If you have ever traveled abroad for any extended period of time, you know how hard culture shock and homesickness can hit you. Everyone deals with it differently and it shows up at the most unexpected times.
Having lived in Japan previously, I am used to most of how things are done in Japan. Granted that was over 10 years ago. Now I am an adult who has to take care of everything myself. If I told you that I did not experience culture shock this time around, I would be lying.
It’s the small things
It is not the big things that get to me, such as having to speak Japanese on a daily basis or figuring out the trains. But rather all the small everyday items that really hit me hard. A perfect example is going to almost any coffee shop, Starbucks in particular, you usually have to get a seat before you order. That is if you are wanting to stay. This is not typically the norm back in Canada, so I was not aware of this. The first time I went to Starbucks I went to order and the lovely barista asked me if I was staying. Which I replied with a simple “hai” (Yes). She then asked if I already had a seat. Which I replied with a simple “iie” (No). She then politely explained to me that I must have a seat before ordering, and that I had to wait in another line to get a seat.
While this was a small thing, I was completely embarrassed and felt foolish for not knowing what to do. But, how would have I known? We learn through doing, and when you make a mistake, hopefully, you learn from it and never make the same mistake again. Now when I go into any coffee shop I make sure to have a seat before I order.
Grocery shopping has been quite the challenge. I am particular to what is in my food, so reading labels is something I always did back home. Being in Japan, I am learning quite a few different Kanji (Chinese characters) for ingredients used in food. Grocery shopping becomes much more than a chore since I have to figure out what a lot of the ingredients are. I will admit, I have bought some items not caring what was it in, because I could not be bothered to figure out the kanji for the ingredients. Those are on some of my off days.
Another example are movie releases. Most movies are not released at the same time here in Japan as they are in North America, unless it is a HUGE blockbuster but that rarely happens. You can read my previous post about being a movie geek in Japan. While it may sound completely silly, but when I found out The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug was not going to be released until February 2014, it made me upset. More than something like that should.
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan and I wanted nothing more than to see it with my best friend, who loves it just as much as I do. Most people would say “Hey, it is just a movie”, which is true. But it was just one of those things you take for granted.
The only time I ever felt homesick was Christmas Day. That was by far the hardest part of this entire journey, so far. We are not a religious family, but not being able to see them Christmas morning hit me fairly hard. Thankfully, technology allows us to see our loved ones even when we are thousands of miles a parts. I woke up very early on Boxing Day, because of the time difference, and was able to see my family over Skype. That was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.
It Gets Easier
Living in a different culture does not get easier, you just get better at it and learn. There are still many things I do not know or understand about the Japanese culture, but I am taking every opportunity to learn. Making silly mistakes along the way, but that is the best way to learn. Most people are incredibly polite and understanding.
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