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How can I make Japanese friends online?

Written by Patrick K
Last updated: October 20, 2012

Making Japanese friends online can be very difficult; many Japanese people are shy, and many more are uncomfortable speaking in English. Also, Japanese people tend to use Japanese social networking sites rather than international sites like Facebook; for cultural reasons, many Japanese demand stronger privacy controls than most U.S. sites offer.

Thankfully, Oh My Japan is a social network designed specifically to help connect English speakers with Japanese people. Even so, making friends online, especially Japanese friends, can be challenging. For example, if you are chatting online using software like Skype or MSN, there is a time lag of about half a day between the U.S. and Japan; even just finding time when you both are available to talk can be difficult, since morning in the U.S. is night in Japan (and vice versa).

This article contains the tips which I have found to be the most helpful when making Japanese friends online.

Make friends with similar interests.

Although it's very easy to meet people online, it can be hard to keep the relationship going strong. People come and go, and even if you have a few great conversations, sometimes the connection fizzles out within a couple weeks.

One reason for this is that people run out of things to talk about. Even if two people don't have much in common, they can enjoy a few nice conversations of small talk as they introduce themselves to one another. However, once they have told their stories, there is often no place for the relationship to grow.

To make sure that you always have something to talk about, consider making friends who share some of the same interests as you. Art, sports, movies, music-- if you have the same hobbies or enjoy relaxing in the same way, it will be much easier to develop a friendship that stands the test of time.

Oh My Japan makes this easy by allowing you to add interests to your profile. Once you have added an interest on the basic info page, you can click that interest on your profile to show a list of all other members who have selected that interest.

Language considerations- Use grammatically correct English.

Whether you are chatting on Skype or MSN or corresponding via e-mail, be sure to use gramattically correct English when writing to Japanese people. Many Japanese have studied English grammar for several years (most Japanese study English for at least six years from junior high school through to the end of high school); however, their knowledge of English is "textbook grammar" and not the kind of "natural" English one finds in TV, movies, and everyday conversation.

While most Japanese people will appreciate your helping them to improve their conversational skills, don't be too casual, especially at first. Specifically, I would suggest the following:

Avoid profanity.

While in truth I often swear, learning how to curse properly can be very difficult for beginners in English. Also, Japanese profanity operates completely differently than English profanity. Further, many Japanese people feel uncomfortable with such language (as do many native English speakers!)

Thus, the safest thing to do is to be sure not to swear too much, especially when you are first getting to know each other. Of course, if your Japanese friend is dropping an f-bomb every third word, feel free to mix it up a little.

Spell correctly.

While native English speakers can easily tell what you meant to say even if your spelling isn't perfect, your Japanese friend may be looking up half the words you type in a dictionary. If you don't spell correctly, your friend can't even look up the words!

Abbreviate as little as possible.

While abbreviations like LOL, BRB, and "bcuz" are common on the Internet and in mobile phone text messages, most Japanese people are not familiar with them. Avoid using abbreviations whenever possible and check to make sure your friend knows any given expression when you first use it.

Write complete sentences that start with a capital letter and end with a period.

It sounds lame but it will make you much easier to understand for non-native speakers. Many Japanese people have actually sent me e-mails thanking me, saying that I was the first American they had corresponded with who wrote in a way that they could easily understand. That means not enough people are doing this!

Pay attention to when you use idioms and try to check if your friend understands.

Idioms are among the hardest expressions for non-native speakers to understand. Unfortunately, as native speakers, we often use them unconsciously, since they are frequently the easiest way to get our points across-- see what I mean?

I think the best way to handle this is to pay attention to the idioms you use-- try to listen to yourself as you speak, and if you catch yourself using a lot of idioms, make sure your Japanese friend understands what you are saying. If he or she does not, this is a great opportunity to teach him or her a new English expression!

Learn how to spell and pronounce Japanese people's names.

If you don't speak Japanese, Japanese names can be very hard to pronounce. They can also be hard to spell. However, if you're going to be friends, there's no excuse-- make sure that you can spell and pronounce your friends' names.

Since nearly all sounds in Japanese already exist in English, learning to pronounce Japanese names may take a bit of practice, but it is definitely doable.

As far as calling Japanese people by their names, once you have practiced spelling/pronouncing their name (which you should do immediately!), use it often when talking or writing to them. One of the easiest ways to make people feel special is to use their name.

If you are close in age or the Japanese person is younger, referring to each other by first name should be fine-- the person is your friend after all! If your friend is much older than you, however, I think it best to ask the person how he or she would prefer to be called-- first names may be ok, or they may prefer that you refer to them by their family name.

To indicate respect (but also to add a bit of distance, so be careful!), you can add san to the end of a name. For example, Shunsuke becomes Shunsuke-san. Whether to add san or not can be very complicated-- bookstores in Japan have shelves of books on this topic-- but to keep it simple, I would recommend referring to your friend in the same way that your friend refers to you. If he or she adds san to your name, do the same for him or her.

One more point to note-- if a Japanese person initially added san to your name, but then drops it, this is a sign that he or she thinks your relationship has progressed and is now more intimate. In this case, assuming that you feel the same way, you should also stop adding san to his or her name.

Write back in a timely manner.

It may be obvious, but if your friend sends you a message on Oh My Japan or an e-mail, you should do your best to reply within a reasonable amount of time.

What is "reasonable"? Of course it's different for every friendship, but I think a good rule of thumb is to do reply within approximately the same amount of time that it took your friend to respond to your last message. Of course, some people write more often than others, and that's certainly ok. But you want to make sure that your friend doesn't feel neglected!

As for the length of your message, if you are writing in English, keep in mind that your Japanese friend is not a native English speaker. For this reason, especially if you write a lot, be sure to write proper sentences and to break your sentences into paragraphs. Then run spell check. Doing all of this may be a little trouble for you, but it can spare your Japanese friend an enormous amount of confusion!

Do you have any ideas about how to make friends with Japanese people?

I'd love to hear them and share them with other members of Oh My Japan. Submit your ideas using the form below!

About the Author


Patrick is the Director of R&D at Oh My Japan. He hopes to make OMJ the best site on the Internet for English and Japanese speakers to connect with one another.