Is It Just Culture Shock?

Every time I write about my feelings toward Japan, I worry I will start sounding like this guy and people will begin to hate me. Well, here I go.

Last week I wrote about losing interest in Japan. I’ve lived here a year now–two if you include my year in Nagoya in 2009–and it’s been five years since I started studying Japanese and about Japan in general. The easy answer for what I’m experiencing would be culture shock… but is that really what I’m going through?

Loneliness, Part 1: Old friends

When people experience culture shock, many mention feeling lonely because they don’t have the same group of close friends and family that they did back home. When I was still in the US, all but two of my friends lived far away, so we were already used to using the internet as our main way to interact. As for my parents, my relationship with them was and is nearly nonexistent, so nothing has changed in how I interact with friends and family.

In fact, I’m less lonely now than when I was still living in the US.

Before I moved here, I was lonely because I was 5,000 miles away from my husband (my fiance, at that time). These days I’m lonely because he is too busy working to spend time with me, but at least we’re living together now and I can see him much more than if we were apart.

Loneliness, Part 2: New friends (or lack thereof)

Another reason expats get lonely is because they don’t find it easy to make new friends in their new country. Maybe it’s because of a language gap or a gap in cultures that can’t be overcome.

I’m your classic introvert. I prefer to spend a lot of time alone. I have never been the kind of person who needed many friends nor who made new friends often. Other than gradually developing some friendships online, the last time I made new friends was six years ago when I was forced to live with strangers in very tight living quarters my freshman year of college. So, I’m not very reliant on creating new friendships, and maybe that means this effect doesn’t apply to me.

However, maybe I’m not exempt. Even if I didn’t make new friends often in the US, at least there was a basic possibility. Here, there isn’t much of a possibility at all. First of all, there is the language gap. I can hold pretty lengthy conversations in Japanese, but I still find myself unable to explain myself very clearly or deeply, and if I could, it would make it easier to have the more personal conversations that friends tend to have.

Secondly, the typical Japanese person, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to want foreign friends. Either we’re too much of a hassle or we’re merely a gateway to another country to quench some curiosity, or we’re just a source of entertainment. Generally, Japanese people who are willing to make friends with a foreigner want to learn English (or whatever the foreigner’s native language is). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Please teach me English” when meeting someone new. I don’t even like teaching English when I’m getting paid to — why would spend my free time teaching you English? Maybe someone more sociable would be happy to, but not me.

Thirdly, every conversation I’ve had with a Japanese person has included, in some way or another, being asked about my home country or what I think about Japan or how Japan compares to my home country. And no matter who I talk to or how I change my answers, the conversations are always the same. It’s like there’s a script for every situation that Japanese people are expected to follow, and I’m tired of having the same conversations over and over. It probably has something to do with me being the kind of person who values alone time over time with others, but whatever the cause,  I’ve become disinterested in speaking with Japanese people. (By the way, I don’t exactly mean to put the blame on Japanese people for this. If my Japanese was better, after all, it would be easier to have more in-depth conversations.)


If I am homesick, it’s not very strong. I do miss some things about living in the US, but I don’t find myself spending a lot of my time focusing on them, and I don’t think things would be better if I moved back. I think the only thing I miss strongly is being surrounded by English, being able to understand instantly without a struggle. However, being surrounded by a foreign language also has it’s blessings. Think of all the mindless conversations you can tune out in public!

Some people going through culture shock also idealize their home country, and while I do think Japan is backwards sometimes, I don’t think the US is any better. Sometimes I do catch myself thinking, “Why can’t Japan do things more like this?” But when I catch myself feeling this way, I ask myself whether Japan is truly wrong or if it’s just my preconceptions coloring the way I think. (Usually it’s the latter, of course.)


Just like I’m less lonely here than I was in the US, I’m actually less depressed here than I was before, too!

Sadness, irritability, oversleeping, loss of identity, feelings of inadequacy or insecurity, negative self-image

These are all symptoms of culture shock that I experience, but I don’t know if I can call it culture shock as much as I can call it being a confused and medicated 24-year-old!

Does it matter if it’s culture shock or not?

Maybe the reason doesn’t matter. Either way, I’m unhappy and I need to do something to fix it.



Filed under Japan, Personal

2 responses to “Is It Just Culture Shock?

  1. It’s interesting to read this post because I have been living in Tokyo for six years and basically have a similar feeling though I wouldn’t call myself unhappy per se.

    You seem to have a pretty good handle on how you are feeling and that you want to do something about it, but I would like to comment about my experience.

    I came here to get married to my Japanese wife and have been working ever since. I had already lived in Japan for two years as a student and looked back on those years pretty fondly. So when I found I had to settle into what was basically a family and salaryman lifestyle things got unromanticized pretty quickly.

    But what I did find is that Japan is really just one part of the world so there is nothing stopping me from adopting other interests and reading and watching whatever I want. I already could speak Japanese so I didn’t feel like I had to consume Japanese content or immerse myself in the culture in order to fit in. The cool thing about having the Internet is you can basically pursue any random interest that strikes your fancy.

    Of course a big sticking point is what you were saying about Japanese friends. For me I am not nativized enough to fit into the Japanese model of having friends as in sempai kohai relationships and a bunch of social obligations. But I can live with that and just try and maintain friendships Japanese or not with people who are more compatible with my personality. That has been kind of liberating. And in that sense the endless conversations about chopsticks and natto have become easier to bear now that I have basically zero expectations or need to impress the people who start them.

  2. Even though I’m currently not living in Japan, I can relate to some of your feelings! Since I became interested in Japan and started to learn the language I’ve alway been eager to go to Japan and have my experiences there. That one year I spent there was good and I didn’t feel homesick or anything.
    My last stay was about six weeks long and that time I kinda became annoyed by everything there. My bf had been busy and I had to worry about money more than during the 1-year-stay. I experienced a lot of stressful situations.
    So since I’m back in Germany and back in school to continue my Japanese studies I have nearly NO motivation to learn the language. Everything related to Japan is just boring to me. I don’t try to make japanese friends anymore, because I find it difficult to talk to them.
    And I also am not blaming the japanese people/culture or anything, but know my own weakness is the reason for my current state. And I realized one important thing: I don’t have a goal. A few years ago my goal was to go to Japan and I did everything to achieve it. Now I’m not sure, if I ever want to go back. I know nothing about what I want to do in the future. And since I have no goal I need to reach, I have no path to walk on.
    I’m working hard on changing this and hope it will change soon. 🙂

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