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Everything before that is considered getting to know each other in a friendly manner.In the West we would argue that dating is simply getting to know someone better with romantic intent to see if you would like a relationship with them, so that the time spent outside of the group would be considered dates.
However, I feel it can also help Japanese readers who would like to better understand the Western perspective of Japanese dating.
In Western dating one would only tell someone “I love you” after being boyfriend and girlfriend for a good amount of time.
One says those words only with someone they feel they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
I’m going to start out with a disclaimer: Every person- and consequently every situation- is different. I am going off of my experience and some discussions with my Japanese friends and friends who have lengthy experience with the culture.
I’m sure people can find exceptions to what I am putting forth as general rules. Additionally, I am a man, so all of my understanding comes from the perspective of a man.