The following day, we had to wake up quite early as Orientation would begin shortly after breakfast. So I took a quick shower (actual shower this time), threw on my suit and went downstairs to have get a quick bite. Breakfast was great. I wolfed down as much western food as I could because I knew I wouldn’t have many more chances to have a breakfast of eggs, bacon, cereal, and juice.
Finally it was time to head into the big hall for the opening ceremony. I walked inside and was greeted with the amazing sight of over 800 new JETs from around the world.
It was quickly made apparent that people weren’t supposed to just sit wherever, but that the crowd was divided into designated prefectures. So I wandered down the aisles until I came across a representative holding up a sign that said “GUNMA”. I chatted with her for a bit instead of sitting down, and snapped pictures of the crowd. Apparently, my DSLR makes me look like a professional photographer, so the other new Gunma JETS were somewhat surprised when the opening ceremony began and I had a seat with them.
Once the hundreds of JETs had all poured in and settled down into the seats, a very official welcoming ceremony began for the new JETs and for all the important VIPs and dignitaries in attendance. Japanese business culture is really big on introductions and opening ceremonies, so even though very little happened aside from some big shots saying ” Hello! My name is so-and-so. Pleased to meet you. “, this whole affair lasted about half an hour and seemed to be a very big deal and required constant and rather contrived clapping.
After that, the keynote speakers began their speeches. One of the first but most memorable ones was about the different stages of culture shock. Prior to coming to Japan, I believed I had a good idea of what culture shock was and what it entailed but I actually had quite a bit to learn. When you hear of culture shock, you think of the initial ‘shock factor’ of visiting a foreign place with a different culture and/or language that is so different from your own that it catches you off guard in its novelty. But true culture shock is actually much more involved than that. There was a term they used which probably more accurately describes culture shock – cultural fatigue. Except that term isn’t used very much because it sounds really lame. If you tell someone that you’re having a bad day because you’re suffering from “cultural fatigue”, then you just sound like a giant wuss.
People experiencing culture shock go through several stages. In the first stage, there is a euphoric feeling where everything seems new and awesome and where you love the novelty of everything around you. It’s a kind of honeymoon period where you feel fascinated by the exotic new culture. For some people, stage 1 can last days to several months.
However, at some point, everyone eventually hits the stage 2 wall where as they experience more day to day and practical experience with the culture, some of the frustration begins to set in. People who go through stage 2 generally feel a sense of withdrawal and can even become hostile to the host culture, picking out and criticizing its problems and issues. Sadly, some people never get through stage 2 and are too affected by it that they end up leaving and going home. This is a contentious topic for the JET Programme, because they spend a LOT of money on each and every single JET, and when if they end up breaking contract and going home early, it is a huge blow to everyone involved.
Here are the stages to culture shock:
Stage 1 – Excitement
The individual experiences a holiday or ‘honeymoon’ period with their new surroundings.
. Feel very positive about the culture
. Are overwhelmed with impressions
. Find the new culture exotic and are fascinated
. Are passive, meaning they have little experience of the culture
Stage 2 – Withdrawal
The individual now has some more face to face experience of the culture and starts to find things different, strange and frustrating.
. Find the behaviour of the people unusual and unpredictable
. Begin to dislike the culture and react negatively to the behaviour
. Feel anxious
. Start to withdraw
. Begin to criticize, mock or show animosity to the people
Stage 3 – Adjustment
The individual now has a routine, feels more settled and is more confident in dealing with the new culture.
. Understand and accept the behaviour of the people
. Feel less isolated
. Regains their sense of humour
Stage 4 – Enthusiasm
The individual now feels ‘at home’.
. Enjoy being in the culture
. Functions well in the culture
. Prefer certain cultural traits of the new culture rather than their own
. Adopt certain behaviours from the new culture
courtesy of http://www.kwintessential.co.uk
Anyways, the speaker continued to talk about culture shock, and the words he said continue to ring true to me to this day. One of his anecdotes was from his own life, and about how he was “Stage 1-ing” all through Tokyo orientation and up to the first day when he arrived at his host prefecture. He was having a great time and was unpacking while listening to music, when suddenly a song came on that reminded him of home and out of nowhere, he suddenly burst into tears and was a complete wreck on his living room floor. I mention this because I experienced something similar, which I’ll talk about in a later post. Culture shock is really insidious and can (and has) hit me pretty hard at some unexpected times. But we’ll get to that later.
We had lunch after the morning speeches and speakers and following that, we broke into groups for seminars like “Driving in Japan” and “Making the most of your experience” etc etc. A lot of these were repeat information from Toronto Orientation. It made me realize that JET Toronto REALLY heavily prepared us, as a lot of the JETs from around the world had no prior orientations and everything was completely new to them.
At the end of the day after the seminars, we had a big opening reception. I had a bit of a headache and was feeling exhausted so I went back to my room to take a quick nap, but ended waking up 5 minutes after the start of the reception. So I threw on my suit jacket and flew down the elevator. Thankfully, everything was JUST getting started, and I made it look like I was just coming back in from using the washroom.
The reception was great. It was a standing affair so that people could walk around and mingle with each other. There were a ton of appetizers and alcohol was provided on all the tables. However before we could begin eating and drinking, there were more welcoming speeches, followed by the Japanese toast, where everyone raises their glasses in the air and yells ” KAMPAI!! “.
Here’s an interesting side note about Japanese culture. When you drink in Japan, you never pour your own beer/wine/juice. Instead, your friends and coworkers around you are supposed to pour for you and top you off if you’re cup is close to empty, and you are expected to return the favour.
So as I walked around from table to table, people kept refilling my glass of beer.This had slightly adverse effects because while talking to people, I didn’t realize how much I was actually drinking. Consequently, I got a little bit inebriated and had a nice little buzz going for the rest of the reception. Sadly I forgot to bring my camera so there are no pictures of this event.
Eventually the reception ended and we were given the rest of the night to explore Shinjuku once again. The whole day, there was talk of going to a Karaoke bar for a nomihodai (all you can drink). So a large group of us (about 20 or so) Toronto JETs wandered down the streets and eventually found one of the places that were recommended. This is one of the first times we realized that not being to speak Japanese was slightly detrimental to getting things done. Nobody among us really spoke fluent Japanese so there was lots of gesturing and confusion and arguing for deals (very un-Japanese apparently), before we finally got a booth.
Karaoke is pretty much the second national past time of Japan (the first being drinking..really they go hand in hand), so they know how to do it right. There were tons of english songs, and surprisingly, a LOT of very new songs. T and I belted out our rendition of BSB’s ‘As Long As You Love Me’, which is my favourite Karaoke song. Unfortunately, nomihodai karaoke is also rather expensive (about $30 CDN) for 2 hours, which I suppose isn’t that bad, although I’m pretty sure they heavily diluted our drinks.
After Karaoke, we all piled back outside the establishment and loitered for a good half an hour talking to each other, meeting new JETs as the everpresent JET Bubble grew larger and stronger. Eventually, a bunch of us decided to do more exploring, so we wandered around for awhile checking out the sights before going into a Don Quiote, which is sort of like a department store that sells everything.
They sold lots of useful things like clothes, household furnishings, household electronics, and videogames, however they also had an ENTIRE wing basically devoted to some other rather interesting things.
At this point I was getting a bit hungry so I wandered over to a combini, which is the Japanese word for “Convenience Store” and noticed two things.
1. Beer is unbelievably cheap and available everywhere. About $1.50 – 2.50 a can. But you can only find them in cans, almost never bottles.
2. Set meals are also really really reasonably priced. That set meal at the bottom was about three dollars.
This is where I would coin the term combini-hopping, which is basically like bar hopping, except going from Combini to Combini since it is totally acceptable (legally, though maybe not socially) to drink alcohol on the street. However I didn’t buy any snacks, so I hadn’t yet discovered one of the Awful Truths about Japan. More on that on the next post.
Finally the night was almost over, and as we tried to make our way back to the hotel, we ran into some Japanese guys who were walking the same way as us. They weren’t your typical Japanese salaryman, but rather the punks of Japanese society. One of the guys was one of those guys who hawks pirated DVDs at sketchy malls. However this interaction was actually my favourite part of the night because it was the first true ‘cultural exchange’ I actually got to experience. We didn’t speak very much Japanese and they spoke hardly any English, but through gestures, short words and stock phrases, we managed to get our messages across to each other and become friends for the long walk home. They were actually pretty cool people, and although they would be considered to be on the margin of Japanese society, I was really glad I met them.
Once we got back to the hotel, there was a group of JETs jamming outside with a guitar so we joined them for a bit before heading up to one of our rooms for a small hotel party. My recollection is pretty hazy at this point, but I think there was some weird stuff that went on so I’ll just leave it at that. We all ended up passing out with exhaustion in that hotel room, which pretty much concludes the first day of Tokyo Orientation, and one GIANT post.