Q&A: Making friends in Japan?

Meeting people in a new place can be challenging no matter where you are, but as expats in Japan, how do we make connections with the local community?

Q: I'm a university student from Canada visiting Japan for the summer. I'm in Numazu currently and have found it difficult to meet Japanese people. My Japanese is very elementary but it just seems hard to befriend natives here. Expats, however, are a different story.

Any tips or advice?


A: Welcome to Shizuoka, David! I know I'm biased, but it's quite a lovely place to live. :)

In regards to your question, I know from experience it can be difficult at times to create relationships quickly with Japanese people, especially without a significant Japanese-language ability. However, I also know from experience that it's very possible, and sometimes happens more quickly than you think it will.  A few suggestions:

Check out your local community center. (コミュニティーセンター or 公民館  [こうみんかん] in Japanese, or look for a cultural center [文化センター, ぶんかせんたー]). They often have various cultural type classes and events, ranging from calligraphy to various martial arts (though it depends on where you live, but Numazu is a pretty large city). In that way your Japanese ability won't be as much of an issue, since so much of the class would be "doing." And it's likely others in the class may be interested in finding out who you are, why you're in Japan, etc.

Find a language conversation partner. I've found that often I develop relationships quickly with those who are interested in learning and practicing their English, and found a few friends in the process! And that way you can also practice your Japanese.

How to find a language partner? There are various ways to do so (I've found I can find one just by visiting the hair salon). Perhaps see if the community center is offering English classes and find out if anyone is looking for an English-language conversation partner. Other options would be to visit online sites such as italki.com, where there are many people looking for conversation partners. I'm not sure if you'd be able to find anyone in Numazu or not, but it's possible you might find someone in the area, and even if not, it's still a great to meet people.

Find out if your city has a "Friendship Association" or some related organization. Some cities have associations designed to connect foreigners with the community, but it can be a good way to connect with Japanese folks as well (through events and things). You might check out the city's website for this info (I'm sure Numazu has an English version to their site), or go ask at city hall (if you have anyone to take with you to help you ask).

Those are a few ideas to get you started.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for David?

Some suggestions we've received so far:

From Caroline Josephine:

Signing up for Mixi and trying to network and make friends on there is always a good shot. You'll get a bunch of people who just want to learn English at first (or if you're a cute girl, possibly ~other~ things) but if you weed out the weird ones you can find a few good people. I've made a few friends that way.

From Byron:

The local community center is the best bet. Once you find friends with common interests, fitting in is easier. Of course you'll always get that "teach me English" thing, just take it in stride. I was a band geek in high school and college, so for me it was just finding a community band in the area (which is hard in the countryside). Once I got connected fitting in was easy, and since everyone shares the same common interest, conversation is starts to take off, and the language barrier is gone. I've been here now for 15 years and counting.

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