Love in a time of Covid: dating apps flourish at lockdown Olympics

For visitors to Tokyo, the current state of emergency means that any hopes of meeting locals, sampling Japanese food and drink, or discovering the city have been massively curtailed – if not totally dashed. And so more and more are connecting digitally

John Amari
In Tokyo
Wednesday 21 July 2021 20:09
<p>Locals have noticed a rise in foreign users of dating apps</p>

Locals have noticed a rise in foreign users of dating apps

After a year-long delay, the Tokyo Olympics begin in earnest on Friday.

For thousands of athletes, delegations and media crews from abroad, the excitement of the games, not to mention Tokyo itself, is palpable.

And yet the government declared a state of emergency in the host city and surrounding areas, the fourth such declaration, amid rising coronavirus infection numbers, between 12 July and 22 August.

For the visitors, this not only means they have to be quarantined upon arrival and be monitored; their every move to and from the Athletes Village or hotel and the venues is heavily restricted.

And any hopes of meeting locals, sampling Japanese food and drink, or merely discovering Tokyo and Japan are massively curtailed – if not totally dashed.

But that’s not stopping many of them from skirting social distancing measures, if only digitally.

Social media platforms in Japan, in particular dating apps, are experiencing an uptick of foreign users, most of them officially here for the games.

One Tokyoite, a Japanese woman in her thirties, noticed that “so many media people from the States and the UK are on there,” referring to a noticeable increase of foreign profiles on dating app Bumble.

She points out three foreign men in their forties who recently surfaced on her Bumble feed: two are reporters covering the games, while the other is a sailing coach on a national team.

And she’s not alone. In fact, it was a Facebook friend of hers who initially made a post about the sudden increase on Bumble of foreign males associated with the games.

Asked what dating apps are trending in the city currently, a female expat on Facebook said: “Bumble – lots of engineers looking for a ‘second life’ until the end of September.”

But it’s not just Bumble, which caters mostly to women meeting men and each other, that’s trending in Tokyo. Apps like Tinder and OkCupid, are also trending, if with mixed results.

One person on Facebook noted: “Tinder in Japan literally sucks. Idk but very weird profiles with cats/dogs/food pics and god knows what else. Ok-Cupid and bumble seems better. FYI there is no such thing as Olympic lockdown in Japan... haha.”

Pairs, a domestic dating app that is popular in Japan, has also seen a slight increase in foreign users – which is remarkable given the app is in Japanese, meaning users need more than a passing knowledge of the language.

Unlike most other dating apps, Pairs caters to people looking for longterm relationships. While it’s free to use for women, men have to pay a monthly fee to join.

Foreign members of the LGBTQ+ community are also connecting digitally with locals and expats via traditional dating apps like Grindr.

A male expat also on Facebook, agreed that not everyone is adhering to social distancing rules, noting: “Grindr is crazy popular right now. They are breaking all sorts of quarantine rules there.”

Rules under the emergency declaration include social distancing, curtailed hours for bars and restaurants, restrictions over the sale of alcohol, and restrictions over non-essential gatherings after 8pm. What’s more, there will be no crowds at Olympic venues and events.

For international athletes, delegates and international media visiting Tokyo, these restrictions pose a real challenge: how can they enjoy their visit and respect the rules?

For foreigners visiting Japan, the repercussions for breaking quarantine rules, for example, which include at least 14 days of self-isolation upon entry, can be severe: deportation is a real outcome.

But not all are planning to break the rules. “They were asking me if we can meet after the Games,” a female resident in Tokyo says, remembering a conversation she had with one foreigner on Bumble.

Reflecting on her use of dating apps in Japan, another Tokyo resident notes on social media: “Before, there were not many foreigners on Bumble, but within a month, bam. Flooded!”

She remembers walking through the usually popular Shibuya district recently, and noticing a bus full of athletes being shuttled to the Olympic Stadium.

The Olympic rings at sunset in Tokyo

“I saw the Olympians (prob), packed with uniforms in a bus ([all foreigners]), looking outside the bus. Their facial expressions were like, ‘Awww, I wanna be where the ppl are; I wanna see what real ramen tastes like.’”

If any of those athletes are on dating sites, she had a word of warning: not everyone on there is actually looking for a quick hook-up.

Depending on the platform, a lot of people in Japan use dating apps for language exchange or to meet people who speak a language that they wish to study further.

“Tinder is a hook-up app; Bumble is more to meet friends; and Pairs is for real serious [relationships]. It really depends on what your intentions are.”

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