Well, I Thought I was Immune to Cultural Shock

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Hi everyone! Welcome to my blog. I’d like to start by saying the following: no one is immune to cultural shock. Even the travel-savvy experience it when they arrive at a new place and meet face-to-face with a new culture.

Why did I start by saying this, though? The title states the obvious: even though I thought I was immune to cultural shock, I must admit that I had a case of it when I got to Tokyo. I’m Russian-American-Israeli and I have lived my life in different countries, states, and cities. I’ve experienced cultural shock as a child and, apparently, I had the idea in my head that if you experience it once you become immune – just like chickenpox. Well, that was a tad optimistic of me.

Tokyo is home to about 13 million people (38 million if you include the areas that make up Tokyo Metropolitan). These people are taught a certain way of living from the day they are born. In a city this densely populated chaos would surely ensue if there wasn’t some kind of order in place. So far, in the parts of Tokyo that I have visited, I have never seen any dirty or stinky streets or alleyways. Tokyo is indeed very neat and clean (VERY clean compared to New York City) and has an extremely convenient transportation system. These are all great facts about the city I’ve always wanted to live in, but I must say that I had rose-colored glasses on up till now. The following is just one example of what full-blown cultural shock really is.

This photo shows Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s largest entertainment districts. Wow, that’s a lot of people!

You may have heard about Tokyo’s famous “rush hour”. So have I. I used to find it funny that there are train staff whose job it is to push people into the train. Well, there’s a good reason. During rush hour, trains come every minute or so and they are always PACKED to capacity. I take the train during this time, and let me tell you, it’s not a pleasant experience. The first time I took the train during morning rush hour, I was totally shocked. My face kept going between indignation, exasperation, and comical fascination at being smooshed into the equivalent of human-mashed-potatoes. I couldn’t move an inch, I kid you not.

So far, I’ve never seen the train staff help push people into the train, rather, the people waiting for the train suddenly change into complete beasts in this pushing competition to get onto the train. Gone are the manners and polite ways of the Japanese. In come the Darwinist survival instincts. When I see people behave like this, I can only think that getting to work on time must be a life or death situation. Well, I knew the Japanese were particular about being punctual, but I didn’t realize to what extent.

I’m starting to get used to rush hour and I have found various ways to prevent myself from being completely smooshed. Now, at almost any time of the day, I find Tokyo’s rush hour comical, but when the time comes to get on that train I feel like I’m walking into my personal hell. Hot, humid, and absolutely horrifying.

I’m exaggerating. The point is, I’ve realized that cultural shock is a real thing and it can be debilitating. I had a lot of negative thoughts those firsts few days, (though in my defense I must say that I was sleep deprived, malnourished, and loaded with homework,) but I was able to pull through. For those of you planning on studying abroad, my best advice is this – keep an open mind. Yes, cultural shock is inevitable, but don’t let it get in the way of seeing and doing the things that matter to you. Try not to let negative thoughts take over. Eventually you’ll see that there are plenty of wonderful things about this new place and culture you’ve arrived in.

OK, that’s it for now! In my next blog post I will write about my school’s trip to Yamanashi prefecture. I hope you’ll take a look at it. Until then, mina-san matane! See you later, everyone!