Love in the time of Covid at the Tokyo Games: dating apps flourish in Tokyo lockdown

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

For thousands of athletes, delegations and media teams overseas, the excitement of the games, not to mention Tokyo itself, is palpable.

And yet the government has declared a state of emergency in the host city and surrounding areas, the fourth such declaration, as the number of coronavirus infections increases, between July 12 and August 22.

For visitors, this means not only that they must be quarantined upon arrival and monitored; each of their trips to and from the Athletes’ Village or the hotel and venues is severely restricted.

And any hope of meeting locals, tasting Japanese food and drink, or simply discovering Tokyo and Japan is greatly reduced, if not totally shattered.

But that doesn’t stop many of them from circumventing social distancing measures, if only numerically.

Social media platforms in Japan, especially dating apps, are seeing a slight increase in overseas users, most of them officially here for games.

A Tokyo woman, a Japanese woman in her thirties, remarked that “so many media people from the US and UK are out there,” referring to a noticeable increase in foreign profiles on the Bumble dating app.

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

And she is not alone. In fact, it was one of her Facebook friends who originally posted about the sudden increase on Bumble of foreign men associated with games.

Asked about the trendy dating apps in the city now, an expat woman on Facebook replied: “Bumble – lots of engineers looking for a ‘second life’ until the end of September.”

But it’s not just Bumble, which primarily caters to women meeting men and each other, that is all the rage in Tokyo. Apps like Tinder and OkCupid are also all the rage, although the results are mixed.

One person on Facebook noted, “Tinder literally sucks in Japan. Idk but very weird profiles with pictures of cats / dogs / food and god knows what else. Ok-Cupid and bumble looks better. FYI, Olympic containment does not exist in Japan … haha. “

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

Unlike most other dating apps, Pairs is for people looking for long-term relationships. Although it is free for women, men have to pay a monthly fee to register.

Foreign members of the LGBTQ + community also digitally connect with locals and expats through traditional dating apps like Grindr.

A male expat, also on Facebook, agreed that not everyone adheres to social distancing rules, noting, “Grindr is crazy popular right now. They’re breaking all kinds of quarantine rules there. “

Rules under the declaration of emergency include social distancing, reduced hours for bars and restaurants, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and restrictions on non-essential gatherings after 8 p.m. In addition, there will be no crowds at the 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 follow the rules?

For foreigners visiting Japan, the repercussions of failing to follow quarantine rules, for example, which include at least 14 days of self-isolation upon entry, can be serious: deportation is a real result.

But not all of them plan to break the rules. “They were asking me if we could meet up after the Games,” said a Tokyo resident, recalling a conversation she had with a stranger on Bumble.

Reflecting on her use of dating apps in Japan, another Tokyo resident notes on social media: “Before, there weren’t a lot of foreigners on Bumble, but in a month, bam. Flooded! “

She remembers driving through the popular Shibuya area recently and noticing that a bus full of athletes was being transported to the Olympic Stadium.

The Olympic rings at sunset in Tokyo

(Getty)

“I saw the Olympians (prob), full of uniforms on a bus ([all foreigners]), looking outside the bus. Their facial expressions were like, “Awww, I want to be where the people are; I want to see the taste of real ramen. ‘”

If any of these athletes are on dating sites, they have a word of warning: not everyone out there is actually looking for a fast connection.

Depending on the platform, many people in Japan use dating apps for language exchange or to meet people who speak a language they want to learn more about.

“Tinder is a connection app; Bumble is more for meeting friends; and the pairs are really serious [relationships]. It really depends on your intentions. “

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