Tinder in Japan: A Rural Experience

So the blues have passed, and I am really excited because I’m graduating next week on Friday (that’s what the timer on the right side of the blog is counting down to)! My parents and bros are coming over to Japan to celebrate the big day with me and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them and showing them a bit of Japan. I haven’t seen them in over one and a half years so I can’t wait. In the meantime, I remember I promised you guys a post about my experience using Tinder in Japan. You are in for a ride, so get the popcorn ready!

Dating in Kenya

Before coming to Japan, I knew little of Tinder except that it was a smart dating app. I’m very outgoing and I have a lot of friends, so meeting new people was easy. I had no need for online dating. It is possible to meet dateable people at weddings, funerals, in the bus, at the bus stop, at Kenya Cinema, while walking down the street,  at churches, at a club, at a restaurant, at work, at a football or rugby match, hey, the possibilities are endless.

But this post isn’t about dating in Kenya, which I could write a book about. So let’s skip ahead to 4 years ago, when I packed my bags and came to Japan. I assumed it would be the same thing – I would make friends, and through the new friends I would meet their friends, and friends of friends of friends, and so on and so forth, so I would have a wide range of options in the hypothetical dating pool.

Boy, was I wrong.

You know the expression, there are a lot fish in the sea? To mean there are many men in the dating pool. Yes, there is a lot of fish in the sea, but in rural Japan, we (foreign females), are living on LAND! Dry land. A desert of thirst.

The thirst is real.

Making friends with fellow Japanese students in the uni proved harder than I thought. Until now, I only have one Japanese friend my age. The weird thing about Japanese young people (in my experience living in Ishikawa) is that you can meet them and talk today, but tomorrow they will act like they don’t know you. The next time you meet them, you think you will pick up from where you left off and “deepen” the friendship, but no, you start again from zero. Who has the energy to do that, repeatedly? Hey, they will always be nice, polite, but will always maintain this cool distance. So initially, and even until now most of my friends are fellow international students.

Six months after arriving in Japan, I signed up to meet people on Tinder because it wasn’t going to happen IRL. I couldn’t speak Japanese very well and a lot of Japanese guys can’t speak English and even if they can, they are extremely shy about it so perhaps they would be different online? Let’s see what happened, shall we?

The Coffee Date

It didn’t take long to get a few matches.

It is so exciting getting your first match on Tinder!

But most of them never messaged. Somehow it’s like an unwritten rule that girls wait for the guys to message them first. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t remember who messaged who first.

So we got talking with this guy and we communicated in English. He was a couple of years older and was working in the nearby town. We agreed to meet up for a coffee date on his lunch break. Even if it worked out or not, at  least I would get a much needed break from research and enjoy a Latte and a pastry at a nice coffee shop.

It was a pleasant afternoon when we met. We said hello and that was when I discovered he could hardly speak English. He had been using a translation app the entire time. No matter though, I could hold  a basic conversation in Japanese by then. He then led the way to…… the roadside vending machines!

You know how along the major roads in Japan, they have these rest stops with a couple of benches, vending machines and bathrooms? Yeah. So that’s where we went. So much for a coffee shop atmosphere. But hey, at least he paid for the insipid-vending-machine coffee.

Coffee at a vending machine in Japan

Coffee at a vending machine in Japan. Image, courtesy.

We sat on a bench and soaked in the afternoon sunshine. It was during the ensuing conversation that I realized why he didn’t take me to a coffee shop. Turns out he wasn’t single (!!) and this being rural Japan, I realized he didn’t want to be seen in public on a date with a foreigner because well, it’s a small city. Everyone knows everyone. I can literally count the number of black girls in Ishikawa on one hand!

So yeah, that was that. Unmatched and blocked.

The English Date

No, this isn’t about an Englishman.

The second Japanese guy I met on Tinder was a medical student. He spoke English well enough –  he wasn’t using a translation app. I prefer meeting people face to face instead of endless chatting back and forth, so we set up a  lunch date one Saturday. Time, noon.

Knowing how Japanese people are strict about time keeping – even for casual social events, they will be there 5 minutes early, I turned up 5 minutes early too and sat in my car in the parking lot, waiting for the confirmation message that he was there too. 10 minutes went by. No word. So I texted him asking him what was up. He said he was sorry but was running a bit late. So I said it was ok, I would wait. (By the way it is extremely rude to be late in Japan; if you know you’re going to be late you of course must do the decent thing and let the waiting party know. So was this a sign of disrespect? ) 20 minutes went by. Again, he said he was on the way. I decided to go in and wait at a table. At 12:30 I decided to go ahead and order, he would catch up when he did. He finally arrived a few minutes after 1pm. We said hi, he sat down opposite me, and when the waiter brought the menu, he ordered dessert.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” I asked him.

“Oh, I already had lunch with my friends.”

Wait a minute, he was late because he was having lunch with his friends?

He didn’t even apologize and straight away he started asking me:

“So you speak English in Kenya.”

“Yes.” I mumbled.

“I need English because I’m going to become a medical doctor. From what age do you learn English?”

“Um..” before I could answer.

“Are you like a native in English?”

English this, English that, English X, English Y.

This guy just wanted to use me to improve his English. I told him to an English school. I then updated my Tinder Profile by adding the Line “I am not an English teacher” in Japanese (英語の先生じゃないよ).

So again, that was that. Unmatched and blocked.

The Are-You-Poor Date

A few weeks went by. I was busy in the lab, writing papers for conferences, planning travels and applying for visas, keeping J alive and all that. Then on some days, loneliness or boredom would strike or I would feel the need to take a break from the humdrum of research life. So on those days I would be seen swiping on Tinder. Left.  Left. Left. wait a minute, pause..hmm let’s check profile, no, left. Oh, what do we have have here, right. Left. Left. Right. Right. Left. You know, how swiping works haha.

So another coffee date (at a real coffee shop) was set up with this guy who runs his own business, he was only 28. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur in Japan so I thought that was impressive. I was running late so I texted him to say I would be 5 minutes late. Luckily, I arrived on time. Perfunctory hellos were exchanged. He then walked ahead into the coffee shop and ordered his coffee without checking back to see if I had even followed him into the restaurant. There was no polite “what will you have?” or idle chatter. While he waited for his order, I scanned the menu while the cashier waited patiently. I settled on the usual Latte and opened my wallet to pay. Empty!

I literally was looking into my wallet like that

Listen, Japan is so cash-based. Everywhere you go, it’s cash cash cash. No credit cards, no debit cards. I don’t even have a debit card, so I have to go to the bank every few days to withdraw piles of cash which run out immediately because everything is so expensive. I had money in my account but if I had stopped to withdraw it, I would have been late for the date. So anyway, I took out my coin wallet. It had a solitary 100 yen coin in it. The coffee was 300 yen.

The guy was watching all this and didn’t offer to top up the 200 (~2dollars) yen difference! I am quite happy to pay my bills but come on, it was 200 yen.. so I took out my credit card and had to go to a different terminal that can handle credit card payments and then they printed out long receipts and gave me to sign, so much hustle. By then, the guy had got his coffee and was sitting on the terrace outside. I had already paid for my coffee so might as well enjoy it, right? So I joined him at the table.

He didn’t bother asking me if I was ok with it before lighting a cigarette and I hadn’t even settled properly in my seat before he asked,

So did you come to Japan to make money?


“No, I’m a student,” I answered.

So how are you making money?

“I’m not.”

So how do you live?

“I get a scholarship from the Japanese government.”

“So you do get money from Japan.”

Er.. well.

You are studying so you can make money?

“Well, I am doing a PhD. If I wanted to make money I would have stopped after the first degree.”

I never went to university but I am making money.” he answered. “So do you have money in Africa?

“No, I live in a tree.” I answered sarcastically.

He didn’t get the sarcasm. He honestly thought that we live in trees in Africa. This guy’s image of Africa is what you get when  you type “Africa” into Google Images: an empty expanse of savanna stretching for miles, dotted by wild animals and a few humans with hungry faces looking into the tourists’ cameras. He probably thinks Africa is a country.

This is the first image result for "Africa" on google images

This is the first image result for “Africa” on google images

I couldn’t stand that level of ignorance and Googled images of Nairobi. I told him I had bought my Samsung Note 4 (the hottest thing at the time) in Kenya and he didn’t seem like he believed me. He probably thought those images of Nairobi are fake. Whatever.

The questions he was asking me were just a runaround to the real question he wanted to ask, “are you poor?”. That empty wallet didn’t help the African image.

For those wondering, of course I want to make money. But I came to Japan to study. Can’t a girl get some education?

The Chatting Club

Actually, many of the Japanese guys on Tinder are just content to have an online “foreign” friend to talk to. You’ll be like a therapist that they can chat (or even call you to talk) with at the end of the day. However, every time you suggest a meet up, they’ll give excuses  like, and these I have heard: “I am reading the newspaper” or “I am getting a haircut today.” I am usually too busy to chat anyway and would rather watch a movie or read a book. Plus I hate talking to strangers on the phone.

The Dates That Went Well

Not all is doom and gloom. I have had 2 dates with two Japanese gentlemen that went well. The first one was actually quite nice, but I think he was more curious to know about me as a “foreigner” and less as a “woman” individual. We ended up being friends, well more like friendly acquaintances.

The other date with a Japanese guy that well was a lunch date. He took me to a lovely Italian restaurant, then we went for a drive and coffee.  I had a really nice time. He had a great sense of humour and we were laughing throughout. Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel the chemistry. Again, we ended up friendly acquaintances, at least on Facebook.

In Conclusion Cultural Divide

If the culture gap is a crevice/gap that we have to bridge, here is what it looks like for an African woman in Japan:

  • Dating a fellow African – it’s narrow enough that if you reach across, you can shake hands. However, in my area of Japan, out of 100 swipes, there will be 1 black guy (who then must meet the swipe-right criteria), and he’s probably not African.
  • Dating a non-Asian Foreigner who speaks English – the gap is too wide to stretch out and reach, but it’s easy to build a bridge across it, especially if there are some interests you have in common. They will also say exactly what they are looking for. The cards are laid on the table. It’s up to you if you want to play the game.
  • Dating an Asian Foreigner/non-English Speaking Foreigner – the gap is now wide enough to need a team of engineers to build the bridge.
  • Dating a Japanese – the gap is the Grand Canyon. You cannot build a bridge across it, you have to hike down, then hike up to other side. You have to be willing to understand all the non-spoken nuances in their language and culture. In Japanese culture, no one openly states their intentions, all their cards are held close to their chest, and it’s up to you to “read the air.” Who has the time? 🙄🙄🙄

Anyway, below is a picture of my friend and I at the Grand Canyon in July for your reference.

View this post on Instagram

Gazing upon the #grandcanyon

A post shared by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on

Maybe Tokyo will be different? *shrugs.*

What’s your worst Tinder date (in Japan or elsewhere?)

This entry was posted in Blog, Life in Japan, Relationships and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Tinder in Japan: A Rural Experience

  1. Norbert says:

    Funny reading! Never had experience with TIndering, but I guess Tokyo must be much better, due to the higher acceptance of foreigners compared to traditional rural retro Ishikawa. Good luck!


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  3. Now I see why you called him the Englishman.


  4. Tess says:

    Si I have searched for your blog…glad to have found it though!!Don’t have experience with tinder …yet😜.
    Also might as well say congratulations on your graduation!Feels like the other day you graduated from Jkuat and packed your bags for Japan…and J joined you….whoa!!#oldfollower
    Congratulations again!!!


    • SK says:

      Thanks for reading all these years, and thanks about the graduation. I can hardly believe it myself. 4 years are over just like that… and now I am excited about new adventures.


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  6. Remy MOREAU says:

    I advise you to try the onsen in Japan, here you can socialize I could have feeling and conversation easyli coz of the atmosphere and your kid is enought young so I think you can bring him whith you on the girls side. About the online add that guy in FB Senan Fox is from Kanazawa and he’s in Japan from 8 years, he know other foreigner and he probably be gonna happy to help you for understand the japanesse culture and make friends here. You can find him in my friends list 😉


    • SK says:

      I have lived here for over 4 years now and this has been my experience. Other people have different experiences, that’s true, but a majority will tell you how hard it is to connect with Japanese people (e.g. a lot of posts on this blog http://japaneseruleof7.com) and even if you’re friends, there is still this distance. I have also been to the onsen several times and the conversations range from “oh, the water is so hot” to “Japanese food is so delicious” to “the water feels so good” and finally “your Japanese is so good”. In other words, simple and safe topics. Polite conversation, but guarded. That means it would take weeks if not months of continuously meeting the same person to finally have a “real” conversation which can actually lead to friendship.

      As for me personally, I have enough friends, don’t worry. Sure, most of them are foreigners but I have also made a lot of Japanese friends as well. I was lucky to have met a lot of open minded and generous Japanese people (most of them older than 60) who’ve embraced my son and I.


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  12. George says:

    Enjoyed every bit..the courtesy of sharing your story,thanks !


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