Some of you won’t know how Japanese adolescents and young adults ask a girl out. Typically, for that special someone to become your “girlfriend” you have to go through a custom known as “kokuharu” 「告白」or “confession.” This is seen widely in teen romance movies and anime, but I was astounded to hear that this is a real practice, and more so, that even I would have to do it!
The confession is pretty basic. It can be as simple as the words 「好きです。付き合ってください」which means “I like you. Please go out with me.” That’s the general gist of it. You have to state that you like her and want to date. The Japanese have a belief that once a word is said it becomes reality, or “kotodama”「言霊」. So when you pronounce your intentions it means that you can officially become boyfriend and girlfriend. Until then, you are simply just friends.
I had been seeing my current girlfriend for several months, and had only recently kissed her before I confessed. So even though we both knew we liked each other and had mess around a little, we weren’t dating until I asked. You can’t skip that step like you can in western culture.
My confession itself was rather interesting. I usually use Japanese with my girlfriend, so naturally I confessed in Japanese. But it wasn’t as simple as it should’ve been. Being me, I wanted to be a little smooth about how I said it. She was talking about wanting me to help her write a job application in English or something. So I said in Japanese that if I did that, she had to do something for me in return. Given the build up and the atmosphere at the time, I thought it was pretty obvious I was asking her out. She even asked to confirm what I meant, and I replied that I thought she’d know without me saying specifically, and it was about time it happened.
Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding. She thought I was talking about the birds and the bees, but I was really talking about dating officially. For many Japanese people, it’s strictly forbidden to do anything before you date for real at the risk of losing face. I knew this very well, so I wasn’t thinking about that at all. Well, at least not straight away. She had come to this conclusion by a western thought process, while I had the opposite in mind; the Japanese way.
It was quickly resolved and worked out well. But I suggest to anyone asking out a Japanese girl to keep it simple. And yes, if you’re not if your thirties yet, then the chances are you have to do this confession to get yourself a Japanese girlfriend. Although times are changing…
What are your thoughts on confessions? Do you have any experience with these yourself? Leave a comment!