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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Tokyo, Japan


This expat culture shock report about Tokyo, Japan was submitted by an experienced expatriate who has some great perspectives to share about moving to this cosmopolitan city. It also offers some advice on how to navigate your way through the adjustment process.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Tokyo

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No

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Expats in Japan may get a free expat health insurance quote from our partner Allianz Care, a leader in international insurance for expatriates. Allianz's plans ensure that you have access to quality healthcare whenever you need it. Their flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget..

If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Japanese is spoken but I don't speak it. I'd like to learn it.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

A bit, but because I had lived in the Netherlands previously for 3.5 years, I was better prepared emotionally and attitudinally for Japan.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Culture shock was worse for me in moving to the Netherlands than it was in moving to Japan. Having lived abroad before, I knew generally what to expect and what to watch out for. The biggest challenge is always the unwritten rules for the types of behavior that is expected in different settings. For example, in the US we tend to be a lot less formal than in Japan.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I went through them all when I moved to the Netherlands, but I adjusted more readily to Japan, perhaps because I expected it to be very different from the US.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Nothing in particular.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The respect the Japanese show for strangers, how they all clean up after themselves and go out of their way to help people, the customer service which is always provided with a smile, the fact that no one expects or accepts a tip.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Riding the very crowded trains during rush hour. Finding my way around the city, given the lack of street names.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

When leaving a business meeting, the Japanese walk you out and after you leave, you're supposed to turn around and bow, which I wasn't aware of until someone from my office explained it to me. I had just been walking out of the buildings whenever I had a meeting.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Taking time to observe how the natives of the country do things can be really helpful in figuring out how you should behave. Luckily, the Japanese are pretty forgiving of foreigners.

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Get a quote for health insurance from our partner, Allianz Care.
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Tokyo, JapanGuide to Living in Tokyo, Japan

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Japan Forum Japan Forum
Meet other people living in Tokyo.

Healthcare in Tokyo, JapanHealthcare in Tokyo, Japan

Expats and global nomads in Tokyo share their experiences with health insurance, healthcare in Japan, local hospitals and specialists, quality of medical care and more.

Moving to Tokyo, JapanMoving to Tokyo, Japan

Expats offer advice about everything you need to know before moving to Tokyo: what to bring (and what to leave behind), how to find housing and more.

Pros and Cons of Living in Tokyo, JapanPros and Cons of Living in Tokyo, Japan

Take off your rose-colored glasses and learn what expats and digital nomads have to say about the pros and cons of living in Tokyo, Japan.

Real Estate TokyoReal Estate in Tokyo

Advice about renting and buying real estate in Tokyo

Schools in TokyoInternational Schools in Tokyo

Tokyo has many international schools and bi-lingual schools for expat students. Here are several of the more popular options.

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Expats share their experiences living in Tokyo, Japan and offer advice about meeting people, schools and more.

ContributeContribute
Help other expats and newcomers by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Tokyo.

Moving to TokyoExpat Report: Moving to Tokyo

An expat in Tokyo talks about the high cost of housing, living close to work, property searches and mansion apartments.

Expat Healthcare & Health InsuranceExpat Report: Healthcare in Tokyo

What's the difference between Social Health Insurance and National Health Insurance in Japan? Are there some English-speaking doctors in good hospitals in Tokyo? What's a typical doctor visit like? An expat in Tokyo answers these questions and more.

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An expat talks about what it's like moving to Tokyo. It took some time adjusting to the crowds and culture, but he's happy now and looking back the culture shock wasn't as bad as he anticipated.

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