Culture Shock and Counseling

As an AKP student, whether full year or single semester, you will confront challenges as you adjust to new and unfamiliar cultural situations. Experts have identified five stages of adaptation that individuals frequently encounter while they adjust to new cultural situations. An awareness of these stages can help you deal with each step constructively. Not everyone goes through these five stages in precisely the same way; nor is it even possible to predict how long each stage will last for any individual.

Culture Shock: Stages of Adaptation

Entry Stage:

The main experience in this stage is bewilderment mixed with exhilaration; finding your way around Kyoto and its environs can be both confusing and exciting. Despite the bewilderment, most people are prepared for it and generally accept the fact that getting lost, encountering problems shopping, etc., will require a good amount of forbearance. As each of these tasks becomes easier, the cultural situation becomes less confusing.

Novelty Stage:

This is probably the most euphoric stage, as you come to appreciate the novelty of your new cultural situation. Everything seems to be fascinating, intriguing, and amusing. Every day brings new encounters, new adventures, and new people. You may find yourself seeking to identify with Japan and Japanese culture as fully as possible.

Outsider Stage:

Familiarity and interest can breed a kind of contempt and indifference, both on your part and on the part of Japanese people you frequently encounter. Some of the symptoms you might encounter include: a feeling of loneliness and alienation; a need to depend on other foreigners; disproportionate irritation with delays and other usually minor frustrations; desire to stay in the familiar areas of your new environment, etc. At this point you may realize that you are an outsider and will always be one. There will be occasions (such as Thanksgiving) that have no parallels in Japanese culture; while on the other hand events peculiar to Japanese culture may seem  impossible to participate in meaningfully. It is important to realize the signs of this stage, strive to move through it as best you can, and keep things in perspective.

Adjustment Stage:

When entering this stage, it is important to realize that the phenomenon called “culture shock” is a normal occurrence; it is not something unique to you. Strive to determine what things frustrate you, especially attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions that differ radically from your own culture. Focus on the fact that these very differences can enhance your Kyoto experience, because the discovery of these differences is one of the reasons you chose to come to Japan to begin with.Relax, take a deep breath, and be glad you are living in an exciting and new cultural setting, but certainly not one without its own problems. Accept what surrounds you, and give what you can of yourself and your own culture.

Departure Stage:

This stage can be a little painful, as you realize that you will leave behind new friends and a lot of unfinished experiences, not to mention the “reverse” culture shock that awaits you at home. Having reached this point, however, evaluating and integrating your Japan experience in your own cultural environment will be much less frustrating.


It is normal to undergo a certain level of culture shock as you adjust to a new environment, and you are encouraged to seek support and advice from the Resident Director, Kyoto Center staff, language faculty, and your peers. However, if you are experiencing more serious distress, we encourage you to seek help from a professional counselor. AKP has relationships with US-licensed, English-speaking counselors in the Kyoto area to whom we can refer you. If you would like to meet with a counselor, the Resident Director will arrange for this; you may go to the Resident Director in person to request counseling, or else approach any member of the Kyoto Center staff or faculty, who will make a request to the Resident Director on your behalf. AKP will normally subsidize any counseling fees with our appointed counselors.

Another option is to continue to work with a counselor you have already been seeing in the US. If you are seeing a counselor in the US, it may be beneficial to ask about Skype sessions while you are in Japan.

An additional resource within Japan is TELL. The TELL Lifeline (03-5774-0992) offers free, anonymous and confidential phone counseling in English provided by highly trained volunteers. It is available from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., 365 days a year.

If you are bringing psychiatric medications with you to Japan, please check the Bringing Medications into Japan page.