LONDON – Many Japanese have a somewhat romanticized image of living in Britain. While for some those expectations may be fulfilled, the reality for others is that they struggle to adapt to a very different culture.
Yuko Nippoda, a London-based counselor and psychotherapist, has been treating Japanese clients suffering from psychological and mental health issues for years, and helps them cope with Western culture and life in Britain.
She says that communication difficulties as well as the “unpredictability” of British life, where customer service can be poor and unreliable, are two of the main problems.
“Japanese often fantasize and have an idealized image about life in London and Britain, but once they arrive they can become quite disillusioned,” she said in an interview at her practice in west London.
Her clients include students, the mostly female partners of Britons, and expatriates and their families who are staying there for a few years for work.
A common complaint of those having difficulty adapting to British life is a feeling they cannot make themselves understood in English, and this leads to a sense of powerlessness, isolation, inferiority and frustration, says Nippoda.
Unable to describe their true feelings, Japanese women may argue with their British partners and, on some occasions, turn violent, she said. In addition, some Japanese women may feel disappointed that British men do not match up to their expectations of a traditional English gentleman.
Japanese students frequently find they are unable to follow lessons and, rather than seeking help, withdraw from life and become demotivated.
They also struggle to adapt to Western teaching styles, which emphasize student-teacher interaction, as opposed to the more passive approach in Japanese colleges.
And, while expats and their families there on company assignment may have less exposure to local life, they often find it hard to make new friends as the makeup of the Japanese community is narrower.
Some Japanese may also resent being in Britain because it is not their choice to be there in the first place, Nippoda reckons, since they often have to move there due to their partner’s work and the resentment can interfere with the process of adapting.
Nippoda said another problem faced by Japanese is adjusting from a “collectivist” culture, where the needs of the group supersede one’s own, to one where an individual’s needs are more important.
In addition, they have to adjust to the usual ups and downs of British life.
“Public transport is often delayed and canceled without notice. Delivery services say they will come on a certain date and don’t, builders and plumbers don’t keep their promises and poor service even extends to banks,” Nippoda said. “This all really frustrates Japanese and causes a lot of stress. In Japan, good service and organization are expected as a matter of course.”
She refers to this as “London syndrome,” a phenomenon similar to “Paris syndrome,” a term coined several years ago to describe Japanese who are feeling disillusioned with life in the French capital.
Nippoda, who is registered with the U.K. Council for Psychotherapy and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said it is hard to estimate how many Japanese suffer while adapting to life in Britain, but a survey she conducted suggested up to two-thirds may be severely or moderately affected.
Her therapy sessions help clients to think for themselves and establish a sense of identity and meaning. They also allow clients to become more assertive and develop more equal relationships with others.
She said, “Living in Britain, Japanese are often able to find their sense of self and identity. They start to learn more about who they are, what they want and how they want to change.”
After a course of therapy, a significant number of clients show signs of considerable improvement, she says.
Nippoda believes more thought needs to go into preparing people for the cultural change before they leave Japan. She recommends that Japanese overseas maintain their links with Japan to stay “grounded” while living in the West.
She adds that Japanese are more likely to seek a medical solution to their problems rather than address the fundamental issues via counseling and psychotherapy, which is still not properly understood in Japan.
Some Japanese residents interviewed shared their experiences with culture shock.
Yuki Furukawa, who has lived in Britain for over 20 years, said when she first arrived as a language student she had communication difficulties and found it hard to meet Britons, but as time went on, life became easier.
“One of the things I have difficulty with, now that I have children, is understanding the education system. And as I get older, I do sometimes miss Japan and Japanese culture,” she said.
Takeru Kurihara, who has lived in England for over 10 years, said that in many ways British and Japanese cultures are similar.