Culture shock is an inevitable topic amongst expats in Japan. Inevitable social misinputs and missed social cues can wear anyone down. After the novelty of being surrounded by the Japanese language wears off, some people find themselves socially isolated and functionally limited because of their lack of Japanese ability. Having to go through an awkward gesturing session with the waiter every time you order food gets frustrating. Before you know it you can find yourself going to McDonald’s more often than not. Despite what many people think, not everyone goes through culture shock! Here are a few steps you can take to avoid culture shock while living in Japan.
For those who plan to work or study long-term in Japan, learning Japanese is often a top priority. However, a month or two into living in Japan, it’s not uncommon for someone to say, “I feel like I haven’t learned any Japanese.” The reality is learning Japanese is a slow, steady process. I suggest using a Japanese language-learning app while on the subway and/or studying Japanese over your morning coffee. This is a great way to set yourself up for little successes every day as you use bits and pieces of new Japanese.
Your diet affects you more than you think, so eating out all the time can leave you with lower energy and more susceptible to the frustrations of daily life in Japan. Buying groceries in Japan is more expensive, but it’s still a cheaper option than eating out. Your local grocery store has many of the same fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish from home, so get cooking! If you are concerned with the preparation time, meal prepping is a surefire way to get a familiar meal every day.
Regardless of your fitness level, exercise feels good. Gyms can be expensive in Japan, but your local municipal gym will have a lot of the equipment you need for a quarter of the price. Alternatively, running is a popular hobby in Japan so you won’t be alone if you decide to go for a jog around your neighborhood. Doing regular exercise will help you feel good and give you the opportunity to meet other people.
This is harder said than done, akin to someone advising “just learn Japanese” to solve all of your problems. However, there are a few options you might not have thought about. Japanese-English conversation tables are plentiful in Japan and are great ways to engage in cultural and linguistic exchange with Japanese people. Alternatively, joining a local sports team let’s you exercise and create a social support group.
Many people talk about Japanese food, but few mention the people who serve them. Local restaurant owners, waiters, and bartenders are amongst the most hard-working and kindest people out there. Not only would they appreciate your business, but they also get a lot out of learning more about you. By coming regularly and getting to know the staff, you may also be treated to unexpected appetizers and complimentary drinks. Being a regular at a Japanese restaurant is a unique cultural experience that will help you feel at home and won’t break the bank.
Ultimately, culture shock isn’t caused by simply living in a foreign country like Japan. Rather, coming in with unrealistic expectations about Japan is the source of all culture shock. You may want to become conversational in 3 months by hanging out with exclusively Japanese people. You may have planned every weekend in Japan before you even got here. It is completely understandable to want to make the most out of your time in Japan, but you need to take time for yourself by properly eating, exercising, socializing, and resting.
Some weekends you may have to miss an outing to do chores, watch some TV, or talk to friends and family back home. Sometimes you may have to miss your daily Japanese practice to go work out or prepare yourself a meal. Take the first few weeks in Japan to feel out a sustainable schedule that won’t leave you feeling burnt out or alone. This way, you can completely avoid culture shock and truly make the most of your time in Japan.