Make New Friends While Traveling in Japan
Tokyo, Japan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, has a reputation for being cold and unfriendly - rather undeservedly. While it’s true that big cities don’t have the same sense of closeness and community as larger ones, depending on where you are it’s not hard at all to meet new people. I’ve been to Tokyo several times, and each time I’m always struck by just how kind and open it feels compared to other large East Asian cities. This article talks about how to meet new friends in Tokyo. As someone who’s only traveled but never lived there, do note that this article comes more from the perspective of a tourist, rather than a resident. Still some of these tips apply to people in any situation.
Is Learning Japanese Essential?
Learning a foreign language is a worthwhile thing for anyone to do. It expands your horizons, as well as your personal and professional opportunities. That said, in Tokyo learning Japanese is not strictly necessary. While the English level of the locals isn’t quite up to the standard of Seoul or Hong Kong, it’s absolutely not difficult for an English speaker to get around. It may limit some of the things you can do, and people you can talk to, but there are still plenty of educated and internationally minded Japanese youth in Tokyo and other large cities in Japan. If you’ve already studied a lot of the language, it can be a great asset, but if you don’t know any Japanese you don’t have to worry in the slightest.
Talking to Strangers
People in Tokyo are more open than you would expect, given its size and reputation. Unlike in South Korea, where talking to strangers can potentially lead to a lot of awkwardness, it’s not quite as difficult to talk to people in Tokyo. I would sometimes start off by asking for directions or recommendations in say, Starbucks, while taking a break from regular sightseeing. Occasionally you may even have Japanese people trying to talk with you. My last trip to the country, someone sitting next to me at Starbucks started talking to me, and after a long conversation, invited me to lunch with their family the next day. Tokyoites in bars are also not shy about striking up a conversation, though they may prefer talking to you in Japanese even if their English is good enough.
There are plenty of bars and nightclubs in just about any district in Tokyo. For the foreign tourist, some are easier and more convenient than others. The most obvious choice would be Roppongi, which contains a lot of bars that range from sleazy to upper class, and are visited by foreigners from all walks of life in Japan. Popular youth areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku are also a great choice to meet locals and expats alike. Scattered throughout Tokyo are several standing bars, or one coin bars - drinking establishments with no seating and inexpensive drinks, and which are designed for mingling. During my last trip to the city I visited the 300 Bar in Ginza, which has several locations in that upscale neighborhood - but Japanese from many parts of the city go their to have fun and socialize. Your hotel or hostel might also have some good recommendations, or bars with English speaking staff nearby. Also check out the Tokyo Pub Crawl, which is a large event organized for foreign tourists and takes you to some of the best nightlife spots in the city.
Toastmasters, and Meetup
Organized social gatherings can also be a great way to make connections. Going to a Toastmasters meeting about public speaking may not be the first choice for a tourist looking to socialize, but if you’re already a TM member, visiting a club can be a great way to make new friends while traveling. Meetup.com also has a number of gatherings in and around the Tokyo area, though they do tend to vary in quality.
Large cities can seem cold and impersonal, and for the tourist, it can seem especially hard to meet anyone. With a few tips and common sense, as well as knowing the right places to look, even a gigantic metropolis like Tokyo has plenty of opportunities to meet new friends while traveling.