Every Expat’s Cultural Struggle in Japan

The first few months in Japan are unlike anything most foreigners have ever experienced. The cities are clean, the trains are dependable, and everyone looks to be well-dressed and purposeful. The bright izakaya beckons you in, and around 3 a.m., while shouting out your favorite song at karaoke, you’ll say to yourself, “why would I ever leave?” This is the honeymoon time, and while it is enjoyable while it lasts, the novelty of living abroad quickly fades, replaced by the reality of being an outsider in a mainly homogeneous community. These are the most cultural struggle in Japan that foreigners have to face.

Reading the Air

In Japan, the phrase kuuki yomenai (roughly, “can’t read the air”) refers to those who have difficulty picking up on certain social cues and body language. The Japanese are known for being indirect and non-confrontational, and they will seldom exhibit their unhappiness on the surface; instead, they may drop subtle clues and perhaps verbal signals to let people know how they feel. Most expats, particularly Westerners, struggle with this, but it is something that can be learned over time.

Cultural Struggle in Japan
Credit: Pixabay

Language Disadvantage

For anybody, learning to speak, read, and write in a foreign language is a demanding endeavor. Throw in three writing systems, including the famously difficult Kanji (Chinese symbols), and even the most determined learner will find it challenging to achieve proficiency in Japanese. To make matters worse, most locals do not expect strangers to speak their language and would even respond in terrible English if they are approached. The easiest method to improve is to take individual classes or, even better, date a local who doesn’t speak English.

Breaking In

Meeting people in Japan as a foreigner is simple, especially for young expatriates and students. International parties, gatherings, and special events are held to assist locals and expats interact and mingle, especially in larger cities. Finding a close-knit circle of friends, however, has proven challenging for many expats, who frequently feel viewed as a novelty rather than a cherished part of the group. It’s not impossible, but it usually takes a year or two for most expats to find a crew with whom they genuinely connect.

Ethic at Work

Life in a Japanese firm may be extremely hard and time consuming. The boss is king in Japan, and the image of being busy is sometimes valued more than actual working efficiency. If your supervisor does not depart, you do not leave, whether or not you have finished the day’s obligations.


Jaded Expats

Bitter expats may be found in every city or nation that would accept them, and Japan is no exception. The truth is that there are a lot of foreigners here who should have gone home a long time ago. They’re not difficult to discover, and they’ll usually start spewing an unending litany of complaints about Japan within the first 30 seconds of meeting you. It is preferable to avoid these people totally so that their negativity does not rub off on you.

Non-verbal communication in Japan

Because the Japanese appreciate harmony, they are not the most outspoken of people. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and posture are frequently utilized to indicate one’s views about a topic. While someone is speaking, frowning might be regarded as a sign of dissatisfaction. When conversing, expats may notice that the Japanese keep an indifferent demeanor.

While initiating eye contact is necessary, looking into another person’s eyes for a lengthy period of time is not. This is especially vital when you are in the company of someone who is older in terms of age or rank.


This is the most difficult component of expat life for many. Living abroad allows you to form deep and lasting connections with individuals you would never have met otherwise, but the majority of them, like you, will ultimately return home. Over time, your network of expat friends shrinks, and the evenings you spent singing karaoke until 3 a.m. begin to feel like a distant memory. The literal English meaning of sayonara is “goodbye,” but in Japanese, it means “we may never see each other again.”



You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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