I have learned that in the Japanese culture, one who is away buys gifts to give to people back where the person dwells. Here in America, if I do not buy any souvenirs for people back at home, it isn’t considered offensive or rude. However, the lack of souvenir buying and giving is considered very rude in Japan. JETs usually do not know the school or even the place where they will be working. I don’t think there is a new JET who leaves from an area of Japan (if the JET were in Japan) only to return to the same location. So, this idea of a souvenir shouldn’t apply right?? Well, somehow it may still apply. That’s because the JET is going to Japan from a foreign country, a play very different from Japan. Plus, the Japanese culture is very community oriented and thus, a very gift giving culture. This is where a lot of stress for JETs comes from. Common thoughts include:
What should I bring??
How many should I bring??
How much should I spend??
When should I give it??
Who should I give gifts to??
In some ways, I share this stress with other JETs. My predecessor informed me that teachers aren’t expecting anything, but if I do, it would be highly appreciated. So, I am wondering what I should be getting. I already ruled out clothing because that would probably be a pain. I heard that the sizes in Japan are generally smaller than in America. I also ruled out alcohol because I think that would be annoying to haul with me, and I wouldn’t want the one receiving the present to invite me to drink. Therefore, I have opted for key chains, mugs, baseball caps, and picture frames. If I spot something else or get what I deem a good suggestion, I’ll consider it. The other day I was at the Times Square M&M World, and I spotted an ugly tie. For some reason I was really tempted to get it for the school’s principal, but I think that is just too cruel. As much as anyone can love chocolate, I wonder if a man in such a society would wear such a tie to school or other functions. It would be very disrespectful. Now, if the tie was actually made out of chocolate, then that’s a different story.
I find that there are two different kinds of respect. This isn’t fully fleshed out, so bear with me. In a vertical society such as Japan there is a hierarchy, and people need to treat each other with respect in terms of treating better those in a higher position. The second kind deals with a horizontal society such as the United States where people give respect to each other in terms of accepting or tolerating individual uniqueness. There is some of the hierarchical respect found in America too, but it isn’t as strong as vertical societies.
One of the situations that was reenacted during the optional orientation’s cross-cultural activity involved a drunk male supervisor making advances toward a female JET. In this case, my table brought up our favorite tactic of diversion, which seems to be a good answer for many situations. However, I wanted to use this as a look into the differences between the two types of societies. If this happened in a horizontal society, the female JET could probably yell or threaten her supervisor. My previous definitions of respect are not black and white. There is a grey area like in many things. In Japan, it does not mean that people of higher authority have less respect for the people in lower positions, but there is a loyalty that the lower people must show. Therefore, in the Japanese culture, to talk back would be very disrespectful. Is there a right or wrong type of society?? I don’t think so. I just find this all very fascinating.
Stay tuned next week for more common pre-departure stresses for new JETs and thoughts on the role of a JET as an ambassador!
今週の写真: This week I spent a lot of time in NYC. So, here’s a photo of my sisters and I “stayin’ alive” at the Times Square M&M World.