From 'I' to 'Uchi'

Entering Uchi

So far, you have been observing other people making uchi / soto distinctions in language, communication (tatemae / honne), and the social use of space. You have also begun to take a hand at making decisions yourself, in inviting guests into the Kato family house.

Now it is time to make a major transition. You can’t remain a fly on the wall forever. At some point you must come down off the wall and get involved in social situations yourself. But first you have to learn some rudimentary skills for navigating social life, and this begins with a question that might seem ridiculously obvious: Who is the navigator in Japanese social life?

The answer is not at all obvious. Close links exist here between language and social life. The speaker and social navigator in English is an individual ‘I’–the anchorpoint for speaking and interacting. However, the anchorpoint for the speaker and social navigator in Japan is uchi (rather than any of the various words for ‘I’ in Japanese). Here uchi has another set of meanings besides “inside”. These include: ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our group’ (‘us’ insiders); as well as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘my group’. Uchi here specifically means ‘my group’ , rather than just any group. While uchi can also mean ‘I’; this ‘I’ is still viewed as within a group.

You must now begin to shift from ‘I’ to ‘uchi’ in thinking of yourself as social navigator. Appropriate social navigation requires making constant distinctions between yourself and others. This module will help you begin to see how these distinctions–both in speaking and interaction–will differ markedly depending on whether self and other are identified as individuals (‘I’ and ‘you’) or viewed as within an uchi anchorpoint. Your transition begins now.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5