As part of the privileged white middle class of the eighties (bear with me for a second), I got to travel a lot and by my 14 year old birthday I had travelled to Asia for the first time and learned how to use chopsticks.
I experienced my father’s Macaense neighbours buy an apartment and destroy it to make it perfect for better Feng Shui; I also experienced being in Thailand and seeing arguments about only being served the skin of a duck and not its meat.
These were amazing to me and from those days on, Asia was where I wanted to be.
Japan became my reference in Asia and before moving, I already knew about Japanese culture, I respected it and I wanted to be part of it. So when I got there and during the next 7 months, I absorbed it 100%. I would do the “European pigeon bow”, I would apologize 10 times in a sentence, I appreciated deep sincere thankfulness as well as being greeted on a shop, going to conbini, biking to work, clean toilets, traveling everywhere and feeling safe as well as behaving the proper way because society demands it.
Bridge over the Hirosegawa in Sendai
The companion that had to stay behind
So when I came back to Portugal, on April 2014, one day while sitting at the table for breakfast and having my wan tan soup, my mom came in and made fun of me because I was having soup in the morning. At that moment I realised I had become something different.
I had become this mix of something neither European nor Japanese and none of my friends and family that had stayed home understood what I was feeling. Well, Google understood, and as some of you reading this know, there were tons of people writing about this and calling it “Reverse culture shock”.
Ticket Sendai 仙台 to Tokyo 東京 on the 1st of April
These words were used to describe these feelings of inadequacy to the original culture after being part of another for some time and having changed yourself dramatically.
In my case, I got depressed, I was angry all the time, had a hard time re connecting with friends and family and still had to look for a job and listen to people tell me that professionally my time in Japan had been useless.
For the first three years, I struggled with nervousness at work and in my personal life until I finally decided to get into therapy to deal with my depression.
At this moment, thanks to a great effort in therapy and helped by a patient and calm boyfriend I was able to slowly improve my mental health and 4 years later, I believe I am again more Portuguese than Asian.
I still sit on the floor and take off my shoes when I come home. I have cute small colourful dishes where I serve my food and I cook with soy sauce and coconut milk on my Iron kitchenware from Iwachu. When I cook, I can’t be bothered to take the foam of any of the sauces, but on the other side I also don’t cook any traditional Portuguese food to much disbelief of everyone.
It took me 3 years, to when I travel to a country with a 4th language (not Portuguese, nor English, nor Japanese) to stop saying “hai” instead of yes and so, became this crazy white person speaking, bowing and thinking in Japanese all the time.
Ex boyfriends have pointed out this obsession of mine as problem. They felt jealous and insecure, thinking that one day I would leave them for Japan. And this is why it took me this long to write about Japan. I thought I was this weird creature with a problem.
I have found no solution for the “Reverse culture shock” problem, all I can say is that it gets better with time. I think that gradually I’ve adapted back into my culture, and even if I sometimes still feel that something is missing, I can say that I mostly feel at home.
I’ve travelled to other places as well as back to Japan several times, perhaps in search for this part of me that is still missing, and that I’m only able to find in the comfort of streets that I know and in speaking Japanese. But the truth is that as time passes, I find this felling there less and less as I adjust back to my country.
One thing I learned from this experience is that sadly, only those who’ve experienced “Reverse Culture Shock” on first hand have the capability of understanding those who are going through it and can provide the essential support for these moments of inadequacy. Feel free to contact me if you experience these and need to chat, I will be here.
“At the station in Tokyo, waiting for the bus to the airport, something weird fell over my head. Something white was falling from the sky. And as I looked up, there they were, my first Sakura on the day I was leaving. It was too early for them in Sendai, but in Tokyo they were already in full bloom.”
What would I do differently?
I still had a visa until June, should I have stayed back? Definitely!
Do I regret it? I cannot. I did the best I could at that moment.
Well life kept rolling and the next post it’s from a visit to Japan before I started working. I came back to Sendai to visit friends and traveled to Akita prefecture, to see the place in Japan where the most beautiful women come from.
I’m soooo sorry, I know I have been completely gone. Work and personal life all went downhill two weeks ago, it has been absolutely chaotic. I’ve been working 12 hours a day and trying my best not to have a breakdown. Only this Friday did I muster the courage to not give up on this blog and find the proper state of mind for this post.
If you read to this point, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and for those who’ve experienced or are experiencing this and want to share, leave a comment or send me an email.
Hope everyone is doing well, thanks for reading, I hope to be back soon.