Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Culture Shock, and...

Things here are insanely busy. Finals have arrived, and I as frustrating as they are, I welcome the reprieve they will soon deliver me to. I realize I never gave a part two, to my previous month (which was two months back). I'll try to catch up on that. Also, I know I have a few messages I need to return, and I have not forgotten, I've just been distracted.

Below is one of the papers I have just finished writing, perhaps I'll have more of them posted as well, if I feel they are worth reading. Could be fun. I hope you enjoy. I need to sleep, and then wake to finish another paper, and study for a Kanji final... Almost there.

At Gakugei

Culture Shock, and its Impact on Cultural Adaptation

Life on the planet Earth is incredibly diverse. As a result, it is no surprise that societies, around the globe, are as equally diverse. This diversity is showcased, though not limited by, varied histories, peoples, beliefs, and cultures. Which path, along the route of diversity, is the best to take? At a certain point, a moment of cultural shock will confront an individual’s sense of identity, forcing introspection on the self, and the culture of the self.
Culture shock, and the phenomenon of reverse culture shock, influences the process of adapting to a new culture by directly forcing an individual to challenge (or have challenged), examine, and create an understanding of their new environment, in relation to their worldview. How the examination of the new and shocking is approached will lead to either a positive or negative effect, under the control of the individual undergoing the cultural shock. With careful consideration and knowledge, a possibly frightening situation can be a more rewarding experience.

Three particular works, an article, an account, and an album, will be used to further examine the way in which a differing culture can enlighten another. Versions of Self-Image: A Japanese Perspective, written by Yoko Hirose as a response to the 1991 video documentary The Japanese Version, although dated by twenty years, offers a different point of perspective of the individual in cultural shock. My Life with the Nanking Massacre, penned by a former JET participant, referred to as “Pemmican,” is a work that expresses a first hand account that causes the author to investigate his experiences. Lastly, Alive in Numata, an album, of sorts, of music written and performed by Steve Bruce illustrate a narrative arc from an initial cultural shock, to a new understanding and way to approach a differing environment.
An important factor for interpreting the degree and likelihood of a culturally shocking experience is the preparedness of the subject. The knowledge base, prior to entering a situation of potential shock, will determine the severity of possible shock. Understanding what will be different, and preparing oneself for the difference will allow an individual to evaluate and examine a new experience. This will, inevitably, lead to an experience that can never be planned for. At the very least, an aspect of reverse cultural shock will ‘kick in’, as the situation will lead to self-cultural critique and examination.
Hirose speaks of “a short introductory book on Japanese culture” that was (is?) used by Japanese businessmen, planning a trip to America, preparing them for the cultural questions Americans will ask of Japanese society. This demonstrates how a situation of potential cultural shock might be avoided through means of preparation. By informing the self in this manner, the process of cultural adaption begins. At this point, it moves from a direct cultural shock to a reverse shock, one that is brought about by way of self-cultural examination.
An awareness, and understanding, of self-image is further explored in Hirose’s article. As an attempt to understand how an individual see itself in an environment, in regards to actual self-image, desired exhibited image, and desired self-image, an awareness of the possible points of shock occurring are made more evident. When a differing culture forces an individual to reevaluate the perception of self, the resulting cultural shock leads to an interpretation of possibly conflicting worldviews. The readiness, and willingness of the subject to accept an alternative worldview will lead to an either positive or negative experience.
To a degree, no amount of preparation can ready an individual for all possible points of difference. Without preparation in all facets of experience, the desire and willingness to adapt becomes a key point. Furthermore, the desire to adapt is associated with the need to adapt. If the situation is a one time experience, or out of the ordinary, thus unplanned, before the process of actually adapting occurs, the need to do so must be established.
My Life with the Nanking Massacre explores the necessity of adaptation, versus refusal of a cultural element, in this case seemingly radical political views. The narrator (Pemmican) is confronted with an experience that, while at first seems innocent and friendly, turns far more serious in tone. While the situation never is dangerous, in a physical sense, in social terms it could prove to be very damaging. The desire to adapt, and understand a foreign idea or mentality into a personal mentality is questioned and explored by the narrative.
The story goes on to tell of an experience that forces the author to react, by either allowing himself to challenge the opposed idea, accept it as a possibility, or ignore it altogether. Culture shock forces a similar feeling of that of fight or flight. One can either challenge the experience through questions, refusal, or flat disbelief. Or, ignore the unfamiliar, contradicting element, and remain ignorant to opposed views. Once a choice has been made to fight, in metaphorical terms, the prepared or learned knowledge of the differing culture can be used in creating a bridge between the individual’s culture, and that of the shocking culture. If it is deemed as important by the experiencing individual, for his/her understand of his/her worldview, than the culture shock, while initially appearing negative, will in fact be a source of positive growth.
Interpreting a moment of culture shock as positive, or by looking for the positive aspects in such, can come down to a particular mental disposition. Optimism, versus pessimism, can help break through the shock of the situation or encounter. If the experience that has challenged a sense of cultural stability in unavoidable, or part of a long term trend, looking for various markers as making sense for the situation can help in seeing the positive aspects of such situations. Determining what the opposed culture can say about the origin culture, and finding a way for that to work for the betterment of the experiencing individual can lead to a sense of enlightenment concerning the original culture.
Bonenkai Guy, the second track on Bruce’s album, about his experiences (and culture shocks) while a JET participant, demonstrates an optimistic view of his situation. Throughout the song, he mentions reactions from those in his environment, as well as himself, to things that appear completely foreign, and accurately so. From onsen to traditional cooking to karaoke, Bruce explains a way in which accepting the unknown element of the culture and making it his own, he can become “a Bonenkai Guy — just like everybody.”
Although this early song on the album illustrates a level of comfort and ability to juggle conflicting cultures, towards the middle of the album, an expression of pessimism comes through. With a song entitled Invisible, this sense of shock is shown to be difficult to work out, and is having a negative effect. As difficult as these experiences are, they are critical as part of the experience of cultural adaptation. While a particular mental disposition plays a part in how the experience is perceived, each individual will take a different route is working through these perceptions.
The album draws to an end with the song Professional International-izator. From here, Bruce has come to a realization in how to confront the culture that was once fun, then became, to a degree, unwelcoming, and has reached a point where the rules of his situation is better understood (by himself). By understanding the rules or laws of a situation or environment, and by further understanding your role and position within that system, an individual can make better, more efficient choices. Tough conclusion the song suggests might not be the most culturally respectful, it still stands as a way in which to cope and find a positive perspective on an experience culturally shocking.
Often, an individual develops in their early life a degree of ignorance to the multitude of alternative cultural paths. As a new culture is presented, the resulting shock is attributed to this new, cultural situation. Perhaps the focus is more aptly aimed at the first, original culture, and the questions the culture shock hopefully asks of it. Culture shock is not what should always be of concern, but instead reverse culture shock at the possible flaws and shortcomings of our own culture, in light of another possible “truth.”
By challenging, examining, and developing an understanding of the confronting, new environment, in relation to the self’s worldview, an individual will can adapt to new experiences and cultural elements. This will, with hope, strengthen bonds of understanding between varied, distinct, and unknown societies and their peoples. Further understanding of our differences, by way of understanding ourselves, will lead to a better conversation on topics of importance concerning the future of our modern societies and cultures.
As our planets’ many cultures and sub-cultures continue to develop, evolve and join together, in an increasingly global nature, the importance of understanding one’s identity will become increasing more important. While things may be moving closer towards a global community, individual identity will, and must, always remain. The shock between cultures is a beneficial tool that allows for a very important need to reflect on who we all are, as part of our culture, and as a part all our own.


  1. It seems your copy of "Alive in Numata" is missing the 7th song that ties it all together at the end: "Renewed". Steve sings that he surprised everyone including himself that despite all the negative experiences and complaints, he decided to stay on for another year and is optimistic.

    1. Any chance you could point me in the direction to attain a full copy of the entire album/collection of songs? That would be stellar.