When I was a student in Japan, my Japanese teacher asked all the students what was the most difficult part about living in Japan. The most common answer was the difficulty to make Japanese friends. When we start out learning a second language, we tend to see native speakers of that language as possible teachers. They can teach you about their culture, their home, and help you practice your language. Without a doubt, one of the reasons that my Japanese was able to improve much faster in Japan, was because of the time I spent with my Japanese friends. It allowed me to hear a lot of new Japanese words and get in a lot of practice. However, viewing Japanese people as potential Japanese teachers will make it much more difficult to turn them into friends and will end up helping your pursuit of language less in the end.
The “secret” to making Japanese friends is to treat them as you would anyone else who is your friend. That is to take a genuine interest in them. Not as a potential Japanese teacher, but as someone that has similar interests or someone who is interesting to you. If you pursue them just as a language teacher the relationship will not end up as deep and will likely not last that long.
Every person is different in what they want from a relationship. If you meet someone visiting your country from Japan (student, tourist, etc) then chances are they are there to learn the language and culture. Some people may be glad to help you learn Japanese and some may not want to speak Japanese at all. Which is quite understandable since they have traveled half way around the world.
Now I am not saying that you can’t ask for help with your Japanese or questions about Japan. However, this will ruin or stop the relationship from developing if it becomes the majority of your conversation. Instead treat them as you would any other friend. Helping them learn your language, your culture, and your with the difficulties they may have adapting to your country. The benefits for both parties will go much father than simple language instruction.
Meeting Japanese People in Japan
The same rules apply in Japan. The only difference is it is perfectly okay to keep all of your conversation in Japanese. Now you have traveled half way around the world to learn Japanese so you should be speaking it. Making Japanese friends should still focus on people you are interested in rather than learning Japanese.Nothing is more of a turn off when I meet someone than them asking me to teach them English or try practicing English with me before I even know their name. A lot of the people who ask me this are really nice people, but it feels that they see me as an English teacher rather than a friend. Having experienced this first hand I can see some of the mistakes I made when meeting Japanese students in the US.
Focus on creating a good relationship and the language part will sort itself out. Some of my best friends started out speaking to me in English and now choose to speak to me in Japanese and some visa-versa. The long term benefits of making true friends will far outweigh the short term benefits of immediately practicing your Japanese.