Whether you’re dating someone from Japan and you want to recreate a little of his home life to impress him or you’re living in Japan and about to hit the dating scene, it helps to be familiar with what’s considered romantic in Japanese culture as well as what’s expected of a couple dating. Even if you’re simply curious about Japanese culture, read up on some of the most fun dating traditions from Japan. While every couple is different, these traditions are widespread in Japan and appear in advertisements and pop culture throughout the year.
Boat Rides for Two
As an island nation, Japan has many rivers, even in metropolitan areas like Tokyo. A popular romantic pastime is to rent a boat for two and paddle (usually foot-paddle) the boat together down the river as you gaze at the trees and flowers planted alongside the banks. Often, these boats are in the shape of large swans, so the people watching you paddle by know you’re an item.
Japan also celebrates Valentine’s Day on February 14th, but its traditions are different than what you’d find throughout the rest of the world. The gift-giving is focused exclusively on chocolate – and on women and girls giving the chocolates to men and boys. Women are expected to give at least small chocolates to every man or boy in their social circle, even classmates and colleagues. These are called giri or “obligation” chocolates and might be very small and cheap. However, many women also use the romance of the day to confess their feelings to their crushes. By crafting “homemade” chocolate (essentially baking chocolate melted down and remolded and decorated), they offer this one honmei or “true love” chocolate to the man of their choice – and then expect to wait a month for a reply. (Not all couples wait that long, of course.)
If the Valentine’s Day situation seems unfair for women, Japan has its own partnered holiday a month later on March 14th called “White Day.” On this day, every man and boy who received a chocolate on Valentine’s Day that year (ostensibly all of them, if they at least received obligation chocolates) is expected to give a white-colored dessert item such as white chocolate, cookies, or cupcakes, of about equal value to the chocolate he received. Some men also buy white-colored jewelry or clothing instead for their wives or girlfriends. If a man received a “true love” chocolate from a woman who was confessing her crush, he’s expected to provide her with a gift revealing his own feelings – a small, drab gift if he’s rejecting her, and something more lavish if he wants to date her.
While Christmas is largely an occasion for families in the West, Japan celebrates the occasion secularly on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day – and considers it more of a romantic holiday than a family one. People in relationships are expected to go on dates that evening after work (as there are no days off for Christmas in Japan, where the percentage of Christians is very small) and eat at a fancy restaurant. Women often knit homemade scarves to give to their sweethearts. If you’re single, you might get together with other single friends and enjoy a dinner of fried chicken and a special Christmas cake while you mingle.
While many modern Japanese youth are ignoring social pressure and staying single longer, there’s still an expectation that men should marry no later than their late twenties and women should be married by their mid-twenties. Because of this, omiai, or “marriage meetings,” are popular ways to meet prospective partners. Parents, friends of the family, or a professional matchmaker arrange dates between singles based on projected compatibility. People participating draft résumés and have their picture professionally taken so those arranging the meetings can get a better idea of who they are. The prospective couple meets for a formal Japanese dinner, often with parents in tow, and decide from there if they want to keep dating with marriage in mind.
You don’t have to be Japanese or be dating a Japanese person to enjoy some of the fun dating traditions of Japan. Plan a romantic getaway to Tokyo or one of the rural areas of Japan to enjoy the scenery, food, and some of the fun romantic activities as you sightsee. You can even recreate some of the Japanese romantic traditions at home.