Monday, January 25, 2010

Romantic closeness level - US Vs. Japan.

Hi everyone,

A friend of mine one day brought up the subject of her Japanese friend in the US, who is casually dating an American man. Today, I'd like to discuss what determines your romantic 'closeness' level to someone in Japan.

To make this understandable, let's call her friend "Ami," and the American man "James."

Ami is convinced that she has shown her interest level to James by spending time with him together (just the two of them), giving him a gift, opening up her personal life to him, and making a lot of time for him. James takes Ami out to dinner, pays for the meal, opens up to her, and spends that time with her as well. One day, however, Ami realizes that James has not been as receptive to her advances, nor has he shown any signs of greater interest in her. Why is this? Could it be that James never realized she was interested in him at all?

Here in Japan, there is a certain level of 'closeness' (or proximity) that can be understood by your language and how you respond to them. The Japanese language itself has several levels that make it clear for you to know whether you are just an acquaintance, a friend, or someone much closer to you.

If someone made the advances such as Ami did in Japan, it would have indicated that 1.) they are interested in you, 2.) they want to spend time with you, or 3.) they want something more. Had Ami not shown any interest, she would have not spent time with him alone, not opened up her personal life to him (especially to another man), and lastly, not made any time for him. In America, however, this could be still read as just being a "good friend." Why is this?

In the U.S., communication is more open and free, but the 'friend' and the 'romantic interest' are much harder to decipher. Everyone treats each other as an equal. Unfortunately, speaking as an American, this is a very common misunderstanding amongst people in the US. Figuring out how close someone is to you, or whether that interest is there or not is very difficult to understand. Even if Ami knew these facts, it would not save her from the "American" stress associated with this circumstance.

Had their relationship become more serious, meeting others may also be an issue. Ami will not be meeting other men (even just male friends), but James may want to meet his other female friends. While doing this in the US is is not considered terrible, it is still problematic. Doing the same is equal to being unfaithful to your partner in Japan.


  1. It seems that Ami is reaching to James in subtle ways that is taken granted in the U.S. Ami would not give her heart to James unless she feels there is some level of attraction. Giving her heart to someone is a affectionate step to being in love. James lives in a culture where being open is acceptable and is not considered a invasion of privacy, therefore Ami's action of intimacy is thought as nothing special but typical conversational behavior.

  2. I find it strange that James would pay for Ami's meals yet is not interested in her. That would just send signals to her or even an American woman that he is interested and/or wants to take care of her. Its not really the point of this blog but I reckon it may have some effect on her reaction to this. But I digress, finding out whether or not a person is interested in you is quite ambiguous in America. Though Im quite sure the same thing happens here. I know a Japanese guy(26) who recently confessed to his female friend who is now married that he liked her. And he knew her since high school! The problem is that I dont know what kind of signals he sent her. She sure was shocked though. The fact that this kind of ambiguous situation is mistaken Japanese movies and dramas must also mean this sort of thing does exist in this society. This possibly makes it less of a 'Vs.' and more of 'it really depends on the person.'

  3. @rLéJean さん: I guess from the perspective of my friend who told the story, the level of Japanese communication makes it 'easier' for the person to understand their intentions right away by their chosen expression.

    I do agree that if Japanese movies and dramas are showing this 'hard to understand' ambiguity in their scenes, then there must be a similar problem that resonates within the society.. however, that additional level surely does make it easier to know (as opposed to the "American ambiguity" we are all familiar with).