Whether you’re working and living in, moving to, or visiting Japan, you’re bound to experience some Japan culture shock syndromes. In today’s roundup, 10 travelers share their stories of culture shock in Japan.
I interviewed 10 travelers who recently visited Japan and asked them two questions:
Some stories are funny, and some are just plain bizarre. Read on to find out more!
Bonus: These travelers also shared how they overcame the language barrier in Japan, even if they could hardly speak any Japanese, so pay attention!
Hi, I’m Christian Escobar, a filmmaker and creative from London. I have a huge passion for traveling and discovering new places. I freelance in my field and dedicate my time to explore new cultures and meet new people. I visited Japan back in 2009 and since have had a dream to one day come back and live there for at least a year. My aim was to make this happen however I knew that if I wanted to push my name further in what I did I would have to stay in London, so I couldn’t help myself and booked a ticket to finally revisit the country I fell in love with.
It wasn’t anything too crazy, but one thing that I found a bit out of the norm is that some bars specially down piss alley in Tokyo that only allow Japanese people, and exclude all foreigners, I found it a little weird and isolating from the Japanese people.
Ed note: I love Christian’s travel videos and photos, check them out if you’re a travel addict!Vote for me
I’m Mike aka Tsuchinoko, a French graphic designer/illustrator. Been travelling in Japan since 10 years now. My work is deeply influenced by Japanese culture / folklore / history.
I have spent time at Koyasan. Sleeping and eating with monks. No internet no cellphone and praying at 5 in the morning. It was just magic. On the other hand I had some quality time avoiding cops in TOKYO/KYOTO/OSAKA when I was doing my art on street walls hahaha.
Don’t try to learn far from the country. Go to Japan and learn directly in contact of Japanese people. It’s the best way.
Ed note: Mike’s story of doing street art in Japan is pretty cool and he put together a video of that, check it out!Vote for me
Hi! My name is Vinnie, I am a travel blogger from Indonesia. Japan is one of my favorite destination because there are lots of beautiful places to visit. Beside traveling, I also love animals, so last year I went to rabbit island near Hiroshima. Next I would love to visit wild monkeys who bathe in natural hot springs in Nagano, or dancing cranes in Hokkaido. Combining unique stories about traveling and animals is really an excitement for me.
Once me and my friends are lost trying to find our hotel in Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi. We wanted to ask for somebody’s help but there is nobody on the road even it was still 3pm at that time. Most people we saw are only senior citizens and some of them are local tourist who also don’t know very well about the area. Moreover an elder women I asked speak a dialect that I don’t understand. We finally found our hotel after I asked to a lady who is passing by.
To learn Japanese faster, I not only memorize vocabularies, but also try to speak. I try to speak as often as I can with Japanese friends when I have the chance. Most people are too shy to start a conversation first because they’re afraid of making mistakes. Even though I also made mistakes in the end, I think I can learn from my mistakes instead.
Ed note: Bahasa Indonesia speakers, take note! Vinnie blogs about his Japan travels in both Bahasa Indonesia and English!Vote for me
My name is Monday Michiru Mariano, I’m half Japanese, half Italian, of American citizenship, born in Japan, grew up, lived and work both in Japan and the U.S., a singer-songwriter and flutist.
When I moved and worked there as an adult in 1987, it was also the time the AIDS/HIV epidemic was at its peak and people were creating their own blood banks often asking close friends and relatives to donate their blood. I was asked by a work peer what my blood type was and was taken aback, thought it rude, thinking they wanted to know so I could give them my blood for their personal blood bank. But it turned out that the Japanese ask one’s blood type like how Americans would ask someone their astrological sign to give insight into their personality.
It might sound crazy, but watching anime in Japanese with English subtitles helps to put the language in your ear, and reading manga help too! Otherwise the best thing is to live in Japan and get yourself a boy/girlfriend who only speaks Japanese! My friend learned from tapes, completely fluent now, would bum rush any Japanese he saw on the streets to practice Japanese with them.
Ed note: If you love jazz, check out Monday’s songs and performances! She regularly performs in Japan and New York.Vote for me
You can follow Giuseppe on Instagram here.
I am Italian, living in Switzerland working as wealth manager. I am also a part-time photographer. I have always been passionate about Japan due to the influence of Japanese cartoons in my childhood. I also took classes of Japanese language and culture at the university.
Entering into a Pachinko building was something very special: the music, lights and loud sound… this is something I have never experienced anywhere.
Ed note: Giuseppe is a photography hobbyist and takes great photos of Japan!Vote for me
I’m a food instagrammer from Sydney, Australia and I came to Japan because I love Japanese cuisine and it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit.
When I first arrived into Shinjuku station, I was amazed at the amount of people using public transport and how massive the station is.
Google translate is a fantastic app to use when reading signs and menus.
Ed note: Food, food and more food! If you’re a foodie or into foodporn, check out Jennifer’s Instagram feed!Vote for me
You can follow Ako on Instagram here.
My name is Ako, I’m a freelance blogger based in Hong Kong. I’ve been to Japan several times and really love their culture. I’m going to study in Japan this year.
Japanese females put huge importance on their appearance which makes me shocked. I saw girls wearing shorts in super cold winter when I can hardly leave my warmer.
Learning from what you like is the best way to learn a language. For example, I like movies, so I tend to watch Japanese movies and turn on the bilingual subtitles.
Ed note: Apart from learning Japanese, Ako is also learning Korean. Hard to beat her level of motivation!Vote for me
I’m a bento artist and food stylist. My work and passion in Japanese food was why I love Japan and its language.
Rather than shock, I think I experience more amazement by Japanese culture. Their omotenashi (Japanese spirit of hospitality and service) is amazing!
Be daring to use the language. Most Japanese are forgiving and will understand if you make a mistake or so. Practise practise practise~
Ed note: Seriously, Shirley’s bentos are works of art, I don’t think I can bear to eat them!Vote for me
I’m a creative director, photographer, and designer living in San Francisco. Japan always has a special draw for designers, and I’m no different. It’s almost a required pilgrimage to go and experience first hand the tremendous appreciation of design and aesthetics the Japanese have. I couldn’t resist any longer — I had to visit Japan! I was lucky enough to visit in two different seasons: summer and fall. Seeing how the landscape and style changes through the seasons revealed a country very connected to their place.
It wasn’t so much a culture shock, but I was lucky enough to spend a week living with one of the few Western geisha in the country. There are only a handful that are allowed to practice the craft, and she took me to vintage kimono fairs and allowed me to see the full preparation of geisha preparing themselves for the evening: the makeup, clothing selection, and dressing. It was incredible. I think travel is serendipitous like that (I didn’t plan it at all) and can really open your mind to different worlds.
Ed note: Erol has beautiful travel photos of Japan, check them out!Vote for me
You can follow Caitlin on Instagram here.
Hi there! My name is Caitlin. I’m 25 years old and from Tasmania, Australia. I have a degree in Asian history + culture and am a world-wide qualified TEFL/TESOL teacher. I also run the Instagram account, Essential Japan, where I post my photos of various scenes from around Japan.
Asia has always been a passion of mine, with Japan holding a particular soft spot in my heart. Its vibrant and rich culture – both ancient and modern – is a fascinating thing to explore.
To be able to immerse myself in somewhere so multi-faceted, somewhere with such an array of diverse and contrasting features (from the modern skyscrapers of Tokyo to the ancient streets of Kyoto, for example) is such an enriching experience.
I think that is probably what attracts me the most to Japan: it is a modern, high-tech, and ever-evolving country, yet has such a strong foundation in its traditions and history – I love that!
I have a huge interest in food and music, with Japan certainly not disappointing in either of those areas. When it comes to food, Japan has some amazing dishes to try. One of my favourite Japanese dishes is Okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake. It’s also hard to pass up a good gyoza!
I love music with a bit of a rock/heavy style and whilst Japan is more known for its pop groups, its heavier scene is alive and well. If I had to narrow it down to my top three favourite Japanese bands, they would be: 1. Coldrain, 2. Crossfaith, and 3. One Ok Rock.
With a never-ending array of amazing things to see, do, and explore, I think it is safe to say that my love and admiration for Japan will be a flame that will always burn bright.
Having studied Asian history and culture for many years, I was already aware of most of the things I would encounter upon my first trip to Japan. As such, nothing was really a culture shock. I also haven’t really had anything too crazy happen yet, either (how boring!).
One cultural thing I will make note of is in regards to riding on public transport. While trains or buses around the world will normally be full of people talking loudly or rudely listening to their music without headphones on, you will notice that in Japan it is the complete opposite!
Japanese people are so respectful of not wanting to disturb anyone else that trains run almost in silence, despite being full to the brim with people. It was something I had never encountered before. It’s such an eerie, yet wonderful contrast to the noisy and rude commuters you would encounter on Australian public transport!
I guess if you have never visited an Asian country before, it could come as quite a shock to be in a place where behind every corner you don’t know whether you’ll find a temple, a modern restaurant, a pachinko store, a host club, or somewhere that sells anime body pillows.
However, if you are new to a country such as this, embrace it! Take it as a chance to immerse yourself because travelling is an adventure. Wander off the beaten path because you never know what weird and amazing thing you may find – especially in Japan!
Having only begun my Japanese learning journey recently, one thing I have found incredibly helpful for me is immersing myself in the language through television (as well as movies and music).
Whilst repetition, structure, and dedication are the foundations from which all good language learning takes place, I find that adding in an extra step of ‘immersion’ can help to iron out the creases in your language using abilities.
Watching Japanese television shows with subtitles is fantastic. It helps you to pick up the pacing and intonation of the language within a natural language speaking environment. Also, depending on what you watch, it is a useful tool in helping to familiarise yourself with cultural aspects.
One of my favourite Japanese shows to watch is Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende, a Japanese skit show hosted by comedians in which they go out and do crazy stunts or challenges. I’ve also found live streams of Japanese television channels to be great, too (if you haven’t seen Japanese TV advertisements yet, you’re really missing out!)
Ed note: For a down-to-earth look at daily life in Japan, check out Caitlin’s pics!Vote for me
You can use this roundup as a survival guide to Japanese customs and etiquette. I hope these tips will help you to overcome any possible culture shock you might encounter in Japan.
If you dig more roundups, check out 25 Best Japan Blogs to Follow in 2016.