My First (and only) Blind Date in Japan

blinddate

When I first moved to Japan as a young and naive new graduate, I had just undergone a horrific break up.  It involved boyfriends, best friends and backstabbing.  You know, the usual college drama.

At the same time, I was also ready to hit the dating scene.  I hadn’t been single in five years.  I was ready to paint the town red, party, go wild… and most of all: date.

Problem was: I lived in a very remote village.  There were no bars.  No restaurants.  No place to mingle and meet people.  Aside from 7-11.

So, I took to the internet.

Back then, there wasn’t tinder or OKcupid or any kind of dating app.  In fact, online dating still had a nasty social stigma attached to it.  Still, out of options, I turned to a (now old) Japanese social media site to not only find a date, but potential friends nearby.

And oh man, I turned away so many weirdos.

But one day, I received a message from a young, single man who was not only genuine and kind in his message, but was a former alumni from one of the middle schools I taught at (he was a long time graduate–I wasn’t robbing the cradle!).  After chatting about life at the school, teachers, and the area, he did the unthinkable:

“You know, I was thinking I would really like to brush up on my English.  And it would be fun to, uh, you know, go out.  To talk.  Do you want to go on a date next week?”

The Date

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I was waiting at the local train station.  Instead of have him pick him up at my house (and consequently let him know my address, where he could then potentially cut me up into little pieces while I slept), I picked a meeting point.  To say I was nervous was an extreme exaggeration.  I had never seen the guy, much less spoken to him on the phone.

I must be really desperate to be going on such a blind date, I thought, as axe murderer scenes played out in my head over and over again.

A blue truck came by and stopped near me.  A young man with a short haircut, white shirt and blue jeans hopped out and walked up to me hesitantly.

“I’m Y-y-oshio..” he stuttered.  “Are you Mary?”

“Uh yes,” I shifted awkwardly. “Nice to meet you.”

He bowed.

Then I bowed.

“……”

“…….”

“What a cute truck you have!” I pointed, trying desperately to cancel out the awkward silence following our all-too-Japanese greeting.  “Let’s hop right in!”

“S-s-s-so…” he stuttered.  “I thought we c-c-could do one of these act-t-t-ivities…. a-a-and… uhhh….. here!”

He handed me a stack of five Niigata guide books covered in bookmarks, post it notes, and footnotes.  I flipped through them and found hand-written notes that included potential date plans written for every single location.  He must have read through each guide book over a dozen times.  I was speechless.

What did I get myself into, I thought, as he started up the truck and sped off.

Please let me get through this day alive.

To the Aquarium!

After much polite banter, I told Yoshio that I would essentially “makaseru,” or leave it up to him in terms of our date day.  The man looked like he was going to faint.  I told him to have confidence, that I trust him, and he perked up a bit.

It was obvious that Yoshio had never met a foreigner, much less went on a date with one.  He was trembling, he stuttered, and he, for a lack of better description, looked scared shitless.  I felt like I was torturing the poor guy just by sitting next to him.

I smiled and laughed and tried my best to execute small talk, Japanese style.  “The weather is a bit cloudy today, it might rain! Good thinking, choosing an aquarium for our daily activity!”

He smiled hesitantly, but with a bit of smugness.  “ha… yea, you’re right, huh!  It was good thinking!”

I smiled back, hoping that (finally) the ice was starting to break.

“I’m sorry I c-c-c-can’t speak English,” he quickly apologized.  “I practiced all week to talk to you, b-b-b-but I’m a bit nervous.”

“It’s ok, “I smiled warmly.  “We can practice later.  I don’t mind speaking Japanese.”

Although he was a nervous wreck, I could tell Yoshio was a good man.  The guide books proved it.  His utter dedication to give me an amazing date was flawless.  The man had prepared mints.  A new air freshener for his car.  He even told me his outfit was brand new, just for this day.

In traditional Japanese dating fashion*, Yoshio took me to an aquarium–and like a true gentleman, he paid for our entrance passes. We looked at the jelly fish in awe, screamed ‘kawaii’ (cute!) at the waddling penguins, and looked in majesty at the sharks that whizzed by in the surrounding tanks.

Yet Yoshio was still wiping sweat from his brow and hands.  He continued to be a stuttering mess.

“Oishisou!” the children nearby screamed at the fish that swam past us.  “Those fish look delicious!”

“Wow!” another couple nearby pointed to the lazy octopus resting on the giant aquarium rock.  “That octopus looks mighty tasty!”

This is where I learned that, in Japan, the most common phrase you hear at an aquarium is “oishisou!” or “that looks de-lish!”

“That’s different from America,” I commented to Yoshio with a laugh.  “We don’t eat as much seafood in the states, so we would never say ‘oh man, I wanna eat that!’ at an aquarium!  I mean, don’t you feel bad for the fish?  Could you imagine eating seafood after this?”

Yoshio’s face turned ghost white.

Oh god.

“A-a-actually I b-b-b-ooked a s-s-ushi restaurant for us after this….”

Shit.

“It’s ok!” I smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “We’re in Japan, so it’s totally  ok!  Mmmm mmm!!  Look at that shark!” I pointed, ” I could eat him right up!  Ahahaha… ha…”

Yoshio was already on his cell phone cancelling the reservation.

Anything for you

Yoshio and I had ramen for dinner.  He was obviously very depressed about his fatal error on his perfect date itinerary.

I, on the other hand, was hellbent on not letting this date go to ruin.

“I just wanted to say,” I slurped down some beer to give me confidence.  “The town you’re from.  The school I teach at.  It’s really magical.  The children there are so moral, wholesome, and caring.  You should be really proud.”

He looked up at me, his eyes wide.

“Every time I exit the train station near your school, the station masters always greet me and know me by name.  I love hearing the ocean on my walk to your school.  The sea smells so fresh.  I like running up and down the stairs at your school, each creak and moan telling me about all of the graduates its hosted throughout the decades.  Sometimes, I stand in the music room and look out to the ocean for minutes, if not hours at a time.  I could listen to the ocean at your school, your hometown, all day.  It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”

For once, he smiled without a nervous twitch. A genuine, warm smile.

“I used to stand in the music room, too.  I used to watch the ocean there,” he paused.  “It’s beautiful.”

View from the school. I wasn't lying! It was right next to the ocean and absolutely enchanting.

View from the school. I wasn’t lying! It was right next to the ocean and absolutely enchanting.

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Photo of the classroom before the school closed. This was my favorite school. A Junior high in a fishing village with only 60 students total in the entire school. Teaching here was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

After dinner (and to honor Japanese dating tradition*) he took me to an arcade.  After playing a few games and our way out, he ran to the UFO catcher machine.

“See that teddy bear,” he pointed through the glass box to a green care bear in the corner.  “I’m getting that for you.”

“No, it’s ok!” I laughed.  “I’ve already had so much fun today!”

He ignored my words and put money in the machine.  Five tries and twenty minutes later, the man was almost out of coins and still desperate for a teddy bear.

“One more time,” I nudged him. “After that, let’s go.  I’m already honored with your efforts.”

“I’ll do it,” he looked me dead in the eye without hesitation. “For you.”

And like an act of god, he got it on the last try.  The metal claw scooped up the green bear and dropped it into the prize box.

Oyasumi

Before the night came to a close, we went to a small goods shop for our last stop on the date.

For some reason, I found a ‘domo-kun’ doll and bought it on impulse.  When Yoshio met me outside of the shop, I handed it to him.

“This is for you.  So you’ll always remember today.”

“No, wait, let me get you something…!” he attempted to run back into the shop.

“Domo kun for a care bear,” I laughed and grabbed his shirt, stopping him in his tracks.  “We’re even now.”

He dropped me back off at our meeting point.  Just like when we met, he bowed his head ever so slightly and softly said “Oyasumi,” or good night.

We never had a second date.  Frankly, he was just too nervous for me to handle.  For him, maybe he was eternally embarrassed about the aquarium/sushi mix up.  Or perhaps, he realized, foreigners just weren’t for him.

Still, I had respect for the guy.  To go on a date with a foreigner–when you had never met one before, and in the countryside to boot–is quite the challenge.  It’s something that many Japanese people currently studying in the states, or even working here, would never even consider.

Although it was the most awkward date of my life, I still have that teddy bear.  It’s a reminder of my one and only blind date, the kindness of the Japanese people in Niigata, and of Yoshio, a genuinely good person.

I hope wherever he is, he’s healthy, happy, and content.

And maybe, just maybe, domo-kun is resting somewhere in the depths of his closet.

Have you ever been on a blind date?  Or a severely awkward date?  What was your experience?

*The typical Japanese (high school) date usually means 1. going to an aquarium 2. getting dinner 3. going to an arcade and doing “purikura” or photo booth.

27 thoughts on “My First (and only) Blind Date in Japan

  1. autumnashbough says:

    Hilarious and sweet, all at once. Wow, what a brave guy. I hope you are right, and his life was a bed of roses after that one terrifying day with the Ruby Ronin. 🙂 Maybe he tells the story of the canceled sushi reservation at parties ad gets a big laugh.

    I never thought of going to the aquarium as window shopping before dinner. ROTFL. It makes sense, though.

    • rubymary says:

      Haha I know I’m sure he still tells tales today about his date with the foreigner. Or maybe not. Either way, I think it was a good experience for both of us.

      I tried to make a joke at an aquarium once and said “yum yum oishisou!” and pointed at a penguin, but my Japanese friend gave me the look of death and said: “Mary. We don’t eat penguins in Japan.” Japan really needs to work on sarcasm, ha.

  2. Ruth Silbermayr-Song says:

    That is so cute, but coming from a culture where going on a date usually means going for coffee or to a bar together (and the word “date” doesn’t even exist), I think it would also make me feel very awkward. Seems like it’s the same in Japan and in China – the woman is supposed to choose what she wants to do for the date, right?

    • rubymary says:

      I know, when I asked what the word for date was it was kind of awkward, especially since 约会 means “appointment” basically. The word can be used in all sorts of situations. If I said I had a “yue hui” most people wouldn’t think of date–in fact, they probably wouldn’t know what to think. My best friend in China went on an arranged date 相亲 and on their “date” the guy immediately started talking about when to get married and how many houses he had. My friend is a bit westernized, so she ran away frightened, haha.

      I think after Chinese men and women are “officially” dating then the woman decides almost everything (especially in the south).

      How is it in Vienna?

      • Ruth Silbermayr-Song says:

        It’s usually a bit more balanced in Vienna, but it depends on each individual couple. They say in China, men decide almost everything outside the house, but the women decide everything at home. I prefer a more balanced approach where all important things are discussed between the two partners.

        • rubymary says:

          Agreed! I don’t think this happens in China, but Japanese women rule the house so firmly that they receive their husband’s entire paycheck and allocate it accordingly. Thus, most Japanese salarymen have an “allowance” from their wives. So while the men decide on stuff outside the home, the women are controlling *everything* in the home.

          I much prefer the balance as well. I think this is what makes a healthy relationship.

    • rubymary says:

      NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! I’m sure it would have been a great one! I looked through my spam and other things to see if it went there but it went poof. Sorry Lani! I appreciate your efforts!

      • Lani says:

        Well, I was quite proud of the fact that I asked, ‘Why was he nervous?”

        Were you wearing something slinky? Perhaps a tight-fitting blouse? Showing a lot of leg? Maybe too much wrist? Hmmm? 😀

        • rubymary says:

          Hahaha Yeah I think I was showing way too much wrist. Especially for those Japanese boys. I don’t think they can handle it.

          I think he was just a nervous person in general, but the combination of meeting a girl from the Internet plus the fact I was a foreigner was overkill for him I think, haha.

          Now that I think about it, though, *I* don’t remember what I was wearing. Could have been a tight-fitting blouse!

  3. Marta says:

    I wouldn’t call them “dates” (it sounds kind of stupid in Spanish), but I have definitely met with guys that I only knew from the internet before. Loads of them!! Hahaha! Some were nicer than others but I was lucky that I never met a weirdo (maybe because I can tell one just by exchanging a few sentences. My 18 years of online chatting experience are useful for something, haha). Heck, most of my boyfriends I met online first. Even C.! The first time we met we had agreed to go to an ice cream place 5 minutes away from where I lived and he turned up in his car, I was kind of hesitating to ride with him! But as you know everything went well 😛

    • rubymary says:

      Haha oh Marta! Loads of them huh!? I met Richard online too, so I guess that could be considered a blind date? I guess Yoshio was the only person I went on a date with despite never seeing his photo or even really talking to him (usually the guys I’ve met online before, I’ve talked with them extensively for a few months or years until we meet up!).

      Aw! An ice cream first date! That is so cuuuuuuuuuute!

      • Marta says:

        Oh yes, I used to talk at least for a few days before meeting in person. And also after seeing a picture. Not to check if they were handsome or not, only because the type of picture they send can also reveal if they are weirdos, haha (for example if a guy would send me a pic on this underwear… I would not meet him!).

        • rubymary says:

          hahaha!! Yeah the underwear guys were always a no. A lot of Japanese guys would skip the whole ‘getting to know you’ and just straight up ask me, “so… sex?” Yeah. Stayed far, far away from those.

  4. Buri-chan says:

    This was such a fun read–and so relatable, even though I’ve never actually been a date with a Japanese guy! There was one sort of accidental 3-person date I went on that this reminded me of, though.

    I was visiting a fellow American friend in Tokyo, who made arrangements to hang out with a few of her local friends. One girl had to leave right after lunch, another girl got sick and couldn’t come, and the guy who was at the center of this social circle invited a guy friend of his, but for whatever reason did not show up himself. That left me, my friend, and this guy to hang out with each other all afternoon and well into the evening.

    This guy–who I will never forget, but cannot remember the name of–was a shy guy from Tottori who spoke no English and was very relieved we spoke fluent Japanese. Seeing as I was visiting from Shimane, we had an instant San’in region connection which I think put him more at ease. Tottori-kun very willingly tagged along with my fellow fangirl friend and I as we strolled around Ikebukuro, and although he tried to pay for our cakes at a frilly cafe, we managed to stop him. As the three of us sat at our tiny table with our decorative tea and dessert sets, he stared at his cake for a moment and remarked that he could not remember the last time he had been to a cafe like that. We apologized, but he assured us he was having fun too–though I believe that in that moment of pause he was wondering how in the world he wound up on a date with two foreign girls at once.

    For as good a sport as he was, we were afraid we gave poor Tottori-kun a heart attack by bringing him to a themed restaurant that had a monster attack in the middle of our two hour dinner. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves until we saw him shuttering with his eyes clenched shut.

    “T-Tottori-kun! Are you okay??”

    “No. No. No,” he sputtered.

    “Uhhh…” we looked to each other. “Do we need to get out of here?”

    “That’s not going to work until the monster attack ends…”

    “Seriously, though, are you okay?”

    “No.No. No.”

    When the monsters were apprehended and the normal lights came back on, he recovered momentarily and assured us he was fine. Tottori-kun, the best sport.

    After dinner we went to a couple arcades, and we had almost the exact experience as you described. He would stop at nothing to get the poster that caught my friend’s eye, and afterward, he felt he had to get something for me too. He watched for anything I might have thought was the slightest bit amusing, but I had to forcefully insist that I didn’t want anything (and certainly didn’t want him to use even more money). He relented, but it still seemed to bother him that he couldn’t fulfill that responsibility to make sure both his dates got something from the crane games. Thankfully for both of us I spotted some small goods from an anime which I really was interested in at the time, and even more thankfully, he was really good at this game and in a couple tries wound up with three prizes. I still have those little penguins as a fun reminder, though I have no idea what Tottori-kun is up to now.

    • rubymary says:

      Oh man Buri-Chan, that story is almost completely similar to mine! (plus one). I’m sure that man from Tottori never forgot his evening with two foreign gals, haha. Do you still have the little anime goodie that he got for you?

      I really loved your story, super entertaining! And thanks for the lovely comment.

      • Buri-chan says:

        I have both the little anime goodies, since he scor:ed two in one shot and they don’t take up much room on my book shelf. A nice memory of a date that was totally accidental! But hey, if all first dates are fun like that, maybe I wouldn’t mind going on more, haha.

  5. Joelle says:

    Oh man, I’ve been trying to comment on this for a week. This whole VPN business is pretty annoying!

    I love that he had the guts to ask you out, and I love that he had the guts to do his best to make everything as smooth as he possibly could (Japanese style). I also love that you gave him the time of day and actually went out on a date with him!

    • rubymary says:

      Glad you made it to China and got a working VPN! I thought my site didn’t need a VPN? (at least, it didn’t back in the day…), but with Xi being all harsh maybe it’s different now.

      Thanks for the lovely comment! Can’t wait to hear about your new life over there.

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