I was 21 years old when I moved to Japan. I had a contract for a year with a large English language school, a phrasebook and the “Your first weeks in Japan” guide the company had given me.
Rather naively I didn’t really worry about not knowing the language, or even being able to read it. I hadn’t thought much past meeting my housemates and starting my job. What followed was pretty much the textbook culture shock pattern of the first couple of months being new and exciting, then the homesickness or “shock” setting in.
Little things started to annoy me such as the insane amount of packaging on everything you buy. Then doggedly following the large poster on the kitchen wall on how to sort out all said packaging for recycling. If you didn’t do it correctly, a nosey yet, I am sure “well-meaning” neighbour, would hang your rubbish back on your doorknob. Getting a decent haircut at a reasonable price and finding makeup that didn’t make me look like I’d dressed up for Halloween early.
Once these little niggles passed, I again appreciated everyday things such as the politeness and amazing customer service found everywhere in Japan. People were more than willing to help you or give you directions, even in the manically busy centre of Tokyo. The bowing and shouts of “Irrashaimase!” or “Welcome!” when you entered every shop, or bar, or restaurant. The efficient and clean public transport and bars where you took your shoes off and sat down.
I strongly recommend anyone moving to Japan come with an open mind and be prepared for some big cultural differences. Once you get past the shock and confusion, Japan is an amazing country with lots to offer. Just be sure to practice a few basic words before you arrive and don’t be afraid to ask for cutlery!
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