Uchi-Soto – 内-外

In Japanese thought there’s a big difference between how you treat people within your inner circle of family and friends (Uchi – 内) and how you treat other people outside that circle (Soto – 外). This differentiation can be found all over the world, as we don’t treat people close to us that we see on a day to day basis the same as other people that we don’t know that much. For example, have you noticed that in our society it is quite difficult to integrate yourself into a group if you are the last one to join it? Even so, we still make the best we can to help people fit in the group, etc. In Japan it is much harder; if you want to join a group where you don’t belong, even if you try very hard, if you are not welcome from the beginning it will be impossible to be truly accepted. Let’s take a closer look at the details of the strong dichotomy between Uchi and Soto.

Uchi soto

In the past, Japanese life revolved around the Ie (家) system, that is, around our home, our house, our family. The family head used to be an older man, that had the responsibility to manage and maintain all the family members in harmony. As family members started getting married with members of other families, the branches of the family Uchi group spread out. Let’s say, for example, that a daughter was not able to marry a member of a family that were complete strangers.

Another very important consequence is that individual opinions didn’t have any value, all family members had to consider family harmony above all. This is still going on nowadays, and it is one of the reasons why Japanese companies are considered among the slowest in the world. EVERYBODY has to agree before doing something. The good thing about such a democratic system is that eventually at the end the decisions are the right ones and also that workers almost never go on strike. An example of how exaggerated this can be is something that happened to me when a coworker of mine had his computer CD-drive broken. Another coworker analyzed the CD drive for half an hour to check if it was broken, then there was a meeting of 4 coworkers, and eventually… they decided to change the CD-drive!!! However they also decided to order some more spare CD-drives and try new models to not have problems in the future, etc. Facing a small problem all the members of the Uchi should agree on how to proceed and take the necessary measures so that it doesn’t happen again.

The levels and difference between Uchi and Soto can be quite vague. On the first Uchi level would be our family, then the “connected” families, then our friends, then our company and at the end would be Japan as a country. For example, foreigners in Japan are the most Soto that somebody can get; that’s why it is said that even though you have lived in Japan for years you will always be treated like a gaijin. You will always be treated like Soto simply because unconsciously they are thinking that you are some kind of menace to the harmony of their Uchi. This is one of the reasons Japan is a really closed country; it is most likely the developed country with the least immigration, even though lately they are starting to open up a little bit more. The largest minority in Japan are Koreans, whose problems integrating into Japanese society you can be seen in the movie Go.

But don’t misunderstand me, that Japanese people treat you like Soto it doesn’t mean that they don’t treat you well. Most likely they will treat you better than most of your friends at home :) the problem is that sometimes you feel like there is some kind of barrier. For example, the use of the language is a good indicator to see if you are entering a group Uchi, and there are also some indicators of non-verbal language that also give some hints about it.

Due to everything I’ve written in this article, it is said that it is really difficult to make Japanese friends, but if you succeed he will be a GREAT friend and will always be there for you. Think that he will always take care about the harmony inside his Uchi. If you have a Japanese friend you’ll most likely confirm this. Maybe you are now thinking about your friendships and other people you know and thinking if they belong to your Uchi or your Soto, you are turning Japanese 😉

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A company named "Siesta"

At the entrance of an offices building in Shinjuku I found this:

Siesta

In the sixth floor of the building there is a company named “Siesta”, like the traditional Spanish nap. I’ve been investigating on the Internet and it turns out that it is a small company of 22 employees that does web development and consulting. I wonder if they have a small room to take “siestas” at the office.

“Siesta” is surely one of the first words of the Spanish language that Japanese people learn, and to most people that I’ve asked to, siesta seems like a fabulous habit. In fact, Japanese people are experts at taking siestas in any place 😉

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New chopsticks-like Mac Book Air

In case somebody still doesn’t know, Apple has released today two new Mac Book Air models. One of them, which is 11,6 inches, seen from the side and closed looks like a pair of chopsticks.

Chopsticks Mac book Air

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Lettuce-producing machine

Dentsu Facility Management Inc has begun selling a machine able to produce around 60 lettuces per day without the need of sunlight. At the moment, they are only available in Japan; the first clients are big restaurant chains because the cost is quite high: 75,000 euro (around 100,000 USD). Will we have some day our own refrigerators at home able to produce lettuces or other vegetables?

The pictures of this lettuce-producing machine reminds me of the pictures of the underground place that is located under Tokyo station.

Lettuce machine

Lettuce machine

Lettuce machine

Source: Greendiary

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InoKashira VS InoGashira

Japanese language is written using three alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. However since Japan began being “connected” to the Western world there have been several attempts to write the Japanese language using our alphabet. The basic idea of all these attempts consists on emulating the pronunciation of Japanese characters the best possible way using the Latin alphabet. Even though none of the attempts has been perfect the most used method nowadays is the Hepburn romanization.

I have never taken really seriously to learn perfectly the rules to write Japanese with our alphabet because I find it quite absurd; it’s like if I would try to write English with Japanese characters. However it is true that for some people it’s quite useful to start learning the language; although I don’t recommend it. It is hard, but it is better to start learning Japanese directly with hiragana.

Notice for example this sign where the word 井の頭 is written as inoKashira and then as inoGashira. To say the truth, the word is quite complicated, technically it would be written inoKashira, but when pronouncing it in Japanese quickly it sounds more like what would be written inoGashira. It’s not something very relevant but it’s funny to see the word written in different ways in the same sign!

Inokashira

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Kindergarten kids exercising

I found funny these kindergarten kids exercising to the music of Indiana Jones on a building rooftop in Shinjuku. Exercising in building rooftops in Tokyo is something that you can frequently see in some big companies every morning but this is the first time that I see kids doing it.

Kindergarten kids exercising

Kindergarten kids exercising

Kindergarten kids exercising

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Giri – 義理

Last week I wrote a post about the Honne and Tatemae, concepts that are highly related to the Japanese samurai tradition. Another concept that has a lot to do with the Bushido is the “Giri”, which is prevalent in the mind of Japanese people.

“Giri” is a difficult word to translate. It means something similar to “Social obligation/duty”, it consists on the obligation to worry for those that have given you something in life and you owe them something in return. Japanese people feel that they have to give back the gratitude they have received in life even though they have to auto-sacrifice to be able to accomplish it. Giri is present in almost every social relationship within Japanese society: teacher-student, man-woman, friends, family, business, etc.

The “Giri” has been present in Japan for ages but it started being used almost always due to the influence of the samurai class during the feudal era. The “Giri” forces us to return favors, to maintain harmony in social and human relationships, in order to maintain a certain peace within society.

Nowadays the “Giri” concept is still prevalent in Japanese customs. Gifts in special occasions are very common, and when you receive something it is almost an obligation to give something back in return that has a similar value. This is common sense in any other culture, but in Japan the amount of gifts that you receive can be really absurd. There was some study that concluded that in Japan the money spent on gifts is the same that the amount spent on justice in the USA. At the same time Japan is the country in the developed world that spends less money per person in justice. It turns out that the “Giri” helps in a certain way to maintain harmony so that Japanese people don’t tend to confront with each other in law courts.

Due to the Western influence, Valentine’s day is widely celebrated in Japan. On Valentine’s day women have to give chocolate to men, it is some kind of obligation, not only with the men they love, but with all men that are close to them. We can differentiate between “two different kinds of chocolate” in Valentine’s day: “giri chocolate” (given by a woman to several men due to social obligations), and the “true chocolate” (given by a woman to the man she loves). If you are guy that works in a Japanese company you will most likely receive a lot of chocolate on Valentine’s day, but it doesn’t mean that all the girls at the company have fallen in love with you. After receiving the chocolate, men feel that they owe something back in return, to solve this “debt” feeling, another day is celebrated a month after Valentine’s day, when men give white chocolate to women. That’s the giri at its best.

These examples should have given you an idea of how powerful the “giri” and the social obligations are within Japanese society, and how they really have an effect in the behavior of Japanese people. An extreme case of the power of the “giri” are the kamikaze, that were volunteer Japanese pilots that committed suicide during Second World War to follow the code of honor, obedience and social obligation to their government and country.

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Real Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko is a traditional Japanese figure, if you have a Maneki Neko it will give you good luck. Restaurants and shops and companies usually have a Maneki Nekos at the entrance, this way the business will do well. Continue reading…

This is a real cat imitating the position of a maneki neko figure.

Real Maneki Neko
Found as a shared photo in Laura’s Facebook.

And this is a maneki neko figure, raising also its left paw.

Maneki neko

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