This article is a web original
After my introduction presentation in Junior High school, one of the questions the students asked me was “how tall are you?” I then replied “178 cm” to which a girl then started fangirling over my answer. It was incredibly weird but I just brushed it off.
Later, at the end of class, I found out that I’m the same height as some of the members of BTS, and that the girl memorized every single one of their heights, blood type etc. She was also excited because every time I would go to that class, the girl would imagine me as a member of BTS, based on my height. Sometimes, she would stand next to me and imagine that she was standing next to them.
I had a presentation at a school where I speak first and then introduce a second speaker. Before the start of the presentation we were hanging in the principal’s office as we waited for the students to gather in the gymnasium – where we would present. So I pick up some small talk with the other presenter guy. He says he remembers me! I don’t remember him. He says it was an international festival 3 months ago, he gave me and my table-mates some manjuu. I stumble through saying “Yeah… it was delicious!” My mind is blanking. Three months was ages ago! Why would I remember a guy I saw once at a giant festival? But surely, if he can remember some rando white lady from a fun event, I can remember one of the hundreds of people that visited it.
Imagine this dreamy scenario – you get a call from a strange-looking number different from your area code. Your recommended YouTube videos suddenly become all about Japan. The next thing you know, you’re on a plane and suddenly in a new country.
That was my reality in 2022. Other folks have different stories. It is a wide range from the folks that spend hours scouring online forums such as Reddit and Facebook groups to those who applied to the JET programme or an eikaiwa on a whim expecting to be rejected.
There are three pillars to become aware of amid cultural shock or readjustment in Japan. That includes – door ringers, other expats, and adjusting to your new co-workers and surroundings.
ESID, or “Every Situation is Different,” is an acronym thrown about on online forums and between expats in Japan, a-likened to a beer at any American or global football party. Recognizing differences seems therapeutic yet represents indifference to learning unique situations, solutions, and outcomes.
Arriving in Japan felt like being stuck in the middle of a riptide within a tightly controlled space. Everything was planned. It happened so fast. One second, I was in Tokyo, and the next in Kyoto-fu. I don’t remember sleeping or much at all. That was until I arrived at my new home.
On my first night in Kyoto-fu, my doorbell rang. Perhaps it was my advisor or some of the school staff. Nope. No, it was not. It rang three times.
Lo and behold, it was a cult. Less than 5 hours into my new home, the three henchmen of door knockers arrive. It includes the big three (minus the classic door-knocking NHK guy) – Jehovah’s, Moonies, and Mormons.
Taking a note from U.S. TV and radio commentators, “Jesus take the wheel” took a literal turn “toward my neck of the woods.“ It took some humor and patience. Perhaps it was my irreverence or lack of sleep. Yet, all three groups were foreigners, expats like me.
Expats have many different reputations. From education, military, manufacturing, and personal relationships, foreigners often fit within a distinct club, whether explicit or not. It can take a while to acclimate to this role while learning the ins and outs of Japanese schools and society, from kokuhaku to nomikai.
Expats do not have to play the various “guess who” games of enormous burdens, the extent of Japanese language studies, or the weirdest background. Instead, have a better expat time — avoid other expats. It is a highly recommended rule by some longer-term ALTs and expats.
Instead, allow me to introduce some realistic situations. Some expats might quickly dramatize their case due to culture shock and sometimes the combination of limited experience abroad.
Some folks call my area the inaka when instead, if you come from a rural area such as parts of New England, it feels like the opposite. Or city-like if you count having several konbinis, a mall, and McDonald’s as urban. If you come from a large city in California or Australia, then it’s as foreign as Pluto.
As a JET in an area with a Western military presence, sometimes it feels like “avoid the gaijin spots as much as humanly possible” to learn about Japan. So, no McDonald’s. Absolutely no McDonald’s. That is expat central. Similar to a nearby Western café near military-related folks. Sometimes, running to the hills is more than just a workout; it becomes a social solution.
For your Japanese co-workers, comparisons between predecessors are prevalent, alongside questions that often seem meant for an interrogation, yet seem like a compliment. It might take a while for co-workers to warm up to you. However, you might only hear a few excuses.
Colleagues may view you as the representative for explaining everything between Japan and the rest of the world. That is normal. The only non-normal aspect might be the timing—no need for Holy Water or unwanted surprises.
Once you balance avoidance and activity, you can single-handedly avoid door-ringers and headaches. Ultimately, instead of ESID, expect the unexpected rather than the expat versus the Japanese world. It will save you the stress incurred from expectations.