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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Tokyo, Japan

Jun 19, 2019


Tokyo, Japan

An expat talks about adjusting to life and working in Japan. She appreciates the kindness and generosity of strangers, but says that not being able to speak Japanese can be isolating.

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?

Yes, I received some cross-cultural training after my move to Japan. It was mostly on how to interact with my Japanese coworkers. They said that Japanese are not confrontational and will never approach you with a problem they have with you.

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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?

In Japan, they speak Japanese, and I do not speak any Japanese. I do not plan to study Japanese much. I get by well enough with the Japanese I do know and the bilingual friends I have made.

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

Yes, I was very worried, but that is normal and a part of the experience. You are moving aboard to experience something new, and new things are scary yet rewarding.

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

It was not too significant since I have visited Japan before my move here. I, also, had realistic expectations about my life here. I did not romanticize it and expect to go see something amazing every weekend. I am working a full-time job and won’t have time to do every cool thing there is. And, that is ok.

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 personally did not experience these phases. I felt I adjusted fairly well. Again, I set my expectations very low when I moved. I expected to struggle and to be isolated and alone. Once you have realistic expectations, you can then thrive.

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.

I experienced homesickness and loneliness. These are normal no matter where you are.

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

I appreciate the kindness of everyone that I run into. Everyone in Japan has extreme generosity. Also, I love how clean and quiet the suburban neighborhoods are, and yet they're only a 15 minute train ride from downtown.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The ability to not speak Japanese. It can be very isolating not being able to have conversations with the people you want.

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

None that I can think of off the top of my head. I did my research on the cultural expectations before I arrived. Grocery shopping is hard though.

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

Lower your expectations and don't romanticize living in another country. It is just another place with its own struggles. Moving won't solve your problems, but only make them worse. Once you realize that, then you can thrive and continuously be surprised by the kindness of strangers and the warmth of the friends you will make.

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An expat talks about the challenges she's had adjusting to the culture in Japan, where people are much quieter and keep to themselves compared to the US. She explains that even acquaintances keep to themselves and this makes it hard to feel connected.

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