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Let’s Dating: Hidden Hook-ups and Making Out Mishaps

This may come as a surprise, but I have not always lived and dated in Japan. When “Let’s Dating” was just a twinkle in my eye and I didn’t know my ketsu from my katsu, I lived in America and England. Back in my formative dating years, I learned that being a girl about town means never knowing where your evening will take you or whose face will end up in your face (in the nicest way possible, of course).

For a long time, I wondered if perhaps Japanese people didn’t engage in the random hook-ups that are such an integral part of the dating scene in the West. I’ve come to realize that this is not necessarily the case, but the hook-up scene here is totally different from that in the wild West for a number of reasons. Here are a few of my observations.

In the US and UK, the majority of hook-ups are facilitated by that most venerable of locations – the bar. Take a group of people looking for entertainment, mix with the time-proven social lubricant of alcohol, let them mingle freely, and, voilà – you have the perfect cocktail for lustful encounters. However, this system has a serious flaw in Japan – free socialization is hampered, if not downright prevented, by the closed-off system of most izakaya, karaoke bars, and restaurants. How on earth are you supposed to chat up that cute guy or gal by the bar if there literally is no bar?

Granted, random encounters do happen (and I’m not really taking Roppongi into consideration here since it seems to be its own Berm-eww-da triangle). Nightclubs in general seem to be the exception to the secretive socializing status quo. The floor plan is open and you can talk to anyone at any time. Yet there is something that is almost immediately obvious to anyone who’s been to a club in other parts of the world. Why are there no people groping each other on the dance floor? On the one hand, I appreciate being able to shake my booty without having someone attempt to introduce their tongue to my face, but it does feel slightly strange for the dance floor to be such a G-rated environment.

My intelligence agents (e.g. guys I’ve made out with) have supplied me with this pair of facts vis à vis kissing in Japan. 1. Japanese people and public displays of affection simply do not go together. No one has ever clearly explained the reasoning to me, though making a spectacle of yourself in public is obviously a big-time no-no. This would explain the lack of nightclub nookie. 2. Japanese people don’t like / “aren’t good at” kissing. While in the West, the kiss is almost invariably the first intimate physical contact you’ll have with someone, Japanese people are just not confident enough in their puckering-up prowess to allow them to make out with a stranger.

Looking back on some first kiss diss and miss moments with Japanese suitors, I can now understand why things were so awkward. My first official Japanese boyfriend, Mr. T, was so shy that I kissed him first. Correction: I attempted to kiss him, but he remained completely immobile, like a statue. Taking this as a sign of rejection, I retreated. On another occasion, I met a Japanese lad in Southeast Asia. He was probably feeling uninhibited since he was away from his home turf, which was great. Unfortunately, his kiss had some unintended sound effects that can only be referred to as slurping. Not so super, so I said sayonara soon after. It all makes perfect sense though – these fellows are coming from a totally different background, where making out at a junior high dance is not considered a rite of passage and therefore they can’t claim to have the years of experience that most Western guys do.

At the most basic level, there seems to be a very different approach to kissing here. While in the West, a kiss can lead to more, it doesn’t always have to. It’s pretty standard for people to kiss on a first date and leave it at that. In Japan, it seems that this intimate act is not really appreciated on its own, and is considered more afterthought than foreplay. We also think of it as a first test of compatibility in the West: if someone’s lip locking is lackluster, you can usually kiss the relationship goodbye.

But as with most things, it seems a bit unfair to apply Western standards to Japanese suitors. All it takes is a little time and you and your partner can be on the same page when it comes to puckering up.