Carlos, International Student
Carlos is a one-year international student from Los Angeles whose ethnic background is Latino. He became interested in Japan through kendo, which he studied for 7 years. Carlos applies to live in a student dorm at Japan International University, to experience everyday contact with Japanese students, and make some friends. He knows that at age 28 he’s older than most of the JIU students, but hopes this won’t be a problem.
Entering the dorm appears to be a good choice for Carlos since it holds a potential for uchi membership. Japanese students seek a base for uchi participation in student clubs (which are very important to university life), dorms, or even a network of friends (See Bruce’s case, 9.3), rather than expecting the university to function as an ‘uchi’. Thus Carlos is actually following the example of Japanese university students in seeking out the dorm as a possibility for uchi participation.
Carlos: Points to take away—for all newcomers
The skill with which Carlos overcame the dorm hazards is now a legend in his dorm. What is useful to take away from Carlos is the persona he cultivated in the dorm, which had two principle components: (1) Initially, Carlos refrained from trying to remake things in the dorm to fit his ideas or ways, and tried to “follow” his senpai and the other dorm members, by going along with what they expected him to do. Carlos was aware of the necessity to do this because of the age difference between himself and the other members. Yet “following” and “going along with expectations” are very good practices to adhere to when one first enters any Japanese organization. (2) It is an understatement to say that Carlos participated fully in the dorm; as one person described this, he contributed 1000 percent; including whatever talents he had, to the dorm. This did not go unnoticed or appreciated; Carlos shifted past all the hazards and into uchi during his one-year period abroad. Participation in one’s organization is crucial in getting past the hazards to uchi. Carlos’ successful navigation to adulthood in the dorm has further elements that are useful for all other newcomers. Thus:
- Carlos reached uchi, not because he had an uchi position, but because over time he acted increasingly like an uchi member. As he negotiated the hazards he encountered—which in turn opened doors, his behavior gradually let him “shift” him from his newcomer entry point to uchi. He was acknowledged as an uchi member because he had literally shifted into uchi—even though as a short-term exchange student, he didn’t actually have a position there.
- As mentioned above (in the commentary to 7a.) the dorm organization (with its hazards along a pathway to uchi) exists primarily for the Japanese dorm members, who are its primary constituents. The students from abroad simply participate in their organization. It is the Japanese students who must create good senpai/kohai relationships; carry out their dorm duties; deal with unspoken rules behind the rules; and participate fully in the dorm. For them too, the dorm membership is an exercise in reaching uchi adulthood; but their path from childhood to adulthood differs from that of foreigners unfamiliar with unspoken cultural assumptions in Japan. Japanese students are not regarded as social adults (shakaijin) until they graduate and become employed. As students, they are still regarded socially as children, and thus dorm membership can be seen as something of a “trial run” for Japanese students; a kind of practice for the reality they will soon encounter as “social adults”.
- For this reason the student dorm makes a good introduction to the pathway to uchi for all the other newcomers. The hazards the students encounter in joining the dorm are similar to the hazards encountered by all the other newcomers. Yet the stakes are not as high. Since the student dorm is more like a “trial run” for adulthood, the dorm hazards are a kind of parody of the hazards encountered by the ALT, the company employee, and the spouse. They have a quality of “play” that is useful to keep in mind as you move through the other cases.