I next connected on the Bumble app with a Chinese woman who worked for a Japanese food delivery app company and looked athletic, slim and kind. This time I decided to first get to know each other a little the old-fashioned way, the telephone.
After a couple of enjoyable calls, we agreed to meet at a cafe. Then on the morning of our date she texted, “FYI, I’ve been fasting for a week. So I can’t eat or drink anything.”
I wondered what a fasting person does at a cafe. I thought about looking for a different place that served electrolyte soup or smelling salts, but it seemed pointless. So I just went to the cafe we’d decided on.
She walked in looking at least 15 kilograms heavier than her profile picture and wearing a black blouse that was dusted with powdered sugar around the collar. She ordered hot water with lemon and started off the date by explaining her weight gain:
“My company sent me on a three-month assignment to Kobe and the apartment they gave me was so small that it didn’t have a kitchen. So I had to use our food delivery app a lot.”
Her Kobe assignment was one of those non-negotiable job transfers to another office that Japanese companies force their employees to do, a practice known as tanshin funin (単身赴任). A Japanese manufacturer I’d previously worked for here actually wrote in their rulebook that employees could not refuse a transfer, even if they ordered you to their new sales office in Afghanistan.
I was married with two little kids during that job, and once had to spend several months in California and then a year in Osaka without my family due to tanshin funin orders. The highlights of my life during that boring period were interviewing for other jobs and getting a colonoscopy, so I felt bad for my date.
But dating’s a battlefield too, and I couldn’t help but fixate on the combination of her fasting and her powdered sugar crumbs. I decided to let the discrepancy go and just ride out the date by offering empathetic comments like:
“Well, it’s great that you supported your company‘s product despite the situation.”
In the end we left on friendly terms, and it was on to the next one.
My next date was with an elegant-looking Japanese lady whose profile picture showed her at a restaurant, face beaming as she raised a glass of wine. Her profile was in English and stated at the end, “Sorry Japanese guys, foreigners only.”
For some reason I ignored this classic Japan-dating red-flag. After only two bad dates I was already desperate, a dangerous place to be for someone new to dating apps.
She knew the manager of a trendy Tokyo restaurant in Ebisu and made a Friday dinner reservation there for us. That night I showed up a little early and waited at our table for her, amazed that we had the best seat in the house: a corner booth looking out at a garden.
In my seat I took another peek at my date’s app profile. I saw that she’d added some new photos, one of which showed her on a bar stool with her eyes closed taking the biggest drag on a cigarette I’d ever seen. She soon strutted into the restaurant wearing a dress and high heels, nodding at servers as she went by with the air of a VIP customer.
She sat down and I quickly saw that — like the Chinese woman before— she looked almost nothing like her pictures. She’d clearly altered them with the kind of glam filters that teenage girls in Japan use in photobooths to make themselves look like cute anime.
Her face in her app profile was radiant, slender and doe-eyed. But in-person it was creased, swollen and haggard, like Saddam Hussein’s was after he spent a month on the lam in an Iraqi cave.
She came out firing 100 mile-per-hour fastballs at me, touching my arm and leg as she talked loudly. I sat back in shock as she hit me with a stream of jaw-droppers and silly compliments:
“I like Americans because their accents are so sexy. Ohhh…you look like a movie star!”
“Oh, you like this corner booth? It’s my usual seat for this kind of thing.”
“If you’re faithful to me, I like to make love a lot. I’m quite strong.”
She had me on the run from the start, her “usual seat” comment causing my blaring mental sirens to combust. Yet such is my dislike of confrontation that I stayed for another two hours while she bossed servers around, talked about intimate moments with past lovers and claimed that she’d appeared in the Japan production of Rent. She topped everything when she started singing snatches from its soundtrack.
Everyone within 20 meters of our table was cringing at her. I wanted to point behind her and yell “whoa, what’s that?!!” and take off while she looked back.
I’d brought with me a humorous book I’d written about working as a foreigner at Japanese companies, just as a conversation piece if things stalled. When she started bragging about how she was an Instagram influencer, I pounced at the chance to at least salvage some book sales out of the night. I took out my book and she grabbed it from me:
“Give me that! I’ll post about your book right now.”
She then showed me her Instagram page, which had 20,000+ followers. It was titled “honorable-love-ellegant” and had a tagline that read “F-CUP Japanese”. I blanched when I saw that my book’s cover was now posted next to pictures of her posing half-naked in places like tanning salons and skin clinics, photo filters in full effect.
As she watched me wince at her pictures she leaned in, grabbed my hand and whispered:
“Yeah I do edit my photos, but I really am an F-cup. Do you like what you see?”
I could feel the stares of the whole restaurant boring into me and tried to retreat:
“Actually, you know I’m really more of a leg man.”
After dessert I finally got out of there with an Oscar-worthy promise that I’d see her again soon. My net for the night was an 18,000 yen dent in my wallet from the meal, a potentially career-ending book endorsement that yielded zero sales and a vow to delete Bumble from my phone the next morning.