Soto-Uchi

By Chidera Obiwuma

All over the world we treat those we are closest to and not close to differently, but it was surprising to learn about the high value Japan places on this distinction in treatment. In Japan there is a difference in how the Japanese treat those close to them and those who are not close to them. The way the Japanese treat their family and circle of friends is known as uchi and the way they treat other people is known as soto. Due to this system it is very difficult, almost impossible, to become part of a group if you come last or don’t belong to that group. In uchi, it is necessary that all members agree on an issue, no matter how insignificant, and how to proceed. This is done to keep the harmony among the uchi. There are also different levels to uchi. The first level is family, followed by friends, then your company and lastly, your country.

Foreigners are the most soto that you can get. No matter how long you live in Japan, the Japanese will treat you as soto because they see you as a threat to their harmonious uchi. This is one of the reasons that Japan is a closed country, one of the most advanced countries with low immigration. However, it is highly important to know that being treated as soto doesn’t mean that they will disrespect. The Japanese will treat you kindly but there will still be a barrier between you and them.

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