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Friday, February 6, 2015

Life After JET: Reverse Culture Shock

I was recently ask if I suffered though reverse culture shock when I returned to Toronto after romping my way through three years in Japan as a junior high school assistant English teacher (AET) with the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken.

No… not really. There was a certain amount of regret in that the experience was over, but no real major reverse culture shock.

Part of that stems from the fact that I didn't really suffer any culture shock when I went over to Japan in the first place.

I was too busy suffering from personal shock to have time to worry about culture shock.

Moving to Japan, it was the first time I had lived on my own, first time I had to shop for food, cook my food, do laundry, iron my clothes, had a girlfriend where I had a real shot at losing my virginity, and had my first ever full-time job.

See… that's personal shock.

Actually, it wasn't shock... it was just adapting to whatever situation was thrown my way.  

Ohtawara-shi was a small city of 50,000 people, spread out over a vast area of rice fields and 7-11's. There was no traffic, no crush of people, no excessive noise (except during a festival—and I was usually invited to participate in those, and during election time when cars with loudspeakers moved slowly around the streets blasting messages).

There was a new language that I had no clue how to listen to, speak or read, no television to watch (with very few exceptions), a new job as a very visible foreigner in a classroom and not knowing how to do my job, not having a car but a bicycle to get around with… typhoons rather than rain storms, earthquakes rather than ground stability.

Traveling around Japan—well, I did once drive west with a friend across Canada, but that was only AFTER Japan and did drive East to Atlantic with the parents when I was a kid—but Japan has a bullet train! Fast, luxurious and always on time.

Even the intercity trains were always on time, and while hardly luxurious, were certainly not a hardship to travel in or use.

The subways - they were: clean; did not smell of pee; stupidly busy during rush-hour (so I avoided it like the plague then); so many different train LINES (owned by multiple business entities) that one could very easily get around Tokyo (for example), with great ease. The station signs also had English signage.

Culture shock in Japan?

Okay... I was listening to this brand new group called Nirvana (my brother had sent the music over to me), and was jumping up and down and headbanging my later-sore neck to beat, when I realized that I was jumping up and down on a futon. A futon - not a bed! Hey! I was in Japan! And I laughed at the absurdity of everything!

Toronto is supposed to be a big, modern city and I was moving to a smaller city that resembled a farm town on kid's, chewable steroids.

There were differences, obviously, but whatever.

Japan allowed me the opportunity to grow-up… to define myself as the person I wanted to be, and then as the person I should be.

Culture shock?

I heard that being bantered about by other foreigners all the time, but I didn't understand what that meant. Not one fricking clue.Why not just roll with what life throws your way?

Reverse culture shock?

Yeah, by the time three years in Japan had concluded, I was bowing while talking on the phone, and continued to do that for a couple of months back in Canada.

I was also looking right and then left when crossing the road. I did miss eating the delicious Japanese foods every day. I did miss the friends I had made over the years. I did miss the near-daily sex I was able to supply and receive. I did miss not being able to be master of my own domicile… but whatever.

While making a left hand turn in my car, back in Toronto, I did accidentally turn into oncoming traffic, but was quickly alerted to my Japanese mistake by my screaming friends who saw their life flash before their collective eyes.

I also did tend to talk a lot about Japan for about a year after returning. "When I was in Japan…"

I'm sure it was boring to hear story after story for my family and friends, but no one bitched about it - but I noticed this habit of mine, and tried to nip it in the bud.

So instead of fostering it upon unsuspecting friends, I began this blog to foster it upon people I don't initially know. Really… I think only one friend (zero family) has been reading these blogs since I first started, which implies that maybe only one person was interested in hearing any of my stories.

And my stories aren't that boring, and maybe aside from this particular article, I'm not that boring a writer.

But none of that was reverse cultural shock. 

Coming back from Japan is no big deal unless you make it a big deal. It's just the next phase of your life. You deal with it or you don't.

Culture shock? I don't know what that means.

I went in to Japan with an open mind and returned with an open mind.

Japan does many things differently from any other country, to be sure. Many of those things can be perplexing not only to the foreigner, but also to the Japanese themselves when forced to think about it… but I bet the same could be said about our respective countries.

How many years was it before women could vote? How many years did it take for people of color in "White" countries to be treated with a modicum of respect - let alone as equals? Let me know when that one happens everywhere.

Hmm… maybe what made reverse culture shock even less of a possibility for me, but was the Toronto Blue Jays were just about to win their second World Series of baseball; the Toronto Maple Leafs were about to start their hockey season… I quickly found a job (better paying than JET), and was able to easily catch up on three lost years of comic book collecting.

Then again… well… there's another reason I didn't suffer from reverse culture shock, but that's limited to my personal stories on this blog, dubbed "Noboko and Andrew".

Forget culture shock or reverse cultural shock - you have control over that. Just relax and life will happen.

You just survived Japan... you can survive anything.

Andrew Joseph

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