At Home in Japan
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Module 9.3

Headed Home, But Still in the Family


Once you manage to "grow up" in your family, you are in for another series of realizations. Your situation is now in many ways the inverse of your initial entry into the family. Where you were once faced with tatemae, having now come this much "inside" the family, you can be privy to honne and ura scenarios that are appropriate to reveal only to insiders. Where once you were wrapped, now you find yourself with uchi obligations, which include helping the family to wrap others. But even though you've assumed new obligations, there's a pay-off. Once let into honne, you can get off the slippery rocks of tatemae, and be secure in knowing when your family is sincere in what they say.

Just at this point, another reality becomes apparent. This is not something you consciously decide to bring about; it is automatic. For those of you who've come into the family's uchi this much, (usually around the end of your homestay), the homestay isn't going to end in the way you probably thought. Instead of ending, you're at the beginning of something new—You've now become a member of your family's universe of relationships. What happens after this depends entirely on what you (and your family) make of your relationship. We've included several examples below.


1. The first three cases below show three homestay guests who have come "into" the family, and become privy to honne. The cases show a progression from Molly, who is just being let into honne, to Stuart and Janine, who are involved in what happens to their relationships after the homestay.

    Molly 9: I Am the Saito's First—and Last—Homestay Guest
    Stuart 2: Not Just a "Host Family"
    Janine 7: Unplanned Parenthood: They're Coming to Visit Me!
  • Can Molly trust the direct response she was given when she asks about why the family hosted a homestay? Why, or why not? What do you think allowed Stuart to judge that his family truly meant their invitation for him to stay on after his semester ended?
  • What does frank and direct speech (revealing honne and ura) have to do with one's position in the family (or group)?
  • Compare Yuji and Ginko's experiences in the U.S. with homestay guests in Japan.  In what ways did they manage to "grow-up"? What was Janine's role in these visits, and how do you think this affected her relationships with her family network?
  • Why would Molly's brother Chad be welcome to do a homestay with the Saito family even though they aren't planning to invite any more guests? What does this have to do with uchi membership?


2. What happens if you don't manage to "grow up", create a close relationship, and become privy to honne before your homestay ends? The next cases depict two different possibilities. Some homestay guests continue the growing process (and even "grow up") after they leave their families. It is also possible not to "grow up" at all.   

    Theo 3: Getting into Gear after the Homestay Ends
    Mark 3: Never Getting into Gear: The Endless Good Guest
  • How does Theo improve his relationship with his family, after the homestay ends? Can you relate this to "growing up"?
  • Both Mark and Theo write of gift-giving in their continuing relationships with their homestay families. But how do their descriptions about this differ?
  • Why do you think Mark's host mother (and father) were speechless when he suddenly reappeared at their restaurant? Why can't this relationship be continued?
3. Putting things together . . . Homestay endings—and beginnings

  • In the ten modules of Part 3 a series of hurdles have been laid out which depict a cultural learning process that moves from cultural "child" to adult. Not everyone in a homestay is going to manage a shift from soto to uchi, at least to the degree described in Module 9 (or even Module 8). This may be through no fault of yours, but reflect other circumstances of your homestay, such as its length. However, even if you haven't experienced the entire trajectory of "getting to uchi" and may only have been a "wrapped guest" it's still useful—and necessary—to understand the entire trajectory. Although most foreigners' experiences in Japan will be in the context of distant "soto" relationships, in order to understand distant relationships one must understand the other side of the communication coin: the inversion that takes place in communication within uchi, as well as the trajectory along which (all) relationships are defined.
  • The 10 modules of Part 3 depict a series of "shifts" along this axis, which gradually reverses the initial deference given to the guest. In Part 3, as the homestay guests gradually became more sensitive to the unspoken expectations of their families, (especially those of uchi), some gradually experienced an inversion of their initial guest deference. Gradually they moved from the soto realm of of tatemae "wrapping", to the uchi realm of frank disclosure (honne), and awareness of what is going on behind the scenes (ura). The axis of closeness/distance (uchi/soto) and the closely related axis of appearance versus personal disclosure (tatemae/honne) are very basic in Japanese society.
  • After you leave your homestay, it's crucial to thank your hosts for the efforts they made on your behalf. This is a gesture of a child who's "grown up", and remembers and appreciates the homestay afterwards. This response means a lot to a host family; yet some guests never bother to communicate after they leave. You can continue to build your relationship, as Theo did, even after the homestay; but this won't happen if they never hear from you.

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