From Japan Back to Germany – Major Reverse Culture Shock
As you hopefully know by now, I have left Japan.
Actually, I left Japan quite a while ago, but didn’t want to write about it immediately, because I wanted to take my time “saying goodbye to Japan”.
The other reason is that I had to deal with a major “Germany to Japan reverse culture shock”.
I thought I might sound more mature and make more sense if I wait until things have calmed down – and they have. But you know what? Screw that!
Back then it was hell and when I googled I didn’t find a single blog post where somebody sounded like they REALLY had huge problems dealing with reverse culture shock after leaving Japan. That’s why I decided to give you the whiny, uncensored version after all.
So, hopefully if somebody else is ever in my shoes, they will at least read this article and know that they’re not alone!
Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
I knew that I would have to deal with a reverse culture shock.
I’d been in Japan for almost a decade. And people who know me well, know that I wasn’t really fond of going back to Germany. I wanted to leave Japan (read: take a Japan break) for all the reasons I’ve mentioned in a previous article, but I didn’t particularly want to go back to my home country.
In order to understand why I was hit THAT hard by this reverse culture shock, I need to tell you this first:
I never hated Germany. I never thought there were any truly annoying or bad things about Germany. I didn’t leave Germany because I didn’t like it there. I left because I simply wanted to live in Japan.
But living in Japan taught me things I had never noticed before and suddenly I saw my home country with different eyes.
I’m sure that’s very common for people who move to a completely different culture.
Of course, I also noticed what was much better in Germany compared to Japan, but to be honest the things that I liked about Japan and suddenly found annoying about Germany prevailed.
This is not something that came overnight. But the longer I stayed in Japan, the less I could imagine life in Germany.
I haven’t exactly been back very often. I think I visited Germany only 3 times (2 weeks each time) in those 7 years.
I decided to go back to Germany for the lack of other destinations I really wanted to go to. Pathetic, huh?
But that’s probably one of the major reasons why I was hit by reverse culture shock that hard.
What I really hate(d) about Germany
A lot of the things I was afraid of, really were the way I imagined them in my nightmares.
Self-fulfilling prophecy anyone?
- I was afraid of the higher crime rate.
- I didn’t want to deal with the insanely high taxes.
- I didn’t want to eat the partly unhealthy food.
- I didn’t want to deal with the weather.
And those are just a few things.
Back in Germany, here’s how I felt and what I discovered:
At first I was really afraid to be outside alone as soon as it got dark.
In Japan I’ve travelled mostly on my own. I’ve been on streets I’ve never seen before in the dark many times – and I never had to be afraid of anything. Germany doesn’t exactly have a high crime rate, but it surely has gotten worse since I had left. And all the recent news at that time certainly didn’t make things better.
I even bought a pepper spray just to feel safer.
I know, I know. I’ve calmed down by now – which doesn’t mean that I’m careless. But I’m a lot more relaxed now.
I hated the fact that I couldn’t just walk into the next supermarket or conbini and buy a pre-packed super healthy bento.
I rarely cook. For me those healthy bentos were ideal! They’re cheap, the ones in the supermarket are freshly made and they’re well-balanced and healthy. I could just toss them into the microwave at home or at work and eat away.
In Germany, there’s nothing like that. Not to mention that we don’t even have convenience stores at all!
And on Sundays EVERYTHING is closed. No shopping on Sundays for me anymore.
But the food thing really got to me. My body also needed some time to adjust to German food again. German food surely isn’t unhealthy, but I do miss fish and natto. And I don’t dare to eat anything raw here.
Weather / Seasons:
I admit that I didn’t come back at a good time. I had months of cold and grey weather with lots of snow. I know why I never wanted to live in Hokkaido.
While we still had minus degrees and lots of snow, Japan could already enjoy plum and cherry blossoms with mild temperatures.
That definitely didn’t help my overall mood at that time.
You’ve probably heard how Japanese people are proud of their “4 seasons in Japan” – and I always thought: “What’s that? We also have 4 seasons.”
But once I moved to Japan, I understood. The weather in Japan is very stable. You know exactly what to expect. You know exactly how the weather will be next month. You can put away your winter clothes and you can be 99% sure that you won’t need them again.
You can take off your winter tires (if you even need any) without having to worry that it’ll suddenly snow again.
Each and every month is accompanied by different plants. Nowhere else have I ever seen it being so distinct.
In Germany it’s different. It does snow in May, it could become super hot in October … you never know if it’s too early or too late to put away winter clothes etc.
Someone like me who enjoys being outside, taking photos, REALLY cares about that kind of stuff.
Bureaucracy and Taxes:
I had not yet set one foot into Germany and I was already overwhelmed with paper work.
Whoever said that Japan’s bureaucracy is crazy, come to Germany and dare to say that again.
Preparing to leave equaled tons and tons of things I had to fill out. I heard from my American co-workers that none of them ever had to deal with that much crap. “Welcome back to Germany”, huh?
And don’t even get me started on taxes! Consumption tax 19%, taxes on EVERYTHING!!! (church tax, anyone?) ….
Cost of Living:
Whoever said that Japan is expensive is a liar.
I’m well aware that it depends on where you’re from and what you’re used to, but now I’m finally able to compare living expenses of the Japanese countryside with the Germany one. And there are a lot of things that are more expensive in Germany: car insurance, gasoline, items for daily life (barely any 100-yen shop thingies).
I could save a lot more money back in Japan. Period.
People and Cultural Diversity:
I can already see the comments coming, so let me say this first: I’m not trying to be racist here, I’m just trying to tell you how I felt and what I observed when I came back to Germany.
It’s needless to say that Japan is a very homogenous culture. You rarely see non-Japanese people unless you’re living in a big city or near major tourist spots. You might see Asian people, but you might not be able to tell at first sight whether they’re Japanese or not. So, it’s all very homogenous. No big surprises. All you ever hear all day is probably Japanese, maybe some English here and there.
So, coming back to Germany and suddenly having this cultural diversity was a big shock. I don’t mean it in a negative way, although I felt overwhelmed at that time. It’s just SO different.
And after being away from home for so long, I was looking forward to hearing my mother tongue wherever I went. But in fact, now I rarely hear a language I understand. At least in Japan I understood 95% of the languages that were spoken around me.
In the past decade, while I was gone, things have changed A LOT. When I was still a university student migrants mostly lived in the big cities. I remember sitting in the bus heading for my university and being the only person who actually spoke German.
Nowadays, you also have this in the countryside. And there’s also the refugees here in Europe that have flooded most European countries.
It’s just something that takes time to get used to. While for others this was probably a slow process, for me it’s all so sudden – and also seems extreme if I look back at how things were in Japan.
At first I had the feeling of being a foreigner in Germany more than I ever felt that way in Japan.
I hope you get what I mean. ^^; …..
Remember when I was ranting about the medical care system in Japan?
Screw that! I was so shocked once I was back in Germany! I had a hard time finding any doctors who would take me in. Most clinics had stopped taking in new patients. And for most clinics the next available appointment was in 4-7 months.
This NEVER happened in Japan, EVER!
I regularly have to go to clinics which is why I know so much about medical care in Japan.
That’s probably why I had a hard time adjusting to German clinics again. Not in a bad way, but it was still funny.
At first, I had a really hard time entering a clinic without putting on a surgical mask. In Japan it was so normal, especially during the flu season.
After my examination I wanted to sit in the waiting room, because I waited for them to call my name, so that I could pay. Normal in Japan, not necessary in Germany. You can just leave! So awkward!
It also took me forever to get used to the EURO again. Whenever I paid for something, I just couldn’t find the right coins. So embarrassing…
Also, dealing with people in general took a few days or even weeks. It’s different. I cannot describe it well, but it’s certainly different.
I think I bowed too much. My mannerism was still too Japanese at first. Even my friends hugging me was something I had to get used to again because that’s something you rarely get to experience in Japan. Most Japanese people (even friends) won’t hug or shake hands. Barely any physical contact.
That wasn’t really something bad, but my brain needed some time to adjust. For almost a decade I had only used Japanese and English, rarely German. Of course, once the switch was fully turned on, it wasn’t an issue anymore. I have the feeling that my German grammar is still weird at times, but who cares. But I did have the feeling that certain things could be expressed a lot better in Japanese and for quite some time I didn’t like the German language.
All the tiny things add up:
This might not sound too bad to you. It doesn’t even sound that bad to me now.
But back then it was hell for me. And those were just the major things. I guess what really got to me were all the tiny things in everyday life that were so different. SO MANY TINY THINGS that I barely can remember all of them now.
And I was desperate because all the people I had asked and all the blog posts I found were only talking about a few weeks or a few months of culture shock. It took me almost half a year to calm down and to somewhat get used to life in Germany again.
I’m still not entirely happy with how things are in Germany but at least I can imagine living here again.
I guess that alone was worth the hassle of leaving Japan.
Now, I know that I can live in either country. And I also learned to appreciate a few things in Japan even more.
Hohenschwangau Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
Please note that a culture shock is something very personal.
It mainly depends on the things you care about the most. I’m well-aware that a lot of people probably shrugged about some of the points I mentioned because they wouldn’t care about that stuff.
I never had a culture shock when I moved to Japan. I don’t know why. Maybe I knew a lot about Japan already, I already had visited Japan before and I REALLY wanted to live there, so it wasn’t difficult for me to deal with stuff that was different or annoying.
I wasn’t exactly fond of coming back to Germany. On top of that it’s my home country, so I expected to know how things work here just to realize that I didn’t. And I think THAT’S what had caused this really strong reverse culture shock when I left Japan.
Having a major culture shock in my case meant that I really hated everything about Germany at that time. I couldn’t see any of the good points of Germany and I also forgot about all the bad things in Japan. In my mind EVERYTHING was much better in Japan and that I must have been insane to have left Japan.
Reverse Culture Shock – The Cure:
What cured me eventually was time, but also a change of my mindset. I just convinced myself that I’d move back to Japan for sure once a year is over. And with that, I suddenly could deal with things a lot better. Now, that the culture shock phase is over, I’m fine even if I think about staying in Germany longer – or maybe even forever.
Meanwhile I’ve discovered a lot of Germany’s good points, things I would miss when I’m in Japan again. But that’s material for yet another blog entry, so stay tuned.
Now it’s your turn:
I’d love to hear about your experience with culture shocks or reverse culture shocks and how you dealt with them!~
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Events in Jan/Feb 2017:
- Jan 15: Matobakai (Kumamoto)
- Jan 15: Toh-shiya (Kyoto)
- Jan 17: Bonden-sai (Akita)
- Jan 28: Yamayaki (Nara)
- Feb 3: Setsubun (nationwide)
- Feb 3-12: Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi
- Feb 6-12: Sapporo Snow Festival
- Feb 7-12: Asahikawa Winter Festival
- Feb 15-16: Yokote Kamakura Festival
- Feb 17-19: Tokamachi Snow Festival
- Feb 18: Naked Festival at Saidai-ji (Okayama)