The Japanese are quiet and reserved by nature. It is not easy to make friends with them. The Japanese who go out of their way to help a foreigner who has lost his way are just being good “hosts” – to them you are just a temporary visitor. Foreigners who’ve stayed in Japan for over a year realize that the neighbor who greets them everyday is not really open to “friendship”. Foreigners too sometimes make the mistake of trying to make friends with colleagues and neighbors for free “Japanese conversation practice”. The Japanese are pretty conscious of this and certainly don’t like it. Again, there are some Japanese too who will act friendly but will reply in halting English to whatever you say in Japanese:-).
The first step to making local friends in Japan is learning Japanese. Show genuine appreciation of their culture. No need to be overly critical of anything and controversial topics are best avoided. Remember that Japan encourages the dyadic concept of “Honne and Tatemae “. This is true of any country though – you might have thousands of complaints about your country and you might animatedly discuss them with your fellow compatriots. But you wouldn’t want to hear bad comments about your country from a foreigner- right?
When you have local friends, you don’t just have to keep watching local matsuris (festivals) from your veranda – you can actually participate in the matsuris and soak in some Japanese culture. They will introduce you to “okonomiyaki” (a popular dish), “kakigoori” (shaved ice) and “kingyo sukui” ( goldgish scooping). They will teach you the local ways – the best places to buy “fukubukuro” (new year luck bag), best places for hanami (cherry blossom viewing), the best summer hangouts.
Sounds like a lot of fun, right? You have to earn it by learning to speak decent Japanese:-)