Can Embracing Japanese Culture Make You Forget Your Own? (Part 1)

August 27th, 2012By Category: Culture

Kiyomizudera, Kyoto, Japan

Being transplanted into Japanese society, adhering to Japanese customs and being able to hold your own, thousands of miles away from family and hometown friends is sometimes no small feat. My sincerest kudos to all of those teachers, businessmen, entertainers, and other expats who do it everyday.

When I talk about those times that aren’t easy, you know what I mean, right? There are those days when you step on the train, or walk into a room, and feel like the freak show division of the Japanese culture circus…all eyes are on you. Or maybe there are those days you feel like a mute, because you literally just can’t get the Japanese words out that you want to say. Sometimes that stuff can be a bit frustrating, but it’s all a part of the fun!!

If you’re on your way to Japan, PLEASE DO NOT WORRY! By and large, living in Japan has been pretty rosy, with only the occasional thorn (at least that’s what my experience has been anyway). Of course the ease with which a person makes the transition to a new society is dependent on a slew of factors ranging from the country that they’ve chosen to live in, to their social prowess, to how they respond to external pressures in general.

I wrote the article “When in Japan, Do as the Japanese Do,” because I really feel like if you’ve you’ve made that ballsy, gutsy move to actually live in Japan long-term, then adapting & embracing what’s around you can greatly ease that living abroad transition. I feel that being open-minded enough to accept another country’s traditions and way of life is the mark of a truly globally-minded person.

But for today, forget all that. Let’s examine the flip side of this shall we? Can embracing Japanese culture be, in any way, detrimental to foreigners? Can you embrace so much of the Japanese culture and Japanese customs that you lose sight of your own? I say that you absolutely can.

Culture shock and reverse culture shock are some of the terms you hear when people experience discomfort with a foreign way of life (culture shock). After having lived abroad for a while, returning to your hometown and it’s customs (ones that you used to be familiar with) can also shock you (reverse culture shock).

The fact that reverse culture shock even exists, shows that something can happen to your mind after having been abroad for a while. It doesn’t necessarily effect everybody, but it does hit some people pretty hard.

I don’t know whether or not it’s culture shock, but when I went home after two years of being here, I was surprised how much bigger people were in America (weight and height), I was also shocked at how big serving sizes were at restaurants, the differences in customer service at my local grocery store, among other things. But for me, these things make good ole Georgia what it is…my home.

But what about those people who culture shock had a huge effect on? The ones that don’t want to go back home. In what ways might a person forget their own culture after having been immersed in a foreign one? There are a number of ways it could happen. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think mannerisms, tastes in food, tastes in the opposite sex, music, and even language are some of the things that people can forget while they’re here.


After having been here for a while, I realize that I have started picking up a lot of the Japanese mannerisms. For example, when I went home, had to stop myself from doing the “Unnh, unnh…” nod when people are talking. My sister Erica (who had also lived in Japan) said that she could tell I had been living in Japan by the way I responding to her. I didn’t realize I was doing anything different.

In America, when someone talks, I’m used to just listening, and agreeing when there’s a question or something. In Japan, though, people listen a whole lot more actively, nodding and agreeing far more often during a conversation. It’s cultural difference that I am aware of when I’m in either place.

The other thing I’ve become quite accustomed to is bowing. In Japan, bowing is a sign of respect and I do it often. But in America if I’m bowing all the time, it can send a different message altogether, maybe one of subservience.

Your Palate

Honestly, for me, I don’t think this one will ever change. I love Japanese food, but nothing on this planet is going to keep me from loving Mom’s home-cooked meals or desserts. The Japanese foods and American foods I like aren’t mutually exclusive…I will go back to the U.S. and down all the slices of Papa John’s pizza and molasses cookies that I can stomach. Other foreigners I’ve talked to are very similar in this regard. Many don’t forget the hometown foods they love because they’ve been in Japan. If anything, the cravings become stronger. But for some, I guess it’s possible, maybe if your hometown’s food sucks.

Tastes in the Opposite Sex

Whoa…this one is kind of strange because I have always been pretty open minded when it comes to dating…always, before I ever set foot in Japan. I have seen women from just about every race who I’ve found attractive: black, white, hispanic, asian, green (if they existed), etc.. I don’t think my tastes have changed all that much, but I have more of an attraction after having been here a while. But that doesn’t mean if I go home and see a hour-glassy, hot woman with cocoa skin, full lips and a beautiful brown eyes, that I’m not going to notice.

I have actually heard several foreigners say that they had become so enamored with Japanese women that they when they went home, they didn’t feel as attracted to women in their respective hometowns. Is it because Japanese women are more slender on the whole? Is it because the whole submissive rumor true (I don’t think so, but that’s another post altogether)? Hmm…I wonder. There are definitely quite a few foreigners who find their their Japanese love here, settle down, make families, and decide to make Japan their permanent home.

For any women reading this, what’s been your experience with the opposite sex here in Japan? Don’t worry you can be as honest as you like (feel free to use the comments section).

Author of this article

Donald Ash

Donald Ash is the creator of website.  He is from Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. and is currently living and working in Ibaraki, Japan as an English teacher.  The majority of his professional work has been in the educational field, having taught both karate and middle school in the United States.

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  • Anya says:

    a couple of my exchange student pals have come to the conclusion that even though Japanese girls are attractive, they’re often bat**** crazy. one of the guys actually had a girl stalking him and saying she didn’t mind him trying to start a relationship with another girl because she didn’t mind being just a friend with benefits.

  • Hey Donald. I thought you were a friend of mine when I saw the photo of you, in Kyoto at the top. Any chance you know a guy in who lives in Kyoto named Omar Yusef?

  • leslie nguyen says:

    perspective you present! Since I love junk food, it will be hard to not eat
    authentic American food in the states. However, I
    am eager to see the adjustments of living in Japan as oppose to the states.

  • been in love with Japan since I was 16. When I went there this spring, things weren’t exactly magical or futuristic but the culture was the real deal. My disappointment was nothing compared to the beauty of the land, people (both outside and inside) and culture. Not to mention some Japanese even went out of their way to help you the best they could. This strong culture is definitely what makes the country beautiful. It makes me kinda worship it and unfortunately, look down on my own culture. I gotta do my best to be able to stay there longer like you too Bro!

  • I met my Japanese husband abroad in London, moved to Yokohama in 2009 and got married soon after that. A year later we welcomed our son into our life. All major life changing events but I couldn’T be happier here. Worked in Taiwan, South African and London before settling in Japan, but felt right at home when I arrived. Hard to explain in a brief comment, but love my life here despite the language barrier.