Originally written on January 27, 2014
Continued from Stages Part 1: Culture Shock
Not everyone experiences culture shock as strongly as I did, or even at all. And even though it was pretty intense for me, it didn’t really last longer than a couple of weeks. I adjusted fairly easily, and found myself feeling back to “normal”.
The Setting in of Culture Fatigue
Over time, though, I started feeling something else. It wasn’t as intense as a shock, more of a slow, weary feeling of being drained. Everything was frustrating, but rather than being upsetting, it was just tired-making. While not everyone I knew went through culture shock, almost everyone went through some period of fatigue. Many people speak of just feeling annoyed at the new culture. Every society has stupid beliefs and practices, and once you get over the initial honeymoon and/or shock, you begin to see the more irritating aspects of a culture.
I seemed to notice this most when talking with travelers who hadn’t been in Japan for very long. For example, when I was in Hokkaido I stayed in a hostel. I had already been in Japan for more than two months, which made it interesting to hear the perspectives of travelers who were new to the country I was starting to become accustomed to. When we were talking about recycling, one of the other travelers waxed on about the wonders of the Japanese, with recycling bins next to every trash can and in every home, all misty-eyed at the thought of such a considerate and clean people. I found myself getting annoyed, and couldn’t help but point out how wasteful the Japanese practices of wrapping consumer goods is. Everything, even trinkets from dollar stores, are carefully wrapped in layer upon layer of plastic and paper, and then often put in a box, and then given to you in a bag. Even with much of the paper and plastic in Japan being recycled, it’s still extremely wasteful. It’s really not a big deal, but little things add up. The language barrier can also contribute to an overall sense of frustration and feeling alone.
- Many Japanese also believe in heating their toilet seats. But not their houses.
Culture Shock vs. Culture Fatigue
I read in one of the pamphlets they made us read that there are two stages of culture shock. The first comes when you’re exposed/surrounded by new customs, foods, languages, manners, etc. The second comes when you run into differences with deep-seated cultural norms, expectations, beliefs about society and the world, and human nature. The first is easy to get over, once you get used to the new aspects of daily life. The second however, is much more complicated and may never feel resolved. The second stage is what I’m referring to as “culture fatigue”.
The example I just used (of recycling and waste) is one that many foreigners struggle with in Japan. But it’s a pretty harmless negative of Japanese society. Unfortunately there are many other differences that were much more difficult to accept or understand. One is that I often encountered people who were openly racist. I found it really shocking, as even though I’ve come across many racially insensitive individuals in my life, I had never had someone sit across from me and casually state sweeping generalizations about people based on their color/ethnicity/nationality. I heard things like “People with darker skin are always more violent”, or “Japanese and Chinese are smarter than other Asians”. Of course, not every Japanese person believed these, but it was pretty common, and statements such as these seemed to go unquestioned.
I might have to write a whole post later about gender roles and expectations in Japan… It’s a very complex issue that I couldn’t do justice in a few sentences, but its safe to say that it was strange to get used to.
Getting Over the Fatigue?
Of course, over time I also became adjusted to the things that caused the weariness. It never completely went away though, and I don’t think it should. It’s bad to get overwhelmed by feelings of fatigue, but it’s perfectly healthy to not like some parts of a culture. To this day, there are some things about Japan I find downright infuriating, but I’m still dying to go back. When I arrived in Japan last January, one of my good friends had already been there a semester and was going through a small period of fatigue. It’s evidence that you’re past an infatuation, and have started to actually integrate into a new culture.