At Home in Japan
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Module 12.6
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Prof. Witherspoon, Visiting Professor

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Professor Witherspoon has just arrived as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, and is settling into his new office. He is a distinguished professor of American History from New York University who is visiting on a one-semester Fulbright Teaching Program. This is Witherspoon’s first visit to Japan and he knows no Japanese; he came because he has never lived abroad and is intrigued by Japan.

Witherspoon’s entry situation is much less ambiguous than the other newcomers. His position is characterized in Module 13.1 as a mature expert, on a one-semester short-term stay, with no potential for uchi membership (XYY). This profile earmarks Witherspoon as a distinguished guest, who will always be wrapped.


Entry Point Challenge: Although It is clear that Witherspoon is going to be treated as a guest, it is important that he be a “good guest” just like the other newcomer guests. The fact that he is at a prestigious university, and has high social status, doesn’t diminish the “good guest” requirement; it heightens it. Witherspoon’s colleagues at Todai don’t want to have to “take care” of him; his office staff don’t want him to make difficult demands on them. Witherspoon can alienate those around him if he doesn’t navigate his entry well. But of course, these requirements will all be unspoken. Let’s see how Witherspoon manages his guest role.

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Prof. Witherspoon, Complete Summary

Witherspoon: Points to take away—for all newcomers

Not everyone is going to make it all the way uchi, and Witherspoon provides an example of someone who makes a good accommodation to a “guest” status, and partial movement toward uchi. Witherspoon is constrained by his expertise/age, which give him high-status and ensure he is well-wrapped. The downside here is that this cultural child is too high-status to be given guidance in how to “grow up”. However, Witherspoon’s response to his situation is useful for all newcomers:

  1. Witherspoon’s easy-going attitude toward the lack of response of the office bureaucrat to his requests for changing things in his office is useful for any newcomer whose requests have been turned down. Witherspoon accommodates his hosts’ denials of his requests with good humor, and makes an adaptation (he brings his laptop to the office). He also accommodates his lectures to his students, and gives his caretaker assistant the advice he needs for publishing abroad.
  2. Witherspoon’s adaptations to his situation, and his flexibility in accommodating himself to the needs to those around him, make him a “good guest”, who is liked and respected by his colleagues. He makes few demands on his hosts, and carries out his duties in ways that satisfy everyone around him. The result is that even though this professor speaks little Japanese, he is able to make relationships with his colleagues, caretaker and some of his students (some of whom guide him to various events in Tokyo).
  3. Witherspoon’s case shows that you don’t have to get fully “inside” Japanese culture—and reach uchi—to have quite a satisfactory experience in Japan. As the professor’s pathway shows, for some newcomers, the hazards along the path to uchi are insurmountable—yet they can still manage to thrive in their new homes, if they are sensitive in grasping the “unspoken” communications around them.
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