|Japan Table of Contents
From birth, Japanese are recognized as autonomous human beings. However, from the beginning infants are influenced by society's emphasis on social interdependence. In fact, Japanese human development may be seen as a movement toward mastery of an everexpanding circle of social life, beginning with the family, widening to include school and neighborhood as children grow, and incorporating roles as colleague, inferior, and superior. Viewed in this perspective, socialization does not culminate with adolescence, for the individual must learn to be, for example, a section chief, a parent-teacher association member, or a grandparent at various points in life.
Many Westerners ask whether there is a Japanese self that exists apart from identification with a group. The answer lies in the Japanese distinction between uchi (inside) and soto (outside). These terms are relative, and the "we" implied in uchi can refer to the individual, the family, a work group, a company, a neighborhood, or even all of Japan. But it is always defined in opposition to a "they." The context or situation thus calls for some level of definition of self. When an American businessman meets a Japanese counterpart, the Japanese will define himself as a member of a particular company with which the American is doing business. However, if the American makes a cultural mistake, the Japanese is likely to define himself as Japanese as distinguished from a foreigner. The American might go away from his encounter with the belief that the Japanese think of themselves only as members of a group. The same person attending a school event with one of his children might be defined at the level of his family or household. Viewed relaxing at home or playing golf with former classmates, he would perhaps have reached a level of definition more similar to an American concept of self.
From childhood, however, Japanese are taught that this level of self should not be assertive but rather should be considerate of the needs of others; the private emotions, and perhaps the funloving , relaxed side of Japanese individuals are tolerated and even admired as long as these do not interfere with the performance of more public responsibilities. The proper performance of social roles is necessary to the smooth functioning of society. Individuals, aware of private inner selves (and even resistance to the very roles they perform), use a shifting scale of uchi and soto to define themselves in various situations.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress