Other Newcomers: Beginnings

The gaps between Peter and the host Okaasan’s view of the homestay set up the major themes of this website. Of course, if you’re not on a homestay you won’t encounter the same situation as Peter and Okaasan detailed above. But let’s look at the initial viewpoints of the other newcomers, along with their Japanese counterparts:

(1) When Carlos becomes an exchange student at Japan International University, he decides to live in the dorm.
Carlos’ viewpoint: “The dorm’s a good deal. It’s convenient and less hassle than taking care of an apartment.”
Dorm members’ viewpoint: “We expect our members to participate fully in our dorm activities and duties. . . “
(2) Abby arrives at the junior high school where she is based as an assistant English teacher (ALT). It is still summer, school hasn't yet started, but she meets some of her fellow teachers:
Abby’s viewpoint: “Everyone’s been really nice, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. When do I get my job description? How does team teaching work?”
Teachers’ viewpoint: “We hope this new ALT participates in our school and gets to know everybody.”
(3) Matt has just started his new job at Shimizu Auto Corp, and has met with his group head for the first time.
Matt’s viewpoint: I’m looking forward to working on 3-D computer simulation. I’m really pleased that I’ve been hired to do what I really like.
Matt’s group-head Otsuka’s viewpoint: I hope Matt tries to fit into our company, and that he keeps on learning Japanese.
Even though the situations are different, do you notice any resemblance between the perspectives above and those of Peter and Okaasan at the beginning of his homestay? Can you pinpoint further what the “gaps” between them seem to involve? Now take a look at the newcomer situations below. Do you notice any gaps here?
(4) Professor Witherspoon has just arrived as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, and is settling into his new office.
Witherspoon: I’ll need another table and chair over here; and a bookcase there. And I’d like a different computer. . .
Office bureaucrat: We’ve told him every way we can that we can’t change the furniture or computer. . . He’s already got the best office in the building. . .
(5) Devita arrives with her Japanese husband to live with his parents in the family household. Devita speaks Japanese well and has been in Japan before.
Devita’s viewpoint: “I feel like a guest. . . How can I help out around this place?”
Okabe family Okaasan (Devita’s mother-in-law): We want Devita to be a member of our family. . . but she doesn’t seem to know how to do anything around here.
(6) Ms. Elainius has just arrived to manage the Tokyo branch of her U.S. company.
Branch Manager Elainius: That was a really delicious dinner last night. But I’ll cancel the one tonight to look at the sales figures. I want to find out more about our declining sales last quarter.
Executive Assistant: Last night’s dinner went okay . . . I hope the one tonight with the banking people goes as well. And then we’ve still got a few more dinners for her to meet people before things can finally get back to normal.

It looks like all the newcomer situations have something in common with the situation depicted in Peter’s homestay. In fact, we suggest that no matter what your living or working situation is in Japan, you will encounter in some way the kinds of gaps that occurred in Peter’s homestay narrative and the other newcomer narratives above. We don’t mean to imply these kinds of gaps are found only in Japan. No matter what country you go to live in, you can’t avoid encountering gaps such as these.

Many learners have told us they thought Part 1 was far too simple. These questions might seem easy, but when you’re in the situation, they are anything but. What’s easy is to overlook these gaps in the first place. But the consequences are real—and can mean the end of your relationships (as in the Peter case). You should pay attention to these issues as if the success of your stay in Japan depends on them. It does!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5