Reverse Culture Shock
by Tomoe Nakamura
In Japan, we have a folk tale called, “Urashima Taro.” A fisherman called Urashima Taro helps a sea turtle bullied by kids. The sea turtle says, “Thank you,” and he takes Taro to an undersea world. They swim together to the Ryuguji palace (Naptune) in the undersea world, where there meet a princess called, Otohime. She has long back hair tied on the top of her head, wearing a colorful Kimono. She says, “The sea turtle is my follower. I am glad you helped him. You can stay in the palace as long as you wish. I will treat you as a special guest.” So Taro decides to stay for a while. He sees many colorful fishes and mature seaweed dancing and singing for him from the window. Taro enjoyes fancy life so much that he forgets about going back home. There is no way of knowing how much time has passed since he arrived. When Taro misses his home, he asked the princess if he could leave her palace. The princess gives him a box which is called Urashima’s casket (Pandora’s box) as a souvenir. She said, “Don’t open it until exactly 10 years from today. You’ll see very precious things in the box when you open it at the right time.” Then the same sea turtle takes him back to the seashore where Taro helped the turtle. When the turtle says, “Good-bye.” and returns back to the ocean, Taro gazes at the black box and thinks about what is inside. He cannot resist opening the box to see the gift and ignores what Princess Otohime said. So he carefully unties the lid from the box. White smoke comes out from the box and covers Taro’s face. When the smoke blows away, he discovers that he has grown a beard and wrinkles all over his face. He had become and old man in five seconds. The time which he had spent at the undersea palace seemed like five to ten days, but in fact he was there for 30 years. The souvenir was supposed to be his eternal life. He could have remained the same age forever, but he was old before his time.
Now Japanese people say to their friend’s “You are Urashima Taro,” when their friends leave home for a while, especially to foreign countries, and don’t know any things about what happens in their town while they are gone. People often say to me, “You’ve got the ‘Urashima Taro’ Syndrome!” It has a similar meaning to, “You have reverse culture shock!” However, the meaning of ‘Urashima’ is much stronger as if people were saying, “Why don’t you know anything about Japan, even though you are Japanese!” Japanese popular culture and trends go very fast, so if I don’t watch Japanese TV or stay out of the country for a while, I really feel like I am an outsider of my nation.
It happened to me when I came back from the US after spending two and a half years in 1993. Almost all people (including elementary kids) carried cell phones, watched satellite TV, and went to professional soccer games which didn’t exits before. Here I am in America again, and I am going to have to stay here for three more years. I have no idea how much I can catch up with Japanese culture. Or otherwise, I may already have missed a lot in six month.
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note: This essay was created in 2001 (assuming) when I was taking English comp class at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I am currently living in Osaka Japan and the second sentence has some old information.