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4 Stages of Culture Shock - Foreigners living in Japan

#cultureshockisREAL should probably be in most of your Japan photo uploads. Even if you have never been to Japan, I'm sure you know what I am talking about. 

In this blog, I am going to share how we went through the stages of culture shock and what it's like to be living here during a pandemic. That's right. There are actually four stages of culture shock! Shocking, right?

DID YOU KNOW? The term culture shock was coined by anthropologist Kalvero Oberg in the 1960s, and is now widely known as one of the most common reactions to an alien culture.

The Four Stages of Culture Shock

No, I did not find this out by myself. The company provided relocation assistance to help us transition and it includes a day of Intercultural Training for the family.  Having this knowledge prior to moving to another place is very helpful. You'll be able to anticipate, be aware, and address any internal or external factors that might affect your state of mind.

Let's break them down!

Culture shock stages curve
Source – Sverre Lysgaard, 1955

1. Honeymoon

An almost euphoric feeling. Everything was new and exciting! Even though I knew we're going to stay here for a long time, it felt like a vacation!

"This was a good decision! Japan is just so clean and every place is just so beautiful! I want to go to different places!"

And that's what we did. We lived in a nice posh apartment for the first month, traveled to Hokkaido in the next month, and went out to different places every weekend.

I also thought I'd start taking a lot of videos and upload them on Youtube. And I did. I took a lot of videos but I never made it to the editing part. Yes, so not all of them got uploaded! Haha!

We were told that people usually stay at this stage for an average of two months.

2. Anxiety

Soon enough, all the unfamiliar things that used to surprise you start to irritate you.  The trigger can be small things like, not being able to find the right soy sauce & vinegar for your Adobo dish.

When using google translate does not prove helpful. It does not help accomplish an important form or book an appointment over the phone. And you'll feel frustrated when you still can't figure out how to add "wash time" for your new washing machine.

Here in Japan, the anxiety kicks in mostly due to language barriers. For me, I was annoyed about the hundred brochures & mails we get each day from the mailbox! All written in Japanese! It was hard because I have to use google translate to make sure I don't miss important stuff.

Thankfully, I have a Japanese cousin and an aunt who speaks Japanese. Also, I have a Japanese teacher who even helped me fill up important forms, taught me how to use the AC, and order rice online.

For my 5-year old son, he studies in an international school where everyone speaks English. They have a Japanese class twice a week divided between native and non-native Japanese children.

He is very sociable so he gets hurt when the kids don't respond back when he says hi.  Eventually, the shy kids wave or bow when they see us.

You may also start to feel "homesick". You miss you, friends and family, back home. 

I don't recall experiencing it during this stage because we were expecting our family to visit us soon. I also met up with friends who visited Tokyo.

This stage usually happens around the three-month mark.

Ooops, before we move on to Stage 3, I just want to say how Stage 1 and 2 have an overlap. We were just blessed because we have a relocation agency that assisted us with every step of transition until the time we move to our permanent address and get a school.  Imagine if you are on your own and you don't speak Japanese!

Within the first month, it was stressful because of the peculiarities in opening a bank account and the requirements of getting an apartment.  Some management properties don't want foreigners not only because they don't speak Japanese, but because they are concerned about the cultural differences. And that concern starts with following the recycling schedule of throwing the trash.

Filipinos are not exactly famous for our good discipline, you know!

3. Adjustment

According to studies, this usually happens around six to twelve months. You will finally find your rhythm and know your way around.

For us, it was all about food more than anything. Food is life!

We now know where and when to buy ingredients for our dish. We know the best kind of soy sauce & vinegar for our Adobo dish. We go to different grocery shops to get inexpensive fruits, fish, vegetables, and meat. As such, we've finally come up with a reasonable monthly budget.

We finally know which money transferring service offers the lowest fee but the highest exchange rate and settled with one.

This was also Christmas break. We did not feel homesick because our family came from the Philippines and the US. We traveled around Japan and I was proud of myself because I was able to use the little Japanese that I know.

4. Acceptance

Finally! You got used to your new way of life. It may never feel like the honeymoon stage but at least now you finally feel at home and have a strong sense of belongingness.

Late summer last year (September 2019), we had a BBQ picnic with some Filipino friends. They asked us whether we planned to stay here for a long time. Of course, we don't know yet, it was too early to tell. They assured us that they felt the same when they were new here. But they now reached the point where they appreciated the quality of life in Japan. Yes, they compared it to any other country they've been to in Europe or Asia.

And yes, I got used & appreciated the following #onlyinjapan experiences:

  • Stand right, walk left on escalators
  • When biking, no one uses the bell to inform that you are cycling behind people
  • Bowing, bowing, and bowing some more
  • Wearing a surgical mask when you are sick (even before the pandemic)
  • Automatic taxi doors - never touch the door handle!
  • Saying "onegaishimasu" when paying for something at the store and saying "Arigatougozaimasu" after. It was awkward at first because "Please" and "Thank you" are quicker to say.
  • I can fluently say "Eigo wa hanaseru hito ga imasu ka." Which means, Is there anyone who speaks English?
  • Paying an extra 400 -600 yen for dishes you did not order as "seating fee" at Izakaya's
  • All cell phones alarming and vibrating late at night for an earthquake alarm. I can even hear my neighbor's!
  • House molds in the winter and more molds during the summer
  • Mosquitoes during the summer are very sneaky and very ouchy!
  • The deafening sounds of the Cicadas are now fascinating
  • Local grocery shops carry different brands of snacks

After a year of living here, having experienced two emergency hospitalizations, and seeing the rest of the world because of a global pandemic. We were thinking, we're in a better place than in the Philippines right now. 

I mean, sure, the Japanese government's response is also questionable. 

Barbershops are considered essential place? Clusters were found in the red light district but they still can't order its closure? The test ratio remains low?

Don't get me wrong. I care about the Philippines.  Our parents and family are still back home. Despite what's happening, we find ourselves looking at properties in the Philippines dreaming of a retirement place.

So yeah, we finally adapted to Japan's culture and I feel like because we experienced some difficulties along the way, we had our own personal curve. We managed it by going out frequently (just like a Japanese family does), calling our parents every dinner time, and staying in touch with close friends.

As if those were not enough, the extrovert me started this blog!


How about you? How did you experience culture shock in the country you moved into?

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