Pepi in Wonderland: Let’s start!

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Do you know the book Alice in Wonderland? I bet you do! I borrowed the title and changed it a bit to start this new section: Pepi in Wonderland. But why? After thinking for a long time, I’ve decided to get a little bit more personal on this blog. In this section, I intend to explain about my eight years living in Japan and the experience of returning to Europe. Here you’ll find cultural shocks running amok. When I went to Japan, I had to adapt to a foreign culture. But when I came back to Europe I had to re-do all the efforts. [SPOILERS: I haven’t adapted back, and I doubt very much that I will ever do it… nor I want to.]

Think about this section as an opportunity to take a look at Japanese culture from the perspective of someone who has lived immersed in it, loved it and cried like a baby when she decided to go back to the Old Europe. It might also feel like a joke at times because some situations might make you laugh (though they did not make me laugh at all at the time.) I might also use some pictures that I took centuries ago, so you’ll be able to admire the crappy pics I used to take… If I can find any because most of the pictures I took are the landscapes but to find me into the pictures is hard… Selfies!? Where were you back in 2004!?

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First, you have to take in mind that I am a geek. Well, if you’ve been reading me, you already know how geeky I am. But just in case, a reminder that this section might be geekier than usual. Second, what for me is normal might be too weird for other people. So, don’t get surprised if you end up like Dean discovering slash fan art for the first time.

So, let’s start with it!

Around the 2000s, I decided that I would get a scholarship and go and study something in Japan. Since the scholarships offered internally the University were pretty crap, and the destination was out of the ones offered by the European Union, I had to look elsewhere. That elsewhere was the system offered by the Japanese Government. They had a pretty good offer for both undergraduates and graduate students. However, the best option for me was to give a shot to the Mombukagakusho Scholarship for Graduate Students to complete a Master degree or Doctoral degree in Japan. (If you Google it, you’ll find out all the requirements asked according to your location).

After graduating, I gave it a try, and I got into the system. That meant that I ended up traveling to Tokyo in April 2004. I was admitted into Tokyo University Law School, and that’s when it all started. [Now let’s take a break to take a look at one of those awful pictures with lots of students posturing to immortalize a moment that family members will cherish by commenting on how horrible your hair was and why the hell you didn’t smile wider.]

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This was my first year, and thus, the year of the culture shock. According to people in the dorm who had already been there for a year (my senpais) I would experience the 3, 6, 9 tests. If I were able to pass these three tests, I would be able to live in Japan for a long period. 3, 6 and 9 refer to months. So, the success or failure while taking the three moths test, the six months test and the 9-month test would determine how long I would be able to stay in Japan.

After 3 months/ 6 months or 9 months of Lost in Translation in Japan, many foreigners decide to return back to their home countries. Culture might be too challenging for a mind to cope with, so many people just give up after three months. Everything was happy karaokes with lots of new friends during three months for me, and then suddenly stress and anxiety took all over me. I didn’t know what was going on, but then I remembered what my senpais told me, and so I knew why I was feeling so bad. It is the small things that make you crazy.

I give you one small example: asking for items in shops and never getting a “sorry we don’t have it.” In EU clerks just tell you that, sometimes even in a bad manner. But in Japan odds are that clerks will try to do whatever else to make you understand that they don’t have it… only that you are blind to the nuances because you are new in Japan, so that they have to get creative with you in trying to make you understand. When they cannot, they just upgrade the level of the game and search another clerk so that he can do the same, and the thing goes like this till you just throw the towel… And that can mean hours waiting in the shop. Japanese freak out because you won’t leave the shop, and you will just get annoyed because you think you might get the item but you just won’t. I remember the first time this happened to me. We went shopping with an Aussie friend of mine, and we spent more than an hour playing this game… It was exhausting!

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You also get paranoid because you’re just unable to make friends at Uni. You end up speaking in English all the time with your colleagues who are from all over the world… but not from Japan. While back at home you made a bunch of friends at Uni, once you are in a Japanese University it turns out that all your superpowers are gone! And you just cannot understand how that happened. [Hello there! I just took a damn plane!] You might greet your classmates every single day, and try to go out for a coffee or the movies, but it won’t simply work. The worse part of all is the answer “kondo.” It means “next time,” so you literally end up asking that to same person when that coffee time is going to happen, just to be told again “next time.” After months of “kondos” from everyone, you end up discovering that “kondo” means “never” in reality. It’s just a nice way to say no without saying no.

So, during three months you are just getting annoyed and angry constantly because no one is telling things straight, and you don’t know that they are getting as annoyed and angry as you because you won’t stop making the same questions again and again. If you’re lucky, as I was, you understand that Japanese don’t say “no” but try to find a way to say “no” that will not break the social peace pretty quickly. Only that with foreigners that don’t work at all and everyone just gets paranoid. However, even if you discover this it doesn’t mean that you’ll notice it right away when it happens. So this makes you relapse into stress and annoyance every three months till you get all the nuances! It’s really hard! But once you get it, things go smoothly.

And then, you become one of them.

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When you become a senior (a senpai), and you explain all of this, including anecdotes to those who have just arrived, you know you’re one of them. So, you wait in the shadows for the new fresh blood to make the same errors you did when you were in their situation. IKR!? Evil! And because you’re into the system now, you know what “kondo” means, and you use it as well. And you know what happens? Magic. Suddenly you make a friend. Or two. Or more. You don’t need to wait for yonks at shops because they tell you they don’t know at the moment about item (if you are told that: RUN!) And the best part: suddenly stress has disappeared!

Fast speed this for eight years. You’ve been comfy in a system where saying “difficult” means that you won’t do it, or if you got mad at a karaoke with working mates everyone will forget about it the next day. [Note: you will also “forget” about your working mate that got drunk, naked and sang a heavy metal song while you were trying not to look at that direction.] You live comfy in a system where everything is fine and easily forgotten. And then you take a plane and go back to Mordor… Elves are gone, and now you have to deal with the Orcs. Or at least this is how I felt…

You are suddenly exposed to people telling you that they’re going to meet you next Wednesday at 5 pm for coffee (or roundish), and who will never come because they decide to cancel the meeting ten minutes before 5. Yes, that same Wednesday! Suddenly you’re dealing with Spanish who are answering you with a huge “no” when, in fact, they want to say “yes” or otherwise. Wouldn’t be everything easier if you just say “kondo” for the coffee, or just a huge “never”? Wouldn’t just be easier if you found a gray combination of words with no sense so I could understand that you have no clue or you simply don’t want to talk about that? Or just say: I don’t want to talk about that?

And then you discover that you’re exposed to a new level of 3, 6, 9… Say hello to stress again!

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Copyright: Images on this post (C) depepi.com / Memes (C) by their owners.

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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  • Brittany Zick

    This actually sounds like loads of fun. I am so very in love with Japan and I want to live there so badly.

    • Thank you! 😀 I hope you’ll like this new section. Fun part is Japan. Awkward part the reverse culture shock in EU… Ahem…ahem….

      ahem….

  • Kay

    Culture shock would be so hard to handle! And yes, learning the subtleties of any new group of people can be so maddeningly frustrating! I always hated it at a new job, I can’t imagine trying to learn it for my everyday life!

    • Yeah, it’s overwhelming when you have to do it all day long. But most of the time you have no clue you’re getting nervous because of it, unless someone tells you and then you realize about it… It is really tiring…

  • TK

    I’m going to Japan for the first time this fall (just for a week) and this is all good to know. I love Japanese culture, but reading this makes me wonder if I’d service. I’ve never been very good at sugar coating and tend to be brutally honest. To me, a fact is a fact is a fact is a fact. I don’t know how else to say it. So the whole never saying no thing might drive me up the wall. In my brain, I’d have to translate those words as just meaning no. Because “maybe” will just make me angry.

    • Congrats for the trip! 🙂 I bet it’s going to be awesome! For just one week, I’d say that it’s okay, but if you plan to stay longer, say… a year… then the shock can be hard. If you encounter “maybes” just take them as no, ‘coz if not it can be really annoying. Have a nice trip and enjoy it at a 100%
      xoxo