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Studying abroad in Japan: The weebs are wrong

by Emily Reuben I think it’s safe to say most of us have gone through a “Japan” phase at some point in our lives. Mine hit around middle school when I would carry a literal Death Note replica around, as edgy emo kids do. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="728"] Image from WikiHow's "How to Avoid Becoming a Weeaboo"[/caption] For those uninitiated to the world of anime, there is a term for this behavior. A weeb (or weeabo) is a non-Japanese fan of Japanese content (primarily games, manga, and anime) whose love for the work often results in heated online arguments, strange character relationship matchmaking (known as “shipping”), the use of scattered Japanese words such as “kawaii” and “sugoi” (often spelled wrong, of course), cheap cosplay, or even borderline obsession. So basically these people are infatuated with Japan without really taking into account the problems faced in the country, cultural insensitivity, and the rampant over-romanticizing of Japan as a whole. Being called a weeaboo is far from a compliment, but most young anime fans go through that cringey stage when developing their love for anime. Luckily most of us grown out of the weeaboo phase and can enjoy Japanese content without causing the entire nation of Japan to collectively craft a restraining order. I can proudly say that I love Japanese film and television without threatening other girls who show interest in the same male characters I admire. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Image from Kiss Him, Not Me![/caption] Personally, I find myself far more interested in Japanese language and culture now than in anime or manga. While I still consume a variety of Japanese media, I typically look for cultural and social commentary and try to apply my knowledge of film theory to an international medium. To further my knowledge of the Japanese language and culture, I decided to take a risk and study abroad in Japan this past summer. While Japan is characterized by its cuteness and generally accepting attitude towards foreign travelers, the prospect of temporarily living in a country with no friends, colleagues, or prior experience with traveling abroad made me feel relatively uneasy. Exploring a new country with different morals, values, and societal expectations can easily result in disaster for an intrepid traveler, and I did not want to be that traveler. Furthermore, my program’s requirement of living with a host family for a week added more pressure to the mix. I would be expected to eat anything they served for meals, but what if they served squid? What if it was raw squid? I would also have to participate in any activities they offered. What if I wasn’t able to keep up? Would I be able to communicate with them in Japanese? Would they like me? What if I offended them? These are the questions that plagued me before leaving for Japan. In essence, the country most people would usually die to visit was becoming more and more terrifying the closer the day of my flight arrived. Considering that Japan is so overly romanticized by Westerners, the idea that anyone could see Japan as anything less than a utopia of anime merchandise and cute maids may seem radical, but no place on Earth is devoid of issues and complexities. For foreigners, adapting to a new culture can be confusing. Dr. Rob Brookey, a Telecommunications professor at Ball State described one of the language oddities he experienced in Japan: “The Japanese use English as an affectation. So you would see these stores that would say ‘Super Potato’, but no, they’re not serving potatoes; they’re electronics stores. And so that’s a bit crazy-making too when you see English words and you think they signify something only to realize they do not. They have no meaning to what they’re attached to.” These strange differences became apparent to me after my first day in Japan, as I began to see the culture and people firsthand. That in conjunction with the culture shock most travelers face, any foreign country can become unappealing in some aspects. Before leaving on my one month excursion, many of my professors warned me about the culture shock I would most likely endure. Culture shock can be described as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. Essentially those studying abroad or traveling for more than a week or so are likely to go through an uneasy transitional period within a new culture. Culture shock is characterized by a series of phases: The initial Honeymoon Stage, the Frustration Stage, the Adjustment Stage, and finally the Acceptance Stage. During each of these phases, an individual will experience various emotions, some positive and some negative.

The Honeymoon Phase

The Frustration Stage

Japan's often ignored dark side

The Adjustment Stage

This is what is known as the Adjustment Stage.

The Acceptance Stage

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