Culture ShockEdit

Each person is like a jewel, and culture is like a light. When light comes from a different source or angle, the jewel looks different. Sometimes just a little change makes the jewel shine, and other times it makes it look dull and unimpressive. It’s not the jewel’s or the light’s fault, it’s the result of the interaction. It’s not your fault, it's not Japan's fault. It’s the result of the interaction between the two.

Signs of Culture ShockEdit

Recognizing Culture Shock is an important step toward dealing with it. Everyone is affected differently by Culture Shock.
You may experience some of the following:
  • Free-floating anxiety (Feeling anxious without knowing why)
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Lack of energy or interest in life
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of initiative and spontaneity
  • Loss of ability to work effectively
  • Excessive anger, sleep, eating/drinking
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Strong desire to associate with people of your own culture or nationality
  • Excessive amount of time spent isolated, avoiding exposure to the foreign environment
  • Stereotyping of or feeling hostility toward local people
  • Physical ailments (psychosomatic illness)

Culture FatigueEdit

Coming to Japan means you must learn new patterns of behavior and figure out how to navigate social situations. In our home countries we know how to have a conversation and how interactions are supposed to work. We get a small dose of satisfaction, a small buzz, a little psychic boost from an interaction gone well. But in a different country and culture, interactions must be learned. We don’t get those doses of satisfaction that come from a conversation that is “complete” or “whole”, but rather little shocks that are the result of things not going the way we are used to. These shocks accumulate.
Culture fatigue describes the cumulative effect of constantly being confronted with these little shocks. ‘Culture shock’ implies one big jolt, but for most people it’s the small, sometimes even imperceptible aspects of life that build up and cause culture fatigue.
Some common things that can get at people: being compared with past JETs or other foreigners; being stared at; getting asked the same questions over and over; smoking and drinking; sexism.


Give it time! If you are experiencing Culture Shock/Fatigue, it does NOT mean that you are doing anything wrong. It is a natural reaction that many people go through.
Try the following to help deal with Culture Shock:
  • Eat well.
  • Exercise.
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or tactical breathing.
  • Explore your neighborhood.
  • Develop your network of friends here. Don't isolate yourself.
  • Don't cut yourself off from the Japanese community around you.
  • Keep a diary or journal. Write down why you came to Japan, and refer to those points.
  • Learn to say “no” to things you don't want to do and keep some time for yourself.
  • If a lot of your trouble is coming from the inability to speak Japanese, study!
  • Talk to people. Friends, family, support lines.


Coping with culture shock/fatigue requires mourning. You lose something by coming to Japan.

When you come to a different culture, it’s like going to a circus and looking at yourself in one of those fun mirrors that distort your image. You look at yourself and you don’t recognize yourself. You’ve lost the normal you. People see you differently than you are used to being seen, and you may even see yourself differently. You need to mourn your loss (the loss of family, friends, and your own identity). Just like any time you experience grief, it’s important to acknowledge what you feel and accept it as a step forward. Over time, the mirror image gets more familiar, and hopefully you come to like what you see.

Mood ChangesEdit

Moving to another culture is a big transition. Think back to other transitions in your life (university, 1st job, etc.) Try drawing a graph with time on one axis and how you felt on the other. Chart out how you felt before the transition to after the transition. Chart about 15 months (3 months before the transition to 1 year after the transition). What patterns do you see? Also, what did you do to cope with challenges of transition? The things that worked in the past are most likely to work for you now.
Consider using a journal or mood tracking app such as T2 Mood Tracker to help you visualize your own patterns of emotion during your transition to Japan.

Personal ChangesEdit

Adjustment is an intensely personal experience. Often children, when they are taken to another country or culture, revert back to behaviors that they had grown out of (which drives their parents nuts). Similarly, when the social carpet gets pulled out from under our feet, we may revert back to old ways and habits that we struggled to get over. In technical terms this is called ‘regression in the service of the ego.’
A helpful strategy to help with adjustment is to write out what about Japan particularly bothers you. Not so you can bash Japan, but because it’s important to know where Japan bothers you.
Keep in mind:
  • how you’re feeling, how riled up you are or aren’t when you make your list.
  • Instead of thinking ‘Why do they always do that?’ trying thinking ‘Why do I always react like this when they do that?’
  • Sometimes it helps to pick where not to adjust so you can adjust more fully in other areas.
  • It’s also important to know and accept your personal style.
    • Are you introverted or extroverted?
    • Optimist or pessimist?
    • Do you talk slow or fast in conversation?
    • What do you say to yourself when something good happens? Something bad happens?
    • Do you think through problems or feel them out?
Consider taking a Personality Test, not to find answers but rather to do guided self reflection which may help you to understand yourself and your reactions better.
Knowing yourself can help you figure out how to cope and adjust. Keep in mind that whatever worked for you before may help you now. Use your experiences as a way to know yourself better and learn what’s important to you.

Professional HelpEdit

If you find yourself struggling to overcome culture shock, please seek out Mental Health resources.


This information is adapted from and it shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.