Reverse Culture Shock–It’s a Thing!

The only thing stranger than moving to an exotic foreign country alone with two suitcases and little to no knowledge of the language and culture… is leaving it.

Leaving Japan and all the people there almost fourteen months ago is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done and very few happenings in my life have ever broken my heart quite so much. Coming back to California also had a few unexpected side effects that are best known as “reverse culture shock”–something I thought I had prepared for from my visits home for Christmas…. but apparently not!

The honeymoon period was awesome! Everything was familiar, I got to see long lost faces, I could read every little thing written on the signs around me (which I often read out-loud to the annoyance of everyone around me just because I could!), I could understand every nuance of a conversation, I stuffed my face with an obscene amount of BBQ chips, sweet tea, carnitas, and tacos. Life was good and I thought the tears shed on the plane had exorcised all my demons.

While it did take awhile for the fact that I wasn’t returning to the place that had come to feel like home to sink in, sink in it did, and I had to deal with the side effects of my choices–some hilarious and some heartrending.

I constantly used bits of everyday Japanese, especially out in public while shopping and running errands. The number of times I said a casual “sumimasen” or “douzo” are innumerable and given the large Chinese and Korean population of my area–maybe a bit curious and wrong coming from a white girl.

To this day I still bow when thanking or apologizing to people on the street, in my car, and on the phone. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

I get suuuuuper annoyed by people that litter and graffiti! Littering has officially become my pet peeve. There are no trash cans in public in Japan and it’s still so clean! Come on America, there are trash cans literally every five feet and you’re still gonna throw that wrapper on the ground?! I will lecture you about saving the planet until you pick it up and throw it away properly (as several annoyed strangers can attest!).

I still hang most of my clothes out to dry. I’d hang them all out if I had an actual clothesline and didn’t just drape everything over my patio furniture and BBQ! I love the heat of the sun and the smell of the wind when I take them all in. So relaxing!

The first two weeks of driving in California were terrifying!!! Our traffic here is famous and the speeds people drive at when the roads are free are crazy! I spent the first few days slamming my foot on an imaginary brake in the passenger seat and trying to surreptitiously brace myself on the door or grabbing my seat belt in panic whenever another car came close! When driving with an old roommate I was kind of panicking the entire time and was secretly relieved when she got a speeding ticket and slowed down. Does that make me a terrible person?

I then spent the next few weeks driving no faster than 50mph chanting “right, right, right” so that I would stay on the correct side of the road. I still turn on the windshield wipers more often than not when going for the turn signal though…

I compare everything to Japan. Like literally everything. I’ve had to stop doing it out loud though, and really I’ve stopped talking about Japan and my time there for the most part because I’m pretty sure the people around me were done hearing about it. It’s been hard for me to let my time there go as a past event and I can’t really watch YouTube videos or media about Japan often as I get sad for awhile. I miss it with a physical ache at least once every day.

People look different. I mean, after a month or two I could tell all the Japanese people apart, but I mean people here all look different. Different colors, heights, weights, shapes, styles. It’s nuts! I had to get used to blending in again instead of sticking out–though I must admit it was a nice change from being followed around and judged for the contents of my shopping basket.

It’s loud. The streets, the people, the monster trucks. I miss the quiet and calm of my slow-paced little farm town quite a lot.

I could go on and on about the healthcare *sob*, the overwhelming variety of food, the customer service *another sob*, missing my friends, etc. etc. but this post would be miles long. I love the U.S. and I love Japan, but no two places could be more different! The way I see my home has changed with my experiences and I love that. As long as I keep travelling and learning it will continue to change–something that, to me, is worth the bouts of heartache.

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? What are some of your experiences with coming home after a trip? I’d love to hear about it!


Thank you so much everyone for reading! I know I’ve been gone awhile but I’m planning to get back into it and update more on the U.S., California, and I still have drafts of some Japan articles in the list. Thanks for bearing with me while I figure out my life, you guys are the greatest!! Thank you and Ja ne!

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