Learning to Navigate Uchi

No newcomer is exempt from making the shift from ‘I’ to ‘uchi’ after entry to Japan. Uchi membership is so basic that every Japanese assumes it, both in language and social life. This doesn’t mean that individuals don’t exist in Japan—they do. But they are always viewed as existing within uchi—both in speaking and social navigation.

For newcomers—especially those who speak and navigate from an individual vantagepoint—this requires a basic reassessment of one’s social situation. If you are going to navigate from an uchi anchorpoint, you first need to figure out more about how you relate to your nearest uchi.

Where Am I?
      You’ve already been introduced to an uchi—the Sasaki family. Peter was a guest—a soto person—in their uchi.  But was he outside?  Or inside? What were the Sasakis’ expectations of his relationship to uchi?

     (1)  Now make an assessment of your own situation. What is your nearest uchi? (for example, a company; school where you teach; school where you study; a school club; a family you have married into, etc.) You may have more than one uchi—for example, if you are in a homestay; and attend a university; or attend a university, and have also joined a club. Or you may have trouble figuring out any relation to an uchi at all. 

     (2) What is your relationship to this uchi? Are you soto? For example, as a guest, visitor, or representing your company? Are you inside this uchi? Perhaps as a “regular” employee, a matriculating student, or a spouse of a Japanese? Or maybe you’re not sure whether you are outside or inside an uchi? Maybe as an intern, part-time worker (arubaito), assistant language teacher?

Depending on how you’ve defined your relationship to uchi in the questions above: either as “outside”, “inside”, or “unclear”; your social navigation strategies will differ considerably. Of course, the expectations of those around you will differ as well. 

Part 3 will introduce you to the learning process involved as newcomers begin to navigate socially in Japan. While doing Part 3 keep in mind that, even though a homestay situation is depicted, there is considerable carryover from this to the situations of other foreigners in Japan. Part 4 will focus on this carryover. Here we will relate the learning and social navigation process detailed in the homestay situation, to those of you who are in a variety of other situations. We will then develop navigation tips for all of you. One hint: Your learning process and navigation strategies will depend considerably on your answers to the two questions above.

Before you go on to Part 3, don’t forget to click on the feedback icon and complete the feedback for Part 2 below. Thank you!

Module 6.3
Learning to Navigate Uchi
More on uchi

The basic meaning of uchi is family, and when a child is born, he or she is entered into the family registry (koseki). Social identity is defined by this uchi membership (rather than one’s individual identity). National identity depends on entry in the family registry as well—without this, a Japanese cannot get a passport, or vote in an election.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5