private. Drawing public attention to the object of your affection will result in acute embarrassment. Steer clear of public displays of affection, especially on the first date.

Common Types of First Dates

Choose the standard dinner-and-a-movie date, and you won’t go wrong. The long-term sluggishness of Japan’s economy has made cheap dates, emphasizing fun and togetherness over glamor and extravagance, quite common, even popular. A picnic in the park is considered quite romantic, especially in spring. Also, consider a round of karaoke. Beyond displaying your vocal talent (or lack of), the willingness to stand center-stage (in a private karaoke box) and possibly make a fool of yourself proves you are not too proud, a trait respected in Japanese society.

Changing Expectations

Be aware, though, that your date’s expectations may depend on their age. If your date grew up in the 1980s or early '90s in Japan, be aware that they grew up in a time when there was a lot of money floating around Japan. They may expect more expensive locations, entertainment, and gifts. In the '80s, Japanese women came to expect luxurious presents as part of a date; the absence of such a gift signaled an absence of love. Times have changed, of course, and younger women don’t usually share the same pricey expectations as their older counterparts.

For the Non-Japanese Person

Determining the proper dating etiquette in Japan is further complicated by the fact that you are not Japanese. Your date may or may not expect you to behave in a “Western fashion,” and be disappointed or confused if you do not. Likewise, they may try to act in a “Western fashion,” believing this will make you happy. There is no easy way to negotiate the treacherous maze of cultural baggage. It may sound trite, but just being yourself will prove a lot less complicated in the end. That said, here are a few simple rules to follow in any situation.

Who Pays?

Ignore the standard Japanese etiquette that all people pay equally when dining together; on a date, the man pays unless the woman indicates otherwise. If she insists twice, stop arguing.

Ladies First

Hold the door open for a woman and let her go first. Also, pull out her chair or offer her your seat. Though the western practice of “ladies first” is not common in Japan, Japanese women have heard of it and appreciate it when it is applied to them.

Basic Table Manners

Follow this basic Japanese etiquette at the table: say “itadakimasu” before you start eating and “gotchisosama deshita” when finished. Japan Guide advises: “When eating from shared dishes, move some food from the shared plates onto your own with the opposite end of your chopsticks or with serving chopsticks that may be provided for that purpose” If you and your date are drinking alcohol, remember that in Japan it is good manners to pour your partner’s drink and allow them to pour yours.