Case Study: Kelly’s Sudden Move Causes Major Culture Shock in Japan

Kelly’s Sudden Move Causes Major Culture Shock in Japan

Columbia Southern University


Kelly and her family were offered a new job opportunity in Tokyo Japan that promised a large success in climbing the corporate ladder within her startup internet services company. Her husband Joe, who had a job, was happy for his wife, but knew that if he went with her, he would have to leave or transfer his job as well. Also, their kids would have to leave their friends and school to come live in a new country. This was a big decision that needed to be made. Most businesses allow the person going on this assignment time to make this decision, but Kelly was only allowed two days to decide and had to be moved into Tokyo in three weeks. Joe, Kelly’s husband, left his job, but would not work in Tokyo due to his company currently laying people off, so they would only be surviving off one steady salary in a high cost city. The company promised a higher salary, bonuses, a relocation allowance, a rent-free apartment in Tokyo, and an education allowance for their two kids to attend private schools. (Deresky, 2017). Also, the company would buy their home so they would not have to worry about selling it and would handle the move for them with all the items they wanted to bring with them to Japan. The whole reason for the assignment was to make a deal with the local businessmen in the area. This assignment started out as a fun and exciting adventure for the family, but that quickly started to go downhill once they arrived and settled into their daily routines in Tokyo Japan.

Clashes in Culture, Customs, and Expectations

When Kelly and her family first got to Tokyo, they were surprised but the small living conditions. According to Deresky, Kelly and her family brought over a large amount of furniture for her and her family of four to live comfortably, like they did in Boston. Unfortunately, most of it did not fit inside. According to an article written by a Zoe Ward, a Realtor in Japan, the average size apartment in Tokyo Japan for a typical Japanese family was 753 square feet. That was a major difference and something that Kelly and her family never considered. Tokyo has a large population, like South Korea, and they must “build up” and not across, to have room for there ever growing population. Business’, restaurants, homes or apartments, schools, etc. are all built on pot of each other so that they have room for the vast number of people living in the local area and the vast number of people expected to arrive in the area in the future. With the small apartment, they were also paying a lot of money in rent for such a small space, well the company was, and that was surprising for them. The more options are far as food and entertainment that is offered, the higher the rent will be for such a small apartment. Also, when the Olympics came to Tokyo, that boosted the economy and increased the renting and home costs within the city.

Kelly was also surprised at the different work ethics of the Japanese and the Americans. She had greeted them with the briefly studied Japanese she learned on the plane ride over. They, of course, spoke English. Also, they though she was a man because of the name Kelly. This is because Kelly is mainly a man’s name and in the Japanese culture the names given to them are generalized male and female. There are no generic dual gender names like Alex, or Kelly, etc. So, this confused them and left them in shock from the start. When Kelly gave the businessmen a deadline for a presentation, they really were not into the idea. They like the group to work together and pitch one idea, not the other way around. Japanese are all about teamwork. An article stated, “In Japan, teamwork is one of the most sought-after qualities in a future employee. Serving the betterment of the group has been ingrained in the Japanese mentality since the beginning of time. When there is any praising the group gets praised, when something goes wrong it is the group that gets scolded. Even if you feel like an individual working on a project all by yourself you are probably still in a group with other individuals and the whole team will be held accountable.” (J.J., 2019).

The living conditions were nothing like what Kelly and her family had expected at all. The cab driver, for example, did not understand her, and went the wrong way when he too Kelly home after work. So, the language barrier was a big issue for them. The kids did not have a backyard to play in at home because of apartment living conditions. TV programing were all in Japanese, so no one could understand what they were saying, and the family could not get the American stations or channels where they lived, so watching TV didn’t happen either. Reading the instructions on the back of food for how to cook was even a challenge for Joe. He was getting frustrated at the home life, Kelly was frustrated at work and travel life, and the kids didn’t like their school. The kids’ school had food they were not used to, and even when the school did speak English, it was just the teachers, and the students all spoke Japanese, and no one talked to them. The kids wanted to just go home. When Kelly called her company back home for some assistance with the issues she was having, there was no one answering or able to assist her with her issues. There was a complete lack of support from the company.

Culture Shock?

Kelly and her family are all experiencing the same form of culture shock, irritation and hostility stage. The crisis stage when cultural differences result in problems at work, at home, and in daily living – expatriates and family members feel homesick and disoriented, lashing out at everyone (many never get past this stage). (Deresky, 2017). This is considered stage two out of the four stages of culture shock. This is the most sever step where everything hits you at once and everything seems to be uncontrollable and impossible to handle. For instance, the language barriers for Kelly and her family. The kids not being able to communicate with the kids at their school. Kelly cannot speak to the cab drivers to ger around the city. There are so many things this family has gone through in such a short time that this type of reaction and stress would be expected in their situation.

Turning Back Time

When this was first offered to Kelly, there should have been a lot more information about this position offered to Kelly from the executive and leaders within her company. There should have been a booklet or presentation with take home materials to look at to prepare her for this big move and decision with her family. This was never done. Promotions and propaganda were thrown at her so fast that it was as if the company was hiding all the bad with so much good, knowing she would be stressed, and her family would be miserable in their new home. Also, the company should have given her ample time to properly make a better decision with her family’s best interest in mind, not two days. A better window to properly research the new area, save money, prepare her new living conditions, learn the language with her family, study the culture, study the business culture, learn about the areas in Tokyo, and properly sell her home before moving to a new country. This company should also have a representative that can always communicate with their expatriates with assistance and needs. This would help ease the stress of the family and provide guidance and support at any time. Overall the company failed Kelly because they made her make this decision within two days, but Kelly could also have turned down this opportunity and asked for more information about this move and what she would have been doing in Tokyo.

Way Ahead

If I was Kelly, and I was in her situation, I would stick it out. I would sit down with my family and come up with a list of things that we do not like and a list of things that can be done to fix them or things we can do to adjust to them. With today’s technology, there are so many translation apps that can help with communication that would be beneficial with public transportation, directions from strangers, basic people communication, road signs, food instructions, etc. Also, starting an online language class could be a great way to start learning the Japanese language and having your co-workers assist you with the local areas and teach you some basics would be a great assist. Opening up to your American co workers can also help. They were there before you, and may have been in her shoes before, so they may have some great advice on what Kelly could do to better adjust to her new environment.


Deresky, H. (2017). International management: Managing across borders and cultures (9th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson.

J.J. (2019). Teamwork in a Big Japanese Company. TalentHub. Retrieved from

Ward, A. (2018). 99% of new apartment supply in Tokyo in 2017 was under 100sqm. RETHINK TOKYO. Retrieved from