The woman’s dating app profile said she was German, 42, lived in Japan since 2012, enjoyed hot springs and was “looking for serious guys only. No ONS, FWB or BDSM”.
Google said that these acronyms stood for “one night stand”, “friends with benefits” and “bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.” I suddenly realized that my own profile lacked the weirdo-filtering last phrase of the German lady’s. So it looked like I was up for an all-night bed rope and handcuffs session with any nutjob in Tokyo.
This explained why my inbox was full of invites from people like Jill the American, who’s profile read:
“Just a kinky girl looking for fun. Dominant mistress! Looking for someone who will worship me.”
This was how I started last winter with the world of Japan’s dating apps, not long after my 15-year marriage to a Japanese woman had ended. COVID lockdowns the past two years had removed the most common ways for Japanese to meet new people — group dinners ( 合コン gokon) and office relationships.
And as for how divorced foreigners normally find dates in Tokyo, not only did I not have any good pick-up lines anymore, but I saw that this didn’t even matter. With bars and izakaya shut down and offices closed, all those valuable lessons from my youth in rejection and detecting red-flags were worthless. The approach phase now would be all virtual.
Things had changed since the last time I’d been part of any dating scene. That was in my early twenties in late 1990s Newport Beach, California, a simpler time and place. Your ability then to date, ONS, or FWB depended not on your being clever with smartphones and apps, but on your having a good opening line, a BMW and an HWOV (house with ocean view).
I was as broke as a joke back then and mostly flailed at dating in glitzy Orange County. This time in Tokyo, I’d get tripped up by technology and cultural confusion. My misadventure began when I registered on the Japanese version of Bumble, the dating app that requires women to make the first move by “swiping right” on the man’s profile page.
And the German lady who liked hot springs would be my first of four disastrous dates.
My game was off from the start. I remember being happy to see that she lived in Kawasaki, an industrial area between Yokohama and Tokyo and the location of my company’s office.
After 14 years here, I’ve adopted the Japanese obsession with convenience, so much so that I took her living there as a possible sign of fate. So I plowed ahead and proposed we meet in Kawasaki on a weekday after exchanging only a few messages.
Like many Japanese salarymen I still usually went to the office even during lockdowns, so I also think it felt good to know that I could quickly pop back to the sanctity of my desk if the date went badly.
So I plowed ahead after exchanging only a few messages with her. I proposed we meet in Kawasaki on a weekday.
We met in the evening at her favorite café in the area, which she hadn’t been to for a year. I stumbled right out of the gate. As we sat down I realized I forgot my reading glasses at the office. So I asked her to read the menu to me. As she read it she noticed that like many Tokyo cafes during lockdowns they’d added a selection of beer to fill the void left by bars closing at night.
She then ordered a latte and when I decided to go for a local IPA, she did a double-take and glared at me:
“What? You got beer? You didn’t see that my profile said that I’m sober?!”
“Um. No. Really? I don’t think it mentioned that. Did you add that part later?”
“Well, you should have seen my profile change. Alcohol on a man’s breath is gross when kissing.”
“Wait, who says we’re gonna kiss?”
The reason I hadn’t seen her profile update was that I didn’t know how to turn on the Bumble app’s automatic notifications. But I was a little ticked off and didn’t feel like apologizing for my lack of tech savvy.
“Anyway, it’s 5pm, and sorry, but who figures ‘sober’ would be added to a profile later?
She crossed her arms at this and we sat there silently for a minute.
I tried to break the tension with a laugh:
“I mean, you’re German and you chose this place with craft beers!”
She scoffed, got up and left the café. And that’s how my first date Bumble crumbled.