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Culture Shock in Japan

Japan is a unique, fascinating and incredibly clean country with a rich culture and history, but it can also be quite different from what many people are used to. The feeling of disorientation that occurs when experiencing a culture different from your own can happen to anyone.

Visitors who travel to Japan can truly take pleasure in embracing the different culture, food and lovely places.

Language Barrier

One of the biggest differences that people may experience when travelling to Japan is the language barrier. Japanese is a complex and difficult language to learn, and even those who speak it fluently may find it difficult to understand the nuances of the culture. This can make it difficult to communicate with locals, navigate places especially rural areas, and understand social cues. I remember we had to use sign language or simple English words to communicate with some of the locals who did not understand English very well. There are some tricks that you can use. Google Translate is a good app to use when translating an All-Japanese menu. You can also translate a phrase and play it in Japanese during communication breakdown.

Google Translate app – Press on ‘Camera’ -> point it the text you want to translate and it will automatically translate it for you.

The Japanese language has adopted many English words in the Japanese Language by adding a “u” or “o”. For example, hotel in Japanese is hoteru, hot is hotto, chocolate is Chokorēto, star is Suta, taxi is takushi. 


The customs and manners in Japan are quite different from other cultures. For example, bowing is a form of nonverbal communication used to show respect, apologize, or express gratitude in Japan, but it can be confusing for those who are not familiar with it. 

Eating etiquette is also different, and it can be difficult to navigate traditional Japanese dishes. For example eating sushi is a unique cultural experience that requires a certain level of etiquette. Dip sparingly in soy sauce. If you’re using soy sauce, dip the fish side of the sushi, not the rice, into the sauce. Overdipping can overpower the delicate flavors of the sushi. Sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite to fully enjoy the flavors and texture. Mixing wasabi and soy sauce together is considered bad manners. If you like wasabi, put a small amount directly on the sushi.


Japan has a well-developed recycling system, with a high rate of participation by citizens. Recyclable materials are collected separately from non-recyclable waste, and are then sorted and processed by local governments and recycling companies. 

When we stayed at a rented Airbnb apartment in Tokyo, the owner specifically requested us not to throw out the trash because he wanted to double check and make sure that the rubbish is separated according to the disposal rules.

Ironically, the country also uses an excessive amount of plastics and has a high rate of incineration for waste disposal.

Japan has long been at the forefront of recycling technology, but it hasn’t gone far enough since it was difficult for Japanese companies to implement their recycling procedures in ways that made financial sense. Japan must make future investments in its capabilities to process used plastics locally instead of exporting them to other countries. A regulation in Japan that aims to minimise the use of disposable plastic products goes into effect, requiring companies that use a lot of this type of plastic to use less of it.


Onsen often requires nudity in the public bath areas. The Onsen culture in Japan has unique customs, such as washing thoroughly with soap before entering the bath, not making noise, and respecting others’ personal space. it is a cultural tradition in Japan and nudity is considered normal in this setting. If you feel uncomfortable, you can opt for a private Onsen. This traditional Japanese hot spring bath is a form of therapy and relaxation. The waters are rich in minerals and are believed to have therapeutic properties. Placing a cold towel on the head while in an Onsen is a common practice to prevent dizziness or overheating. 

I find that the challenges I had in Japan are temporary and ultimately rewarding. The experience of staying and exploring the lovely places there is well worth the effort.

To cope with culture shock in Japan, it’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to learn about the culture. Anyone can learn to appreciate the unique aspects of this precious culture.

Japanese still practise some Chinese traditions but with a very strong public consciousness about taking care of the environment and respecting each other. This includes initiatives such as regular neighborhood cleaning activities and children are taught from a young age, to have a sense of social responsibility. Japan is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, so the government and local communities take disaster preparedness very seriously. They conduct regular drills and evacuation planning to ensure the safety of residents in the event of a disaster.

in Japanese culture, taking care of one’s surroundings and showing respect for others is highly valued. This is reflected in various aspects of daily life, such as the emphasis on cleanliness and order, the practice of bowing to greet others, and the concept of “omotenashi,” which refers to the spirit of hospitality. These values have helped to shape Japanese society and contribute to its reputation for being safe, orderly, and considerate.

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