Life in Japan Real Talk

If You Want To Make Friends in Japan, Get A Dog

If you want to make friends in Japan, get a dog.

That’s it.

That’s the whole post.

If you want to make friends in Japan, get a dog.

(Disclaimer: Dogs are a huge responsibility and are obviously not for everyone. Also, finding dog-friendly accommodation as a foreigner can be challenging. I’m just using my blog to talk about my experience.)

“How to make friends in Japan?” is a question that I see posted all the time on forums related to life in Japan. (The next question I see posted frequently is, “Going to driving school in Japan/How to get a driver’s license in Japan?” )

Why are so many foreigners finding it hard to make friends in Japan? Surely it can’t be because of moving to another country before establishing a sense of self.

At any rate, I’ve spent my entire adult life here. I thought I’d share some ~wisdom~ on how to make friends in Japan.

Before I get into the actual post, let me explain that it’s very tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also very, very personal. This post is a conversation that I wish I’d had when I was fresh off the airplane at 19 years old…

If You Want To Make Friends In Japan, Get A Dog

 

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If I said, “You need to speak Japanese to make friends in Japan,” then I’d invariably encounter people who’d ask, “Well, how much Japanese do I need?”; “I’ve mastered Genki decks 1 & 2”; “I haven’t taken the JLPT yet but I’d say I’m N3.” and so on.

The secret to making friends in Japan isn’t about your language ability or hobbies or even living in a metro area. 

It’s about YOU as a person, and what YOU bring to the table.

And, to answer your question, “How much Japanese do I need?” My answer is:

Preferably all of it, because asking your newfound friends to translate and interpret everything ain’t it.

If you are only willing to put in the bare minimum (i.e. setting a low standard of language learning for yourself), you WILL encounter half-assed, low-effort “friendships.” 

You wanna make friends because you crave human contact, or is it because you genuinely want a lasting relationship?

It sounds harsh, but we need to be honest here.

If you want to make friends in Japan, you have to show that you’re here for the long run.

Yes, life happens.

Yes, things change.

But, that’s not an excuse. Nobody wants to get invested in a relationship that could end in a few months or a year’s time just to be your token Japanese friend.

Think about it. 

YOU don’t want to be someone’s token foreigner friend/language teacher/cultural expert, so extend that courtesy to others. 

If you can’t even commit time to bettering yourself, then how can you commit time to others?

You ever heard the phrase, “People make time for what is important to them.” It’s usually used on Pinterest/Tumblr/Instagram in the context of romantic relationships, but I feel like it’s applicable to friendships.

This is why I’m saying, “If you want to make friends in Japan, get a dog.”

“How does having a dog help me make friends? And, anyway, Japanese people work too much.” 

No, not all Japanese people the people with dogs. 

Besides, if Japanese people work too much, why are you complaining about not having Japanese friends? 

“Well, I don’t have time for a dog.” OK, but you magically have time for a friend.

Do you want Japanese “friends” so you can flex your naijin-ness, or do you want quality friendships?

If it’s the latter, then you should appreciate the company of kind-hearted people, regardless of their nationality/ethnic background. 

People who have a dog also have time to spend, and they are very particular about how they spend that time. 

Having a dog is a lifelong commitment that starts with you and your dog. You have to start by knowing each other and adapting to a new way of life together. 

Once you have that bond, together you will continuously open doors to meet new people and make new friendships because…

A dog will force you to get out of your house, if only for daily walks around the block.

Even in our new normal under COVID-19, people still go out and walk their dogs, so just talk to them!

Or, they might even come up to you — In my case, being a foriegn woman with a black Shiba is a rare combination so we definitely stand out.

Having a dog is the ultimate ice breaker!

Think about it.

People love talking about their dogs, and there’s an endless amount of questions you can ask a dog owner. 

Start with simple questions like:

Oikutsu desu ka? (How old is your dog?)

Onna no ko desu ka? Otoko no ko desu ka? (Is your dog a boy or girl? I’m not imposing human sex/gender catetgories on dogs. It’s literally just a conversation starter.)

If the dogs are wearing clothes, compliment them:

Youfuku wa kawaii desu ne! Tedukuri desu ka? (Those clothes are adorable! Did you make them yourself?)

They’ll be flattered that you think they can make dog clothes and will tell you where they bought them if they’re not handmade.

If you’re tired of being approached by people making comments on your appearance, a dog will deflect some of those comments, put down those defense barriers, and give you a chance at a genuine conversation.

Shiba Storytime

 

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I did this when I moved after getting engaged, by approaching an older gentleman with a beautiful black Kai. (I’d never seen a Kai in person.) 

I introduced myself and said, “I’m new to the neighborhood and am looking for a vet.”

Turns out he and his wife had just returned to Japan after living in New York for more than 20 years! 

So, not only did I find a new vet, I befriended an older couple fluent in English and very familiar with American culture & politics. 

Fast forward, 6 years later, and S-san and his wife are like godparents to my daughter! 

Here’s another fur mom anecdote for you:

A few weeks after I got my Shiba, an Argentine woman with two Shibas randomly approached me and gave me practical advice on being a Shiba owner.

She noticed that I was using a collar and leash, so the next time we met, she also gave me some of her older equipment like a harness and retractable leash (which I still have 8 years later as a backup!). She had a daughter around my age so she really looked after me and we’d regularly have dog dates at the Yoyogi Park Dog Run until I moved.

And, if you’re thinking about pursuing romantic relationships in Japan, here’s how a dog can help:

Dating in Japan With a Dog

Bringing a date to your place as a dog owner means you will be liable for injuries or accidents. So, for me, having a dog was a good way to gauge the pace of a relationship. 

When I was dating, I wanted to be back home by a certain time so I could walk my dog. Obviously that can be a deal breaker when dating, but I never considered my dog to be a liability to my love life. 

They say dogs are a good judge of character for a reason, and I believe it! If your dog doesn’t like your love interest, you’re not compatible, and if your love interest doesn’t love your dog, you’re not compatible!

In fact, I’ll just use this opportunity to say that the biggest reason why I married ~mY JapAneSe HusBanDo~ is because my dog took an instant liking to him. 

I love telling this story because everyone thinks it’s so ridiculous, but it’s 100% true.

Any relationship that ever got to the “meet my dog” phase instantly fizzled out.

There was even one date at a dog-friendly cafe where my always cheerful dog demanded to sit on my lap and proceeded to growl at my date. 

The. 

Entire. 

Time.

I quickly noped out of that relationship before I mysteriously ended up missing.

Months laater, I met my husband, and my dog loved him from the moment they first met! 

My father-in-law had a Shiba growing up, and whenever we visit, he loves taking my dog on walks.

My mother-in-law, who isn’t even a dog person, was so happy that her son settled down, she even arranged it so that my dog could walk in my Shinto wedding procession. He had on a customized hakama and everything! 

So, the moral of the story is, you want to make friends in Japan, get a dog… and you might end up married with kids!

 

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Now, my dog and daughter are BFFs (mainly because she supplies him with food,but that’s another story).

This post is very different from all the motherhood and beauty posts here. But, as I said in the beginning, this is a conversation I wished I had at 19 years old.

Living in Japan, (or anywhere else), isn’t always going to be a kawaii rainbow paradaisu.

Sometimes living in Japan is like in a bubble, a hype house that will praise you for doing the absolute bare minimum.

But, let’s be real…

Living in Japan is not a personality trait.

Speaking Japanese and/or having high JLPT scores just makes it easier for you to function in Japan.

Being interested in certain Japanese subcultures or working in certain industries doesn’t make you better than other foreigners.

Dogs keep you grounded and provide unconditional love… while never holding back on calling you out or letting you know that they disapprove of your antics.

A dog will help you get your shit together when you’re feeling down.

Unemployment, breakups & heartache and death of loved ones hurt, and dealing with all that thousands of miles away from home sucks.

If you can’t confide in a human, or don’t feel like online anonymity is enough, a dog will be there for you.

So…

if you want to make friends in Japan, do yourself a solid and get a dog. You will have a friend for life to help you navigate your hardships and celebrate your achievements!

By the way, July is the birth month of my beloved Shiba, and “If You Want To Make Friends In Japan, Get A Dog,” is one of two posts this month dedicated to him! Stay tuned for the next installment which details how we met. Stay tuned!

For more “Real Talk” on Japan, check out:

An Honest Look At Life In Japan: Living In A Crystal Birdcage

On Black Lives Matter, Taking A Stand, and Finding Myself

If You Want To Make Friends In Japan, Get A Dog

 

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