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Migration to Japan for the first time, how to make friends

Are you planning to move to Japan? Migrating to another country means to start from scratch and turn over a new leaf, from finding a new place to call home, applying for a new job, and forming a new set of friends.

In Japan, many foreigners feel like it is not easy to make friends – but making new connections and acquaintances can help your stay become much easier to deal with. Although Japanese people tend to be quiet and reserved when they meet new people, it does not mean they do not want to be your friend. In most cases, they are a little too shy to start a conversation partly due to cultural differences and the country’s conservative nature.

This article will then help demystify the mystery of making friends in Japan that intimidate a lot of foreigners and expats.

Migrating to Japan? Here’s how to make friends easily

Having the right people around you can have a positive impact on your experience abroad, so how can you easily make new friends in Japan?

This may sound surprising, but even foreigners who can fluently speak the Japanese language and have lived in the country for many years can still struggle to make friends and form new connections.Foreigners tend to rush too fast in developing new friendships, which often makes a Japanese person uncomfortable because of their persistence. Better yet, take time in establishing your friendship. Keep in mind that befriending new people is easier when they are comfortable with your presence.

Challenges on making Japanese friends

Japanese people tend to be intimidated by the idea of communicating with foreigners, unless they’ve experienced living abroad or are friends with many expats. It is common for many locals to overthink and complicate things in their own mind. As a result, they end up not initiating or maintaining contact even though they want to.

Because of Japan’s conservative nature, some locals could be too fixated on what could go wrong. They dodge a conversation simply to avoid the chances of stuttering because their knowledge of the English language is limited. The best solution is to initiate many conversations and make requests or invitations to meet up.

Another common challenge is to find a new friend with the same hobbies and personality as yours. This is not any different in making friends back in your home country. Finding areas of common interest can make it easier for you to befriend someone.

Some foreigners or new expats may feel a sense of desperation and urgency to make new friends in Japan, partly because of loneliness and lack of social network. Hence, they might want to jump into a friendship quickly. They start moving at a faster rate than most locals are comfortable with.

This may result in a struggle to make new friends. Understand the Japanese person’s mindset better and move at their own pace, as opposed to taking things to your own pace. The last thing you would want is to come across as someone aggressive.

Where to find Japanese friends?

Putting yourself out there is a great start. If you want to form meaningful relationships, you should try to meet new people even if you are the least socially outgoing person in the world. Today, mobile apps have become an invaluable resource for the lonely expats. You might want to check out socializing apps such as Meetup.com and CouchSurfing to find various group hangout options once you arrive in Japan.

These sites have a mix of Japanese locals and foreigners, which is a great way to find bilingual friends. You can also attend many social places and events to find new potential friends. For instance, you can consider going to karaoke spots, live music shows, bowling alleys, conventions, and bars.

Work with common areas of interest to establish a connection more easily. In the case of an anime and manga convention, if you share the same interest with the person beside you, do not hesitate to be a friendly face and strike up a conversation. Bars are also a great avenue to find new friends. You can choose to either go with a group or go alone.

Regardless, you may attract one or two people who want to have a nice conversation. If they see you are a foreigner, there will always be people who will approach you to practice their English. Some may be a little drunk, but just enough to get themselves speaking!

Getting through the formalities

In making new friends, it is important to understand the basics of Japanese communication.
While it is only normal to use formal Japanese, you might want to know that people usually do not speak that way unless situated in a formal setting. The polite form of the Japanese language is useful and encouraged in a business or work environment, but it typically makes the locals uncomfortable in a normal, more lax setting.

Surprise your acquaintances by using natural slang. It might lower their guard and thus make them relaxed around you. Some slang phrases used by Japanese people in their 20s and 30s are “azas”, a slang for hello and “yabai” for dangerous. For older audiences, you can start with “nandeyanen” which is a phrase for “Are you joking?” in the Kansai region (Osaka), “majide” for “Seriously?”, and “mecha” for “very much or a lot”.

Making your Japanese friends more comfortable

Making friends in Japan as a foreigner means going out of your way to make a Japanese person feel more comfortable. This applies when trying to make friends in more traditional and reserved areas of Japan, such as Kyoto, where people are generally hesitant in approaching strangers.

Go out in groups

A good rule of thumb is to meet new people in a group gathering, since some people may be hesitant to meet you one on one. Japanese people tend to be shy and reserved, especially with people they barely know. Inviting a person to join you in a group hangout removes the anxiety in meeting with just the two of you.

Avoid going to uncomfortable places

Inviting a prospective friend to your house right away, especially of the opposite gender, will probably not work out. The Japanese culture remains to be conservative. Why not consider meeting them in a public place like an izakaya? There are lots of izakaya and other places to eat and drink in metro Japan – use that to your advantage. Once you start making more connections, you can organize a house party. This will help you develop a core set of friends much faster than meeting them outside.

Be generous and kind

Practice the art of being generous when making new friends in Japan. It can be presented in simple gestures such as giving snacks or souvenirs when you meet them. This shows them that you care about them and you are simply not a taker. Choose to be kind as well. Simple acts such as opening doors for people, helping someone with their luggage, buying someone a meal or a drink – can make them feel more comfortable. It is a nice act that really impresses people, and you’d want to make a good first impression, especially as an expat.

Get on well with your neighbors

In Japan, your relationship with neighbors is very important. If you happen to share a room or an apartment with someone, extend your courtesy by visiting your neighbors and telling them that you have moved in. Although not necessary, you can also give them a small present. The important thing is to introduce yourself and express your hope to get along with them. If you inform them you are new to the country, chances are they will greet you with a warm heart and offer to show you around. Eventually, you can also become good friends with your neighbors.


After successfully meeting new friends in Japan, remember to put in twice the effort to keep in touch! Establishing a deep and meaningful friendship does not stop with one or two meetings.

Thanks to the help of various apps such as Line, Twitter, and Facebook – you can easily stay connected with your newfound friends. The key to making new Japanese friends does not rely on your knowledge of the local tongue alone, understanding what and how the locals think is more significant than your language ability.

Regardless, the most important thing to do is to initiate conversation and be friendly. The more friends you make in your new country, the better your new life will be!

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