Culture Shock. Two words that mean so much to so many.
While to some people, culture shock in Japan may be as simple as having difficulty adjusting to Japanese food, it can be something much more serious for others. There are countless people who come to Japan and for some reason, become bitter, or shut off. They take shots at Japanese people and culture, and confine themselves to a very minimal social circle.
I’m going to go ahead and say that I am pretty much stating the obvious with this post, but it is an obvious point that is commonly and easily overlooked by so many people who come to Japan.
I truly believe that when living in Japan (especially a place like Tokyo) it is important more than ever, to surround yourself with people who match you. Not just fellow foreigners, but Japanese people who have similar mindsets, ideas, opinions, feelings, etc…
Obvious enough yet? Keep reading~
I have been living with and around Japanese people for over a decade now. And you don’t make the conscious choice to stick with something for over 10 years if you don’t like it.
And while my life right now is more or less exactly how I would like it to be, it wasn’t always this way…
The first while of my life in Japan was stressful. I went through a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions and spent years thinking,
- My personality didn’t match Japan or Japanese people
- My opinions were too strong (which still might be accurate haha)
- My ideas were unreasonable
- My words and actions were unacceptable
- My emotions were too rampant
- My clothing wasn’t fashionable enough
- My Japanese was first too casual, then too formal, then too feminine, then good to a point where people got irritated when I didn’t understand something they said
Now, I have always been the type to voice what is on my mind and I have always enjoyed talking about Japan, life in Japan, and Japanese culture. And after some time and a large number of discussions with people ranging from tourists, to even psychologists here in Japan, things started to become more clear.
There is a phenomenon behind this that the majority of people don’t pick up on.
In the country we are raised in, we spend our lives filtering our social interactions. When we are in elementary school and high school, we often go through a stressful or awkward period where we are trying to find who we are. During this period, we interact with a wider range of people. Most of these people wont match us, but some do. And these few that do, often end up becoming our social circle.
From the time we develop our social circle, we (whether consciously or not) gain a more full understanding of the type of people who match us and the type that don’t. This understanding eventually becomes our social filter and we carry it with us wherever we go in life.
But this filter is not a broad one. For the most part, it covers personality types that we have grown to know and understand in a culture that we have an embedded understanding of, and overall comfort in.
So what does all this mean?
It means that when we come to a new country (like Japan) many people, if not all people, are essentially starting over.
Most people’s social filters will take time to adjust to a new culture and new set of personality types, and most people don’t even realize that this is what happens. Especially people who come to Japan at a later age, or people who truly believe that they have a complete understanding of Japanese people and Japanese culture, tend to suffer.
In our home country, with our social filter in place, we tend to interact the most with people who we feel will match us, and filter out the rest so effortlessly that they don’t have a chance to really enter our minds or our opinions. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have gotten this down to an art form without even realizing it.
As we get older, our social filter gets a little lazy. We become less accepting and tend to generalize more (e.g. I get along well with foodies, but I don’t like bikers, etc…). And this is where the danger come in.
The majority of people move to Japan after reaching adulthood. At which point, not only is their social filter adjusted for life in Japan, but it’s also set up to generalize in very broad terms. Starting to see where the danger comes in?
And this can easily lead to a person thinking Japanese are rude, or I don’t get along with Japanese women/men, or even all Japanese people are racist.
Because of this, there are many people who either spend their time in Japan thinking that Japanese people in general aren’t for them, or even go so far as to give up on living in Japan and leave.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are just as many people who manage to adjust and quickly find a group of friends/colleagues/comrades who match themselves, and never experience this side of culture shock and the stresses that come with it.
The important thing to take away from this is that Japan is really no different from any other country. Japanese people, just like the people of any other country in the world run a wide range of personality types.
Some of these people will match you in every way, but most won’t.
The most dangerous and unfortunate thing that you can do is generalize all Japanese people into one broad category.
In the end, you are only putting undue stress on yourself and potentially creating a tainted view for yourself.
This article, is one that I will continue to update and re-write but for now I will publish it as-is. And we would all love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please toss them in below.