The Japanese have two words: “uchi” meaning inside and “soto” meaning outside. Uchi refers to their close friends, the people in their inner circle. Soto refers to anyone who is outside that circle. And how they relate and communicate to the two are drastically different. To the soto, they are still polite and they might be outgoing, on the surface, but they will keep them far away, until they are considered considerate and trustworthy enough to slip their way into the uchi category. Once you are uchi, the Japanese version of friendship is entire universes beyond the average American friendship! Uchi friends are for life. Uchi friends represent a sacred duty. A Japanese friend, who has become an uchi friend, is the one who will come to your aid, in your time of need, when all your western “friends” have turned their back and walked away. – Alexei Maxim Russell
I sit here in Osaka International Airport waiting to board my flight to Seoul. I cannot help but to think back on my exploration of Japan. Just like any trip, this one made me feel a multitude of emotions. It was an incredible journey that I will not be able to fully digest for months to come.
Throughout my travels of over 25 countries I’ve always felt a degree of cultural shock at times, but I usually embraced the feeling. In preparation, I read up on the culture, took Japanese lessons, reached out to alumni, Mizzou’s Asian Affairs center, and watched countless YouTube videos. On this trip I felt something unique, that I could not quite pinpoint until writing this blog. There had been feelings of melancholy, jubilance, fascination, confusion, and frustration. My time in Japan was encapsulated in one feeling - cultural dissonance. From the moment that I arrived seeing countless unhappy salarymen in the metro to the immaculate streets (side note there were no trash cans – at all); Japan felt like a 180-degree switch from the United States. To better understand without traveling to Japan, check out the movie Lost in Translation. Moreover, it serves as a viewpoint of an American traveling to Japan that feels more than just being out of place. Even though the movie is 15-years old, it is still very relevant.
Consequently, I kept imagining what my experience would have been if Kolu had operations in Japan so visitors could receive a truly authentic experience. The Japanese population is a homogeneous group, even more so in comparison to countries in Europe. As a white male with slight knowledge of the language and culture the experience was still lacking. I can only imagine someone going to Japan for business or leisure being overwhelmed. Breaking the cultural and language barrier that exists in Japan can be quite a challenge, but well worth the reward.
The goal is to arrive in Japan as a soto and leave as an uchi friend.