Winter in Ishikawa is well known for plunging people into Phase 2 of culture shock or cultural fatigue. The honeymoon period has worn off, and you’re sick of waking up freezing, being asked if you can use chopsticks, and perhaps getting a little bored.
Phase 2 is the “I hate everything and everyone and I wanna go home” phase. You can’t solve Phase 2 overnight, but the best advice I received about conquering Phase 2 was when I was studying abroad at Kansai Gaidai.
My Japanese wasn’t very good at the time, and I was on a tight budget. I was frustrated with my schoolwork and generally stressed out. Furthermore, this was before Skype was big and before most computers had webcams, so I hadn’t heard the voices, let alone seen the faces, of my friends and family in months. I was feeling pretty lonely and miserable.
I was chatting online with my then-boyfriend, now-spouse, about my Phase Two problems one night, and he asked me,
“What’s something you want to do that you can only do in Japan?”
I thought about it for a while and settled on an appropriately geeky quest: buy the manga of The Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら). I had been reading about it for a few years, but there is no English translation (still) and you can’t buy it easily in the US. So, I went to the local Tsutaya and bought the five volumes.
I couldn’t read them then because I was only two years into my Japanese studies. But just having them, just knowing that I couldn’t have bought these at home, was enough to make me feel better. They were my talisman. After that, I started going places in Kyoto or Osaka with my friends on weekends and walking to the next town to look at their bookstores. I attended a couple of discounted plays in the area thanks to KGU’s publicizing them, and I even got to see Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare play, live for the first time.
I’ll be the first to tell you that winter in Ishikawa sucks. They don’t clear the roads well in the country; the snow is so wet that you need an umbrella; and it’s cold inside your home. But don’t despair. Now is the perfect time to explore that new hobby—whether it’s going to onsens, joining a taiko group, learning koto, traveling to famous temples and shrines, taking ikebana lessons, or just hunkering down with your favorite Japanese drama (subtitled online or otherwise), find something that makes you happy to be in Japan. Don’t speak much Japanese? Ask your sempai to take you along to their groups and activities, and read the blog for event information.
This post is about my personal experience, and it may not work for everyone. You have heard this many times before, but you need to also care take of your body–exercise, eat right, stay warm–and maintain contact with people here and at home–write postcards, send emails, Skype, print out pictures of fun times in Japan and at home.
If you have other tips for beating Phase 2, please leave a comment or contact us here at the blog. We’d love to hear from you.
Leah Zoller is a second-year CIR in Anamizu and the editor of this blog. She finally finished The Rose of Versailles in 2010 after seven years of Japanese study, and it was SO worth it. Her current knacks for surviving winter include dancing yosakoi, swimming, traveling, cooking, finding cute coffee shops, and translating.