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Featured Article and Reader's Comments
December 9, 1999

The Stages of Gaijin by Justin Ledden

So you've just stepped "off the boat" and you're wondering what you're in for. How is the drama that is your Japan experience going to unfold? Below is a model that may be able to shed some light on what you're in for. This is just a model, and although it's grounded in culture shock/ adjustment psychology, it certainly doesn't apply to everyone. You may find that only parts of it explain you, and maybe you'll think it's just a load of crap that has nothing to do with you. Just don't take it as gospel.

Many travelers to Japan often go through a three-stage progression.

1) Honeymoon Stage "Wow- Japan is SO cool!"

The first is like a honeymoon period. You've just come over, and the novelty hasn't worn off yet. Everything is great, the people seem so nice and polite, everything is so clean and modern, the temples are just so lovely, the women are (fill this one in- I don't want to get in trouble), the trains are always on time, blah, blah, blah. You're generally happy in this stage and feel lucky to be in Japan. You believe that you've made a great decision to come to such a unique and wonderful country.

2) Bitch Stage "NO- Japan SUCKS!"

This honeymoon stage, if it even occurs, often ends a few weeks or so into the stay. The above opinions often stem from surface observations, but some people aren't ready for what's beneath the surface. Upon closer explanation, you might find yourself constantly bitching about stuff, writing letters and emails home, and in some cases even trying to go on a mission to change the Japanese in a variety of ways. Welcome to the second stage. A main part of your thought process here may be the various ways in which you believe Japan compares negatively to your home country or other places you've been.

I'm sure you've probably heard plenty of stories that could fill in this second stage, and if not, you certainly will perhaps you even experience much for yourself.

Here's a typical email from someone in this stage might look like.

Hey man-

I'm writing to you from Japan, although I don't know why the hell I'm still here because this place SUCKS! All I can see when I go outside are these dorks running around in blue polyester suits. I can't even carry on the most basic conversation with most people; they just get all embarrassed when I try to communicate at all. Everyone is so serious and uptight, it just makes me want to scream "relax" like ten times a day. They all seem bent on working all day and following these strict societal rules that I can't even begin to understand, not that I want to. The next person who stares at me on the train will be spending some serious time in the hospital. And don't even ask me about Japanese food. Unless raw octopus, fermented beans, corn on pizza, and mayonnaise on EVERYTHING is your idea of quality cuisine, forget about it . . . etc.

This just scratches the surface of the typical complaints people have; I'm sure you can think of many more.

But if this is constant for you and people you spend time with on a daily basis, it can really drag you down. In many cases, the ability to get past this stage can determine whether your stay in Japan is a short or long one. For some, Japan just becomes too much to handle and sometimes the result is a quicker than expected return home. You're going to be exposed to loads of opinions and they are probably all worth listening to, but keeping an open mind will ensure that you and not others will ultimately color your experience here.

3) Reconciliation "OK, maybe Japan isn't a complete hellhole."

People that don't leave usually learn to manage with the problems that they encounter, and here we're at the third stage, sometimes known as reconciliation. The ways of dealing with problems are many, though in many cases, it just takes time to accept and come to terms with a culture and society that is so different from home. Generally people just adjust and get over it. (Either that or some element of living in Japan like the money, or, for certain types, the women, is so fantastic that they are willing to endure a certain amount of misery.) Many even find ways to take advantage of the unique way foreigners are perceived in Japan, turning what can be sources of frustration and anger to their advantage.

Of course, all of your problems aren't solved at this point, and there will probably be things that always bother you. But I guess in the ideal model here, you've learned to concentrate the energy that could just as well be used for bitching and moaning to help create a more positive situation for yourself. Sort of like re-teaching yourself to see the glass as half full.

Copyright (c) 1999 by Justin Ledden, All Rights Reserved

Reader's Comments


Rod from New York City wrote on June 20. 2001:
E-mail: broadwayand86th@yahoo.com
--
I am in the 2nd stage right now and working for Nova. I need suggestions for getting to the 3rd stage.

Rod
broadwayand86th@yahoo.com

Mikito from nihon wrote on June 20. 2000:
E-mail: moki@frognet.net
--
Hi-yah! Gotzann Desu...

I feel lucky to be here as the only Japanese man honorable enough to write in this thread... I want to help you guys going through these symptoms, but unfortunately, I can't :-( These symptoms are well-defined as part of "culture shock" - it's a state of mental instability ;-)

I sincerely hope though, that you girls/guys find out more of the depth of Japanese culture before going back home. It'll take about a year to find yourself recovering from the aforementioned culture shock; you'll need to stick around for another year or two to start being able to absorb / analyze the culture...

I'm writing this as I'm surrounded by toothless, senseless, moneyless Apalachian rednecks, and I fuckin' hate it. Now I'm wondering if this is yet another recurrence of "culture shock" after 15 years of staying in the U.S. ;-) I hope not...

Mikito

Michelle from Vancouver, B.C. Canada (Not U.S.A.) wrote on February 29. 2000:
E-mail: emeraldtig@netscape.net
--
Wow! What a great article! I laughed like at Hell reading the letter.
I'm coming to Osaka in a few weeks and I sure hope I don't go through
that AGONIZING process!! I think if we all try to keep an open mind
and adjust to the "new", we might just make it through the Japan
experience. I really enjoy this site and I appreciate having some sort
of place to turn to get the scoop on Osaka before I arrive. I'm still
a little nervous but thrilled! Cheers All!

scotto-san from ashiya/osaka wrote on December 12. 1999:
E-mail: scottyboyardee@yahoo.com
--
laughed my ass off at the email home. im in the "f*** this place mode" but i work for a great big ad agency and they pay is just as big as the company so i kinda will let my contract run its course and go home with a nice chunky of loot (and with the yen dropping daily, i get happier). when i first got here, i was expecting to be overwhelmed. it was culture shock and i loved seeing new things. now, 4.5 months into it, im hating not having a social life. living in ashiya is nice but i can't see dumping 10,000 on a cab home if i miss the vomit comet (the last train home). so i go in at 1045 to make the last train to make the last bus (why not 24 hour transit???). im bleached so i get stares 4 times more often than most and the women, while i find 90% kawaii, the convo is so frustrating, i just dont even bother. am i jaded? yeah, but ill get over it. i think my y2k resolution is to stay out late a few weekends and hang at the gaijin hangs and see what happens. anyway, i like site and look forward to reading more stuff....

Dave Daugherty from Vancouver ,Washington.U.S.A. (NOT CANADA wrote on December 12. 1999:
E-mail: Deibu72@hotmail.com
URL: http://www.smarmyrecordz.homepage.com
--
DEAR MR.ELLINGSEN,
I JUST READ YOUR ARTICLE"THE STAGES OF GAIJIN"IT WAS VERY INFORMITIVE IN IT'S VEIWS
I WILL TRY TO USE THEM TO MY ADVANTAGE AS I WILL SOON BE VISITIN JAPAN
FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS MONTH ON INTO THE NEW YEAR TO VISIT MY GIRLFRIEND
ALTHOUGH I WONT BE STAYING LONG,I CAN LEARN FROM OTHERS EXCPERIENCES
ON HOW TO DEAL WITH SUCH ISSUES.I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT ARTICLE.
'COZ I HOPE TO SPEND SOME TIME IN JAPAN IN THE NEAR FUTURE FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE
3 MONTHS A YEAR WHAT EVER. Dave"Deibu"Daugherty

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