There is nothing wrong with the Japanese countryside. My window frames the chain of mountains encircling Sabae City, offering a spectacular view as I wake with the sun each morning. Unlike my Tokyo-based friends, getting to work doesn’t require that I literally be stuffed into the narrow metal frame of the local train. For those reasons and many others, I’d say that I prefer this rural existence to the city life.
The only downside to teaching and living in the backwoods of the Province of Pokémon is the difficulty of forming new relationships, both romantic and platonic. The big issue is the disparity between my demographic and that to which the majority of my fellow Sabaeans (Sabae-ites?) belong; though I’m stepping dangerously close to 30, I’m still in my twenties. My social circle these days has been reduced to 50-year-old bar patrons and the occasional hangout with an illustrator and a writer I met at the cultural center.
It’s nothing to complain about, not really; friends in any form are welcome. Even so, if there is one thing that will eventually drive me back home into the embrace of ‘Murica, it’s the difficult social situation. Just how bad is it? I’ve started using Tinder.
I’m historically merciless when it comes to my thoughts on social dating platforms. My friends are scarred by my high horse rants about the virtues of actually going out into the world to meet people. Rochester always seemed to make it so easy. Head to the Old Toad or Victoire — the city’s finest gastro-pubs — on a busy night, introduce yourself to people, get a phone number. Done.
That approach just hasn’t worked here. Sure, I’ve had dates with women from the local coffee shops. When I found out we weren’t compatible, though, it was like I’d evaporated a third of my dating pool in a single yakitori-infused evening. Unless I wanted to date women twice my age or fresh college students — neither of which is appealing — it seemed romance was out of the question.
I’ve been using Tinder for a week now. It can be both creepy and really useful. Despite what I thought, not everyone using the platform is looking for a night of skin-slapping with a random webizen. I’ve had some great conversations about movies and music, international dating, and even cooking. It’s been great, for the most part.
There is a dark-side to Tinder, though. Just anecdotally, it seems like the service has a very low adoption rate for non-English speaking Japanese. Pretty much everyone I’ve met so far either speaks fluent English as a second language, is studying English, or wants to study English. No problems there; I’m a guy looking to meet people and improve my Japanese, after all.
It gets problematic when, just like in the real world, you become a study tool versus a friend who can help someone out with his or her goals. In the online blogging community centered around Japan, creatively dubbed the J-vlogging community, these people are labeled gaijin (foreigner) hunters. Back during my more otaku-centric writing days, I called them language vampires.
Basically, these are people to whom your identity is inconsequential. As long as you’re a (moderately attractive) foreigner who speaks English — and I suspect other languages — you fit the bill. If you pay attention, it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re sinking yourself into one of these relationships. If not, you can find yourself deeply invested in something one-sided, something I’ve learned the hard way.
So far, I’ve only gotten that creepy oh-my-god-you-just-want-me-for-my-English vibe from one person . Tinder has proven to be a really useful tool, though I’m loath to say so. I certainly never would have guessed that it would be the best way to make friends on my adventures through Japan.
Have you turned to Tinder or other dating platforms to make connections while abroad? Share your experiences in the comments below!