Module 12.2

Carlos, International Student

Carlos is a one-year international student from Los Angeles whose ethnic background is Latino. He became interested in Japan through kendo, which he studied for 7 years. Carlos applies to live in a student dorm at Japan International University, to experience everyday contact with Japanese students, and make some friends. He knows that at age 28 he’s older than most of the JIU students, but hopes this won’t be a problem.

Entering the dorm appears to be a good choice for Carlos since it holds a potential for uchi membership. Japanese students seek a base for uchi participation in student clubs (which are very important to university life), dorms, or even a network of friends (See Bruce’s case, 9.3), rather than expecting the university to function as an ‘uchi’. Thus Carlos is actually following the example of Japanese university students in seeking out the dorm as a possibility for uchi participation.

Carlos: Points to take away—for all newcomers

The skill with which Carlos overcame the dorm hazards is now a legend in his dorm. What is useful to take away from Carlos is the persona he cultivated in the dorm, which had two principle components: (1) Initially, Carlos refrained from trying to remake things in the dorm to fit his ideas or ways, and tried to “follow” his senpai and the other dorm members, by going along with what they expected him to do. Carlos was aware of the necessity to do this because of the age difference between himself and the other members. Yet “following” and “going along with expectations” are very good practices to adhere to when one first enters any Japanese organization. (2) It is an understatement to say that Carlos participated fully in the dorm; as one person described this, he contributed 1000 percent; including whatever talents he had, to the dorm. This did not go unnoticed or appreciated; Carlos shifted past all the hazards and into uchi during his one-year period abroad. Participation in one’s organization is crucial in getting past the hazards to uchi. Carlos’ successful navigation to adulthood in the dorm has further elements that are useful for all other newcomers. Thus: 

  1. Carlos reached uchi, not because he had an uchi position, but because over time he acted increasingly like an uchi member.  As he negotiated the hazards he encountered—which in turn opened doors, his behavior gradually let him “shift” him from his newcomer entry point to uchi. He was acknowledged as an uchi member because he had literally shifted into uchi—even though as a short-term exchange student, he didn’t actually have a position there.

  2. As mentioned above (in the commentary to 7a.) the dorm organization (with its hazards along a pathway to uchi) exists primarily for the Japanese dorm members, who are its primary constituents. The students from abroad simply participate in their organization. It is the Japanese students who must create good senpai/kohai relationships; carry out their dorm duties; deal with unspoken rules behind the rules; and participate fully in the dorm. For them too, the dorm membership is an exercise in reaching uchi adulthood; but their path from childhood to adulthood differs from that of foreigners unfamiliar with unspoken cultural assumptions in Japan. Japanese students are not regarded as social adults (shakaijin) until they graduate and become employed. As students, they are still regarded socially as children, and thus dorm membership can be seen as something of a “trial run” for Japanese students; a kind of practice for the reality they will soon encounter as “social adults”.

  3. For this reason the student dorm makes a good introduction to the pathway to uchi for all the other newcomers. The hazards the students encounter in joining the dorm are similar to the hazards encountered by all the other newcomers. Yet the stakes are not as high. Since the student dorm is more like a “trial run” for adulthood, the dorm hazards are a kind of parody of the hazards encountered by the ALT, the company employee, and the spouse. They have a quality of “play” that is useful to keep in mind as you move through the other cases.
Module 12.2
Carlos, International Student
Carlos, International Student, complete summary of pathway

1. Entry Point Challenge: Carlos’ dorm accepts both Japanese and international residents and both short-term and degree students are on the same uchi track in the dorms. The difference is only the time length of their involvement. This creates a challenge for Carlos, who enters as a cultural child, but must move along the path to cultural adulthood (and uchi membership) under a compressed time frame. In contrast to the degree students who have four years to reach cultural adulthood, for a one-year student like Carlos, everything hinges on navigating the entry to ‘uchi’ hazards (of which he is totally unaware) very skillfully—and without time-consuming errors. Let’s see how well Carlos does.

2. Dealing with the Expert: the senpai / kohai (superior/subordinate) relationship: All new dorm members start out in a senpai / kohai relationship. The entering kohai is in a subordinate relationship to his senpai, his main orientation guide to the dorm. This relationship is Carlos’ first hazard. Carlos knows that he must create a good relationship with his senpai and go along with whatever he says. Yet at 28, he is 7 years older, which puts Carlos above his senpai, and creates potential tensions in their hierarchical relationship. How does he manage a “good relationship”? Carlos cultivates vulnerability, and especially, the art of gently making a fool of himself. When he is in a tatemae (or public) situation with his senpai, Carlos takes care never to put him down or challenge him. Instead he uses his experience to support his senpai from “behind”.

3. Helping Out: The dorm requires everyone to carry out a variety of duties, which include such things as being gate-keeper, cleaning the bath, being in charge of the intricately-organized garbage pick-ups; as well as committee member duties. Even though an option exists for paying a fine instead of doing your duty, Carlos realized that if he actually took this option, he would fail to go anywhere in the dorm and end up being ostracized. Doing your duties is crucial in this dorm.

4. Uchi Hazards: Carlos’ dorm has a baseball team  (presently in a slump), that is seeking new members. Carlos has played baseball from Little League through high school, and was offered an athletic scholarship to college. Carlos decides to go out for the team, and is accepted. However, The team puts Carlos on the bench, where he sits and watches the team lose their next three games. Even for talented individuals like Carlos, participation on the team takes second place to one’s ability to participate in uchi, and for Carlos, this ability is not yet fully tested. Carlos comes to every game and participates from the bench—in cheering on the team.

5. More Uchi Hazards: A university rule specifies that doors must be locked at midnight in all dorms. Carlos is having trouble beating this curfew, especially on week-ends.

One Sat. night when Carlos is out with his Japanese dorm mates, he notices they are staying out too late to make the curfew. When they do return to campus, instead of going in the front door, they climb into the house through an open back window. They signal Carlos to do this too. This is not breaking and entering; but a different kind of rule, existing “behind” the official rule. In other words, both omote and ura rules exist for all the dorms, as “official” rules, and rules “behind the scenes”. However, the ura rules are unspoken; moreover, they override the official rules. In the case of the curfew, all campus dorms have ura rules, which differ for each dorm. For example:

Dorm #1: Locks door at midnight, and unlocks it ten minutes later.
Dorm #2: Leaves back window open (Carlos’ dorm)
Dorm #3: late-returning members station a friend to read a book in lounge near entrance.

6. Honne Messages in Public: A Dorm Festival Competition is held each year among all the dorms. Highlights of this competition include public performances, such as slapstick skits, which invariably exhibit honne. Winning the dorm competition is a highly coveted prize in university culture.

Carlos used his talents skillfully and played   a major role in organizing and participating in the  dorm festival—and his dorm took first place in the competition. After this, Carlos knew his position had changed—he was now an ‘uchi’ member of his dorm.(Notice this twist on the public/private message discussion in Module 9.4.)

7. Growing Up/Making Uchi Ties: Carlos overcame the challenge of his entry point with such skill that his dorm wanted to elect him as its next president. (They were unable to do this because Carlos was oin a one-year program at JIU.) From the point of his first hazard—getting along with his younger senpai, Carlos managed to take the edge off the age difference by acting like an underling. Carlos also caught on quickly that participation in the dorm was highly valued, and he participated at his maximum capacity throughout his dorm stay. Carlos continued to participate fully even when he was thrown a curve ball on the baseball team and made to warm the bench, and even when he had to do penalty duty for not following the rules behind the rules—which always remain unspoken. What really pulled Carlos into uchi however, were his major contributions to his dorm’s performance in the campus-wide competition—which resulted in the dorm winning first prize. These contributions not only helped to make the dorm a better place, but through them Carlos achieved uchi ties, cultural adulthood, and the real rewards of uchi: the dorm members now became his friends for life.

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