How to Make Friends in Japan

So, you’re probably living in Japan or will live there soon. And now you are asking yourself how you can find friends in Japan. When I lived in Japan, I also found it difficult to make deep relations with Japanese people at first. But just by doing a few things differently, I managed to easily make many friends in Japan.

So, in this post, I’ll give you six tips on how to make friends in Japan.

Is It Difficult to Make Friends in Japan?

I find that making friends in Japan isn’t any more difficult than in other countries. Yes, it is true that the Japanese are a bit shyer than people in other countries, but this varies from person to person.

What can make finding friends in Japan difficult is being a foreigner. You are the new guy. You don’t have any connections yet and you have to show people why they should be friends with you (I’ll elaborate on this later). On top of that, your Japanese might not be the best, you don’t know that much about Japanese culture and aren’t that used to life in Japan yet. And as I’ll later explain, these things can make finding Japanese friends more difficult.

But being a foreigner can also be an advantage. As I said in my post about being a foreigner in Japan, there are people in Japan who really want to interact with a foreigner but rarely get the chance to. So, when they do see a foreigner, they will go straight up to him and start talking. This often happened to me at the gym, when going back home from school or even at the supermarket.

Photo by Life of Wu from Pexels

How to Make Friends in Japan

The question you must ask yourself is: Why would somebody want to be friends with you?

You are the new guy. All the people around you were born and raised in Japan. This means they already have friends they usually hang out with. Why would they need you?

Also, human beings are selfish and lazy. Making new friends takes time and effort. This means that people who already have enough friends won’t go out to make new ones. And this is especially true in Japan. Because Japan is a country where people aren’t as outgoing as e.g. Latin American people.

When I first came to Japan as an exchange student, I thought that people would just automatically come to me and want to be friends. Which was true in the first few weeks but after maybe two to three weeks they lost their interest and I was left without any new friends.

how to make friends in Japan

So, here are six tips that will help you make friends in Japan:

1. Know Japanese

Knowing Japanese makes finding friends in Japan a lot easier.

Because although most people in Japan do speak at least some English, most feel way more comfortable speaking Japanese. When you can’t hold a conversation in Japanese beyond saying what your favourite food is, your pronunciation sucks and you always have to ask for the meaning of words, you’re out. Most Japanese people won’t like talking to you.

For a Japanese person, it’s just annoying to slow down their pace of speech, explain words all the times and listen to a crappy version of their language.

But don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be a master of the language. But you should have at least a basic knowledge of the language. And try to show people that you’re trying to learn and improve your Japanese. Then they might even want to help you with your studies.

-> Make it easier for Japanese people to speak with you.

how to make friends in Japan
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

2. Be Familiar With Japanese Culture

Japan is a country where you have to fit in. The Japanese care a lot about what others think about them and always look at how other people behave and then adapt their own behaviour to that. Furthermore, they don’t like people that stand out or make them stand out.

At first, a Japanese person might find it interesting to hang out with a foreigner that doesn’t behave like a Japanese person. But after a while, you’re not that interesting anymore and this exact behaviour will lead to them avoiding you because you make them stand out.

Here is an example: When you hold a door open for a Japanese woman she will be surprised and adore your gentleman like behaviour because most Japanese men don’t do that, and she has only seen this in Western movies. But other people around her will react the same way and look at her. This will then make her feel uncomfortable because she feels like doesn’t fit in with all the others anymore.

-> Make Japanese people feel more comfortable being around you.
how to make friends in Japan
Photo by Life of Wu from Pexels

3. Make an Effort to Find Friends

If you want to make friends in Japan or anywhere on this planet, you have to approach people. Don’t be the guy who stays in his room all day. Go out! Try to make friends!

As I said at the beginning, all the people around you have been living in Japan their whole life. So, unlike you they already have their social circles built. You are the one that has to approach them. I did this wrong the whole time. Instead of using my free time to socialise with people, I spent most of my time alone inside my room watching Netflix. No wonder did I not make any friends.

My best tip to change this habit is: Don’t be afraid. People do not not want to be friends with you. More often than not they’re just too lazy or too shy to ask you. I experienced this when I asked two friends in my class I often spoke to during lunch break if we could do something together on the weekend. They were like “Yes of course! Actually, we wanted to invite you for a long time but we didn’t know how to properly ask you…” Sometimes the Japanese simply overthink such things because they think they have to do something special because you’re a foreigner.

-> Be active and ask people out.

4. Use the Fact That You're a Foreigner

Many Japanese people think that they have to show you their country. And you can use that to your advantage.

Ask a Japanese person you know to show you something Japan is famous for but that you have never done before.

For example, saying “I’ve never done purikura before” or “I’ve never been to karaoke before” can often already be enough to make a Japanese person want to show that thing to you and thus invite you. If saying this wasn’t enough, simply ask them yourself. In most cases they’ll happily accept.

-> Use the fact that you are new in Japan to your advantage.
is it easy to find friends in japan
how to find friends in japan

What you can also do is look for things that are typical for your country and show those things to a Japanese person. For example, before Christmas there was a German-themed Christmas market near Osaka station. So, I asked a few people if we could go there because Christmas is important to me and I want to show them how we celebrate Christmas in Europe. This made many really interested and wanting to go to this christmas market with me.

-> Teach Japanese people something about your country.

-> Show them that you are intersting.

5. Go to Events

Places, where you can easily make new friends as a foreigner in Japan, are:

  • 国際交流センター (international centres)
  • IPs (international parties)
  • International meetups
  • Bars

Most Japanese who go to such places/events are interested in foreign countries and also want to be friends with foreigners. Some solely want to practice speaking English with you, so watch out if you don’t want to be used as an English teaching machine.

International centres are a good place to meet Japanese people because their main purpose is to offer a place for Japanese people to connect with foreigners. They also often offer Japanese classes host events, like BBQs or parties as in the pictures above, etc. Just look up 国際交流センター and your city name and you should find something.

IPs (international parties) or international parties are also a great place to meet Japanese people because they’re a bit more casual than the international centre. I’ve never been to one, but it seems nice like a nice opportunity for foreigners and Japanese people to hang out with each other.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to things just for foreigners. If you do speak Japanese quite well, simply go to normal events. And be a part of your community.

And lastly, bars also seem to be a great place to better get to know a Japanese person. That’s because when they drink alcohol, they feel like they can finally let go of all the honorifics and be themselves. But I personally don’t drink alcohol and have made plenty of friends without drinking any alcohol. What I’ve heard is that the chain called Hub is popular amongst Japanese who want to meet foreigners.

-> Take part in social events.

6. Make Friends Online

A great place to connect with people is the internet. I actually met many Japanese people online and chat with them on a daily basis.

An app that I highly recommend is the popular chat app Line. Line recently introduced a feature called Line Open Chat. This feature lets people create and join chatrooms under a nickname. The chatrooms are all sorted by categories like Anime, sports, music, food, travel, etc. Simply look for something that interests you and join the chat. I highly recommend Line because it’s mainly used by Japanese people and it lets you connect with people who share the same interests as you. But you should be able to speak Japanese more or less fluently.

If your Japanese isn’t that good yet then you can use an app like HelloTalk. The app is specifically tailored at language learners who want to chat with native speakers of their target language. It offers many features like sharing content in your target language, correcting mistakes of other people, direct messaging, etc. I personally didn’t like the app that much and I heard about some privacy issues but try it out for yourself.

You can also use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to find friends in Japan. Just look up hashtags you’re interested in and then follow people there. Writing a comment also is a great way to connect with people there. I also recommend putting something Japanese into your bio because then Japanese people will see that you speak Japanese which makes things easier for them.

-> Approach Japanese people online.

Tools and Places to Find Friends in Japan:

TLDR; How to Make Friends in Japan:

  • Speak at least some Japanese
  • Know About Japanese Culture
  • Be outgoing and actively try to meet new people
  • Ask Japanese people to show you something Japanese
  • Show people that you’re interesting
  • Go to social events
  • Use social media to connect with people
Important: You have to invite people again and again to become friends with them. Otherwise you’re just going out with a bunch of people without making any deeper relations.

Thanks For Reading!

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