I think the biggest shock since coming to Japan was how utterly un-shocked I was at the differences I saw around me. Maybe it was the hours spent watching videos on cultural differences, what to do, what not to do. Maybe it was the number of times I mapped out my route from school to home and back again on Google earth. Maybe it was the excitement of trying something new, maybe it was the jet-lag, who knows? All I know was that the things I had prepared against in an effort to stem the culture shock, ended up shocking me the least. But what did shock me was how utterly…normal, familiar, everything felt. In a complete turn around everything that was different from the US felt normal and everything that was normal felt different. For instance, you would think that walking into a convenience store and buying a pre-made meal for dinner that actually turns out to be edible, let alone good, would be more shocking than walking into McDonald’s and ordering a medium fry. But in this case, what would seem familiar suddenly became unfamiliar and infinitely more nerve-wracking.
So what do you do in this moment? Well, if you really want those fries you’ll power through, or get someone more comfortable to buy them for you and you pay them back. Whatever the case, when you’re craving a little piece of familiarity and everything seems flipped, it can be hard to find a balance.
But it was in that moment, where I felt unbalanced, that I took it upon myself to explore. I couldn’t find comfort in the familiar and the “familiar” (i.e. take out meals from the convenience store, actually waiting at the light to cross, the rush hour train commute) wasn’t exactly what I needed. So, I explored. I looked at everything that was around me and tried to find something that interested me, something I could connect to beyond McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. and I found it in clothes. Not buying clothes, but noticing what the people around me wear. Noticing what people wear became my way of connecting with the world abroad and feeling at home. It may sound weird because if you ask just about anyone about the clothing culture of Japan most people will tell you it’s unique. They’re not wrong. Name just about any clothing combination you can think of and I guarantee someone in the city has worn it. The fashion culture and subculture here is a wild thing to experience so you might wonder how something so incredibly different could make me feel at home but it does. Because clothes, no matter where you are in the world, no matter how many different/wild/weird combinations I might see here in Japan, they have a way of expressing the person. And I feel most at home when I feel like I can understand at least a little bit more about the life of the people around me.
It might seem a little strange, but it works. So the moral of this story is when the whirlwind, honeymoon phase of study abroad starts to lose its luster and you can’t find comfort in the things you thought you could: go explore, you’ll find something, even if it doesn’t turn out to be those medium fries.