Culture Shock and Counseling

As you adapt to life in Kyoto, you will confront various challenges, many of which will affect you on both a physical and emotional level. This is more commonly known as cultural adjustment or “culture shock.” Each individual experiences culture shock differently, and it is impossible to predict how long it will last. But while culture shock may feel stressful, it is a normal and expected part of your study abroad experience.

There are a few commonly recognized stages of culture shock that individuals go through as they adapt to new cultural situations. It is important to emphasize that the following stages are generalized and may not accurately reflect your personal experience. However, an awareness of this process can help you identify and deal with your own challenges constructively.

Stages of Adaptation

Honeymoon Stage: The main experience in this stage is bewilderment mixed with exhilaration and euphoria. Everything seems to be fascinating, intriguing, and amusing. Every day brings new encounters, new adventures, and new people. Despite the bewilderment, most people in this initial stage generally accept the fact that getting lost, encountering problems, etc., will require a good amount of flexibility and tolerance. You may find yourself eager to fit in and seeking to identify with Japan and Japanese culture as fully as possible.

Anxiety and Hostility Stage: As your excitement fades, your newfound familiarity can breed a kind of contempt and indifference. People at this stage often respond with a fight (disproportionate irritation with minor issues, complaining about Japan and its people) and/or flight (loneliness and alienation, a need to depend on other foreigners, a desire to stick with what is familiar) response. You may find yourself longing for how your culture does things and looking at Japanese culture in a negative light.

Adjustment Stage: Things start clicking into place. Your daily routine on AKP settles. Annoyances with Japanese culture become more understandable, even if they don’t disappear entirely. As you start to relax, you may find yourself making more efforts to be adventurous and to connect with people.

Acceptance Stage: This stage is when you come to balance both the importance of your home culture and your newfound comfort with Japanese culture. By this point, you’ve likely developed ways to healthily cope with the stress of cultural difference. You feel relatively comfortable with Japanese norms as well as your new community with AKP.

Tips for Dealing with Culture Shock

  • Remember that you’re not alone. Everyone goes through some period of adjustment when entering another culture. Chat with your AKP classmates or friends studying abroad elsewhere and see if you can brainstorm coping strategies together.
  • Be patient with yourself. Adjusting to a new culture takes time.
  • Take care of yourself physically. Culture shock can come with physical symptoms such as excessive sleeping, compulsive eating, or an inability to concentrate. So do your best to practice good eating, drinking, and sleeping habits.
  • Practice being open-minded and non-judgmental. Remember that you’re going to Japan to learn more about their culture.
  • Challenge your comfort zone. Even the smallest steps, taken daily, can help.
  • Keep a sense of humor. When you feel frustrated by making a mistake, take a moment to laugh at yourself. Cultural missteps are normal!
  • Know yourself. What you consciously or subconsciously value about your home culture will affect how you perceive and react to Japanese culture. When you find yourself comparing the two, take it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you value—not a competition of which way is “good” or “bad”.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t expect to progress through the Stages of Adaptation perfectly. Even in the later stages, you will likely still encounter things like homesickness or frustration. Again, be patient with yourself if this happens and continue to practice healthy coping strategies.


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 find yourself experiencing serious distress from either culture shock or any other issue, we encourage you to seek help from a professional counselor.

AKP has relationships with US- or Canadian-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. Although AKP encourages open communication with the Resident Director and others in the Kyoto Center, we recognize that there are issues that may be difficult to discuss or that you may wish to keep confidential, so you may request counseling without disclosing the specific reason. 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.

If you are bringing psychiatric medications with you to Japan, be sure to check the “Bringing Medications into Japan” section of our website.

TELL Lifeline

In addition to face-to-face counseling resources, AKP students can also take advantage of TELL ( The TELL Lifeline (03-5774-0992) offers free, anonymous and confidential phone counseling in English provided by highly trained volunteers. Students
should check TELL’s website for their hours of operation, which are split between their phone and chat service.