Friday, February 22, 2013

Moving to Japan? Beware of the Culture Shock! Oh, and the Tentacles!


I have a friend whose son is moving to Japan. We've been having some correspondence and I really want to help my friend's son get acclimated and become successful in the Land of the Rising Sun (Gee, does that mean I have to immediately take him out every night getting so drunk we can barely walk home and have him start smoking two packs of cigarettes everyday within the first two days? No! That can wait at least a week or two!)

Seriously, I want to help any way I can so I thought I should bring up a nasty subject and that is about Culture Shock.

Here's what I wrote to my friend:


Culture shock can really screw people up. Years ago, I was the liasion between foreigners and the Japanese management for a big company in Tokyo. We had about 480 foreign staff. From that experience, I've seen people just totally and completely fall apart. Really.

It really hits people when they become ill with the flu or something. It happened to me!

I got the flu one time and was sick as a dog... All I wanted was to have for breakfast two eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice... That's not asking a lot, is it? Well, in Japan, it was... 

I got the two eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice, but it's not the same in Japan as it is in the United States. I know that this is difficult to understand, but trust me, there is no restaurant or person in this country that can make bacon and eggs like mom can... For one, mom isn't here in Japan and for two, even the bacon and the eggs, toast and juice are different.

Really. They are. You have a very hard time finding a restaurant in Japan (that's not inside a major hotel) that  makes bacon and eggs like you get in the states (even inside a major hotel, I think you have trouble...) In Japan, they don't know how to cook an egg over-easy or over-medium; In Japan, the toast is sliced massively thick (or too thin) and they often cut the crusts off (Sure, Wonder Bread sucks, but when you're sick and longing for home style food, it sounds "Wonder-ful" (Sorry for the pun!)); and the bacon? Nope. No way. There is no such thing as a slice of crispy bacon in all of Japan... I know. I checked...

Hell, the bacon is different so it's even hard to make bacon at your Japanese apartment that is like the bacon mom makes! 

And juice? You kiddin' me? My episode was in the late 1970s so it is much better now. Back in the late 1970s there was no such thing as what Americans call "juice" - meaning something like 100% fresh squeezed or even concentrate - back then "juice", in Japan, meant something like Fanta Orange Juice.

Really. All I WANTED WAS A SIMPLE GLASS OF JUICE AND THEY BROUGHT ME SOMETHING LIKE FANTA ORANGE! THAT'S NOT JUICE!  I wanted to scream! :-@ #$!!@| :-@ !!!!Z>?}! How hard could it be to get a simple glass of juice?

Well, in 1979 Japan, impossible!

"You sick and want eggs and bacon just like mom made for breakfast?"
"Well, we don't have that, but how about some nice tentacles, instead?"

That seemingly benign episode of the flu with no eggs and bacon like mom makes set me off on a deep Culture Shock experience too! 

When living in Japan if Culture Shock sets in then if the person doesn't come out of it relatively quickly, I've seen them fall into serious clinical depression. If that happens, they are finished.... I've seen that happen more times than I can count...

One time, there was a guy who came here from Iowa (or was it Illinois?) and within 3 weeks, he was in serious depression and we had to send him back to the USA. Why? When he got here, he thought he was going to see a Japan that had Samurai and geisha running around (no joke) and so, when he arrived, and saw a big city and business people in suits, it freaked him out.

You can't make this stuff up. I remember seeing my face in his one morning when he was bursting at the seems and complaining about not being able to get a decent steak and eggs breakfast in Tokyo and insisting that I take him to a McDonald's (there were only a few in 1984) so that he could at least get some pancakes. he said he wanted a "Home cooked meal!" I wondered what kind of home he was from if McDonald's pancakes were his idea of "home-cooked"!

Your son won't be that bad, of course (I trust). But I HIGHLY recommend that he familiarize himself with Culture Shock, what it is and its symptoms, so he can expect it and know what's happening when it comes and be more able to deal with it. I knew about it so I think that helped me from not becoming more of a psychotic than I already am.

Heck, I have a friend whose younger brother came here and he lived with Japanese people all his life... He even had a Japanese mom! And he had seriously bad culture shock for at least three months.... And I know he was so incapacitated and depressed that he missed work for several weeks. I don't know what happened to him.

You son (and dear reader) will be better off if he understands that he will have Culture Shock like everyone else does.... In fact, if he understands it and expects it, it might bounce off him like rain on a duck!

And that was basically the letter. 

I hope my friend's son come to Japan and does well. I love this place and have never regretted moving here. 

If you decide to come to Japan to live please do yourself a favor and at least get a cursory understanding of Culture Shock and be ready for it when it comes. That way, you'll understand what is happening and it will just be another part of the experience.

For a humorous article on the same subject, may I recommend this? Five Things They Never Tell You About Living in Japan

Dedicated to my friends, Mark Davis and Shea Davis

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

That was funny,... and seemed to be quite true. Except you kind of paint us Midwesterners in a funny way,... one that is totally deserving,... except for some of us, especially those in Iowa [the land with comparatively Very little government owned land I might add] but then again, statism runs deep everywhere.

Your example had to have been from Illinois, those People have lost it. I think it’s the fluoride in the water stealing electrons from their much needed magnesium leading to... Oh wait, that happens in Iowa too, so...
Please pardon me, I’m glazing eyes with all this chemistry talk.

Anyway, THE Biggest Thing anyone should ask themselves before going to Japan is: Do I Like Fish?
Not just ‘fish’, but FISH. Real fish, not fish-sticks.

Can you handle FISH (Fishy-fish) for breakfast?

Saboo-saboo wasn’t bad. Freaked me out a bit how People ate spaghetti for breakfast, but hey. I guess, flexibility in thought is key. A trait that’s useful to develop in the corporate world (supposedly) and elsewhere.

If the answer is: no. Stay the heck away from any and every island country in the world.

Anonymous said...

If the answer is: yes. Proceed to the next question. [Consider applying for Survivor Island too? Ha. j/k]

Are you comfortable while sweating profusely in public or in private?

If the answer is: no. Stay home. Except in the Winter.
[Do they even have a Winter in Japan?]

If the answer is: “I can do what ever I want and People are human.” Proceed to the next question.

If an individual steals from you, do you:

A.) blame the whole group?

Or,

B.) know that your guard was lax and you were too flashy?

[Really, I would have given it to that Person if they would have asked. It’s the same the world over?]

If the answer is, A: Go Back Three Spaces.

If the answer is, B: keep going.

Anonymous said...

Would you enjoy teaching others how your local drinking game works?

If the answer is: no. That’s ok if you don’t drink. You get a pass on this question if you can handle riding in a small compartment for long periods of time without sexually assaulting the attractive attendant.

If the answer is: yes. IF, you can handle riding in trains, planes and automobiles for long periods of time, you are ‘good to go’ to meet some interesting People and see some beautiful girls, er People, while experiencing something quite outside your perception of what is “normal” - and AND- here-to-fore, you will likely always think: outside the box. [Or always be contained within it? Depending.]

Now that I look back on it, it’s quite shocking how free Japan is compared to the unitedstate today, ... I guess I have failed to convince my countrymen the value of true freedom, or even the bits of it left today.

... What’s that they say about those who need to be instructed about the value of freedom?

Anyway, I digress.

One other thing, I’ve Never seen a photo of a beach in Japan. I can understand there not being much water-skiing, but beaches... it must be a windward side or something?

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I Loved the big city lights and the neon brightness, the optimistic enthusiastic forward thinking Freedom-centered outlook on life I experienced everywhere there, but that was in the 1980’s,... have things changed much since then? Idk. Mexico sure has. Since Easy Rider, the ussa sure has.

It was really disappointing to notice those optimistic enthusiastic forward thinking Freedom-centered outlooks on life didn’t exist in the ussa, when I thought they did. What was even worse was learning how it wasn’t missed. It was then that I understood the world.

Thank you, Japan. And the corn industry which sent me there. Without them, I would have never known. May the corn industry rot in...

Sink or swim.

And hey, what was wrong with a 1984 McDonald’s, they used palm oil and beef tallow back then for their fries, didn’t they?
It was funny how the locals thought I’d be all ga-ga over McDonald’s.

Anonymous said...

There were so many angles to make money, it’s a testament to my ineptitude I didn’t figure out a way to make money off things. ... Or my refusal to go along to get along?

YMMV.

- IndividualAudienceMember

mikeintokyorogers said...

Hey! No offense to Midwesterners! I lived in Minnesota for 6 years as a kid! I loved it!!!!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

I know someone who fussed over how the fried eggs served at Hotel Okura were just the wrong shade of yellow. Culture shock is a bi*ch, because people become neurotic and psychotic and therefore down right unreasonable. That said, often these same people have little sympathy for people who have culture shock back on their home turf. It is a sad state of things but most people believe that their culture is the right culture in their hearts and this manifests itself in very neurotic ways when they are thrown into another culture.
I have never fussed over how eggs or milk were different in the UK or Spain or Germany or anywhere else, but I've noticed people who aren't multicultural do. It's that difference between German and Swedish buttermilk you know? It just isn't the same...

Anonymous said...

mikeintokyorogers wrote, "Hey! No offense to Midwesterners!"

Oh, that was clear from the begining. No doubt about that.

- I - on the other hand, am quite offended (insulted even, and dissapointed) by them, by most of them anyway.

Teaching ways of living one way, while supporting a system that's contrary to those ways, All while turning a blind eye to the obvious. Psft!

... I'm just glad to have met a few that didn't avert their eyes.

Murasaki Shikibu wrote, "Culture shock is a bi*ch, because people become neurotic and psychotic and therefore down right unreasonable."

I've come to think that's the way they were in the first place, neurotic and psychotic, the circumstance drew out the character.

It seems to expain Why they have little sympathy for people who have culture shock back on their home turf.

Or perhaps it was bulit up/created for decades in the ultimate culture shock: co-ed prison, a.k.a. school?

Murasaki Shikibu wrote, "I've noticed people who aren't multicultural do."

multicultural - had to look that up to be sure.

I think it's more than 'multicultural'. I never used to be what you'd call multicultural and I did ok. I've seen others, quite the same. It just seems to me it's something more than that, something more... real?

I duuno, maybe I just see: People, while others see: this, that or the other thing? An object?

When I say,'see' I mean more than just what's on the surface.

Pod People are superficial neurotic and psychotic. Resistance is all there is. ... To be, or Not to be, eh?

- IndividualAudienceMember