Top 15 Tips to Make Japanese Friends
By Melissa Holt | Updated November 24th, 2020
When it comes to making Japanese friends there are numerous possible approaches. This article has narrowed the possibilities down to the TOP 15 tips, you’ll be making Japanese friends in no time! This is not your standard generic list and even foreigners with Advanced Japanese will learn something new!
Why make Japanese friends?
Firstly, before we delve into how to make Japanese friends, we should really talk about the benefits of making Japanese friends. Having Japanese friends will help you improve your Japanese and help you learn about Japanese culture. Japanese people are also great and funny people to be around! This article hopes to deconstruct some of the misconceptions foreigners have when trying to make Japanese friends and offer the most useful tips possible for making Japanese friends!
In order to make these tips easy to understand we have broken down this guide into four main sections:
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Making Japanese Friends: Japanese Culture/Seeing the world from a Japanese person's perspective
1. Learn about Japanese pop culture
Japanese people love to talk about celebrities, music, anime and dramas. In fact, people from any country love to talk about whoever or whatever is famous. If you know just a few famous celebrities, topics and shows from Japan then having conversations with Japanese people will become much easier. Japanese people will also be impressed by how much you know about their culture! Asking a Japanese person for show recommendations or cool celebrities is also a good tip if you can’t think of any!
Here is a list of musicians, comedians and tv personalities that are well-known in Japan. They have been divided into different generations so it is easy for you to know which will be relevant to the age range of the Japanese person. Please note this is not a perfect list and feel free to add in your own recommendations when you note these down.
20s - Sekai no owari | Man with a mission | Kana Nishino | One Ok Rock
30s - Mr Children | Namie Amuro | Dreams Come True | Hikaru Utada | Porn Graffiti | Arashi
40s - B’z | Smap | X Japan | Blue Hearts | Yuming
50s - Southern All Stars | Seiko Matsuda | Akina | Kyon Kyon | Kome Kome Club
20s - Non Style | Jungle Pocket | Chidori | Naomi Watanabe | Buruzon Chiemi
30s - Chihara Junia | Bananaman | Sandwich Man | London Boots | Oriental Radio
40s - Ninety Nine | Downtown | Fujiwara | Cocorico
50s - ザ・ドリフターズ | Downtown | Hazama Kanpei
20s - Nicole Fujita | Ruriko Kojima
30s - Ariyoshi | Matsuko Deluxe |
40s - Ariyoshi | Matsuko Deluxe |
50s - Masami Hisamoto | Beat Takeshi | George Tokoro | Akiko Wada
Movies and Television:
20s - Terrace House | Ame Talk |
30s - Kinpachi Sensei | Last Vacation | GTO | Gokusen | Hana Yori Dango
40s - Wataru Seiken | Tokyo Love Story |
50s - Shouten | Gaki no Tsukai yarahende |
Netflix is continually adding more and more Japanese programs as it grows a larger share of the online streaming market in Japan. The famous show Terrace House can be seen on Netflix as well as a large variety of anime. Do note that the netflix shows available change according to what country you are in!
Not everyone in Japan loves anime so it will depend on who you are talking to and whether you are aiming to make Japanese friends who like anime or not. However, there are many long-running Japanese family anime shows such as Sazae-san that almost every Japanese person will have heard of. Also, remember that talking about anime in Japanese can require a lot of complex vocabulary and so it may be challenging to talk about your favourite show! If you really want to talk about anime with a Japanese person I recommend coming up with a few set phrases about your favourite anime beforehand so you can communicate well. Learning the anime’s title in Japanese is also important as many anime have different titles in Japanese compared to their English titles.
If you need help learning Japanese so you can have conversations about Japanese culture check out our courses at JapanSwitch!
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2. Understand why Japanese people want a foreign friend
One key step in making Japanese friends is understanding exactly why Japanese people want a foreign friend. Foreigners do not have their family and core group of friends when they come to Japan. On the other hand, Japanese people already have many friends and family in Japan and so are not in such a rush to make new friends. Therefore, the main challenge is understanding that your need to make friends is greater than a Japanese person's need to make foreign friends.
For Japanese people to make foreign friends they will have to be patient, they will have to spend time with someone who does not necessarily understand what they are saying and they may have to explain many cultural things too. You need to think about why a Japanese person would want to be your friend and this can be for numerous different reasons but it really depends on what you can offer to a friendship. Reasons include, help with English, general interest in foreign cultures, being more open and direct than Japanese people and some Japanese people simply want a new and interesting friend different from their current friends.
3. Learn about Japanese culture
Learning about the intricacies of Japanese culture is one of the most important things you should be aware of when trying to make Japanese friends. Cultural influence on friendships should not be underestimated and making the effort to learn about Japanese culture will always work in your favour!
Japanese Manners You Should Know
Manners are one of the most important things to learn when entering a new culture! Simple things like please and thank you can make your life much easier and make those around you happier. Showing that you know what’s expected of you can raise others perceptions of you and indicate you’re a responsible, trustable person. Here are a few manner rules to get you started, besides your pleases and thank yous.
The Japanese language is famous for placing emphasis on politeness. If you know any Japanese you’ll know that there are four basic levels of politeness. When in doubt you should stick to the default desu-masu forms, but what level you should use depends on who you’re talking with. Pay close attention to the language of those around you to help you figure out when to use what.
- Extra-Polite (keigo)
customer service, extremely formal situations
- Polite (desu-masu)
strangers, superiors, older people
- Casual (da-ru)
coworkers, juniors, younger people
How to address people
Even in English it’s rude to point at someone and say “you over there!” So how do you address people in Japanese? Well first of all, pointing in general is considered very rude in Japanese society so you should avoid doing that. If you need to point at something to illustrate your point, try using a flat, open hand instead to soften it.
Second, stick to last names unless you’re given permission to use their first name. Family names come before personal names in Japanese but many Japanese people are aware of foreign customs and will rearrange their name for you. If you’re not sure which name is their family name, listen to what other people are calling them.
Omiyage (souvenirs) are a vital Japanese tradition! When you go over to someone’s house, you always bring a small gift with you to thank your host for having you over. Don’t bring expensive items to show off with or cheap keychains that will soon be discarded. Flowers are also a no-no since that’s what you’d bring to a funeral. We recommend bringing food or crafted gifts.
You can learn more in depth about Japanese culture and customs by checking out our articles:
4. Learn about Japanese humor
Knowing Japanese comedians and telling some Japanese jokes is a great way to make a Japanese person feel comfortable. This will immediately reduce the foreigner vs Japanese gap and differentiate you from all the other foreigners who have no clue about Japanese humor.
Sarcasm is not considered as humorous in Japan and the foreigners who get frustrated when Japanese do not respond to sarcasm tend to suffer unnecessarily. The sooner you realize and accept sarcasm is not considered as humor here and is something you cannot explain, the less confusion and discomfort you will create.
Oyaji gags are the Japanese equivalent of silly dad jokes and similar to its western counterpart you will receive a positive reception by men in their 40s and older. However, in general, these jokes will be a hit or miss depending on the person.
If your style of humor is in the dad jokes realm, you should consider learning more about oyaji gags. It will work like a charm if you go to an izakaya and speak with the locals.
Check out this guide here: Oyaji gyagu more than just cheesy puns.
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Japanese Humor - Yoshimoto:
Many comedians in Japan are managed by an agency and the most famous of them is Yoshimoto. Yoshimoto not only manages comedians but has a school for comedians as well and manages a popular theater that holds weekly comedy shows for up and coming comedy talent. They have a theater in both Osaka and Tokyo may have let in several foreigners - who obviously speak Japanese - to go to their school and perform in their theaters.
Japanese people would be very impressed if you know about Yoshimoto and have been there yourself. Especially with men, they would be impressed if you know Yoshimoto and it would make it easier for them to bond with you.
Japanese Humor that both Japanese and foreigners understand:
If you don’t quite understand Japanese humor yet, here’s a useful link to a comedy channel made by American youtuber Dogen: Dogen: Humor that’s not lost in translation. All his videos are in Japanese and are very useful for understanding Japanese humor and culture from an outsider's perspective.
Making Japanese Friends: How to meet Japanese people
5. Join a club/Society
Joining a club or society is a great way to make Japanese friends regardless of your Japanese level! Clubs and societies in Japan can roughly be divided into the themes, culture clubs, sports clubs and language exchange clubs. Japanese High Schools and Universities are full of clubs like these but similar clubs and societies open to foreigners can be found all over Japan. I have found the best website for finding these to be meetup.com. Here are some examples of different types of clubs/societies you could join to meet Japanese people.
- Japanese tea ceremony club
- Kimono/traditional Japanese dress appreciation
Language exchange clubs:
Japanese language club
English language club
There are many different types of groups you can find on meetup.com or on facebook that match your interests. There are tons of things going on in Tokyo, so you are bound to find something that matches.
Meeting Japanese people at a club or a society is a really good way of making friends if you struggle with making on the spot conversation and coming up with conversation topics. By joining a club or society, there will be an overarching theme and purpose to why you are meeting and this will take up most of the focus of the conversation. For instance, tea ceremony requires much silence and concentration. By focusing on this alongside other people you can bond over the actions involved with learning tea ceremony rather than chatting. Also, if you join a sports club like badminton or tennis you don’t necessarily have to speak much at all! You can become close through non-verbal communication and it will become much easier to chat once this initial bond has been formed!
6. Use language exchange websites/apps
Language exchange apps and websites are also a great way to meet Japanese people. You can use these apps while going about your daily routine and before you know it you’ll be talking to loads of different people from around Japan. Just remember to always be safe when using these apps and to make sure you know exactly what kind of person you are talking to.
Some apps we recommend include:
Using Japanese language apps are useful for people who are shy at meeting Japanese people face to face. They are also great practice for nailing those initial self-introductions and coming across the main questions that Japanese people will ask foreigners when they meet them. Once you have been asked these questions and asked to introduce yourself a few times you will become more confident in your answers for when you want to make Japanese friends face to face.
At Japan Switch our target audience is people who are perfectionists who are afraid of making mistakes as well as those who get overwhelmed in language exchanges. If you are feeling nervous or would like to start meeting people in a comfortable and supportive environment, check out JapanSwitch. We are a Japanese language school that helps you build confidence in your Japanese, provide teachers that can answer many of your questions about Japan and get you ready to make the switch to becoming independent in Japan and get you out of the foreign bubble.
7. Mutual hobbies
One of the biggest frustrations foreigners have with making Japanese friends is that while the conversation may start off okay awkward silences eventually start to happen after a few minutes. There are many basic self-introduction topics to talk about such as your names and where you are from however these will only last for a few minutes. Another frustration is having the same self-introductory conversations over and over again and not being able to dive in deeper when speaking with Japanese people.
This means that it is really important to find a Japanese friend that has mutual hobbies and interests with you. Similar to making friends in your home country, the more areas you have in common with someone Japanese, the more likely you are to become friends. This may take longer than ideal as these hobbies can become more apparent over time but having a few questions prepared for when you meet Japanese people such as:
What are your hobbies?
Do you like movies?
What movies do you like?
What music do you like?
8. Make friends of friends
Another way to make more Japanese friends is to make friends of friends. This can work in two ways. Firstly you can ask your other foreigner friends if they have any Japanese friends they could introduce to you. Explain that you are hoping to make more friends and that you would like to hang out together. This way the situation won’t be too awkward as you are already friends with one of the people.
Another way to do this is to ask a Japanese friend if they can introduce you to some more friends. A good way to do this could be to suggest playing a sport that requires around 3 or 4 people. You could ask them whether it might be good to invite more people to hang out and suggest you both invite an extra friend.
Asking friends if they know of any events where you can make new friends is also a good idea. Remember to be proactive in seeking out new friends!
Making Japanese Friends: How to connect with Japanese people personally
9. Take the initiative/Show curiosity
When trying to make Japanese friends showing initiative is one of the most important things you can do. Even if you are shy in person, making the attempt to message and make plans with Japanese people will go a long way.
One thing to note is that many Japanese people make plans far in advance. Sometimes this can even be a month in advance. Remember to take the initiative and message people long before the actual date to check that they are free and secure a slot in their planner.
Also, if you need to cancel plans last minute make sure to suggest a date the plan can be rescheduled to! Some Japanese friends will take a cancellation to heart, especially if they have saved the date for you so far in advance. Suggesting another date will save hurting someone's feelings and keep your friendship going strong.
10. Download Japanese social media apps
One thing to note when trying to make Japanese friends is that the social media apps that are popular in your home country are not necessarily popular in Japan.
For instance, while whatsapp and facebook are popular in the West, in Japan Line is more popular for messaging.
Line is very similar to whatsapp and is mainly used for messaging people. There is also a neat QR code function that allows you to make friends by showing someone a picture of your own unique line account QR code.
The other two most popular apps in Japan are: Instagram and Twitter
If you are more interested in dating, we have an article on Japanese dating apps on our sister media site BFF Tokyo.
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11. Learn Japanese
Learning the Japanese language will help you loads when it comes to making Japanese friends. Learning the Japanese language opens many new doors and provides new opportunities to meet new people. For instance, learning Japanese may help you get a job, get into Japanese University or join a Japanese yoga class where you can make many new friends. Learning Japanese can be done both alone or in a class.
For those wanting to either learn Japanese in a group or in a private lesson, check out Japan switch’s courses here:
Or for those of you who are more interested in self-studying Japanese we also have many helpful guides on our website:
Making Japanese Friends: Common mistakes foreigners make when trying to make Japanese friends
12. Be humble
Regardless of your Japanese ability, whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced expert, being humble is of utmost importance. Humility is a massive part of Japanese culture and an arrogant person will never be popular in Japan even if their Japanese is flawless.
One key thing to note is that when Japanese people compliment your Japanese this is not because you are a complete genius. This is a Japanese custom and the Japanese people will compliment anyone who speaks Japanese. Letting this get to your head and becoming arrogant because loads of Japanese people compliment you is not healthy. Instead remember to politely respond “いえいえ” (ie ie, No) when someone tells your “日本語がお上手ですね” (nihongo ga ojyouzu desune, Your Japanese is great)
13. Make English speaking friends
By making English speaking friends who are interested in and share your passion for Japan, this will first help you on your quest to make Japanese friends. Firstly, by making English speaking friends you are less likely to be lonely. You will therefore be less likely to rush and scare Japanese people off because you are too keen. Secondly, making English speaking friends who also have an interest in Japan will help you learn more about Japan and Japanese culture. They can also provide you tips on how to make Japanese friends and introduce you to some of their own friends.
Remember not to dismiss the idea of starting by making English speaking friends first. English speaking friends will always be there to help you when you struggle to communicate in Japanese and want to speak in English and can offer you much useful advice as a fellow foreigner in Japan.
14. Attend Japanese events
Attending Japanese events is another great way to meet new people. There are so many types of events in Tokyo, some that you can’t even imagine about unless you’ve already been living here a couple of years. Here is a helpful guide to help you if you are unsure about where to start looking: comprehensive guide to Japanese events in Tokyo.
Japan Switch also provides events on our website’s community page.
Japan also has many different events throughout the year depending on what season it is and what holidays are taking place. It’s a good idea to note down Japanese holidays and when to look for events related to these holidays. If you aren’t sure where to start check out our guide to Japanese national holidays here.
15. Actions over words
“My mom never told me she loved me but I know she did because she always made my bento.”
This quote expresses exactly what this tip aims to explain. In contrast to Japan, people from the West are very frank with their emotions. Of course there are people who are exceptions in both the West and Japan but generally Westerners will express their emotions and the Japanese have trouble doing so. Instead, Japanese people often prioritise actions over words. One famous example is Japanese married couples not telling each other “I love you.” Instead, the wife making a bento for the husband everyday or cleaning the house expresses this love. The wife may not feel the need to tell her husband she loves him because she is already expressing so through her daily actions.
So when someone buys you a drink or helps you translate something in Japanese, it is their way of expressing friendship and support as opposed to explicitly saying, “I got your back” or “call me whenever you need help.”
Thank you and Good luck!
Thank you for reading! We hope these neat tips help you make japanese friends in no time!
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