Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cultural Fatigue: aka 'Eugh, not this again!'

Yesterday I was scrolling through Tumblr (small life tip: if you haven't got a Tumblr account, don't get one. It is intensively addictive!) when I came across a reference to cultural fatigue ( 

While the author is talking about a very different situation (being constantly overcharged in South America) the whole 'feeling' is so very familiar.

As much as one can enjoy living in a different country, it can get exhausting. Japan may be easier than South America in many aspects, but it still finds ways to make you want to scream.

I spend almost all of my waking hours speaking in Japanese. I like my job, for the most part, but the thickly layered bureaucracy is a slog. Having to speak and write in keigo is exhausting. Not always understanding 100% of things said or jokes can be a bit alienated. Getting spoken to in boo-boo English from shopkeepers. People assuming I am an English teacher or don't know much about Japan.
It is not the end of the world, but these little things do add up. I can't run away from it, so how is one to deal with these feelings of 'doneness' and annoyance?

Well, I have a few ideas of my own, and would love to hear about others:

1- Give Yourself a Break
Spending most of your day in a foreign culture is mentally draining, so give your grey cells a break. Watch shows or read in your native language. Listen to comedians you like. Just space out for a while. Find quiet time to let your mind go blank.

2- Sweat it Out
Cultural fatigue also seems to turn into muscular tension. Get rid of that frustation through exercise. I find that running is a great way to combine idea 1 and 2.

3- Let It Go (Let it go~🎵)
There is a wonderful Buddhist saying: let go or be dragged. At a certain point you just have to let go of some of these annoyances. Making fun of them (to myself or with an understanding friend) helps me make the recurring annoyances small enough to brush off.

4- Enjoy the Good
While there are downsides to living in a different culture, there are (usually) also lots of good points which are worth remembering and celebrating. For instance, I enjoy celebrating traditional Japanese holidays in a small way (like eating ehomaki for Setsubun, or going to a shrine on New Years). I love that I can run safely even after dark. I love that tofu is dirt cheap. I love the beautiful places one can get to by train. I adore not having to drive or own a car. Making a little mental list of the things you enjoy can perk you up.

5- Eat Your Own Food
No matter how delicious Japanese cuisine can be, sometimes you just need a taste of home, whatever that might be. Super cheap Kraft macaroni and cheese, a plate of lasagna, hummus loaded with tahini... whatever it is, keep a secret stock for when you need it.

I am now going to take my own advice, have a bowl of pasta e ceci and watch terrible trash tv online. 


  1. It usually happens in touristy areas like Shinjuku where shop staff will immediately switch to English. I hate that. I always speak to them in Japanese.

    1. Hi Khaleesi! That sucks, I hope it doesn't happen too often.

      By the way, please forgive my curiosity, but did you get your profile pic taken at a kimono studio in Meguro?

    2. It was done at Studio 5to7.

  2. 1) Binge on BBC Television.
    2) Find a good bread shop and sell your soul to it.
    3) Escape into the mountains regularly.
    4) Finally accept that one day – one day – you will go home. Home-home. Not yet, but definitely one day. It helps.

    1. Hi Ru!

      Well, two if those I already do (Downton Abbey and the bakery below my house both rock my socks!).
      As for going 'home', that's a tricky one. I don't really have one. The place my parents live is not the place(s) I grew up.