2012 Spring Eric Burton Temple Japan

Understanding Culture Shock


Wow, I can’t believe I have been in Tokyo for over three weeks already.  So many things have happened in such a small amount of time.  Everyday I wake up, still thinking that my time here is simply just a dream.  Sociologists would say that I am in the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock: a time in which one is still drifting through “la la land” thinking that the new environment they are experiencing is too good to be true.  Based on my own experiences I would like to give this phase of culture shock an entirely different name: “realization and reflection.”  In my time here, I have realized so many things about my home society, and also have had a significant amount of time to reflect on my own life.  Realization and reflection is an ongoing process.  For now I will tell you guys how things are going so far, and will periodically come back to this topic throughout the semester.

I never really thought about how much I relied on the English language until I was getting ready to leave Narita Airport.  I had to take a bus into the city in order to get to my dorm.  When I went to purchase my bus ticket I started to speak a few words in Japanese, until I realized I did not have enough vocabulary under my belt to even finish the sentence.  I could not help but laugh at myself: for the first time in my adulthood I was really illiterate.  I finished the rest of my sentence in English, hoping the attendant would understand what I was saying.  Fortunately she did.  From that point on I had to figure out creative ways to explain to people what I was trying to say.  Even with my small bank of survival vocabulary, I still find myself miming in restaurants and convenience stores.

Growing up in America, I developed the idea that crime can happen anywhere.  I thought that it was a natural part of society that just had to be accepted and dealt with.  I could not even imagine how a city with little to no crime would even look like.  Tokyo showed me that a society like this is possible.  Although citizens of Japan by law have no civil rights, I do not think this is the main reason why there is so little crime.  The societal values that elders instill in the children are what make Japan what it is today.  Children are taught how to be polite and respectful, and that an educated person is a more moral person (according to Buddhist teachings).  The society has switched to that of an educational meritocracy, in which everyone has a chance to get a good education and the opportunity to get into some of the best colleges in Japan.  Parents with legacies at prestigious colleges can’t pull strings to get their child in, it’s all based on their academic merit.  In addition, others say that Japan has low crime simply because of the group mentality instilled in the people: they all see each other as one and therefore lose their individuality.  If anything, Japan is filled with as many individuals as America.  Yet in America, our individuality is not always used in a productive way.  Race separates us.  Religion separates us.  Status separates us.  Therefore, we tend to become only concerned with those close to us, and not think about the bigger societal picture.  I am not saying that Japan has the perfect societal structure, but there are definitely somethings that America can learn from their overseas friends.

My own personal transformation has been somewhat interesting to experience.  So far I have redeveloped the “double consciousness” which I had maintained for sometime in my mostly white high school.  The double consciousness, a term created by W.E.B. Dubois, says that an individual has the ability to think about himself, as well as think about what others think of him simultaneously.  In high school, I was always concerned about whether or not I was being a stereotypical “black guy” in the eyes students and teachers, or if they could discern the individuality that my skin color could have been hiding.  In college this feeling gradually dissipated, because I was now in a much more diverse environment.  Now that I am no longer in a racially diverse environment, this feeling of a double conscious has resurfaced.  Sometimes people will stare at me and I’ll think, “What did I do? Did I do something wrong?”  Since Japan is such a high context society, people will not really tell you if you did something wrong, they’ll just assume you know your wrong.  So far in my time here, I have no evidence to prove that I have been treated differently because of my background.  I guess the fact that I am in a different environment is why I have these double thoughts every once in a while.  If anything, I am just concerned with respecting their society, just like they have respected me since I have been here.  Well, that ends another blog post.  Until next week, じゃまた!


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