International Romance in the Time of Tinder

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!

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15 Comments

  1. I’ve never used Tinder. I’m actually a bit afraid to even touch it! It’s not the fact that it’s a dating app or anything that puts me off, I think it’s more just the idea of being judged based on a little blurb about myself and a few pictures. Haha it just sounds like so much pressure! Though I don’t seem to have much luck out in the “real” world with dating, so maybe meeting people through an app that terrifies me would be a good thing? Haha. Lovely post by the way, I really quite enjoyed it.

    Reply

    1. I definitely hear you on being judged on such a superficial level. I feel the same way, but I guess I felt that was better than being a lonely traveler in the middle of miles of rice paddies 😛 I would say if you can avoid said terrifying app, do so for as long as possible. haha

      Thanks for checking out the post and for the comment. Looking forward to reading some of your work tonight 🙂

      Reply

      1. Haha I suppose that makes quite a bit of sense! I’m getting a cup of tea made and sitting down to read more of your blog, to find out just why you are being a lonely traveler in the middle of miles of rice paddies. 🙂

  2. Firstly – I love the new look of the blog, very smooth. I can’t say I have ever used Tinder and I’m not sure I ever will but who knows what the future holds. It’s funny how with time we can do a 180 on an issue we previously felt pretty strongly about. I am with you on liking living in the country side though I always have this issue of not being able to really get involved in music when I’m in the middle of no where. So I guess I have to suffer the cities if I want to be in a band, in a style that I enjoy.

    My favourite line in this article is “a night of skin-slapping with a random webizen” it’s hilarious. I can’t say I understand the Gaijin Hunter thing well. I get it on a conceptual level but I suppose I would have to experience it to really get a grasp on what people mean. Anyway my friend, ganbatte!

    Reply

    1. Travis,
      Thanks as always for checking out my stuff!

      Yeah, the Tinder thing was a complete 180; I’m feeling pretty guilty as a hypocrite at the moment.

      I hear you on the city thing. I figure if I could be maybe 20 minutes maximum from the city, I’d be pretty happy.
      That way I could go into the city without any trouble, do what I need to do, and then get away from the hustle and
      bustle in time for bed. Are you pretty far out now?

      You know, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to keep that or not. I’m thinking, though, that like my YT vids, it’s
      probably time to let myself shine through, for good or bad.

      Reply

  3. No problem man, It’s always an interesting read/watch – thank you for making good content.

    I wouldn’t feel guilty about it man, just learn from it and move on. I know its easier said than done but its a worth while lesson for the next time you feel quite strongly about something. I am definitely guilty passing similar judgements about musical taste in the past. Currently pop chart music still makes me skin crawl but I do my best not to judge those who listen to it, as hard as that might be at times lol

    At the moment my issue is probably more my lack of a car. I am probably 30-40 mins drive out from Birmingham or Coventry where I know there is musical stuff going on but there is just zero public transport around here. Well there is but it would take probably a couple of hours and a train and bus to get to there not to mention the excessive cost of doing so. Then I could be stuck there as the bus back stops running at around 8pm ha. Though I did make the choice to do a Japan trip over saving up for a car (a choice I stand by). I figured I will have many opportunities in life to engage in the mundane task of buy a car and far fewer to go travelling. A car is the first thing on the list for when I get back.

    I definitely prefer the style of writing on this one. I often read internet articles which feel like I am getting an inhibited version of the writer. It just comes across that the writer is self editing and something gets lost in that. Part of the reason I liked this blog post was because it is very much written as you, I think people enjoy and connect to that honesty.

    Anyway this turned into an essay rather quickly…. so I think I’ll leave it at that 🙂

    Reply

    1. Really good point about that rush to judgment. Really, really hard to steer clear of in this age of web-enabled zeitgeist and torch-carrying. I guess, maybe, the best way is to keep in mind that there is plenty about us — our musical tastes, etc. — that others don’t like, and apply the golden rule and all that jazz.

      Things but be less than convenient for a while with transport, but I tend to come down on the side of “collect memories/experiences, not things,” even if the thing in this case will probably enable you to make a ton of new memories. I’d definitely have made the same decision. Also, as an asides, Coventry is just an awesome name for a place. haha

      I think it’s really tricky when you’re creating something — be it music, prose, videos — without getting it into your head that you need to fit the form, whatever that might mean. The great artists, imo, are those who can get out of their heads and away from what’s culturally normative and just do their own damn thing, not that I’m telling you anything, you bass-slapping wizard.

      Reply

      1. I totally agree, in the age of computers wildly criticising everything has become the norm. I think that sense of entitlement to forcing opinions on others is probably what gets under my skin the most about it. People feel that they have some right to be heard regardless of what they are saying. Though I realise in the context of our no judgement conversation I am undermining my own point ha.

        I am right with you on the memories not things statement. Life is short and I want to look back on the things I did do not regret the things I didn’t. It’s a cleched statement I know but often the cliches are cliches for a reason.

        I totally agree, any great artist or inventor has ignored external criticism and found there own unique way of doing something. A great example is Thomas Edson – his teacher told him he was… “Too stupid to learn anything” and that he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. I don’t know about you but I am pretty fond of the light bulb ha. There are loads of good examples of this, everyone thought The Wright Brothers where crazy too.

  4. Glad Japan got you to join the rest of us! I like Tinder. I used to think that a profile with 1,000 words about what books people like was what I needed — along with 100 questions to answer — was a better way of going about it but I think if you know people well enough, you can get a good feel with a few pictures and a blurb, surprisingly. Behavioral observations and all that.

    Not that meeting people in bars etc. is bad but once you open up a new form of communication to the world, the internet forms its own bars, in a way.

    Reply

    1. Haha, I remember giving you guys such a hard time about it, too. Well, no one ever said I was the smart one of our clutch of writin’ folk.

      And yeah, you’re right about being it’s own sort of watering hole. I should just stop being such a judgmental Luddite.

      Reply

  5. Hey man, nice read. Get your butt to Tokyo soon so we can romance the babes.

    I’ve been using tinder here in Tokyo as well and it’s not bad! Most people only want to speak English though, as you mentioned. That’s not why I travelled across the world. I want to speak Japanese. If you would like to speak English, then you should move to a foreign country.

    Made a really good friend on there though. She’s a bit of a fujoshi but I find it pretty cute actually haha.

    Reply

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