あけましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year!
This holiday season I was thankfully able to travel home and visit with friends and family. However, there are a lot of emotions that come with studying abroad and saying goodbye to all the friends I made during my first semester. I still have one more semester to go in Japan, but I want to share my experience with acculturation thus far and hopefully provide some insight to the normal feelings that happen during these once in a lifetime experiences for those looking to study abroad and those that may already have.
First, what is acculturation? To make it simple, it is the process where one is immersed in a different culture and undergoes various changes from living in the new culture. There are many different theories and curves about acculturation, but my personal favorite is Hofstede’s curve. First, is a state or euphoria which occurs from the excitement of being in a different culture. Then there is culture shock; the initial euphoria fades then one may feel depressed, confused, and any array of emotions. Finally, we adjust to the new culture and feel more comfortable. Because this process happens over time, individuals who only spend vacations abroad for a few weeks are unlikely to undergo an acculturation process.
Using this information, I’m going to talk a little about what Japanese culture is like, compare and contrast my experiences during my time abroad so far, and what it is like to re-acculturate back into my own culture.
traditional street in Kyoto near Gion-Shijo station * I also posted some interesting pictures so this long post isn’t too boring.
I’m from a college town, born and raised. Within my culture, and American culture in general, there is emphasis on the individual. However, Japan has a collective society so understanding an opposite culture can at times be difficult.
I was starstruck by Japan when I arrived. Everything seemed exceptionally clean and everybody seemed very polite, even the police. As the semester continued though, I started to learn more about why Japan isn’t as perfect as I had onced idealized it.
I am not in any way ‘down-talking’ Japan, because I love Japan. I do want to talk about my acculturation process, because every culture across the world has its downsides including my own. Understanding differences helps understand the culture whether or not they are positive differences.
opening ceremony, every flag means at least one person from that country was in the program
Everything in Japan is black and white which means there is a high uncertainty avoidance within the culture. Very few places are ‘have it your way’ like in America. It is rude to change the state of a menu item- unless the menu says it is possible. It is also usually impossible to change a menu item or order something not on the menu. So whenever I try to get mayo for fries at restaurant, I’m either told they do not have it (though it is on the sandwiches), or given a “what is this foreigner doing” look then finally given mayo.
Now that I’ve grown accustomed to this about Japanese culture, I just laugh it off and know that it is how the culture works. Though considering my flexible American lifestyle, it was very annoying at first.
If the culture difference were not enough, language barriers also can also make it hard to acculturate. I find this specifically true for Japanese culture, because there are different conjugations and nouns used that depend on to whom I am speaking. There is a strong sense of senpai-kohai (senior-junior) relationship that is always observed, but it sometimes hard to differentiate exactly when should I use keigo (honorific language). I still haven’t worked out all the kinks for knowing whether or not to honorifically or politely say thank you, but living in Japan has helped tremendously and I do not believe there is a better way to develop an understanding of this deeply rooted Japanese concept than by living in Japan.
Along the same lines of understanding Japanese, some Japanese think that I don’t know that they’re talking about me in front of me, but I do. On the flip side, there are a good portion of Japanese that know if a foreigner is speaking in English about them. I think it is best to just keep opinions to oneself about others. Maybe the girl on the train has really awesome shoes, but she only knows enough English to know she’s being openly talked about by foreigners.
I believe the hardest part of acculturating in Japan is accepting that I am a minority there so discrimination is inevitable. Living in Japan is the first time in my life I have experienced being the minority, which has been very eye opening for me. I’ve watched it happened to others in America and it enrages me, but it does not compare to being the one discriminated against. For example, when a non-native English speaker speaks in English, sometimes the individual may have an accent. No matter how many times they say something or how perfectly they say it, there are individuals in America who don’t even try to understand what the other person is saying because they look foreign and/or have an accent. The exact same thing happens in Japan to foreigners speaking Japanese.
Though, enough of what was hard to acculturate. There are many things I love about being in Japan.
My favorite station for switching to an express train because of it’s natural beauty and shopping: Kuzuha.
The train systems in Japan are fantastic. I am able to be in Osaka or Kyoto within 30 minutes for little cost. I believe the US could only dream of providing such an efficient service to its citizens.
I can also ride my bike a ton of places and worry much less about being hit by a motorist. Around the world, I have a theory that all cyclists and motorists hate sharing the road, but in general Japan is cyclist friendly. There are also bike shops that sell used bikes for extremely reasonable prices. (starting at 6,000JPY or about 50USD)
Downtown in Namba, Osaka
With transportation costing so little, I have access to many locations that are packed with things to do. I could hike a mountain, visit a temple or two, eat sushi and go out to karaoke all in one day. There are also things I see unique to Japan that I am able to do, such as cat cafes.
My friends and I visited a cat cafe of Japan located in Namba near Ame-mura called ‘nekonojikan’ (cat time).
the friendliest cat
Living in Japan has changed me forever in ways that are hard to explain. Coming back home for the holidays has given me reverse-culture shock; I do not think I will be able to re-acculturate before returning to Japan.
Making American food can be expensive, so I cook Asian dishes
Some of the oddest things about readjusting are not separating my trash, how America is dirty, and America is loud.
Since Japan is an island nation, most things are recycled or burned. (nope, no nasty landfills!) There is a bin each for burnables, PET bottles, plastic trash, glass, broken glass, and cans. Grocery stores also have separate bins for plastic food trays, cartons, and paper. The trash system is complicated and if it is not separated correctly then it does not get picked up until it is done right. Upon my arrival in Chicago O’hare, I tried to separate my lid and cup from Starbucks to throw away, but surprise! America doesn’t take recycling as seriously so it took a moment to realize I didn’t have to throw my lid in the nonexistent plastic trash.
There are also very few garbage cans around the streets in Japan, so I thought there may be more trash on the ground, but most people drink or eat where they are then dispose of the trash or take it home and dispose of it there. However, if one visits Ame-mura in Osaka or Shibuya station in Tokyo at night, the night life will leave plenty of trash, but it is always cleaned up by somebody.
Finally, America is loud. In a collectivist society where most houses are not heavily insulated like in the states, Japanese tend to be as quiet as possible for consideration to others. That also goes for being on the train; small talk is rare between people as is eating and drinking on the train (although I’ve seen it done by Japanese themselves, I advise against it.) It is also against the rules to talk on the phone while on the train, so if caught the train attendant will politely tell individuals to put it away.
*I also advise against testing the Japanese patience. They always ask nicely, so it is courteous to return the favor by listening.
The last thing I want to talk about in acculturation is something I do not see brought up as often: losing all the awesome friends made while abroad. I believe this is the cherry on top for post study abroad depression. Nobody understands exactly how I’m feeling quite like those whom were with me on the journey. I lived in a bubble with friends I grew extremely close to and then one day it popped. All of the people I knew I may never see again, but I think the best thing is to be happy I had the pleasure of making all of the wonderful friends I did and I am able to forever cherish the memories we made together.
out in Tokyo
our first time at Karaoke
on top one of the Holiest mountains in the world
sharing an American meal my friend cooked with other international students
Same dorm friends