It’s been almost four years since I first went to Japan, and admittedly, I can’t seem to remember what really surprised me. Thanks to YouTube, you can get to know a country quite well without ever having to go there. There are millions of videos out there that show the quirky and interesting side of Japan, but these types of videos are meant to entertain you, not show you everyday-life. There are YouTubers, such as Victor from Gimmeaflakeman, though, who show and discuss Japan in a way that gives you some real insight into what to expect when you go there.
There is both positive and negative culture shock. Some people may stop reading if I insult the magic land of Japan that they have dreamt up, while others know all too well how hard it can be to adjust to a society that doesn’t always make things easy for you.
I remember the exact moment I arrived in Japan. I exited the plane and walked down the narrow path that connects to the airport. While walking, I was greeted by a surprising number of Japanese people, dressed in slick suits who bowed to me and welcomed me to their country. These important people were bowing to me? Although I had heard and seen so much about bowing on TV and online, it still felt very surreal. “I’m just some English chump, why are these professional looking people bowing to me?!”
In fact, bowing is everywhere in Japan. I bet the average Japanese person bows a hundred times a day (don’t hold me on that number, though). When you introduce yourself or say sorry, when you accidentally clip shoulders with someone at a busy train station, when you say thank you or bye – it’s everywhere. Even if your Japanese ability is low, you should try to master the bow because it’s a versatile way to convey your manners and feelings.
As for negative aspects of culture shock, I think this one comes up a lot. Toilets! I’m sure many of you have heard about the brilliance of the Japanese toilet. However, not all toilets have fancy gadgets and heating – some are quit
e rudimentary. Yep, basically, a hole in the ground for you to do your business in. Even now, I’ve never mustered up the courage to use one – I think my legs would start wobbling and I’d collapse.
To be honest, though, the toilet thing wasn’t really a shock. I was surprised, however, by the way in which garbage is collected in Japan. Instead of nice, big bins to put in a week’s worth of rubbish, most rubbish is put into supermarket-sized plastic bags and then left out on the street. Sometimes there would be huge mountains of rubbish bags making it almost impossible to walk down the pavement. To make things worse, Japan’s monster-sized crows would rip open the bags to create huge messes. This really isn’t a big deal, it simply surprised me because you often hear compliments about how spotless and litter-free Japan is, and most of the time, it is… just not on the morning the bins are collected!
These kinds of culture shock aren’t really a problem for 99% of foreigners who go to Japan. Humans have an amazing ability to get used to their surroundings very quickly.
I believe the true problems caused by culture are not the ones that come as shock when you first arrive, but the ones that slowly creep up on you after months or even years. Many foreigners get fed up with Japan within a few years and decide to leave. Why? Culture.
In particular, work culture in Japan is difficult for even Japanese people to grasp, so for us foreigners, it’s a nightmare. Once the magic of Japan fades (and it surely will), and the long working hours and the endless list of problems caused by you being a foreigner starts to nag away at you… well, who wouldn’t think about going home? I wouldn’t blame them.
To wrap things up, don’t worry about culture shock – consider it an interesting phenomenon. For those of you who dream of working in Japan until retirement, I’d suggest you have a plan B just in case just change your mind someday!