Meeting new people in Japan should not be a problem since contact with different people is just another daily activity. Yet many people struggle with getting into a relation that will last longer than a 5-min talk. Foreigners are not the only people searching for new acquaintances though. Japanese people too are often stuck in the same circle of friends, a circle they seem to be unable to broaden. However, there is a way to overcome this predicament and it is not necessarily a hard thing to do.
The most important to remember is not to isolate yourself from the rest of society. Staying out of people’s sight is not a way to find a person interested in you. And for those working in Japan, by ‘isolating’ I also mean being locked in the same group of coworkers. Business nomikai can be fun and all, but usually they are not. What you really have to do is to get over the fear of opening to others, even if it leaves you unprotected to their judgement. Fortunately, there are some specific places where socializing with new people is easier than in others. This is why we encourage you to visit Japanese festivals and events, hanami-picnics as well as go to izakayas and bars (please drink responsibly).
Japanese festivals are crowded with people celebrating either a seasonal or a national holiday, partying and having fun. Not always the best places for having a standard conversation, but you can think of it as a plus at this point. You will most likely get invited to join a smaller group of people wanting to move away from the tumultuous crowd to grab a bite or a drink. From that point onward you will get a chance to actually talk in a peace and quiet and spend time with your new companions. Hanami are similar but since people are already eating and drinking there are rarely any migrations. And from my experience, you will be invited to a circle of people quite fast, given that you do not look too intimidating. In this situation having some good snacks will be very advantageous to you. Sharing is caring and a quite useful way of making friends. After breaking the ice with some delicious food your friendliness and good manners will win the hearts of your new friends.
Izakayas and bars usually bring a wide variety of people, so you should not expect your chance of meeting someone with whom you may continue a lasting relationship to be high. Occasionally people’s good etiquette disappears as a result of alcohol intoxication, but from my experience that only makes people more open and joyful rather than noisy and irritating. In izakayas conversations between tables usually start on accident cause people sit very close to each other and, honestly, this talk only makes things less awkward. In bars bartenders will be your best friends until someone sitting next to you will suddenly add something to what you were saying (it really happens too often). But this is also why I recommend sitting next to a bar rather than taking a seat at the table. Closest to the counter is the best place to enter a random conversation.
Above are the fastest and most efficient (in my opinion) ways of meeting new people in Japan. They are also very straightforward and help for creating a stronger bond between people. But there are also many digital ways of reaching to new people. Recently people have been abusing different matching social apps. There is of course a wide selection of them, some with more romantic purposes and some used for learning languages (although sometimes those differences get kind of blurry). There are several dozens of them right now, so use whatever suits your lifestyle and needs best. State rather clearly what you expect from using the app to reach the people looking for the same thing.
And a one important advice: learn some Japanese. Even the essentials will be helpful while meeting others, enabling you to make a better first impression or give an alternative for your conversation partner. There are also many Japanese in all ages keen on the idea of becoming language learning pals, so look for such possibilities in the city you are staying at or via matching app you are currently using. Such exchange also creates a good bond based on looking after one another. Nevertheless, try to learn the language for your own sake, others’ sake and to express your respect for the culture. Same goes with Japanese manners. Worry not, they do not differ much from the Western ones, but have some nuances worth knowing before you dive head first into a Japanese society. I will be writing about Japanese etiquette soon and leave a link here, so stay tuned for that.
And to keep in touch with the people you met do not forget to use the app called LINE. It is an app used by absolutely everyone, maybe with the exception of those who do not have a cellphone. Getting into this app is really simple and straightforward, but above all will keep you connected with your Japanese friends.