Getting to grips with Japanese culture as a newly arrived expat

Getting to grips with Japanese culture as a newly arrived expat

Getting to grips with Japanese culture as a newly arrived expat

Relocating to Japan can be the experience of a lifetime as long as you avoid making cultural faux pas!

In the expatriate world, Japan is famous for its lifestyle and its total unfamiliarity for the hapless newly- arrived Westerner who simply can’t deal with its unique, traditional social rules. By this, it’s not just not wearing toilet slippers on tatami mats, it’s getting to grips with what seem like myriads of ways to say and do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Japanese culture has developed over more than two millennia and is unique in the world, not just in Asia, and admittedly takes some getting used to as a result.

Having said that, there’s a difference between unwittingly saying or doing the wrong thing and making mistakes which alienate the uninformed expat, thus hindering any chance of being accepted as a foreigner in a strange land. For the vast majority of new arrivals, mistakes will be minor, but one major issue is the ‘ugly American’ syndrome which asserts your behaving like a blustering foreigner as a right to aid leverage over a Japanese national. This upsets not only everyone around you, but can also harm your relationships in the workplace and needs to be avoided at all costs.

Expatriates in Japan seem to fall into one of two categories, with the first so keen on learning the language and making Japanese friends that they block out all contact with other expats. Those in the second category love the chance to make multinational friends, but seem to find making Japanese friends simply too much effort, resulting in their being trapped in an expat bubble. Another major mistake is rejecting their entire home country experience in favour of its Japanese equivalent, an error which leads to a total lack of cultural identity.

Culture shock is another issue which can result in expats’ blaming Japan itself for a lack of happiness in their lives. The truth is this - if you’re unhappy in Japan you’ll be unhappy anywhere else, with blaming the country not the way to deal with this syndrome. If it’s not sorted, culture shock can develop into being stick in the rut of not being able to appreciate what this amazing country can offer. Expat frustrations happen in every world destination, and drawing comparisons with life in the home country doesn’t help at all.

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