How to make friends in Japan

How to make friends in Japan

I came to Japan without knowing anyone here. To make Japanese friends I attended many professional events, joined various social groups, and went on a lot of trips. Luckily enough, I managed to extend my circle of friends in Japan. So, in this article, I want to share what worked for me and will introduce a couple of ways to meet people for different purposes!

How to make Japanese friends

1. Attend a local Japanese language school

There are many private/public Japanese language schools in Japan for foreigners. I used to attend one in my neighborhood where I went once a week. At my school, all teachers were volunteers. They are usually very passionate about teaching and friendly to foreigners. My school also had special events every once a while.
On top of learning Japanese in the classroom, I also had the chance to become friends with my teachers. Being able to talk to them gave me extra opportunities to practice my speaking skills!

2. Go to cultural exchange events

I joined a Taiwanese and Japanese culture exchange meetup. This is for Japanese people who want to get to know Taiwanese culture and learn Mandarin, as well as Taiwanese who want to make Japanese friends.
These kinds of events are held in other languages, too. If you look online, you should be able to find some that suits you!

These events usually costs money for Japanese, but are often free for foreigners! (Or it cost money for guys and is free for girls.)
The Japanese attending want to learn your language and you want to learn their language. This is making it pretty easy to find language partners at such events. I met my language partner there and we have been meeting up every week since! When we hang out, we talk in Mandarin for half of the time and talk in Japanese for the other half!

3. Go to English conversation meetups

Similar to cultural exchange events, English conversation meetups are also a good place to look for a language partner. There are a lot of English conversation meetup events throughout Japan. Most anyone learning a foreign language wants to learn about the culture, too. Japanese people are no exception. Therefore, it’s easy to make Japanese friends there!

4. Do volunteer work

Volunteer work can be another way to meet Japanese locals! Although I have never really volunteered in Japan before, I heard about it from other international friends here in Tokyo. Please try and let me know how it goes!

How to meet people professionally

1. Go to professional events

Same as most in most other countries in the world, you can find a lot of professional meetups in Japan. As a tech lover, I used to go to a lot of programming meetup events or UI/UX meetup events. There are all kinds of meetup events. You can go to events about education, marketing, art, finance, etc. By attending professional meetup events, you can not only expand your network in Japan but also get to know if the way people in your professional field do things here is different from your country.

How to make more new friends

1. Join clubs or special interest circles

I guess similar to other countries, there are a lot of interest groups you can find in your community such as basketball club, tennis club, chess club, etc. I have taken part in events held by “Tokyo Snow Club” couple times this year. They usually organize 2~3-day trips with 50+ people. And they throw some parties throughout the stay so it was a fun environment to meet people.

If you can speak some Japanese and have no idea where to start searching, have a look at online portals like jimoty (the “event” category).

2. Take classes

Make friends while learning something new. Aside from the Japanese class I mentioned earlier, there are so many other kinds of classes you can take. How about a dance class, cooking class or maybe even a pottery course? The list goes on. It is always easier to meet friends when you have some common interest to talk about.

3. Go to the gym

The gym can also be a good place to meet people. Gym memberships are very expensive in Japan (it could cost you up to 10.000 yen for a month in Tokyo!) so if you are not into working out the next option or just looking for active circles in your neighborhood might be more to your taste.

4. Join Bukatsu in your company

Most of middle-size and large Japanese firms will have clubs you can attend and where you can meet friends. Club activities 部活 (ぶかつ) is originally something Japanese school kids participate in during middle school, high school and college. The popular ones are basketball, chess, baseball, dance, etc. In my company, we have survival club (paintball club), snowboarding club, chess club, etc. Each of the clubs usually holds an event once a month. By joining Bukatsu and attending the events, you will be able to network and get to know your coworkers better. And maybe finally become friends.

How to meet guys/girls?

1. Go to 相席(あいせき).

Meet people and drink for free (girls only…)! 相席 means sharing your table with another group. Originally this word refers to the situation of sharing a table with a stranger at a crowded restaurant. If a restaurant cannot provide enough tables for every individual party they staff might ask you “相席でよろしいでしょうか”.
Nowadays, 相席 also refers to a type of business that provides food, alcohol, and a venue for guys and girls to meet each other. It usually just looks like a normal restaurant but how it works is very interesting.

First, when you walk in a 相席, they will ask you some basic information such as the group size, age, and whether it’s your first time doing 相席. About the price, it is usually free for girls and about 1500 yen every 30 minutes for guys.

The one I went to was all-you-can-eat and drink for both guys and girls but depending on the store the deal might be different. For example, recently there are also 相席 which are catering to people over 30 years of age. It’s called “相席R30”. 相席R30 provides better food in terms of quality but the food is not free for girls and not all you can eat.

2. Go to 合コン(ごうこん)

Goukon is a kind of event for a group of girls to meet a group of guys. It’s usually organized by a girl and a guy who know each other. They will invite their own girl-friends and guy-friends evenly so that no one is left alone at the event. Goukon is often translated in to “speed dating” in English but in my opinion, it’s a bit different. At the speed dating event I have been to in America, you got 5 minutes to talk to each person in front of you and switch to the next one when the time was up. But the Goukon in Japan is usually more casual. You can talk to a person as long as you want.
In Japan, there is another event-type for dating called 婚活 (こんかつ), which means “marriage activity”. People who attend these events are seriously trying to find a partner for life and get married. There are a lot of different events to find your future partner, but some will have activities similar to speed dating where you can meet a bunch of people in a short amount of time.

3. Use dating apps

Dating apps have become wildly popular all over the world, and Japan is not exception. When it comes to Japanese apps, there are multiple options like Pairs (ペアーズ), Tapple (タップル誕生, タップルたんじょう), With and Omiai. All of those apps target slightly different types of people and age groups, so it might be useful to do a bit of research beforehand.

If you don’t feel like doing that, you can also default to the international standard – Tinder. While there certainly are users that want … let’s call it “immediate action”, there is also a surprising amount of people that are just searching for friends, drinking/karaoke buddies, etc. Of course, some consider this to be nothing more than pretense, but often, it is genuine. In that case, at least the first meeting should be a neutral one, with no further expectations on either side. This makes Japanese Tinder an option even if you’re not the assertive type or are not interested in any romantic involvement in the first place.

Get started!

I hope this article gives you some pointers on how to meet more friends in Japan! But honestly, sometimes I just go to a bar next to my house and meet people there!
There are so many ways to meet people so just pick a way which works for you and have a good time!

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Originally from Taiwan I went to university in Seattle. I always loved Japan, and am now using every free weekend to go on trips and learn more about country and people.