Module 10.1

Finally . . . Growing Up

Moving into cultural adulthood confronts you with a hurdle that seems daunting–because it requires a shift in the way your family sees you. You may feel like you’ll never escape being treated like a child. But remember that managing this hurdle can’t happen until the groundwork has first been laid. You can’t become an adult until you’ve already shifted out of your distant soto guesthood, begun to take on some responsibilities in the family, and begun to establish a relationship of trust with them. All of these are crucial steps that will move you gradually toward uchi.

But after this, how do you finally manage to come inside the family? Once the groundwork has been laid, the shift to adulthood may take place in a number of ways. It may be incremental, one of a series of small shifts that end up in your adulthood. Or something may trigger a gestalt shift—that catapults you suddenly into adulthood. You will usually have a part in facilitating these shifts. But something unforeseen may also happen which requires you to respond in such a way that, if you manage, you are instantly seen as a cultural adult. All the cases below depict ways in which a cultural child successfully manages the hurdle of growing into adulthood.

1.The cases below show guests and their hosts navigating the sometimes bumpy shift(s) to adulthood.

  • Why did Molly decide to cook a meal for her host family? Why did Stuart?

  • Think about the progression that you have seen in Molly’s homestay (See Gallery 7.1 for Molly 1—6) and compare it with what Stuart says about the state of his homestay before the dinner. How did the differences in the progression of their homestays affect the degree of their shifts into cultural adulthood? 

  • How did the presence of the counselors contribute to the outcome of Stuart’s dinner?

2. Each of the following cases depicts a crisis impasse that catapults the guest into adulthood, as guest and hosts move into gear.

  • How is Devita’s test like Stuart’s dinner?   In what way are the results of both similar? Why?

  • What mistaken assumptions on Janine’s part led to the misunderstanding about the stove?

  • How was the misunderstanding between Janine and her host family actually resolved? Can you relate this resolution to the discussion on cultural bubbles (such as the impasse theme in Module 2.3)?

3. Putting things together. . . . Catapulting into adulthood.

  • In each of the cases above, overcoming the block caused by unspoken misunderstandings can be seen as the catalyst that moves the outsider into uchi . Molly and her family increased their understanding gradually through the homestay, and didn’t actually experience a block. But all the other cases have such blocks. Both Stuart and Devita’s families misjudge their competencies and wrap them too much; removing this block allows the child the leeway to act competently, and the family can then shift its assessment to that of a competent adult.
  • Removing this kind of block allows the opportunity for a two-way growing process. The child can grow, but the family does too. This two-way growth is most evident in Janine’s case, where it is the mutual understanding that is achieved between her and the Okaasan that transforms their relationship and moves her inside, just when she is on the brink of being dispelled from the family.

Main Takeaway:

Uchi hazards create conflicts when a guest from abroad can’t fulfill the family’s cultural expectations of being in uchi (because of the guest’s imperfect grasp of unspoken meanings). But the possibility of grasping cultural differences of which neither side has a clue, also creates possibilities for real accommodation of non-natives in uchi. This kind of cross-cultural understanding is ultimately necessary for the smooth functioning of an uchi that includes someone from abroad, as in Devita’s case.

Molly 7: My Gourmet Breakfast and Its Aftermath

About three weeks ago my family told me that they wanted to try a traditional American breakfast. Would I cook it for them? Of course, I said, and after debating what to make, ultimately decided on French toast, eggs, bacon, and home fries. The night before the breakfast, my okaasan went to buy all of the ingredients I had written out for her, and even came back with maple syrup and cinnamon. Well, when it was time to eat, I suddenly got worried. What would happen if they didn’t like it?   Fortunately that was not the case, as I watched okaasan put pieces of French toast on her plate, then pile eggs, bacon, potatoes and syrup on top, eating it like an open-faced sandwich.

I found this breakfast, and the experience of making norimaki sushi with okaasan a few days later to be two rather important milestones, because since this time I have been able to go into the kitchen and cook things on my own. My family now sees this as normal, and I don’t feel weird about it. In addition, I am now very frequently included in the daily decision-making processes of the family, whether it is what we should have for dinner or where to go on the Hato bus tour of Tokyo. And, I am actually given a choice of whether I want to attend a function or not, quite a change from being dragged around likes a puppy dog on a leash!   

The other night otoosan and I were alone for dinner again, and again I set the table, and served the food. He always eats his rice after everything else, and does the same thing with noodles. When it’s just the two of us it’s not very formal at all. He usually reads the paper while I watch TV, and when one of us has something to say to the other, we say it. Okaasan never knows if he’ll be coming home for dinner, and usually tells me to eat whenever I feel like it, so sometimes I start before he comes home.

I had already finished eating, put my dishes away, and was watching TV when otoosan finished eating what I had served him and then said “Mori-san, udon o tabemasu ” (I want some noodles) and stuck out his bowl. At first I was really surprised—it was the first time he had ever asked me to make something for him that the okaasan hadn’t left out for me to cook or serve.

*     *      *     *     *     *     *
(Toward the end of the homestay) okaasan and I have been getting really close lately. One day when my university didn’t have any classes, I went with her to her ceramics workshop, where she showed me a lot of the pieces that she and her friends will be selling in an upcoming festival. Afterwards we went to a little coffee shop nestled in the wooded mountains by a small waterfall, where she and her friends usually go after class. We had coffee and apple pie and talked a lot about the view, her secret recipe for pilaf rice, why the kids who were having pottery lessons wouldn’t talk to me, even though I was talking to them, and how lonely she’ll be when I leave.

As nice as they both seemed to appear, I felt very upset. . . . Both Masako and her mom spoke to me in very fast Japanese, and even though Masako had written that she spoke fluent English, I didn’t hear a word of it. However, by the time we got out of the crowded atmosphere and back to the house, everything started looking up.

The Saitos’ house really surprised me when I first arrived. . . . While it wouldn’t be all that big by American standards, it is certainly large enough to house the family, and then some. Also, it’s pretty modern, with a lot of high-tech electronic gadgets, like a bathtub that automatically fills itself to the right level (and the right temperature!) Most of the floors are hardwood, with the exception of the parents’ room and an extra room off the main gathering/TV room, which have tatami mats. So basically, it’s not a traditional Japanese home, or at least not what I had imagined a traditional Japanese home to look like, I guess because the house is less than a year old.

The Saitos had bought me my own slippers, tea cup, bowl, and hashi, (chopsticks) and even had my room and desk set up with brand new supplies. It looked as if they really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. Then, after the father came home, we had a birthday cake (my birthday had been the day before I arrived) and some kind of festive red rice. Afterwards, we sat around and talked for a few hours, getting to know each other as much as possible with my very broken Japanese.

Stuart 1: I "Grew Up" Years in the Space of One Meal

My family had never hosted a student before, and they were very concerned and tried hard to make me comfortable. But as time went by I became worried that we would never get past the point where we seemed stuck: of them treating me like a child who had to be watched over carefully. I felt constrained by my curfew, and felt that we couldn’t communicate very well, even though I had had enough experience in Japan and had studied enough Japanese that I thought we should be able to manage somewhat better.

I had already been to Japan two times before this, and had done a homestay with a family in Nagoya that was really great. Inevitably, I guess, I couldn’t help but compare the two families, and my present family didn’t stack up to be nearly as good as that one.

In our class on “The Japanese Family” we began to have assignments that we had to discuss with our homestay families. For one assignment I was supposed to ask my family to explain their genealogy to me, after we had studied about genealogies in class. This ended up provoking some interesting conversations, which went back and forth in discussing and comparing my American family and my host family. This was the beginning of a lot of conversations which began over the class assignments, but then continued into other subjects, and went well beyond the assignments.

There was also a major turning-point with the family, which happened through the counselors (student teaching assistants in the Japanese language classes). The counselors were Japanese students who had studied abroad, and they helped us by trouble-shooting with problems we had. About half-way through the semester I was still frustrated with being treated like a child by my family and finally went to talk to Fumi and Tets (the councilors) about it. They tossed plans back and forth for awhile, and finally came up with something they hoped would change the family’s image of me. In line with this I was supposed to carry out the following: I was to put on a complete dinner, with all the food preparations, including getting the food, cooking, and cleaning up, to be totally done by me. The family would be complete guests at the dinner.

I chose an American dinner, invited the family, and we decided on the date. I also invited the counselors, as my friends. I then planned the menu, did the shopping, and even had my own family send me some recipies. For the dinner I made lasagna, which I served with French bread, string beans, my mom’s special jello salad with fresh fruit, and topped it off with hot fudge sundaes for dessert—the works. Throughout the meal the councilors related to me just naturally like they did at school, (and like I was the kind of person for whom it was perfectly ordinary to carry out this kind of meal). I knew that the family liked the meal, but I had no idea if the counselors’ plan was working or not until, as I was clearing up the dishes, the otoosan suddenly tossed me the car keys and told me it was fine for me to use the car to drive my friends back to the train station. It seemed I had grown up years in the space of that meal! Of course now I was really panicked—wondering if I could handle my new-found maturity. But I also knew that, after all this effort, I had to carry this off. So I got in the car and inched my way very slowly and very carefully to the station.

After this, things changed dramatically in my host family. My curfew ended. My cooking became a standard feature in family events, and I tried out every dish I knew (and then some). It also became my duty to pick up my host brother or sister at the train station when they arrived late. Being able to have my own role and duties in the family made me feel much more comfortable. And throughout this time, our discussions continued. I had been planning to stay on in Japan after the semester ended to try to get a business internship. During the last month my family invited me to stay on with them after my semester ended. I felt that they truly meant this invitation, so I accepted.

Module 10.1
Finally . . . Growing Up
Comments (1)

Both Molly and Stuart trigger the “growing up” process through cooking a meal for their host families. In doing this both created a role reversal which made them hosts, treating their families as guests. Yet the circumstances for each are quite different. Molly is asked by her family to cook breakfast, and she responds by cooking a huge American breakfast, for which the okaasan gets her the ingredients. Molly’s breakfast contributes toward a series of incremental shifts that characterized her homestay. After the breakfast she noticed that she is included in her family’s decision-making process, and has gained access to the kitchen. She is definitely becoming an “adult”.

Stuart’s meal is much more dramatic–and catapults him into sudden adulthood. One reason for this drastic shift is that Stuart felt his homestay was “stuck”, with his host family treating him too much like a “child”. Stuart’s “trigger”–his meal for his family–was actually engineered by two of the student “counselors” who helped out the students in his study-abroad program. The solution they suggested to resolve Stuart’s problem was a dinner which was to be totally prepared and carried out by Stuart; his family were to attend as total guests. The counselors emphasized that Stuart should carry out every aspect of the meal himself, to increase the role shift his meal would bring about. They themselves, included as guests at the dinner, were to play the role of a Greek chorus, subtly pointing out Stuart’s maturity, and enacting the attitudes toward Stuart that they wanted the family to adopt.

Of course the wild card here was the family. If they hadn’t been willing (or able) to go along with the role-shift the dinner was promoting, it would certainly fail. But the family not only went along with the scenario, they went a step further in the role shift, by throwing Stuart the car keys and asking him to take his friends to the station. This dinner completely changed Stuart’s role in his family; he was given much more responsibility, and this in turn triggered a much closer relationship with his family. Their conversations now began to deepen considerably. Stuart’s dramatic shift to adulthood couldn’t really be engineered, unless both sides were ready to accommodate it. The host family’s immediate response to the dinner indicated that they, too, were probably feeling “stuck” with the homestay situation, and wanted to move it forward. This case also shows that even situations that seem “stuck” can have latent flexibilities; the perceptions of host family and guest toward one another can change drastically–and result in the child reaching “adulthood”.

Devita 2: An Unexpected test: Okaasan Collapses

Things have been going smoother since the “blowup” at dinner, but even though I’ve learned a lot about how to be a proper daughter-in-law, I still felt like we were kind of tip-toeing around each other. Plus Okaasan is up early and has the laundry hung out and the yard swept every day before I even wake up. Everybody said not to worry about it, but I still felt like I wasn’t doing my share.

Well, all that changed last weekend. Saturday I woke up earlier than usual because of an ambulance siren, really close. Then it stopped out front. The men came rushing into the house, loaded Okaasan onto a stretcher and took off! Before I could even find out what was wrong, everybody was heading off to the hospital. All I got was a quick “I’ll call you as soon as we know something. Take care of things here.”

So, I started with the laundry and sweeping the yard. I took the garbage to the collection place. I put the futons out to sun, then fixed some food for when they got back. The newspaper man came to collect and I paid him. I talked to a door-to-door insurance saleswoman. A neighbor brought the circulating neighborhood announcement folder. I looked it over, stamped it with our family name, and took it to the next house. Nothing very crucial, I thought.

Just before noon, everyone came home, even Okaasan . She had gotten an I.V. drip treatment for a bout of low blood pressure—nothing serious. So everything turned out OK, but the best part for me is the change in everyone’s attitude. You’d think I had saved the day single-handed by holding down the fort. Okaasan is back to her usual routine. And, they’ve started telling me to do things when they want me to do something. I feel much more relaxed.

Janine 5: Almost Kicked Out over a Broken Stove

My first yearlong homestay with the Shinodas was a tremendous experience (during which I survived many hurdles). This made it all the more disconcerting when I returned to the same family for a second homestay, and ran into major walls that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew I was no longer being treated like a guest and that I must be making mistakes of which I was unaware. But it seemed like everything I did created some problem, and the family seemed increasingly displeased with me. This culminated in their telling me that I had to leave at the beginning of the summer, although I had requested to stay until the fall.

Although the okaasan‘s explanation for the decision made perfect sense, I didn’t think she was giving me the real reason why I needed to leave, and I didn’t want to go when things were under such a cloud. When I went to my language tutorial with a professor in Tokyo, he told me: “When it’s obvious that someone doesn’t know the language, people treat them like a small child and don’t hold them responsible for the implications of what they say.” I knew this and had tried to become an adult in the society specifically to avoid this treatment.

He then assessed my problem with my host family: “You are accepted as being responsible for what you say, but you may not always know the implications of what you are saying.” I thanked him for his advice, although I had no idea how to get out of the predicament I was in, which seemed like a huge wall whose location was invisible to me.

When I returned to the family, I noticed that the kerosene stove in my room wasn’t working properly. Since it was mid-winter and the house had no insulation, the stove was crucial. I didn’t want to compound my problems with the host family, but I had to tell them that my stove was broken and needed fixing. Wishing to be very diplomatic I pondered the problem of how to phrase the statement, and decided it would be best to use the passive verb form. That way I wouldn’t implicate anyone. I wanted to make as neutral a statement as possible. I went into the room where everyone was sitting in the kotatsu and uttered my carefully-rehearsed phrase. I could detect no reaction, and at last the otoosan got up and said he would have a look at it. He brought the stove from my room back to the kotatsu room so that he could fix it, and I went to sleep relieved that my plan had worked so well.

In the morning I happened to pass by the stove with the okaasan , and as I mentioned the word “stove” I thought I detected a slight reaction. She said nothing, and I wondered if I had imagined it. “Is there something wrong about the stove?” I asked. I was unprepared for the outburst that followed. She indicated that she had been debating all morning whether to tell me, that she usually don’t speak directly about things like this, but she knew my customs were different. I said I would be very grateful if she would tell me.

As she continued it gradually became clear to me that I had somehow communicated the opposite of what I had wanted to communicate. The family was upset because they felt I had accused them of providing me with a faulty stove, and because I was angry at them.

At this point I started to laugh. “Okaasan ” I said. “Can you believe that I wasn’t angry with you?” She continued with what she was telling me, but I repeated my statement that I wasn’t blaming the family at all. The okaasan stopped.

I continued: “I was annoyed at the stove, and I know that’s wrong. But to me the stove is just a stove. It’s separate from people. I got annoyed because it was cold and the stove wouldn’t work, but I wasn’t annoyed at you at all.” The okaasan continued to look at me in a dumbfounded way. She was trying to grasp what I was saying. “You mean you weren’t blaming us? You thought the stove had nothing to do with us?”

“I know you’ve been very careful about providing me with everything. To me the problem was wholly with the stove. It was not with you at all. There was no connection between you and the stove. It was broken and was letting off fumes, that’s all.”

I could see that the okaasan was struggling to understand. Then I could see it dawning on her. She had grasped the fact that I wasn’t 100 percent in their system; I was caught up in another system.

With this moment of insight the whole problem melted away, as if it had never existed. At the same time I was aware of a powerful feeling of unity. It was as if something had torn away the outer covering, which was all that was different between the Shinodas and me. All our differences of language, food, customs, had been dissolved and we were left with the realization that we were alike . I realized how close that “alikeness” was. I felt consumed by this feeling, and I knew the okaasan was experiencing it too, by the change in her attitude.

When the feeling was over, I felt drained. The whole relationship between the okaasan and me had changed. We were not on different sides of some barrier trying to reach each other but on the same side again. The okaasan obviously managed to communicate the experience to everyone else in the family, because all our relationships changed almost immediately without a word being spoken about the incident. As I was riding into town on the bus with the okaasan the next day she explained to me what I should say to persuade the otoosan to change his mind about my staying over the summer.

During my next language tutorial I related the stove incident to my professor and asked him to explain to me what had gone wrong. His reply went right to the point: “I think that you actually said the opposite of what you wanted to say to the Shinodas. By putting the phrase in the passive form, you accused them of giving you a broken stove, and expressed dissatisfaction with their relationship with you.”

“But I thought the passive form meant that there wasn’t any relationship; that I could say the stove was broken without implicating the Shinodas.”

“The point is that there are no objects in the Shinodas’ world that are unrelated to people,” he explained. “Everything in the Japanese language expresses relationships to people or things, either directly or indirectly. Since you named no agent who was responsible for the problem, and since the stove was the Shinodas’, by default you made them responsible for the problem.”

“How should I have phrased the sentence?” I asked.

“In a delicate situation like this one, you should have made the responsibility obvious. For example, if you said something like: ‘I’m sorry I broke the stove,’ the Shinodas, who knew better, would have taken responsibility for it.”

This incident transformed my relationship with the Shinodas. Not only did I end up staying through the summer with the family, but the family really became like my own family, and the siblings were like my own brothers and sister. Several years after that, I ended up taking a job in Japan , and once again resumed the ties with the Shinodas. Only now, instead of one family, I now had ties with the families of all 5 siblings, not to mention many of their ties as well. So over the years, what started out as a visit of one person to one family ended up with two large networks of interconnected family ties moving between two countries, with no end in sight.

Module 9.4
Listen Up! Honne Messages in Public
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Okaasan speaks out: Sweet Revenge shows a very adept use of public honne by a person whose uchi status doesn’t allow her to criticize her husband directly. She manages to get her message across by addressing a guest—a neighbor who is a hen-pecked adopted husband, and who has come next door to escape his nagging wife. Okaasan uses the adopted husband’s visit to air her grievances with her own husband—all under the guise of commiserating with the adopted husband by using her own situation (of having to put up with Otoosan’s arrogant and selfish behavior) as an example. The positions of Okaasan and the adopted husband closely resemble one another since he is like a wife, who has married into the household, and ends up being dominated by his wife (in th same way that Okaasan has to defer to her husband). Okaasan is so adept at managing her honne communication that she also manages to communicate a message of support to the guest. But the real message here is to the Otoosan, who can’t respond to her accusations in the guest situation. Yet he clearly got the message because the behavior that she complained about came to an abrupt stop.

Elena’s case shows a different way of attempting indirect honne communication. Elena has offended her host family by inviting her male Japanese tutor to her room, instead of meeting with him in the common uchi household space. But instead of Okaasan telling Elena about this problem directly, she asks her close friend whom Elena knew only slightly (and was therefore soto), to convey the honne message that she shouldn’t study with her tutor in her room. Here Okaasan makes the message indirect by removing herself as the speaker, and substituting her friend to carry the message instead. This is like the complaint the homestay coordinator passed on to Peter from his host family about his stereo being too loud. Elena was shocked at receiving this honne message from a stranger, and didn’t understand why Okaasan hadn’t told her herself. Had Okaasan’s friend been a closer friend to Elena as well, this indirect communication might have been less of a shock to her.   

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