The Art Of Nanpa

Here is a typical story of cross cultural misunderstanding in Japan…

A man from a foreign country walks up to a Japanese woman. He asks her a simple question, for directions to the train station. She doesn’t really speak English, or she doesn’t have much practice anyway, so she points, gestures, grunts, shouts in some form of half-Japanese/half-English… “THERE!” and the interaction is seemingly over.

Then, the man asks her another simple question… “Would you like to go and have some ice cream somewhere? I’ll buy.”

It was simple enough and she seemed to understand, but instead of saying yes or no, she turns and runs away as fast as she can. The foreign man stands there confused, thinking maybe he’s got something hanging out of his nose.

What went wrong, he wonders? (we can only assume he’s just off the boat)

What went wrong is that he “nanpa’d” her, and Japanese people don’t react well to that.

“Nanpa” is a Japanese word that means to talk to girls. It really means to pick up on girls. It has bad connotations, and most nice girls don’t want to be nanpa’d.

The problem is that even the most innocent proposals for a simple date, the kind of good clean fun things that teenagers on 50’s TV shows might do like an ice cream float or a coke, can seem like nanpa to a Japanese person. For the westerner, the problem is that it usually doesn’t work.

I’ll back up just a second and admit that it does work sometimes. You’ll find nanpa to be very successful in clubs in Roppongi where the drinks are cheap enough to get sloshed on quickly, the music’s too loud for any kind of conversation, and the lights are so dark that you probably won’t get a good look at her face until tomorrow morning. In that situation, nanpa will serve you well.

The problem is that Japanese people just don’t walk up to each other on the street and talk. Have you ever seen the fear in most people’s eyes when you ask them a simple question, like directions? This is because 1) they are embarrassed by their lack of English skills, and 2) people just don’t chat with strangers in Japan.

And this leaves us with a big question – How do you meet girls or guys in Japan? (That’s right, the same goes for the ladies!)

Because people don’t just walk up and talk to strangers, dating services are widely used in Japan, more so than back home. People meet mates through mutual friends, online dating services and clubs.

If you’re not a native, it can be hard to be part of all that. Especially if your nihongo (Japanese) is not up to speed. And that’s why there are language exchanges!

Here’s a great way to meet somebody in Japan… “I want to work on my Japanese. I’ll help you with English if you help me with Japanese. We can meet at a coffee shop, or restaurant…”

You get the drift.

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