Module 12.6

Prof. Witherspoon, Visiting Professor

Professor Witherspoon has just arrived as a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, and is settling into his new office. He is a distinguished professor of American History from New York University who is visiting on a one-semester Fulbright Teaching Program. This is Witherspoon’s first visit to Japan and he knows no Japanese; he came because he has never lived abroad and is intrigued by Japan.

Witherspoon’s entry situation is much less ambiguous than the other newcomers. His position is characterized in Module 13.1 as a mature expert, on a one-semester short-term stay, with no potential for uchi membership (XYY). This profile earmarks Witherspoon as a distinguished guest, who will always be wrapped.


Entry Point Challenge: Although It is clear that Witherspoon is going to be treated as a guest, it is important that he be a “good guest” just like the other newcomer guests. The fact that he is at a prestigious university, and has high social status, doesn’t diminish the “good guest” requirement; it heightens it. Witherspoon’s colleagues at Todai don’t want to have to “take care” of him; his office staff don’t want him to make difficult demands on them. Witherspoon can alienate those around him if he doesn’t navigate his entry well. But of course, these requirements will all be unspoken. Let’s see how Witherspoon manages his guest role.

Witherspoon: Points to take away—for all newcomers

Not everyone is going to make it all the way uchi, and Witherspoon provides an example of someone who makes a good accommodation to a “guest” status, and partial movement toward uchi. Witherspoon is constrained by his expertise/age, which give him high-status and ensure he is well-wrapped. The downside here is that this cultural child is too high-status to be given guidance in how to “grow up”. However, Witherspoon’s response to his situation is useful for all newcomers:

  1. Witherspoon’s easy-going attitude toward the lack of response of the office bureaucrat to his requests for changing things in his office is useful for any newcomer whose requests have been turned down. Witherspoon accommodates his hosts’ denials of his requests with good humor, and makes an adaptation (he brings his laptop to the office). He also accommodates his lectures to his students, and gives his caretaker assistant the advice he needs for publishing abroad.

  2. Witherspoon’s adaptations to his situation, and his flexibility in accommodating himself to the needs to those around him, make him a “good guest”, who is liked and respected by his colleagues. He makes few demands on his hosts, and carries out his duties in ways that satisfy everyone around him. The result is that even though this professor speaks little Japanese, he is able to make relationships with his colleagues, caretaker and some of his students (some of whom guide him to various events in Tokyo).

  3. Witherspoon’s case shows that you don’t have to get fully “inside” Japanese culture—and reach uchi—to have quite a satisfactory experience in Japan. As the professor’s pathway shows, for some newcomers, the hazards along the path to uchi are insurmountable—yet they can still manage to thrive in their new homes, if they are sensitive in grasping the “unspoken” communications around them.
Module 12.6
Witherspoon, Visiting Professor
Prof. Witherspoon, Complete Summary

1. Entry point “Good Guest”: When Witherspoon arrives in his new office, he asks for more furniture and a different computer, which produces a  deep silence from the office bureaucrat who is showing him his office. Witherspoon’s “caretaker” (a young faculty member) now appears. He has been at an American University, speaks good English and tells Witherspoon that this is the only computer available. Witherspoon avoids creating a problem by saying: “No problem; I’ll bring my laptop to the office”. He also notices, but decides to ignore, the fact that none of his furniture requests have been met. Witherspoon is managing to catch onto an important assumption about how he should adapt: he is expected to adapt to his environment, as is, rather than trying to change it. We can  see this as another “uchi hazard” since it involves the relationship of the individual to his uchi environment.

2. Being Helpful: Here Witherspoon’s pathway parallels those of the other newcomers. He needs to find ways in which his particular talents can be useful in his new surroundings. For example, when he begins his lectures, he notices that his students seem to have trouble comprehending English. He cuts down his lectures, simplifies his language, and brings a handout with the main points of the lecture written down. Witherspoon’s a caretaker (the young faculty member) has already gone to considerable trouble preparing for his visit. Witherspoon needs to appreciate his caretaker and to reciprocate for this in some way. He realizes that his caretaker also works in his field of expertise, and that he is hoping to be “mentored” in things like how he can publish an article abroad.  Witherspoon mentors him for this.

3. Dealing with the Expert: Here Witherspoon runs into a major hazard: all the newcomers so far have been paired with an expert at their entry point (for example, Abby with her team teacher; Carlos with his senpai, Devita with her mother-in-law, and Matt with his group-head.) Each had to manage the role of underling; but there was a hidden benefit in this relationship: each learned something from the “expert”—and much of this was “what no one tells you”. Some experts also managed to give their newcomers overt advice or training (as Otsuka did for Matt, and Devita’s mother-in-law did for her). Witherspoon’s difficulty here is that he is the expert, so he has no possibility of this kind of apprenticeship. At the same time he is also a cultural child, but since his caretaker (or students) are underlings to him; they can’t provide the “guidance” that he needs to be able to “grow up”.

End of Witherspoon’s Pathway: Witherspoon is unable to surmount this hazard, so he cannot proceed any further on the pathway toward uchi. He can possibly grasp some bits and pieces of how things work in uchi—if he keeps his eyes open to “gaps” like the failure of his initial attempt to get his office organized according to his wishes. Since Witherspoon is an easygoing person he goes along with his situation, manages to reciprocate with his colleagues and students well enough to create some good relationships, and has quite an enjoyable time being “wrapped” as a guest professor. He also goes often to see cultural events, and travels to different areas of Japan during his stay.

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