Why Won’t You Talk to Me???





Months before arriving in Japan, I promised myself that I would make as many friends as possible while studying abroad. I especially wanted to make Japanese friends because they could help me hone my Japanese language skills. Also, Japanese people are a fountain of knowledge for learning Japanese cultural traditions, so making a few Japanese friends seemed like a great idea. With this goal in mind, I diligently studied Japanese everyday until my departure date in the hopes that I would make the language barrier a lot more manageable. I also read up on some cultural norms to make sure I wasn’t going to offend anyone.

Upon arriving in Japan, I quickly made a few friends, but these new friends were not Japanese. Many of them were fellow international students from Europe and the Americas, who were also living in the international dorm with me. We quickly bonded over our shared experience of moving half-way around the world to a country that seemed to be shrouded in endless mysteries. From having to remove the plastic cap on plastic bottles before recycling them to taking classes on Saturdays. Everything was so different, and it really was quite exhausting to adapt to all of these new social norms. That beings said, me and friends have worked tirelessly to make the Japanese people around us feel comfortable. In the hopes that we could start making Japanese friends.

{Me and my dorm mates at the 2018 Tokyo Hike!}

Interestingly enough, we haven’t really had that much success when it comes to meeting Japanese students that are roughly our age. From what I can discern so far, the problem stems from two things.


The first being, many Japanese students at my university are not as open-minded as our school claims they are. For instance, days before the start of the Fall semester, I eagerly awaited the Circle (Circle is the Japanese term for Club) presentation and mixer event because I thought this would be a great opportunity to finally meet some Japanese people.

To my surprise, of the 1,217 clubs at Waseda University only about 10 are open to International students and some of those circles had really high standards, so they would outright reject anyone who didn’t meet those standards. At that time, when I overheard students been rejected from a few circles I couldn’t help but feel angry and betrayed. I mean, at the University of Maryland where I study in the U.S., we have a huge club fair in the Fall and everyone is eligible to join any club. As an International Ambassador at my university, I have helped international students join all sorts of clubs, so I couldn’t believe what was happening to me in Japan.

Confidence and Communication

Even though the event was quite the letdown, I still managed to join a Japanese dance circle called WIF (Waseda International Festival) because I still believe that I can at least make 5 Japanese friends while in Japan. The good news is, that I have made 3 Japanese friends so far, but I would consider myself lucky because I know a few people at my dorm who know none. Now, just by participating in my dance circle, I have realized the second challenge in becoming friends with Japanese people. The challenge basically revolves around how comfortable the Japanese person is when it comes to speaking English, or their willingness to speak slowly in Japanese. To put it short, if the lines of communication become too strained then it’s difficult to establish a long-term relationship.

{Group Soran Bushi ready for action (^-^)/ }

I experienced this first-hand, when I met my friend Awaji san because at first, he tried really hard to make me feel comfortable by speaking in English, but that eventually put a strain on him because he felt like his English wasn’t good enough. I had to quickly adapt to this factor by trying to speak as much broken Japanese as possible to make him feel equally comfortable. What I am trying to hint at is the complexity of making friends in Japan because not only do you have to account for the language barrier, but you also must consider the cultural differences between both parties and how that might affect their willingness to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds.

{Yakiniku party after learning the whole dance for Wasedasai}

Looking Toward the Future

It is a little to early to submit my final judgement on this complex issue, so hopefully by the end of the semester I will have a better sense of my place in Japan, and maybe by then I will have a few tips for those interested ?