10 Ways You Will Experience Culture Shock in Japan (2023)

Culture shock in Japan is common. Japan is a country with a rich history and strict traditional values, along with a quirky modern culture. This clash of new age and tradition creates a unique vibe and flavor as you walk the bustling streets of Japan. With such a heavy contrast in values and ways of life, it breeds an interesting culture.

Japan’s culture is truly unique, and thus a culture shock in Japan is like no other. From the busy streets to overwhelming advertisements, stripping off in public baths to finding everything you could dream of in street-side vending machines.

Culture shock and travel in Japan often go hand in hand. Even though there are ways to identify, adapt and overcome a culture shock, escaping from a culture shock in Japan is almost impossible.

So, what are some common ways of experiencing culture shock in Japan?

10 ways you’ll experience culture shock in Japan

Culture shock is different for each and every traveler. How you cope and discover a Japanese cultural shock will vary from one traveler to the next. But these are the 10 common ways you’ll encounter differences of culture when traveling Japan.

1. Advertisements everywhere!

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Many streets around Japan’s major cities are coated in colorful and eye-catching advertisements. The problem is, there is so much going on that it can be overwhelming. Buildings are plastered with bold hiragana and katakana symbols (two forms of Japanese writing) that there’s simply not enough room and they begin to pile on top of one another, going higher and higher.

On top of that, to be even more attention-grabbing, some have mesmerizing lights that blink and flash all night long. As if your senses weren’t overwhelmed enough by the busy streets, there’s no rest for your eyes down a busy street in Japan.

This image was taken in Osaka, near Kuromon Ichiba Market – a great place to try plenty of unique Japanese dishes.

2. High-tech toilets that spray you

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The first time you sit on a Japanese toilet can be quite intimidating. There are more buttons than my television remote, and if you press the wrong one, you may be in for a sudden shock.

A personal story that makes me laugh and be ashamed at the same time, I decided to test these buttons out. While I was standing up, facing the toilet. Let’s just say the full power of that water jet can reach much further than you expect. Luckily, the toilet was at least very clean.

While other parts of Asia are known the squat-style toilets, Japan takes it to different levels with a toilet with many, many buttons other than the western full and half flush buttons. It sure is a unique thing to experience in Japan.

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3. Naked in public baths

The traditional Japanese bath, or Onsen, is one of my favorite ways to relax after a long day or stretch out after exhausting my muscles on the ski resorts. But it wasn’t always like that.

Stripping in front of random strangers isn’t a natural aspect of many cultures around the world, but it is when visiting an onsen in Japan. Locals bare all with confidence, which personally, it took a while to build up that comfortable feeling.

I even visited an onsen with the Buddhist monk, Asami, who lives at Taiyoji Temple, a great overnight temple stay just outside of Tokyo.

Being from Australia, it wasn’t too common to interact with naked people in a public setting. One of the hardest parts of the onsen experience I had to overcome was children in the onsens I visited. But it was all too common in Japan and was only a culture shock of Japan as I had my own set of ingrained cultural guidelines.

It wasn’t ever natural for me, but it did get much easier time after time.

4. Escaping crowds isn’t always possible

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Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, is the biggest city in the world by population. In fact, Japan holds the first and the seventh spot in the top 10 busiest cities in the world – Osaka being 7th.

So with so many people going about their daily lives, it’s almost impossible to escape the crowds in these metropolitan areas. If you’ve ever visited Shinjuku JR Train Station at rush hour, you’ve probably experienced one of the busiest places on earth.

But the crowds of Japan are everywhere. Shibuya Crossing is said the busiest intersection in the entire world. Up to 2,500 pedestrians cross the street every time the signal changes. There’s no structure, you just politely weave through oncoming bodies until you reach the safety of the opposite sidewalk.

Accepting there will be times throughout traveling in Japan where you won’t have great amounts of personal space will ensure you’re well equipped to handle one of the most difficult culture shocks in Japan.

5. You can live from vending machines

If you spend any time wandering the streets of Japan, you’ll notice vending machines. Everywhere. You can find pretty much anything you want if you spend the time to search the glass cabinets.

Get sushi and sandwiches, to cans of hot coffee and plush Pokemon dolls from these convenient machines. There are even streets in Tokyo filled with these illuminated boxes of food and drink – I was always hesitant to try the warm can of corn kernels, but it wasn’t as bad as I made it out be in my head.

If you look hard enough, you might find some more adult style vending machines – there’s reportedly one that dispenses used underwear. Not too sure why that’s a thing, but it sure is unique.

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Life is sustainable from Japanese vending machines, as strange as that may be, you can survive, and even get some new undergarments if you’re in the market for them.

6. People wearing surgical masks

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No, it’s not some apocalyptic virus that’s sweeping the nation. There are a couple of pretty common reasons why these masks are so common throughout Japan.

If you have a common cold or the flu, these masks prevent the spread of your sickness. The winter air in Japan can also be very dry, which is the perfect breeding ground for the contagious viruses that circulate every year.

If you’re visiting in the springtime, (March to June), you might also see a large number of people wearing them at this time due to the pollen in the air. Japanese Cedar Trees are a common cause for causing sneezes and sniffly noses, and these surgical masks cut down on the irritation.

So no, there’s no immediate and life-threatening danger, but there is a valid health reason, either for the person wearing the mask, or everyone else around them.

7. There are some interesting foods in Japan

If warm corn in a can isn’t enough for you, there’s plenty of other interesting culinary choices.

Of course, there is ramen. Basic ramen, while delicious, is pretty similar in many restaurants around Japan. But it is the different types you can find throughout Japan that make it a little more interesting. Curry ramen is a twist of the traditional dish born in Aomori, while black ramen looks a little dark and ominous, but is crafted with soy sauce to give it that color.

There’s even ramen that’s lit on fire right in front of you! That would be Kyoto’s Fire Ramen dish – and it’s one of a kind.

One thing I never expected from Japan is the use of dashi, or dried fish flakes. It’s in everything. Dried rice from the supermarket? It can apparently be in there as well. My partner who traveled through Japan is a vegetarian and had a hard time ensuring she was eating nothing of an animal.

While Japan’s culture shocks associated with food are relatively tame compared to other Asian countries, but adjusting to different flavors and ingredients can still be a challenge for some.

Asahikawa Ramen Village is a unique place to get a range of ramen. You can also get a free sake tasting nearby at Otokoyama Brewery.

8. Restaurant customs in Japan

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Restaurants in Japan have a whole set of potentially confusing customs to new visitors to the country. Due to the polite tendencies, you might not ever find out that you caused offense to someone for breaking an unspoken rule.

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One of the most important rules of Customs in Japan is tipping. It’s not only not required, but it can also be taken as offensive by wait staff and chefs. I’ve even heard many stories about workers chasing down guests from the restaurants to return the extra money left as gratitude. So, to all my North American friends (and anywhere that tipping in restaurants is customary) keep the tip with you, not on the table.

If you’re ever given a small plate of food that appears free, it might be called “otoshi”. This small dish is given as a seating fee. You can say that you would rather not have this little appetizer, but chances are you will be charged the seating fee no matter what.

Sometimes a warm towel is given at a table as your meal is served. This towel is expected to clean your hands before you eat. It can also be considered rude to pour tour own beer at certain times.

Eating out in Japan is a great experience but these customary guidelines are good to know and follow to make the experience for everyone involved.

18 Ways to Overcome a Culture Shock

Get your FREE list of 18 actionableways to adapt to culture shock!


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9. Accuracy of public transport

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Punctuality is a pretty well-known trait of Japanese culture. Transport runs so smoothly in Japan that noticing just how on time buses and trains run might be difficult. But if you’re reading a train timetable, and it says the train arrives at 8:13 am, the train will be there at 8:13 am sharp.

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If for some reason transport is late, and crazy things do happen, there are regular announcements in Japanese and English to warn passengers of the delay.

Japan runs smoothly and efficiently, so be on time if you want to make your transit.

Find out how you can catch Japan’s cheapest shinkansen – Osaka to Kyoto high speed train.

10. Natural disaster and emergency messages

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It’s pretty unnerving to get a text message warning of an impending disaster. But that extra few minutes of warning is a great thing if it’s a matter of life or death.

While I was in Japan I only received test text messages to ensure the system was operating smoothly. It was still a little worrying seeing an emergency text message light up on your phone, even if it is a test.

Still, it’s nice to know if things went south, you would be aware almost instantly.

Have you ever had a culture shock in Japan?

10 Ways You Will Experience Culture Shock in Japan (9)

There are many other ways culture shock in Japan can hit travelers – from the bustling, neon illuminated streets to the high-tech advancements to the plain old toilet.

While Japan is an unforgettable travel destination, there will always be some sort of adjustment no matter where you come from in the world – enjoying the challenges of travel is all part of the fun.

I’d love to hear what you think about a culture shock in Japan – did you experience any of these? Or what do you think I should include in this article? Let me know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a share to social media using the buttons to your left (down the bottom if you’re on mobile) and sign up to the Horizon Unknown newsletter!

Related reading for traveling Japan:

  • Travel Japan through photography
  • Learn about the ancient art of Samurai in Tokyo
  • Bathe in red wine and sake at Yunnessun

Thanks for reading,

Happy and safe travels,

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Ben – Horizon Unknown

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FAQs

How do you experience culture shock? ›

“Culture shock” is a normal process of adapting to a new culture. It is a time when a person becomes aware of the differences and/or conflicts in values and customs between their home culture and the new culture they are in. Common feelings may be anxiety, confusion, homesickness, and/or anger.

What are some examples of culture shock? ›

There are obvious examples of culture shock such as getting used to a different language, a different climate, a different transport system and different food customs. Less obvious examples of culture shock include acclimatising to: different hand gestures. different facial expressions and levels of eye contact.

What are things that cause culture shock? ›

Culture shock has been widely studied. The cultural elements that cause it are such things as climate, language, food, dress and social roles.

What is culture shock in Japan? ›

Japan's culture is truly unique, and thus a culture shock in Japan is like no other. From the busy streets to overwhelming advertisements, stripping off in public baths to finding everything you could dream of in street-side vending machines. Culture shock and travel in Japan often go hand in hand.

How does culture shock affect students? ›

Culture shock can impact students in many ways, including loneliness, isolation, and even depression.

What are 10 examples of culture? ›

16 Examples of Traditional Culture
  • Norms. Norms are informal, unwritten rules that govern social behaviors. ...
  • Languages. ...
  • Festivals. ...
  • Rituals & Ceremony. ...
  • Holidays. ...
  • Pastimes. ...
  • Food. ...
  • Architecture.
10 May 2018

How do you culture shock your face? ›

Coping strategies
  1. Admit frankly that these impacts exist. ...
  2. Learn the rules of living in your host country. ...
  3. Get involved in some aspect of the new culture. ...
  4. Take time to learn the language. ...
  5. Take care of yourself. ...
  6. Travel. ...
  7. Make friends and develop relationships. ...
  8. Maintain contact with friends and family back home.
27 Apr 2016

What are symptoms of culture shock? ›

Symptoms of Culture Shock
  • Extreme homesickness.
  • Feelings of helplessness/dependency.
  • Disorientation and isolation.
  • Depression and sadness.
  • Hyper-irritability, may include inappropriate anger and hostility.
  • Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
  • Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping.

Who presented 4 stages of culture shock? ›

Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg initially theorized the idea of cultural shock in 1954. Cultural shock is a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety that affects people that are immersed in a culture that is different or new. It occurs in four stages: excitement, irritation, adjustment, and adaption.

What is culture shock essay? ›

Culture Shock Essay: Culture shock refers to the impact one has to experience when moving from their known country, culture, family, and friends to live in another country and social environment that is unfamiliar. This impact includes feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion.

How long is culture shock? ›

Then, gradually, you sink into a frustrated and annoyed state of mind where you start noticing all of the differences between your old culture and the new one. You can even start feeling angry and resentful. This phase is often quoted as happening around the 6 months mark.

What is culture shock for international students? ›

Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one that is unfamiliar. It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a new country.

What is culture shock also known as? ›

Culture shock is a subcategory of a more universal construct called transition shock. Transition shock is a state of loss and disorientation predicated by a change in one's familiar environment that requires adjustment. There are many symptoms of transition shock, including: Anger.

What is culture shock Have you ever experienced culture shock? ›

Culture shock can be described as the feelings you experience after leaving your familiar home culture to live in another cultural or social environment. Many people associate culture shock only with extreme changes of moving from one country to another, but it could also be a move within your own country.

Is American culture popular in Japan? ›

American culture in Japan has become increasingly popular over the years. Japan has embraced brands, snacks and attractions, but originally the love for American culture came from Hollywood. A major insight into America is through westernized movies that provide a looking glass into what daily life would be.

Who does culture shock affect? ›

“Culture shock” describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It is an experience described by people who have travelled abroad to work, live or study; it can be felt to a certain extent even when abroad on holiday. It can affect anyone.

How do you use culture shock in a sentence? ›

Examples of culture shock in a Sentence

Foreign students often experience culture shock when they first come to the U.S. Moving to the city was a huge culture shock for him.

What is the culture shock in college? ›

Culture shock can be characterized by periods of frustration, adjustment, and even depression. The worst homesickness often occurs two to three months after students leave home, frequently arriving just in time for the holidays (for fall or academic year students). Not everyone will experience culture shock.

How do you feel during the first stage of culture shock? ›

The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive. Travelers become infatuated with the language, people, and food in their new surroundings. At this stage, the trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made and an exciting adventure. “In the beginning the whole process will seem weird for you.

How do you think culture shock might have a positive influence on your experience? ›

1. Experiencing culture shock will shape your personality significantly by teaching you to trust your gut, survive during periods of loneliness and unfamiliarity, and develop a thicker skin. People experience tremendous personal growth when they are facing vulnerability.

What causes individuals experience culture shock quizlet? ›

Culture shock refers to a stressful transitional period when individuals move from a familiar environment into an unfamiliar one. In this unfamiliar environment, the individuals identity appears to be stripped of all protection. Previously familiar cues and scripts are suddenly inoperable in the new cultural setting.

What are typical symptoms of culture shock? ›

Symptoms of culture shock
  • boredom.
  • withdrawal (e.g. spending excessive amounts of time reading; avoiding contact with host nationals)
  • feeling isolated or helpless.
  • sleeping a lot or tiring easily.
  • irritation over delays and other minor frustrations.
  • suffering from body pains and aches.
  • longing to be back home.

How do you culture shock your face? ›

Coping strategies
  1. Admit frankly that these impacts exist. ...
  2. Learn the rules of living in your host country. ...
  3. Get involved in some aspect of the new culture. ...
  4. Take time to learn the language. ...
  5. Take care of yourself. ...
  6. Travel. ...
  7. Make friends and develop relationships. ...
  8. Maintain contact with friends and family back home.
27 Apr 2016

Who presented 4 stages of culture shock? ›

Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg initially theorized the idea of cultural shock in 1954. Cultural shock is a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety that affects people that are immersed in a culture that is different or new. It occurs in four stages: excitement, irritation, adjustment, and adaption.

What is culture shock essay? ›

Culture Shock Essay: Culture shock refers to the impact one has to experience when moving from their known country, culture, family, and friends to live in another country and social environment that is unfamiliar. This impact includes feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion.

Can you experience culture shock in your own country? ›

Culture shock not only occurs when traveling to a foreign land. It can be experienced within one's own country during domestic travel.

How do you experience culture? ›

Culture is All Around You
  1. Visit your local museum. Learn about works of art from other countries, and read the biographies of all the artists. ...
  2. Read a book. ...
  3. Discover how other cultures express themselves… in music, film, and literature. ...
  4. Do your research. ...
  5. Try new cuisine.
8 Dec 2021

What is culture shock in communication? ›

What is culture shock? Culture shock is the way you react and feel when the cultural cues you know so well from home are lacking.

What typically happens when we experience culture shock quizlet? ›

ABCs of culture shock: Affectively, sojourners often feel anxiety, bewilderment, confusion, disorientation, and intense desire to be elsewhere. Behaviorally, they are confused as to norms and rules that guide communication appropriateness and effectiveness.

What do you mean by cultural shock How can one get out of this shock? ›

Culture shock refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to a new country or experiencing a new culture or surroundings. This cultural adjustment is normal and is the result of being in an unfamiliar environment.

What does culture shock mean quizlet? ›

Culture Shock. Cultural shock is the trauma you experience when you move into a culture different from your home culture. Frustrations may include lack of food, unacceptable standards of cleanliness, different bathroom facilities, and fear for personal safety.

What is an example of culture? ›

Culture – set of patterns of human activity within a community or social group and the symbolic structures that give significance to such activity. Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.

How long is culture shock? ›

Then, gradually, you sink into a frustrated and annoyed state of mind where you start noticing all of the differences between your old culture and the new one. You can even start feeling angry and resentful. This phase is often quoted as happening around the 6 months mark.

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