How To Overcome Culture Shock: Wandering


Recently I wrote a post about what the first few days after moving to Japan would be like: pregnant with foreshadowing of the anxiety, loneliness, and awesomeness you’re at that time altogether too busy to mind. But after I wrote the article, it struck me that I hadn’t written enough.

Because after those first few days the reality of moving abroad creeps in like an advancing shadow, a marching wall of mountains, with mountains coming from the tops of those mountains–too big and tall and impenetrable to challenge alone. It’s tough living abroad at first. You’re isolated, and unless you’re comfortable with spending a lot of time with yourself, you’re going to have growing pains.

In those first few weeks here, more than anything else, you need to chart the undiscovered land outside your door. Because before you do it’s the wild–a place unknown that the primitive mind equates with danger.

In my case, there was an undiscovered country whispering “come and see” just outside, and it charmed me out of my little coffin-sized apartment to taste the mystery myself. You need to wander in Japan for the same reasons babies grasp at whatever is in their reach. We need to touch something to understand it. Wandering puts your feet on the ground. It gives your roots something to bite into after being shocked by the transplant to foreign soil. It gives the mystery a face, makes it approachable–familiar. And that’s when the stem can break through the dirt.

I took to making long walks whenever I had the time. The point was to never have a destination.

“Today,” I would say, “I’ll take this street.” And when I found an intersection where both ways looked particularly inviting I said “tomorrow I’ll take that one, but today–this one.”

I can’t tell you how satisfying those walks were. I don’t doubt you could have the same experience by just exploring your local city, but magnify that gratification by Japan and you’ll get a sense of how it felt to discover all those little facets of my new locality. There’s treasure out there, diamonds and rubies, hidden in what most people would just call “part of the neighborhood.”

But as I’ve said before, when you’re abroad, local isn’t local. Local is flung halfway across the galaxy. Everything has a spark of life that your undeveloped eyes haven’t adjusted to yet. For the resident Japanese it’s just another part of the day, but for you who are just discovering this wonderful country–it’s magic.

Even if you’re just visiting I would recommend taking one morning or evening out of your trip just to go and see. You’ll probably have jet lag anyway, so why waste a night trying to sleep when you know you’ll never be able to?

What can you find? Things like this. I know I’m not a great photographer, and some of these pictures are really bad quality, but what I’m putting out there is the content. Every picture I found by just wandering around. I wasn’t trying to take any of them–they just happened. I found something and took a picture, something totally unexpected and beautiful. And this isn’t even all, just a few of the times I had my camera with me.

Just take a walk–around Japan, around anywhere. You’ll find treasure too.

shrine bowl

10 minutes west

zenkoji in snow

15 minutes east, during snow

yellow flowers

down a neighbourhood street


a few minutes from the station

crazy neighbour's lawn

fifteen minutes from the old apartment


a local train station

gold koi

a road leading into the mountains

side street

a side street


ten minutes towards the mountains


20 minutes North of the station

old shrine

just around the neighbourhood

When in Japan, go and see. These pictures didn’t even include the restaurants I found, and the friends I made of the chefs. Those kinds of places–with real live people in them–took time for me to work up the nerve to enter into (Because, hey, this is IntrovertJapan, after all) but every time I walked by them, they became less a chance to embarass myself and more a piece of my internal geography begging to be explored.

And that’s the way to do it, one step at a time.

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14 Comments on “How To Overcome Culture Shock: Wandering”

  1. Lynn
    September 27, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    What a great attitude no matter where you live! Live life and explore life! Your pictures are great by the way. Looking forward to seeing more fall pictures with changing leaves.

  2. annamibananas
    September 28, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    And you say your not good at photography , better than me! Great post as always. I love how you post meaningful things and timeless advice. Nathan you a truly awesome blogger

  3. Gibson Bethke
    September 28, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    Not a photographer, my eye. That first picture is my new wallpaper!

    Anyway, great post as always. Thanks for writing such inspiring and meaningful posts; you give me hope to explore that magnificent country someday.

  4. samokan
    October 22, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    Nice. I’m not sure where in Yamanashi you are but if you are interested to try archery in the mountain, look for Kagami Archery.

    And yes I love this kind of adventure. Exploring the “local” Japan.

  5. Steeleye
    February 9, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    Very interesting. I think that wandering and loosing onself in any new place is indeed a great way to experience it and get to know it. Fascinating blog! Thank you for sharing your perspectives.

  6. javajim75
    March 22, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Nate, what a great post – I share your philosophy on getting out and wandering when going some place new, though I prefer to wander by bicycle :). Your pictures are much better than you give yourself credit for. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Eman
    June 27, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    Great read! I cant wait to do the same at nighttime whenever I get out there. Its gotta be super calm.

  8. huytamb
    July 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    i love japan, so i find all stuff about japan written in English to improve english. thanks for writting it. It helps me alot. Nice to meet you, where are you from ????

  9. narcopathcrusher
    August 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    ok, now you are just trying to make us jealous

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