When I arrived in Japan last September, everything was new. I had never been to Chiba before, I had never been away from home for so long, I didn’t know any of the people I was with, I had never needed to actually use my Japanese, I had never experienced the daily routines of another culture. I went in with an open mind and though there were surprises and things I missed from back home, I quickly found myself adjusted to life in Japan.
Culture shock? Back then I didn’t really think it was a real thing. People toss around the phrase casually, and it is used often enough that it seems like something that is universally understood, but I don’t think that is true. It wasn’t until I returned to my old life in America that I realized how intense and even debilitating culture shock can be. I was strongly affected by what people tend to call “reverse culture shock” when I returned to America after being in Japan for four months. Everything in America seemed to be exactly the way I left it…but I came back a different person and was not ready or even willing to accept everything being the same. Gradually I did adjust, and I even began to appreciate features of my life in America; having my own car, having an oven in my kitchen; being able to demonstrate my level of intelligence through language.
But then I returned once again to Japan. And….I don’t know what to call this feeling. Is it culture shock? Reverse culture shock? Personally, I would like to call it “reverse reverse culture shock” but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now does it?
When I came back to Japan, everything felt strangely the same. Everything seemed the same and yet there were small differences that I didn’t think would affect me but somehow tilted my reality enough to affect my daily life and how I felt about being back in Japan.
On the one hand, coming to Japan felt like returning home. As I rode the bus from the airport to my hotel I looked outside and felt like I had never left, and that the past five months never happened. I knew what the clerks in stores were going to say or ask and was able to all but tune them out despite the fact that they were speaking Japanese. I know how long it takes to get places, where certain stores are, what foods I like, how to pay in a restaurant, where to go to get internet connection, what to do for fun.
The differences that stood out to me the last time I was in Japan were not immediately noticeable…which if I am being honest, startled me a little. It was not until I was halfway to the hotel that I “noticed” that the bus was on the left side of the street. It was not until after I got off of the train that I “noticed” that no one had been speaking, eating or drinking. It was not until I had been in more than one store that I “noticed” how the clerks were interacting with me and how they packaged my items. And it is because of these things that I didn’t notice that makes me feel like my current state of being is not culture shock. It is not culture shock because it is a culture I have accepted (at least in part) as my own. It is a culture that I understand and am returning to, even though it is not a place I can say I come from or where I have lived long enough to comfortably call it home.
Even though it is comfortable though, I am or have been experiencing some degree of shock. My love for Japanese culture aside, I did grow accustomed to life and culture in America over the last five months. I got used to speaking my mind comfortably, walking into buildings knowing that they would have air conditioning, knowing where I stand in society, and being surrounded by my things, my friends and my family. And in addition to that my perception of Japan and Japanese culture and daily life is heavily influenced by the people I was with the last time I was in Japan… And some aspects of Japan are strangely different without them. There were so many people in my program that things were always happening, and I could count on being part of a food or shopping or traveling adventure with any number of people. We were on the go all the time, and there wasn’t enough time in a day to do everything and see everyone. But now I am not going to school here, so I don’t see my school friends on a daily basis despite being in the same city, and whatever adventures happen have to be decided on, planned, and executed by Mary and I by ourselves. This is by no means a bad thing, but again, it is different from what I am used to, and I think is contributing to any “shock” that I am experiencing.
Part of the reason I wanted to write this blog post and send it out into the cyberverse is so that I could process everything, but another part is to try to help both the people around me and people who might be feeling this way in understanding the complexity of culture shock. I think culture shock can take on many shapes and forms, and even differs depending on the person and situation. I hope that by reading this, people can understand that culture shock is not something that has a time frame, or something that happens once and then is overcome.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading my thoughts on the matter!
Keep an eye out for future posts about Japan! The adventures shall continue! ^_^
Also please let me know if there is any topic (language or culture related) that you are interested in and I will try to explore the matter!