Once again, I shall be blathering on about Japanese drinking culture. Today’s lecture is all all about the….gokon.
A “gokon” is a fun Japanese custom for young single people, essentially a group blind date. A guy approaches a girl he likes, then they each invite three or four single friends of the same gender as them, for a little party. “Go” means combination, and “kon” comes from “konpa” (“party”). So gokon means “combined party,” as in two groups of friends mixing together.
It’s quite a nice concept I think, and cuts out the awkwardness of solo dating. The Japanese are famously shy and retiring, so having the company of your pals makes dating significantly less nerve-wracking. At a gokon, even the most timid soul can meet a member of the opposite sex without crapping their pants or developing a stress ulcer. Also, for the girls, it’s a much safer alternative to having a date on your own with a total stranger, who may or may not be the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper.
There are other perks to the gokon method of dating. If none of the girls or boys at the gokon take your fancy, you can just get drunk, play party games, or chat to your friends. Plus, if you do plan on getting serious with anyone you meet at a gokon, you know in advance what kind of annoying friends you’re going to have to put up with in the future.
I, myself, was once persuaded by a friend to attend a gokon. He had taken a shining to a girl who worked in the Subway sandwich shop he went to for lunch most days, and he asked her out. The girl proposed a gokon, with three other girls from the shop, so my friend dragged me and two other curious mates along.
We all went to a funky sci-fi-themed izakaya called Dementia, or something like that. As is customary at gokons, the girls all sat along one side of the table, and the boys on the other side. Apparently it’s normal at these shindigs for the two groups to whisper among each other about who they’re keen on, or even email each other on their phones. “I got first dibs on the one on the left. Hands off!” I wasn’t aware of this custom at the time, and thought the girls’ conspiratorial behaviour was quite unsettling. What were they plotting? I was getting quite paranoid.
One major setback that we hadn’t was anticipated was that only one of the girls could speak English and none of us guys could speak Japanese, which meant the conversation was about as absorbing as reading the back of a shampoo bottle. Doh! This was a grim turn of events for someone who enjoys a little flirtatious wordplay. There was only one thing to do in that situation. Drink!
In the end, my gokon experience was pretty uneventful, and no coupling happened (that I know of!) but I’m in favour of the gokon system in theory. If you and your friends are single, you could do worse than setting up a gokon. Just, whatever you do, don’t coyly approach a stranger and suggest a “gokan” because “gokan” means “rape.” This pronunciation mistake, as I have learned from experience, does not go down well at all.