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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Tokyo, Japan

Sep 02, 2019


Tokyo Station

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.

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?

I had a day's training right before I departed. I also had 2 weeks of training when I arrived. We covered the language as well as talking about some unique norms.

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Expats living in Japan interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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?

I studied the language beforehand, but not avidly. I can speak enough to get my point across, but am far from fluency. I am undecided about studying further, leaning towards not.

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

I was slightly worried, but had visited Japan several times before. I knew there were few surprises I'd face.

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

Only minor. It was the little things, like grocery staples I took for granted, or a life revolving around trains.

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 think I did very lightly. In fact, I may still be in this process. Some days I'm upset with my life here and other times I love it. I think it depends on the day-to-day interactions I have with the people around me.

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 definitely feel homesickness. I am much more stressed, as I have to research and communicate everything for my partner and I. Sometimes I feel sad and lonely.

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

I love the frequent trips to the grocery store. I can see the seasonal items and learn to cook with them. I also like how people go drinking early so they can get the last train home. It's very hard for me to stay up late so this is perfect for my sleep schedule. I also like how there are so many events and nature areas that are promoted. I get to easily take public transit to see such new things.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The quietness and separation. People don't really say hello when passing by. People don't look much at each other. Even your acquaintances keep to themselves. It's harder to feel connected to the people around you.

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

There aren't any big ones since I've known a lot about the culture before. There have been reading and comprehension errors. Sometimes I buy the wrong meat or softener instead of detergent. The most embarrassing interactions was my laundry flying away onto my neighbor's balconies... several times on the same day! I had to go and bother them!

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

Learn about where you want to go beforehand. There are so many videos online where people talk about life around the world. It really helps your expectations.

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