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Erika Alpert (Nazarbayev University)
Abstract ID: 330
Topic: Language, gender, sexuality
General Session Papers
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This paper presents the results of initial fieldwork on online dating (netto-jô konkatsu, koikatsu) and other types of internet-based partner matching options in Japan, focusing on the possibilities for textual and interactional self-representation on different sites and apps available to single Japanese. This includes widespread international apps like Tinder and Grindr, along with local apps like 9 Monsters, a popular gay app that also incorporates light gaming functions, or Zexy En-Musubi, a revolutionarily egalitarian site aimed at heterosexual singles specifically seeking marriage. I approach this question by looking at the different technological affordances for profile creation using these services, and the ways users engage with those affordances to create profiles and search for partners, based on examination of websites, apps, and public profiles; interviews with website producers; and ethnographic interviews with past and current users of online dating services. I primarily argue that self-presentation in Japanese online dating hinges on the use of polite speech forms towards unknown readers, which have the power to flatten out gendered speech differences that are characteristic of language ideologies in Japan (Nakamura 2007). However, dominant cultural ideas about gender, sexuality, and marriage—such as patriarchal marriage structures—may still be “baked into” the structure of apps (Dalton and Dales 2016).

Studying online dating in Japan is critical because of its growing social acceptance. While in 2008 the only “respectable” site was a Japanese version of Match.com, in 2018 there are numerous sites and apps created by local companies for local sensibilities. Where online dating is already established, in the West, there was little sociological study of it while it was becoming popular, in part because research on the internet also lacked respectability. By looking at Japan, where acceptance is growing but online dating has not yet been normalized, we can gain to a deeper understanding of gender, sexuality, romance, and marriage in Japan. Japan’s experiences can also potentially provide a model for understanding how online dating practices might develop elsewhere. In the US, online dating faced many of the stigmas that it continues to face in Japan—that it was “sleazy,” “sketchy,” or desperate. In spite of these stigmas, however, it grew slowly until it suddenly exploded. (Orr 2004). Will it explode in Japan? By looking at how people use these sites, this paper also hopes to shed light on the uptake of online partner matching practices.

Keywords: Japan, Love, Online modes, Polite speech