A recently divorced American tries the local dating app scene
Photo: courtesy of Pakutaso
It’s almost scary how small a world Tokyo can be for foreigners. I texted an American friend of mine here about my previous Bumble date with “F-CUP Japanese” and he replied, “Oh my God, wait. Send me her Instagram page.”
It turned out that he‘d heard about her because he knew other American men who she’d hunted on the app. Not only that, he said she was also known as a pimp who was paid to bring attractive women to Tokyo dinner parties. My friend’s girlfriend had been approached once to work a gig for her.
“Run. Away. Fast. Faster!” was his warning, not that I needed it. I’d already messaged F-CUP Japanese and told her I wasn’t ready to date people I meet on apps.
But I decided not to give up on Bumble just yet. I‘d just take a break from it. So my next date came via an invitation from an old Japanese co-worker and friend. He was single and in his late 30s, and he asked me to join a dinner party he was hosting at a Shibuya restaurant.
I didn’t ask questions and agreed, assuming it was just a casual dinner with his friends and colleagues. But when I arrived that night I was greeted by four 30-something Japanese men in suits and five younger Japanese women dressed in evening gowns, like they were working in a Ginza hostess bar.
At first it all smacked of a Japanese gokon (“group date”). They all rose formally in unison as I walked in, my friend saying “Welcome Mike!” as he pointed to the last empty seat at the table.
It soon became clear that only the men knew each other. And then it was explained that the women really were hostesses who’d been hired to be there using an app, making me some third category of a party guest.
The Japanese hostess bar style (Picture from Michael Howard’s book, The Salaryman).
I was placed next to the only English-speaking lady there and for a moment I thought there was still a chance we were being set up for real.
But from the start our conversation was very customer/professional hostess. She deftly deflected every question I asked her about herself into something about me:
“What do you do for fun?”
“I really like learn English. Can you teach me English?”
“Do you like to travel?”
“I once went to New York and love there. Are you from near there?”
“Do you like this job?”
“I like it when I talk to someone like you. Tell me what you think about Japanese ladies!”
I started to sweat as I wondered what the bill would be for dinner, drinks and these five hostesses.
Then the table’s conversation turned to me. My friend emceed, and knowing my history he guided the others to ask me personal questions about my failures with Japanese marriage, Japanese companies and Japanese dating apps.
He told me to answer in English and he’d translate as needed. My annoyance with my friend and the funk from all my terrible dating finally caused me to snap. When one of the women asked me for the stories of my bad dates, I unleashed the blow-by-blow of each while roaring with laughter, much to their entertainment.
It was odd. They all were not only enjoying or profiting from online dating, but were also themselves adding to my string of failures with it. Yet it felt great to pound drinks while I described my dating disasters.
At the end of the night my friend winked at me and told me not to worry about paying. Of course I was relieved but I also realized that, like the girls, I’d been part of his hired entertainment for the evening. I saw that I actually was not really his friend, but a foreign clown show for his table.
A couple of weeks later he dropped all pretentions of friendship and asked if I’d do the same routine again with a different group of people for the same free-dinner deal. He then explained that the girls had been hired using an entertainer for-hire app called Pato (Japanese lingo that plays on the English phrase “part-time job”), where hostesses go for a rate of 7,000 yen to 25,000 yen per hour. He told me I could have a nice side-job on Pato if I wanted.
It was hard to see our relationship devolve into commerce like this, but I said no to his offer for a different reason. I’d just met a very nice American woman on Bumble who was equally ready to zap the app off her phone forever after some bad dates.
But my happy ending didn’t come peacefully. F-CUP Japanese— I forgot to block her on my phone! — texted me the day before my Bumble subscription ended and said, “I know your reason to not see me is a lie. I see your profile and you’re still using the app. I hate American guys like you!”
Bumble seemed as ready to say sayonora to me as I did to it. And that’s how my winter on Japan’s dating apps ended.