How can I meet new people and make 'car friends' in Japan? We have plenty of helpful tips and advice!
If you don’t know anyone in Japan and you’re interested in going there to see some cool car stuff, whether it’s on a holiday or maybe even to live, at some point you’re going to want to make some local connections there. Without knowing anyone it can be quite hard to find out what’s going on and where – although we’ll try our best to help with this as much as possible! We won’t sugar-coat it though; as a foreigner it is a bit difficult to make friends in Japan. Some people might find it easier than others because of their job, or due to the fact they can speak Japanese. However, it’s understandable that not everyone who’s interested in Japanese car culture is going to have either of these things! But that’s where we can help…
Whether you don’t know anyone in Japan and you’re starting from scratch, you’re in Japan currently or perhaps you’ve already had some form of contact with people but you’ve been a bit confused or scared about how you should act or talk, we’ve put together this guide with all of our top tips for what to do in different situations. You’ll be networking like a pro and make new friends and contacts in Japan before you know it!
The first step: Understanding basic etiquette.
If you know absolutely nothing about Japanese manners and etiquette, then you’ve already got a lot to learn. But assuming that you’ve already read through our Beginner Guide #1: Basic Etiquette For Visiting Japan, you’re already schooled in the basics – which means you’ve completed the first step! Some people might not see how adhering to general etiquette in Japan is important, but if you’re wanting to leave a good impression, knowing this stuff really does matter. It shows that you care about Japanese culture and that you’re interested in the ‘way they do things’ – making an effort to fit in like this can really go a long way.
Get on Line.
If you’re wanting to make friends in Japan, you’re going to need this! LINE is an instant messaging app (available on iOS, Android and most other operating systems) and it’s what everyone in Japan uses (mainly on their mobile phone) to communicate. We’d recommend downloading it (it’s free) and familiarising yourself with it. It’s pretty basic but like any app, it does take a while to get your head around. It’s worth it though, as if you want to connect with Japanese people online, this is the place to do it!
Give people stuff!
It’s a great idea to have business cards handy to give out to people – even if you don’t have an actual business, this doesn’t matter – it can just be a contact card with your details. This might seem strange to some, but it’s quite the norm in Japan.
PRO TIP: LOOK AFTER PEOPLE’S BUSINESS CARDS! If someone gives you their card, don’t fold it in half or scrunch it into your pocket – this is considered rude! It’s polite to treat the card with respect; treat it as a special item that represents that person.
Alternatively, anything else you give out to people like stickers (you might have some made up with your personal blog name, for example) will go down a real treat. In Japan, it’s a pretty big deal to get given a sticker from someone, and you’ll find that people will be very appreciative of this small yet significant act.
PRO TIP: It might sound farfetched, but English names and words are considered cool to Japanese people – just like how we think Japanese writing is cool. This is something to consider when making your stickers or cards.
Have a social media presence.
Some people are against using social media, and even quite a few Japanese people don’t use common social platforms like Facebook or Instagram – although these are slowly gaining popularity in Japan now. But we’d really recommend having profiles on both of these apps as this is really going to help you be able to connect with people. Basically if there’s anything that lets you link yourself with others and network more efficiently, you should go for it!
You don’t have to be a photographer or blogger to make friends with people, but being able to show people that you have a common interest is important. If you’re wanting to make friends with ‘car people’ in Japan, it’s no different to making friends in your home country – it’s the language barrier that ultimately makes it difficult. If you’re an AE86 owner visiting Japan, for example, head along to an 86 meet and strike up some conversations with some of the owners in attendance. Make sure to show them a photo of your car on your phone – they’ll LOVE this!
If you’re taking photos at an event, give some of the owners your details and tell them to check your website (or add you on Facebook or Instagram) to check out your photos of their car. It might sound scary approaching people and trying to speak a foreign language, but quite often you’ll find that people will be very flattered that you’re giving them attention. Many Japanese people genuinely just don’t get the opportunity to spend time around many foreign people, so they’ll often be very curious and interested by you!
Continue learning Japanese.
More, and more, and more. Do some revision while you eat breakfast, listen to podcasts on your way to work, put post-it notes around your house – don’t stop learning! This will absolutely be your number one biggest asset of all when it comes to making Japan contacts. Once you start learning basic sentence structures and particles, you’ll also be able to communicate more effectively using written Japanese with the help of Google Translate…
Learn how to use Google Translate effectively.
Translation tools such as Google Translate make things a whole lot easier these days, but it can still actually be quite hard to get across the exact thing you’re wanting to say, as some direct translations of English words simply don’t exist in the Japanese language.
If you’re wanting to attempt a conversation with someone in Japanese online (the most common situation here would be using Facebook messaging or LINE), don’t just jump in and write something random that you’ve translated then copied and pasted. Chances are that parts of it will make sense, but some parts won’t. Think about the words you are using – do they have double meanings that might be confusing? Is this really the best word to use to get your point across? Really think about what you’re writing and try to use short, simple sentences, as this will likely translate better.
The same thing goes for commenting on social media, OR if you’re using the Google Translate app on your phone to then use for an actual face-to-face situation with someone. Although it might take a bit of learning and practicing Japanese in order to understand how to do this, it’s worth taking the time to get it right the first time, as otherwise the misuse of a certain word could cause a world of confusion!
PRO TIP: When you translate something from English to Japanese, copy the Japanese characters and then translate these back into English. This will give you a better idea of what your translated words mean in Japanese. For example, you might’ve used a specific word which makes perfect sense to you, but it might not translate well in Japanese. This method will point out any tricky words like that, so you can try to use a different word instead, or structure your sentence differently.
Above is an example of how we’ve used Google Translate on our computer to translate Japanese text from a conversation, and then formulate a suitable response. This method might not always get your point across in the most correct way in terms of word choice and grammar, but it’s still a good starting point for people with only a beginner level understanding of Japanese.
DID YOU KNOW: Kanji are the more intricate and complicated characters used in written Japanese, and there are well over 2,000 kanji symbols used in the modern Japanese language today. Kanji are ideograms, so each symbol has its own meaning which relates to a word. By combining more than one character, different words can be created. As an example, the combination of ‘electricity’ and ‘car’ together means ‘train’. Pretty confusing, huh…
Using translate on your phone.
It can often be a bit more difficult to copy and paste text on your phone in order to enter it into Google Translate, but keep in mind that you can actually take a screenshot and then upload it into the app, and then highlight the text you want translating – a pretty cool feature, right? Here’s an example of the process above. It’s also worth noting that there are many different language translation apps out there, but we still find Google to have the mosteffective translation tool.
PRO TIP: If the writing you’re wanting to translate is too small, try cropping the image to make it larger.
Understand how Japanese names work.
Japanese names can be pretty confusing when you’re used to western names, but you’ll become familiar with them quickly enough. The most important thing to keep in mind with Japanese names is that the family name (surname) is said first, followed by the given name (first name). In Japanese culture, people are referred to as their family name in most situations, unless they’re around friends or people they are close with. When people introduce themselves, they say their family name then given name. (We’re all familiar with how the popular character Takumi from Initial D introduces himself to his racing opponents as ‘Fujiwara Takumi’).
You’ll also probably have noticed the word ‘-san’ being added onto the end of people’s names. This honorific suffix is added to a person’s name in both formal and informal contexts, and for any gender. There are many different honorifics used in Japanese, but -san is the most common – you can think of it kind of like adding ‘Mr.’, ‘Miss’, ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mrs.’ An example of using this is with Nakai-san, the Porsche tuner and founder of Rauh-WELT Begriff. Nakai is his family name, and the -san suffix is added on afterwards.
Japanese people understand that in English the given name is said first, followed by the surname. This is why you’ll often see their name translated to English with their name in the same format. On Facebook it’s pretty popular for people to have their name in Japanese characters, with the translated version in English in brackets underneath. Above is an example of our friend Matsutani-san’s Facebook profile. See how the names are the opposite way around?
Don’t forget: Never call yourself -‘san’.
It’s very handy when people include their name translated in English, because sometimes the same kanji characters can have multiple meanings, which makes translating them difficult. To further confuse things, the same name can sometimes be written numerous ways – for example, the popular male given name ‘Takayuki’ can be written 17 different ways – WTF!
This is less common with surnames and female given names, with male given names generally being the most confusing. When you translate Suzuki-san’s full name using Google Translate, you can see it actually brings up ‘Noriyuki’ as a translation for his first name. This is because these names share the same kanji, so sometimes using Google Translate to translate a Japanese name might not actually give you the person’s correct name. So if you’ve met someone but can’t figure out their name, the easiest way to find out is to actually ask them!
Here’s an example of someone we met in Japan. On his Facebook page, he’s only used his name translated into English, but he’s written it in the Japanese format of surname first, then his given name. Say you weren’t sure about which name was which, though. You could ask:
“Fujiwara wa myouji desu ka?” which translates to “Is Fujiwara your family name?”
If you got a nod or a yes back, you could then say:
“Wakarimashita. Hajimemashite, Fujiwara-san!”, which means; “Ah, I get it. Nice to meet you Mr Fujiwara!”
This is all very polite, but it’s best to speak politely to someone you’ve only just met.
At first, all Japanese names do sound similar. But after a while, simply by seeing or hearing a name, you’ll generally be able to tell given names from family names. Family names follow more consistent rules, and you’ll often meet people who share the same family name – Suzuki, Satō and Takahashi are among some of the most common. The easiest way to tell if you’re unsure is simply to Google the name, and it’ll instantly tell you whether it’s a family or given name!
Making friends in Japan isn’t perhaps the easiest thing in the world, but it is possible and not to mention a fun challenge! Brush up on your Japanese, put your networking hat on and get out there and start talking to people! Plan your Japan visit around a big event, go there and throw yourself into it. Yes, it takes research and planning – but slowly building relationships with the right people is the key to enjoying to Japan car culture at its very best!