Shiiba Village Japan
ETHNOGRAPHY OF ADAPTATION: ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY OF JAPANESE SOJOURNERS
IN BUTTE COUNTY CALIFORNIA
A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of California
State University, ChicoIn Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree Master of Arts in Anthropology
by Erik Anthony Kassebaum
- Chapter I - INTRODUCTION
- Chapter II - REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
- Chapter III - METHODOLOGY
- Chapter IV - TRAVEL AND THE GREAT OPEN ROAD
- Chapter V - COMMUNICATION
- Chapter VI - COLLEGE AND CAREER
- Chapter VII - DOMESTIC ISSUES
- Chapter VIII - THE REFLECTIVE GAIJIN
- Chapter IX - DRINKING AND CELEBRATIONS
- Chapter X - SPORTS, GUNS AND GOLF
- Chapter XI - CONCLUSION
- References Cited
- Appendix A - Communication Student Interview
- Appendix B - Autobiographical Sketch of the
The Japanese have a long history of education and a great desire to
acquire useful knowledge. Knowledge of other cultures and what they have
to offer has been of interest to the Japanese for a long time. Along these
lines comes the tradition of sending students abroad. The Japanese have
sent students abroad since 587 A.D. (Bennett, Passin, and McKnight 1958:27).
The first Japanese students were nuns that had been sent to Korea in 587
A.D. by the Great Chancellor of Japan, Soga no Umako (Bennett, Passin,
and McKnight 1958:27). A few years later, Japan had established diplomatic
relations with China and "for the next several hundred years there was
a steady flow of students from Japan to China, and a return flow of ecclesiastics,
teachers, artists, craftsmen, art objects, and books" (Bennett, Passin,
and McKnight 1958:27).
From 1640 to 1867, Japan was effectively cut off from the rest of the
world by the Tokugawa Shogunate, a hereditary dictatorship within the
Tokugawa family (Bennett, Passin, and McKnight 1958:13). During this time
of isolation there was limited contact with other countries. Contact with
the West, and the practice of sending students abroad for the purpose
of acquiring useful knowledge began to increase some fifty years prior
to the beginning of the Meiji Restoration (Bennett, Passin, and McKnight
1958: 13-20). With the opening of Japan, a great many Japanese went abroad
to study so as to help modernize Japan (Bennett, Passin, and Mc Knight
The evolution of modern Japan is closely linked with its long tradition
of sending students abroad. The first students came to be known as ryugakusei
, meaning "overseas students" (Bennett, Passin, and McKnight 1958:27).
Contemporary Japanese students who study overseas are still called ryugakusei
. Japan's development and relations with the United States have been affected
by the experiences of the ryugakusei (Bennett, Passin, McKnight
There are many differences between Japan and the United States. Some
of these differences have led to problems, while most have led to exciting
innovations and revelations. One of the current goals of the Japanese
as well as most other countries that send students abroad is that their
students will come back with an expanded worldview and will be better
able to lead their country into a future that will have fewer boundaries.
Since the United States acts as a host country to a great number of international
students, it is this author's belief that this country's educational system
bears a very big responsibility to these students. Therefore, the importance
of knowing what happens to these students and how they react to what they
see, and what they do in response, is of great importance to all.
At present there is a trend towards the cultural heterogeneity of American
educational systems at all levels. Because of this change, it is not only
important to learn about how students from diverse backgrounds do in class,
it is also important to know what their lives are like during that majority
of time when they are not in class. Looking for the "tip of the iceberg
has been the past means of study -- few have, so to speak ,"put on a wet
suit" and checked out the lifestyles of students from different cultural
backgrounds outside of school. Those things that are not seen at school
have usually been ignored, even though it is likely that they manifest
themselves at school. This ethnography is based upon participant observation
and it is hoped that some light will be shed on the adaptive practices
and lifestyles of Japanese College students living in the United States.
Contemporary ethnographic data concerning how Japanese, or any other
foreign students adapt to life while in the United States is sparse.
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study is to describe the coping strategies utilized
by a group of Japanese college students who have been living in in the
U.S. between 2 to 5 years.
Theoretical Bases and Organization
The term sojourner refers to many types of travelers including students,
trainees, and businesspersons who are relatively short term visitors to
new cultures (Brein and David 1971:215; Church 1982:540). Permanent settlement
in the host culture is not the aim or intent of sojourners (Church 1982:540).
According to Church, the emphasis of sojourner studies in the literature
is on the adjustment of foreign students to their host culture (1982:540).
This group is one of temporary sojourners. Japanese cultural practices
will dominate, though American cultural practices will often be observed
when correct, useful, and possibly interesting. This fieldworker used
data gathered from participant observation over a period of one year as
a basis for writing the ethnographic report concerning the adaptive strategies
employed by the members of this group.
Limitations of Study
This fieldworker has limited Japanese language skills. Most of the data
is based upon event analysis. All activities and behaviors that this fieldworker
believed would be relevant to the subject were recorded. The fieldworker
began his study with a very limited knowledge of Japanese culture and
history. These acknowledged deficiencies are a double edged sword in that
they may in fact have been an advantage in that they allowed the fieldworker
to look at the actions of the group from a fresh perspective. Discussions
relating to ethnographer bias and the representation of bias in the ethnography
has been the subject of debate for well over fifty years (Marcus and Fischer
About the Author
A short autobiographical sketch will be provided by the author in the
appendix B. In addition to the autobiographical sketch, Chapter VIII,
entitled "The Reflective Gaijin " will focus on how the author
adapted to life with the group.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The Bennett, Passin, and McKnight (1958) study of Japanese sojourners
is the most comprehensive work available. This study has three major segments:
a historical review of Japanese sojourning; a study of between 16 and
30 Japanese students and scholars who were interviewed over the course
of one year; and a separate study of approximately 50 Japanese students
who had returned home to Japan after studying in the United States (Bennett,
Passin, and McKnight 1958:277-278). The authors acknowledged that participant
observation was limited, and that most of the non-historical data came
from interviews and psychological tests (Bennett, Passin, and McKnight
1958:276-306). Much of the work was used to establish personality profiles
for Japanese sojourner adjustment. Though the work is very well integrated
and yields much valuable information, much has changed in the three decades
since this study was published.
In reviews of sojourner studies, investigations that tried to establish
types or patterns of sojourner adjustment such as the one performed by
Bennett, Passin, and McKnight (1958) were seen as being "post hoc rather
than predictive" (Church 1983:543) and "...little more than hypotheses
based on limited data and general impressions" (Brein and David 1971:222).
The lack of participant observation in this study as well as the majority
of sojourner studies was seen by Church as being a serious methodological
issue that needed attention (1982:561-563). Spaulding and Flack state
in the recommendation section of their comprehensive review of foreign
student studies that "Foreign student research abounds with attitude studies
but lacks studies of actual behavior, during and after the sojourn" (1976:298).
Spaulding and Flack go on to state that in the field of "educational exchange",
ethnographic techniques have not been utilized and that they "could add
significantly to the knowledge of the subject" (1976:299).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Design of Investigation
Participant observation was based upon one year's residence with three
Japanese College students attending school in Butte County California,
and interaction with the many other people who were a part of their social
group. I was involved with all aspects of daily life around the apartment
and many activities outside the confines of the apartment complex.
This group should not be thought of as a representative sample of all
groups of Japanese students living in the U.S., or even in Chico. The
adaptive strategies as identified by this observer should be viewed as
examples, and not as the complete range of adaptive strategies employed
by all such groups. It should be emphasized that all of the informants
names have been changed, and that composite characters have been created
so as to ensure the anonymity of the participants of this study. This
anthropologist believes that his responsibility to the group is greater
than his responsibility to anthropology. Data which could possibly have
negative effects on the subjects, were they to be linked with it, has
been edited out of this report and destroyed.
The term "group" denotes the population of Japanese students that was
studied. For certain tasks, it was necessary to distinguish between members
of the residential household, and members of the primary group. The division
of the group as a whole across the sexes was another division that was
occasionally necessary and can be seen throughout this work. Please do
not be led to believe that these groupings are as clearly defined in real
life as they are on paper.
Aside from my girlfriend Laurie, no gaijin (gaijin refers
to someone who is not Japanese) are members of these interconnected groups.
Although the members of this population know and are friends with many
gaijin (Americans as well as people of other nationalities), few
have come to the apartment.
There are other ways to divide the group: age, income, frequency of
visits, where in Japan they are from, education, English language skills,
popularity, Golf handicap, charisma, frequency of contact with gaijin,
etc. To do so is interesting, and could probably make for some interesting
charts, but in light of the fact that composite characters are being used,
little useful information would be imparted to the reader. The following
profiles are of composite characters.
Residential core group. The residential core group is the term
used to denote the group of males who I lived with. In the text that follows
they may also be referred to as being my "roommates."
Erik Kassebaum is a 24 year old graduate student in Anthropology. He
has a degree in Anthropology from CSUC and has lived in Chico for two
and a half years. For more information, please see Chapter VIII, and appendix
Yoshio is a quiet 22 year old student who has been attending Butte College
since he turned 18. Yoshio is considering the Social Science major offered
at CSUC. If asked Yoshio will tell you he would like to major in golf.
Yoshio's English language capabilities are very well developed, it is
just that he does not talk a lot, unless he has something to say.
Haruo is a 23 year old social science major who has been attending Butte
College for two years. Haruo has an Associate of Arts degree from a small
Japanese Junior College. Haruo was recently accepted to CSUC. Haruo's
stubbornness is often commented on by the other members of the group.
Kenji is a 29 year old computer science graduate student. Kenji graduated
eight years ago with a Bachelor of Science in business from a major Japanese
university. After working in business for a few years, Kenji decided that
his career was not progressing in the ways that he wanted it to. With
support from his family, Kenji has been studying computer science at CSUC
for the last four years. Kenji is very outgoing and well known in the
international student community.
Primary group. The primary group is the term used to denote the
group of males and females who socialize with the members of the residential
Iku is a 26 year old student who has been attending Butte College for
the last three years. She is more outgoing than most of the males. Iku
is the premiere traveler of the group, and is very adventuresome. Iku
is an art major and will graduate this year.
Masao is a 30 year old graduate of a major Japanese University. Masao
has been in the United States for two years trying to improve his English
language skills, play as much golf as he can, and create a new import/export
business. With respect to the others, Masao's English language skills
are the least well developed. Masao is very friendly and a lot of fun
to be around. Masao is considered the "Playboy" of the group. Masao is
least likely to be found cooking a meal, even though he knows how to prepare
a few dishes.
Reiko is 21 and has been a student at Butte College for two years. At
present she has not decided upon a major, is primarily taking General
Education classes, and intends to transfer to CSUC. Reiko is generally
quiet around strangers unless she has something to say. While with the
members of the group, she is much more vocal.
Tetsuya is a 25 year old graduate of a Japanese Junior College. Tetsuya
has been in Butte County attending Butte College for three of the last
four years. Tetsuya spent one year attending a junior college in Southern
California. Tetsuya is the best cook in the group. At present, Tetsuya
is trying to decide whether he wants to transfer to CSUC as a communication
major or as a psychology major. Tetsuya's English language skills are
very well developed. Tetsuya is a very outgoing and personable.
Kyoko is a 21 year old student who has been attending Butte College
for the last two years. Kyoko is more outgoing than Reiko is and likes
to flirt. Kyoko has yet to pick a major, but is considering either business
Laurie is a 23 year old graduate teaching assistant for the CSUC department
of Human Communication. She is a very articulate and outgoing person who
is usually quite well informed. Her relationship with the author is often
commented on by the members of the group, for it is very different from
what they are used to in that she does not play a subordinate role while
in public, or private.
Homeless Gakusei . The "homeless gakusei
" (gakusei means student in Japanese) refers to the two Japanese
students who were forced to seek alternative lodging for winter break
in the residence of the primary group because the CSUC Residence Halls
that they were living in close for winter and spring breaks.
Hiro is a 23 year old student who has just transferred to CSUC from
a major Japanese university. Hiro has been living on campus in the residence
halls since his arrival. Hiro will not live on campus again. Hiro is very
friendly, soft-spoken, and will greet friends very warmly. Hiro is a business
major and hopes to graduate in three years.
Wakana is a 20 year old student who has come to study at CSUC for one
year. She is usually very quiet and keeps to herself. She is very thankful
that there were other Japanese students in the area from whom she could
talk to and seek assistance. With regards to spending winter break in
our apartment, Wakana was very appreciative of the hospitality and extended
invitations to all of us to come stay with her when we are in Japan.
Behaviors and cultural practices that seemed interesting were written
down in a shorthand that is only intelligible to the fieldworker. This
was done for convenience and security purposes. The selection of data
had an intuitive bias peculiar to this observer. Exact duplication of
methods is not possible, nor is it likely to be possible owing to the
nature of observer bias. Traditional means of interviewing that utilize
tape recorders and notepads were eschewed because they made the members
of the group visibly uncomfortable and reticent to share information.
The technique I used was to ask questions, and let them tell me about
things that I did not know or understand. As a member of the group, I
tried to ask questions in a manner that was similar to how they asked
questions of me when they needed to know about aspects of American culture.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TRAVEL AND THE GREAT OPEN ROAD
America is huge as compared with Japan. Though California and Japan
are roughly the same size, the population of Japan is about half that
of the entire United States. Yoshio believed that Tokyo, with a population
about equal to the population of the state of California, could probably
fit inside of Butte county.
If one accepts the premise that most learning takes place outside of
the classroom, then it would be reasonable to link a person's mobility
with the ability to learn about their surroundings, and deal with those
surroundings. If you, the reader, can accept this premise, then what follows
will make sense.
Getting about in Butte County is not easy, especially when compared
with Japan with its highly efficient system of mass transit. My informants
tell me that in the United States, you need a car, and that in Japan,"you
don't need one so much." I happen to believe think that they are right,
and this is especially true when the buses aren't running. Most of the
Japanese students that I have met either want or have a car here in Butte
County. With respect to the group that I work with, only the males have
cars. This is a peculiarity of this particular group of Japanese students,
for in other groups of Japanese students that I have worked with the ratio
is more even. It should be noted that all of the females have driver's
licenses, and will occasionally borrow a car to go shopping.
Only one of the cars owned by the members of this group was new when
purchased. Yoshio told me about how he picked his father up at the airport
in a 1957 Buick, complete with tail fins, and how his father reacted.
According to Yoshio, his father thought that the car was unsafe, so one
of the first stops they made after arriving back in Chico was to the local
Nissan dealer. Yoshio's father bought Yoshio a new Nissan Maxima. Yoshio
then parked the big Buick and has been driving the Nissan since.
It should be mentioned that although the Buick needed some cosmetic
work, that it was in fine running condition because shortly after buying
the car, Yoshio had the engine and transmission rebuilt, among other things.
Yoshio still has the Buick and is trying to decide whether or not he should
restore it and ship it back to Japan. Sometimes Yoshio takes devilish
delight, especially after a few beers, in telling people who ask about
his car, that he is going to ship it back home so he can drive it. In
order to understand this, you must be aware that his car would be considered
a huge extravagance because it is so big, uses so much gas, and to top
it off is old and American.
Not long ago, on a very rainy Saturday morning, Yoshio had to politely
turn down an unsolicited offer for his car. It seems that the buyer was
a professional automobile restoration specialist who had come to Chico
looking for older classic cars to restore. It was interesting to watch
and hear how Yoshio talked to this fellow. Though the conversation lasted
about twenty minutes, I knew that there would not be a sale shortly after
Yoshio began to talk. It wasn't what he said, so much as how he said things.
Though sounding polite and interested, I knew that Yoshio wouldn't sell.
I wish I could be more explicit as to how I knew. What was interesting
to me was that the entire dialog could have been answered with a simple
"I'm sorry but I'm not interested in selling." Instead of doing this,
Yoshio talked about the car, and of other cars with this fellow and managed
to get quite a bit of information relating to who this guy was, why he
was in Chico, and what he does with the cars.
After witnessing this scene, I was better able to understand what George
Fields was talking about in From Banzai to Levis (1983). The incident
matched up with Fields' comments regarding how the Japanese gather information,
saying "no" ambiguously so as to not be offensive, all the while creating
a possible connection for the future (1983).
That big Buick can be looked at in a great many ways. Such a car would
be difficult to drive in Japan due to its size, and the location of its
steering wheel. As compared to the United States people in Japan drive
on the opposite side of the road, and the steering wheel for cars made
in Japan for domestic is located on the right side instead of the left
side. Additionally, gasoline costs at least three times as much in Japan
as it does here. I'll leave the symbolism of a young Japanese owning and
operating such a beast to the poets. However, I bet that the rewards of
driving such a vehicle in Japan would more than make up for any difficulties
encountered when doing such things as parallel parking or buying gas.
One time Yoshio told me, with a big grin, that "it's about 6.9 meter's
long." I think that it's going home with him when he finishes his degree.
Yoshio's Nissan is in great shape and has run without any problems since
his father bought it. Kenji, otherwise known as Ken, owns a 1967 mustang
with a big V-8 engine. The car has sat rusting for four months because
Ken claims that he has no time to work on it due to the amount of time
that it is taking him to finish his Master's Project. When asked what
the problem with the car is, Ken says that the battery is dead and that
it needs a new battery cable. Ken has the mechanical skills needed to
fix the car, and the money to have someone else do it for him. When the
car did run, Ken had a lot of fun. Well, that last speeding ticket wasn't
very much fun. He posted it on his wall over his desk as a reminder for
The real problem with the car is that it is the car is in need of a
lot of work and has a tendency to break quite regularly. I can empathize
with Ken's reasons for not fixing his car, for my MGB has sat three parking
spaces away from his for about the same length of time due to an equally
irritating yet simple matter to remedy.
We've talked about ways to sell our cars over the past few months, but
haven't really done much. At times Ken has said that he wants to put an
ad in the paper with a very low price so that it will sell within a day
or two. This is motivated by the fact that his stay in the United States
is almost up and that he will soon be flying home for good.
When I first saw Masao drive up, I wondered about how well off he was
for he had a faded and very badly worn blue Audi. The interior was filthy
and in worse shape than most of the interiors I have seen in cars pilled
up in junkyards. Two of the windows, which could not be opened or closed
manually, were perpetually stuck open, while the other two were permanently
closed. According to Masao, the electrical circuit that operates the windows
was broken. It was not long after this, that I found out from my roommates
that Masao was, as my roommates put it "VERY RICH!". The resident "playboy"
of the group, Masao had come to the United States to improve his English,
create a new business, and play as much golf as is possible.
Masao told me that his father started each of his sons off with cars
and that each of his sons owns a business that deals with cars. Though
each son is the majority stockholder of his own business, the father controls
the rest of the stock. Masao happened to own an auto repair shop, even
though he has no mechanical skills. One brother owns a Mitsubishi dealership,
while another owns a Taxi company. A fourth brother owns an automobile
body shop. I found it interesting when Masao told me that all of the taxis
were Mitsubishi's sold by one brother to the other, that they would be
repaired in his shop, and that any necessary body work would be done in
the other brother's shop. As I got to know Masao better, I found out that
he did not like running his company, and that he was not very happy with
his father's wish that he come back in six months and start working again.
Prior to the earthquake that rocked the Bay Area in October of 1989,
Masao told me he was thinking about buying a commercial property somewhere
in the Bay Area for between one and two million dollars. It took me a
while to get used to the fact that one of my friends and informants was
a multimillionaire. None of the ethnographies I've read had prepared me
for such an odd feeling. In most of the ethnographies that I've read,
if you'll allow me to act as informant on my own subject area, the anthropologist
is usually the one with the best access to modern goods and resources.
Masao in particular, and the other members of the residential core group
in general, were much better off financially than I was. I thought this
to be an ironic twist.
Masao told me of his plans the day he drove up to the apartment in a
Fiat X-19 that he had just paid $2000 for. Masao had surprised everyone
with the purchase of the Fiat, because he had been looking for a Ford
Bronco for quite some time. About six weeks later, he showed up one day
with a 1984 Mercedes that he bought in Southern California for $10,000.
He told me that he had given the Audi away, and that a friend was trying
to sell the Fiat for him at a used car lot in town. After six months on
the lot, Masao got a little frustrated and took his car out of the car
lot where it had been sitting. It only took him a couple weeks to sell
it on his own.
Everyone in the group prefers the Mercedes to the other cars that Masao
had. For the first month or so, they would comment on how much more the
same car would have cost had he bought it in Japan. According to them,
having a Mercedes in Japan is a very conspicuous sign of success.
Haruo owns a Nissan that has been nothing but trouble since I moved
into the apartment. Haruo bought the car from his old roommates. They
had taken very bad care of the car. Around the apartment, many jokes are
made about Haruo's car and how often it breaks. For minor problems Haruo
will attempt repairs. It took a good deal of time for me to convince him
that he should not take his car to Greatland Auto for repairs. The last
time he took it there, it was for a simple problem. It took three trips
for the mechanics at Greatland Auto to say that they couldn't fix the
After this, Haruo asked me to go with him to a repair shop that a friend
had recommended so as to ensure that he would not be taken advantage of.
The operators of the shop were very cheerful, and in a relaxed manner
asked where Haruo was from, mentioned that a friend was hosting a Japanese
student, and quoted what it would cost to fix the problem and how long
it would take. The work was done and Haruo has been a loyal customer since.
When a problem developed with one of the parts used to repair his car,
the owner of the shop apologized for the inconvenience and fixed it immediately,
and without charge. The shop next door to where Haruo was getting such
good treatment lost my business for selling me a part that they acknowledged
after the fact, would probably be faulty. I had to return the same part
three times before I got one that worked. Rather than being apologetic
about the matter, the people at the store were rather rude about the whole
affair. My roommates thought that this was a very bad way to do business.
When I told them that I would never go back to that store, the said that
I shouldn't for I had been treated very badly.
Tetsuya owns a 1977 Sunbird that is broken almost as often as Haruo
car is. Tetsuya loves his car and can't bear with the thought of selling
it even though he knows that he is spending more on repairs than the car
is worth. The fondness Tetsuya has for his Sunbird is probably not that
different from the fondness that I have for the economic disaster of an
M.G. that I happen to own.
Those who have cars that run will drive their cars everywhere. Haruo
will even drive to school even though we live less than a mile away. Aside
from the miles round trip driven to Butte College by those who attend
it, I think that most of the mileage put on the cars comes from two types
of journeys. The first is to one of the large warehouse style food stores
in town, while the second is to one of the golf courses located within
30 minutes of Chico.
I'm told that getting a driver's license in the United States is very
easy compared with Japan. As I said at the beginning of this chapter,
all of the females in the group have California Driver's Licenses. One
of the reasons that they gave me for this is that such a license can be
easily turned into an International Driver's License, and such a license
is valid in Japan for about a year. By getting such a license, they will
be able to drive when they go home, and will not have to go to an expensive
In terms of driving, they all like Chico's lack of traffic. One time
while we were watching a videotape of a Japanese television program there
was a segment that showed people out for a drive in the country. My roommates
all commented on how crowded the roads are in Japan. The scene that elicited
these comments showed a long line of cars, all close together, moving
very slowly down a country road. All made it clear that it is very nice
to drive in the country here and to not be in such long lines.
Of the 10 parking spaces that are in front of the apartment, at least
half are being used at any given time by people either visiting our apartment,
or by those who live in it. Three months before he was to even leave for
Japan, Ken told me that he was already trying to arrange for a parking
space so that he could buy a new car from Masao's brother. Ken told me
that in order for him to be able to buy a car in Japan, he had to prove
to the police that he had a legal place to park his car, and that arranging
for a parking space can often be difficult. Tokyo residents often need
to have their cars registered to relatives who live in rural areas where
they could legally be parked.
In all of the cars, one can find a small Shinto Omamori scripture
enclosed in plastic. Yoshio and Haruo were both given a handful of Omamori
by their mother's at the end of their last trip home to Japan. After asking
how I knew what the purpose of the scripture was, and that it cannot be
opened, or else its power to protect will be nullified, my roommates asked
if there was anything from my culture that was similar. I told them that
my father is Catholic, and that he used to wear a St. Christopher Medal
so as to protect him while he was traveling. My roommates are often surprised
by the number and type of things that I know with respect to Japan. I
shared this anecdote with my mentor, Dr. Thomas Johnson, and he said something
along the lines of: " But of course, you're an anthropologist ...".
At present, owning a car or having a close friend who does is almost
a necessity in this area, for the mass transportation system that is in
effect is not very good. Few of the members of the group have used the
local bus system, and those that have were not happy with the service.
The primary reasons that they gave for their dissatisfaction were the
long waits for buses, and the limited number of hours that bus lines operated
each day. In general, the local mass transportation system is the last
choice when it comes to transportation. This contrasts greatly with what
they have told me about with regards to the Japanese mass transportation
This need for an automobile provides these students with some interesting
experiences, for they get to do things here that they wouldn't ordinarily
be able to do when back home in Japan. Buying a rusting Mustang, or a
33 year old Buick and driving such American gas guzzlers would simply
not be possible in Japan, especially for college students. Getting a driver's
license without having to go to an expensive special driving school for
three months was also something that was seen as a plus. Though I have
asked about what it will be like in terms of driving when they go home
for good, I really have not been able to get a good solid answer (or have
I?). In general, this question is met with a very vague statement regarding
how it will be different.
The Tourist Factor
The members of this group are great tourists, and go on trips with more
regularity than most of the American students that I have known. Trips
range in length from flights across the Pacific to Japan for winter break
to flights to Chicago for the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. Planes are not
the only means of transportation that the members of this group utilize.
While some of the trips are solo, most include between two and eight people.
Due to a lack of funds and free time I was not able to go on most of
the trips that the members of this group did, though I was usually invited.
Often there was a reason for a trip, such as to give a tour for a relative
visiting from Japan, or to participate in some sort of recreational activity
at the destination site. Most of the destination sites had golf courses,
while others had gambling facilities, or Japanese food restaurants with
Karaoke Bars .
My roommates have told me what a Karaoke Bar is and have also
shown me videotapes of people at Karaoke Bars . A Karaoke bar
is a type of bar that requires all of the members of the audience to stand
up by themselves and sing a song that is accompanied by a cassette tape
or compact disk. Lyrics are usually provided in English and Japanese.
From what my roommates tell me, no one really cares if you sing badly,
but they do care if you decline to sing when it is your turn. Yoshio has
already told me that he is going to take me to a Karaoke Bar when
we are in Japan.
What I did see though were the preparations that were made prior to
a trip. Many of the trips seemed to be rather spontaneous, especially
when the guys decide to go golfing at a course several hours away, or
to drive to Reno so as to gamble, and drink free cocktails.
Shortly after I moved into the apartment, the guys made a series of
"roadtrips" to Reno. They really liked to gamble and drink, among other
things. One time after they came back from such a trip they created the
"cocktail ritual" which lasted for about eight weeks. While in the apartment
during summer, we did a lot of drinking. If someone was in need of a drink
and they saw someone else in the kitchen area, they would hold up a hand
and yell "Cocktail, Cocktail". Whoever would respond would usually ask
what type of cocktail, if they were drinking more than one type on that
day. This person would then mix the drink and bring it over to the "customer",
who would thank then the "waiter", and would often give him a token tip.
There was often a lot of theatrics that went into this ritual with respect
to the giving of the tip and complaints if the tip was either too small
or nonexistent. Often after the "customer" had been served, the "waiter"
would hold out a hand for the tip, and say "Tip Please". One of the better
responses to this line was "its in my pants". The connotation was clearly
sexual in nature and understood by all. After seeing this ritual a few
times I asked what it was about, and was told about the free drinks that
gamblers get when they are at the gaming tables, and that they thought
that this was great. They also liked being served by the attractive cocktail
In addition, to seeing the preparations, I would get to see the exhausted
travelers return and hear them tell stories of their trips to each other
and anyone else who would listen. At least one camera would be taken along
with every trip, and a few days or weeks later, everyone would get a chance
to look at the pictures and comment on the trip once again.
One of the trips that I was able to go on was a ski trip during Thanksgiving
break. We went to a small ski park by Lake Tahoe and skied on Thanksgiving
Day. One of the interesting things that the members of this group do on
a regular basis when going on either a long trip with a lot of people,
or are flying home for a vacation in Japan is that they will often rent
a van or a large automobile depending upon the need rather than carpool.
For the Ski trip, we rented a van, and eight of us piled in. My roommates
had been waiting for the chance to ski for quite some time, and spent
a good deal of time making preparations. A reservation for a room was
made, and the guys had to get their skis worked on and buy some new gear.
Neither of the two females who went with us had any ski equipment, and
neither had been skiing before. I told them, as well as the others of
my only experience skiing, how I broke a molar, what the dentist said
when he asked me how I did such an unlikely thing, and my response to
him that I had gone skiing for the first time at Squaw and that I had
fallen down approximately 100 times. They liked the story, especially
when I told them of how my friends were barely able to control their laughter.
When we got to the slopes, the women and I rented skis, and bought the
beginner package because it included a ski lesson. The men, one of whom
had seriously thought of racing for the Japanese Olympic team when he
was younger went off after we all had some coffee to which Yoshio added
a little alcohol from the flask he had purchased a few weeks earlier.
We agreed to meet after the lessons were over.
One of the things that I noticed, and that my friends commented on,
was the number of Japanese tourists who were there. They were quite amazed
by the number of Japanese present. I believe that between 15 and 20 percent
of the people who were skiing there were Japanese tourists. In some of
the lift lines, I wondered where I was. The women I was with would say
"There's so many Japanese here...How come?".
I wasn't really able to answer, and I don't think I was supposed to.
The ski lessons went well, and my second experience was much less painful
and much more fun than my first. The women who also took the lessons with
me agreed that taking the lessons was a good idea. At first they weren't
so sure. I think that they changed their minds after I said that I was
going to take them, told my horror story once again, and noticed the fact
that the price for the beginner package (equipment rental, lesson, and
lift ticket) was significantly less than it would have been otherwise.
They too were on a tight budget for this trip, and so the reduced price
was a factor in their decision.
Everyone complimented the women and me on how well we were skiing, and
made sure to ask if we had enjoyed ourselves. After this we drove to our
hotel in Reno. We checked in, rested for a bit, and went to dinner in
one of the hotel's restaurants. This was the first time that I had Thanksgiving
dinner away from my family. The others were interested in what Thanksgiving
was, so I tried to add to what they already knew about the American holiday.
I felt a bit odd eating Thanksgiving Dinner in Reno with six Japanese
friends, and not my family. They all had Prime Rib. After dinner, we went
back to the room for a bit, and then it was time to gamble.
My money lasted about five minutes. The others were out all night. Shortly
after running out of money, I also ran out of energy. I was too tired
and sore to be envious of their stamina and funding.
While on the way back home we stopped by lake Tahoe a number of times
to take pictures, and have snowball fights. Some of the pictures were
of beautiful scenery, others were of individuals posed in front of very
beautiful settings, while yet others were of the entire group. Whenever
there was a group picture, there would usually be two versions of the
same shot, for in the second version the photographer would be included,
and someone from the first shot would act as photographer. Some months
later, I heard someone say that the Japanese liked to take postcard pictures.
This made sense to me for many of the pictures that they took looked like
they were postcard scenes.
The trip ended after a long drive, and we all sort of fell asleep wherever
we landed back at the apartment. A few days later, the photos came back,
and we all took turns looking at them, and passing them around.
Another type of trip that I need to comment on was the obligatory role
of tour guide for family members visiting the United States. During the
year I was working with this group all of the members of the residential
core group had a chance to play tour guide. Haruo told me of driving his
parents about 3000 miles within the span of a week. Ken took his cousin
on a two day tour that included San Francisco, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe.
Ken's tour took place but a few days before he was to fly back to Japan
to start his new job. Yoshio took his younger brother on a more leisurely
tour of California and Nevada that lasted about a week.
Iku was the fearless traveler. She was often going on trips to New York,
and Oregon among other places. For trips of less than a thousand miles,
she would generally take the bus, while for longer trips she would fly.
I have been on enough bus trips to know that I am not fond of them. She
never seemed to be too concerned about the fact that she would be traveling
alone for long distances. The only time she ever expressed concern about
riding on the bus was one time when she said that she did not like the
bus stop in Redding at all.
For those who were returning from a long trip, it was customary to bring
back a small gift for each person in the group. Key chains and postcards
seemed to be the most popular gifts. I have tried to adopt this practice
too, in that when I leave the apartment for few days to go on a trip,
I try to bring back something for everyone. As this is sometimes difficult
to do, I sometimes modify the practice by bringing back a group gift (bottles
of wine from Sonoma or Napa, or Sake from the Hakusan Brewery in Napa).
Traveling in the United States was something that all of the members
of the group liked to do, and did on a very regular basis. The males in
the group did more traveling than almost all of the females, Iku being
the premier traveler of the group. Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco
were the destinations that people in the group went to most frequently.
It must be kept in mind though that little time would usually be spent
at any one place. Usually after trips, information about what was seen
heard, and done would be shared with the others. This sharing would often
occur at least twice. The first time would be shortly after the return
home from the trip, and the second time would usually coincide with the
return of the pictures that had been taken while on the trip.
Though Chico often seems like an island (with no good fish for sushi),
the members of this group are quite capable of escaping to catch glimpses
of the rest of the country. Travel is used for both recreational and educational
purposes by the members of this group.
Not all gakusei (Gakusei means student in Japanese.) can
afford to travel home for winter break or travel throughout the United
States for such an extended period of time, consequently many have to
stay in the area where they are going to school. The temporary group refers
to the two Japanese students who stayed with us over winter break because
the CSUC Residence Halls that they were living in close for winter and
All students living in the CSUC Residence Halls must move out of their
dormitory rooms for winter break and also for spring break. The temporary
winter exile from the dorms begins on the Friday afternoon of finals week
and ends about a month later in January on the first day of arena registration
for the spring semester. Spring break lasts about a week and is usually
held the week before Easter. There are no exceptions to this official
Hiro and Wakana lived in the dorms on campus and were acquaintances
of Haruo and Kenji. About a week before finals began, Haruo asked everybody
it would be alright for these two Japanese students to stay in the apartment
over break because they were being forced to temporarily move out of the
campus dormitories. Kenji and I had been forced out of the dorms when
we lived on campus because of this policy and did not feel that it was
a fair policy. Kenji reminded me that for foreign students, making arrangements
for food and shelter during these times can be very stressful and awkward.
He also told me that such exiles were also periods of stress for parents,
for they were often uncertain as to their children's whereabouts and well
being. We both thought that the Residential Halls should make special
arrangements to house those students who cannot return home for financial
or personal reasons.
Hiro and Wakana stayed in the apartment during winter break. They too
had very strong feelings about this policy and called it "stupid", "fucking
inconvenient", and "very unfair." During their stay in the apartment,
they were made to feel at home, and were regular participants in the activities
around the house. Neither will live on campus again, nor will they recommend
living on campus to their friends.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The number and varieties of communication strategies employed by the
members of this group are quite interesting, therefore these strategies
will be the subject of this chapter. Please keep in mind that all of the
members of this group learned English as a second language. Japanese is
the native language of these students, and is the primary language used
for communication by the members of this group. The following topics relating
to communication are examined in this chapter: telephone, computer, television,
videocassette recorder, motion pictures, language.
The first topic relates to how the members of this group use telephones.
From examining the phone bills, and talking with the members of this group,
and members of other Japanese student groups, it would seem that the phone
is extremely important to these students for it allows them to maintain
contact with friends and family in Japan. Phone bills generally average
$100 per month per person with a range that extends from $40 to $400.
During what I would call "bad" months, phone bills average $150. Bad months
are months in which an individual may have a greater than average number
of stressful things to deal with (a speeding ticket, a bad grade on a
midterm, trying to cope with an instructor who talks too fast, pressure
from parents, homesickness,etc.).
When I checked with my informants to confirm my observations regarding
their phone bills and the averages for good, and bad months, I would often
be asked "How did you know that?". The tone and facial expressions, as
well as the actual answers confirmed that my numbers were very close.
It is rare for the members of this group to have a telephone conversation
with each other entirely in English. If the caller starts off in Japanese
with Moshi Moshi, then the rest of the conversation will primarily
be in Japanese. After I figured out what Moshi Moshi was used for,
I started to answer the phone by saying "Moshi Moshi ." This worked
well enough when the person on the other end of the line knew English,
but often it would be assumed that I was Japanese, and it would take me
a moment to apologize and to make it clear that I did not speak much Japanese.
When the conversation is with a member of the group, the amount of English
used will increase dramatically. Based on this, it is often easy to surmise
when someone is talking to another person who is in Japan. I found the
ritual language and gestures used in phone conversations with other Japanese
to be quite interesting. Though my knowledge of Japanese was very limited,
a typical sequence of responses made by a person who was listening would
go as follows: "hai hai...hai,hai....hai, hai...wakarimasu,...hai".
Sometimes, we would take turns imitating the person who was speaking on
the phone so as to tease and distract them.
The style of a Japanese phone conversation is very interesting to observe,
especially when the person on the other end of the line is being treated
with polite respect. For the person listening, in addition to uttering
a sequence of responses that indicate that the listener is following along,
the listener will also use the body language that would be appropriate
were they in the same room talking to one another. This use of body language
includes a number of bows and all other gestures such as nodding head,
waving arms, etc - none of which are actually seen by the person on the
other end of the phone line.
The styles of language used varies with who is being spoken to. Among
friends, the cadence seems more relaxed, and more like an English conversation,
sans English. With older family members, the polite style becomes more
evident, yet this is not as strict as is the style used for business calls
between strangers. The "hai..hai " that I mentioned earlier is
especially indicative of a business call.
Kenji, who was finishing his Master's Degree, received a number of calls
from prospective employers. Often times, I would be the one who would
initially answer the phone. Kenji and I often discussed the calls and
the offers that he was receiving from various companies.
Towards the end of Ken's hunt for a job, he had narrowed his choice's
down to two companies that were operating in Tokyo. Though Ken selected
to work for a large American Telecommunications Company, the recruiter
from the other company that wanted to hire him called on a weekly basis
for two months. With each call, the recruiter tried to convince Ken that
the American company was no good. Additionally, with every other call,
Ken's potential salary seemed to rise a slight bit.
Tactics that the recruiter utilized including criticizing the American
company down, sending copies of newspaper articles that had negative comments
about the company, and then asking to talk about the articles that he
had sent. Ken, not wanting to be direct with his refusal, let this go
on. In some ways I think that he liked the attention, but the doubts that
it caused in his own mind were often very great. Usually, Ken and I would
talk about the whole process of recruiting that he was going through sometime
well after midnight, for we were both often up at that time trying to
get our work done. We both agreed that the recruiter who had been calling
him must be quite good at what he does, and we both thought it would be
interesting to meet with him for drinks.
About two months prior to the end of his sojourn, Ken had a polite conversation
with the recruiter and gently told him that he was going to work for the
other company, but would like to stay in touch - just in case. Additionally,
there was an invitation extended to meet socially for drinks at some future
Another member of the group was receiving pressure from his grandparents
to finish up his studies and find an acceptable wife, for they wanted
to see a grandchild before they died. Yoshio asked me if Americans ever
get this type of pressure, and I told him of how my father's mother had
said the same thing to him, and how she was now pressuring me to get married
so she can see her first great-grandchild before she dies. We both smiled
and agreed not to rush into things. I think that he will probably get
married and have a child before I do.
Another type of pressure that is often exerted over the phone is for
certain members of the group to come home for winter and or spring break.
Usually these trips are looked forward to with great anticipation, and
yet there is an element of refusal. It is acknowledged that when they
go back they will not be as free and independent as they have become accustomed
to in the United States. Tetsuya told me after returning from a month
at home of the "culture shock" he experienced, and how it took him quite
a while to get used to living with his parents and dealing with the rest
of Japanese culture.
In the apartment where I live, all three of my roommates (informants)
had very sophisticated International Business Machine (IBM) compatible
computers with hard disk drives, color monitors, and 80286 microprocessors.
All of the members of the group use these computers for scholastic, recreational,
and business purposes. By contrast, I owned a cheap Laser 128 with a single
floppy disk drive and was able to view text on a used monitor that was
only capable of producing green characters. There were times when I wished
that I didn't have a computer so that I could borrow one of their computers
The usage of these computers was beyond a doubt a great advantage for
these students. Each computer had a copy of Microsoft Word Version 4.0
installed. This word processing program is quite sophisticated and allows
users to manipulate text in a great many ways with considerable ease.
In addition to the text editing capabilities of this program, there was
also a spelling checker, and a thesaurus.
The members of this group took advantage of the editing and formatting
capabilities of this program so as to produce documents that looked good
and read well. By using the computer's editing capabilities, these students
were able to make mistakes while at the keyboard and correct them instantly,
print out rough drafts to be proof read, and later make the necessary
changes quickly and efficiently. This allowed them to spend less time
on the mundane aspects of typing, and allow them to spend more time actually
writing. I believe that the time saved by using these computers as text
editors allowed more time for recreational activities, and lessened the
stress associated with writing papers in English that are to be graded
as if written by a native speaker.
Unfortunately, no one has a program which will allow their computer
to write with Japanese characters. When I asked why they did not buy Macintosh
computers, they said that their friends, who were computer science majors,
did not recommend Macintosh computers.
In addition to the word processing programs, my roommates (the other
three members of the residential core group) had two computer based golf
games, a banner maker, and a program for drawing. Ken also has a number
of more sophisticated programs for use while writing advanced computer
programs. Haruo has expressed much interest in buying a grammar checking
program that can be used in conjunction with his word processing program.
Such a program could act as an editor by spotting some grammatical errors
and suggesting alternatives. Haruo told me that according to his friends,
some of these programs are quite good and reasonably priced ($70-$80).
Haruo's interest in acquiring a grammar checker became more intense
after he was accepted to CSUC as a Social Science major. He told me that
he hoped it would improve the quality of his writing and also save him
a little time.
Most of the members of the group have asked me to proof read rough drafts
of documents. I would usually be asked, very politely, if I could check
a paper. I would then be handed a printout to proof, and would be told
to do so at my convenience. I usually tried to proof papers as soon as
I could. I had to overcome a tendency that I have to rewrite other people's
papers so as to make them sound as if I had written them. I also decided
to leave a few imperfections in papers so that they would not appear as
though someone else had written them.
I noticed that the females would usually give me a week to look over
a paper, while the males would often wait until the night before it was
due to ask for my help. Though part of this may have been due to the fact
that the females didn't own computers and thus had to borrow computer
time, I think that something else was going on, and that this something
relates to the difference in sex roles for Japanese males and females
Kenji was the resident computer expert, and would be consulted whenever
there was a problem or question. In addition to the standard manuals that
came with the Microsoft Word program, Yoshio, Haruo, and Kenji had also
each bought third party instruction books that specifically deal with
Microsoft Word. When I asked why they had done this, they all said that
these third party manuals are much easier to follow than the factory manuals.
The television is usually on if someone in the apartment is in the living
room or kitchen area. We subscribe to commercial cable programming and
receive about 30 channels. The cable converter box comes with a remote
control which often gets lost - usually in the bowels of one of the couches.
Two of the cable television channels are premium movie channels. Cable
service costs about $48 per month, and the bill, like almost all of the
other bills is split four ways.
Much of the time, the television serves as a background for other activities
(cooking, conversation, playing cards, reading Manga (Japanese
comic book novels), homework, drinking and eating). Music videos, and
movies are the most popular programs for the entire group, while sports
shows, especially those that deal with golf, get the most attention from
the male members of the group. Surprisingly, an Italian cooking show entitled
Pasquale's Kitchen Express caught the attention of the male members
of the residential core group.
The chef was Italian, and his English had an Italian accent. In addition
to cooking tips, which were usually quite good, Pasquale would offer advice
regarding life, how to treat people, and how to be happy. On one episode,
Pasquale made a mistake and put a white sauce on a pork dish that was
supposed to get a red sauce. Kenji thought that such a combination would
taste good, so he memorized the recipe. Later that same day, he went to
the store and bought the needed ingredients, and cooked the dish for everyone
who came into the apartment.
In terms of regular television shows, there was much excitement when
Alien Nation debuted on the Fox television network. This series
was based upon a movie with the same title and involved life in California
in the middle of the 1990's, five years after an alien ship with several
hundred thousand people lands in the California desert. The aliens look
similar to, but are slightly different from humans, are very intelligent,
and are trying to learn how to deal with American culture.
The excitement died over a relatively short period of time, for the
scripts were often poor, and the network cancelled the series. Another
program that was watched on a semi-regular basis was Cheers. This
show involves a group of bar patrons at a Boston bar, and their comic
struggles with relationships and life in general. The scripts are often
witty, and poke fun at relationships between men and women. The main character
is a good looking ex-baseball pitcher who is very much like Don Juan.
His principal foil is usually an attractive female who also works at the
bar. Most of the supporting cast members are males who sit around the
bar and drink a lot.
Alien Nation, Pasquale's Kitchen Express, and Cheers
have a unique appeal to this group in part due to the similarities between
the structure of these shows and the experiences of this unique set of
viewers. It should be kept in mind that this is primarily a Japanese household.
Alien Nation plays with American culture in a number of ways due
to the aliens fresh perspective on it. Though the experiences of these
students is quite different from what happens on each episode of this
show, the flavor of the program is appropriate in regards to its highlighting
the difficulties involved with acculturation.
Pasquale's Kitchen Express operates on a number of levels. On
the first and most basic level it is a cooking show. If one keeps in mind
that most Japanese males do not ordinarily know how to boil water for
tea, let alone make curried rice, the viewership of this program takes
on new significance. That Pasquale is a male is not lost on this group.
Pasquale's English is accented and has a softer tone, and the vowel sounds
are closer to the vowels sounds of Japanese. The sentences he uses are
not very complex in construction, and he does not use a lot of specialized
Perhaps Pasquale is seen in some ways as an acceptable role model who
these guys can identify with and understand. Pasquale's humor and comments
regarding how to enjoy life are not lost on this group.
The humor of Cheers, in regards to the portrayal of its main
characters and their social interactions is not lost. However, some of
the word play, and references to American culture is not always understood.
The social drinking aspects of this show, while different from the social
aspects of Japanese social drinking, are still recognizable.
In addition to a large color television hooked up to a cable system
with about 30 channels, the television is also hooked up to a videocassette
recorder (VCR). The VCR gets a fair amount of usage. Programs are either
rented from a local shop, taped off of the air in the apartment, or are
sent from Japan by friends and family.
The members of this group make usage of the local video tape rental
shops that are within one half mile of the apartment. All types of movies
are rented, and range from classics that star Humphrey Bogart to critical
disasters that star Sylvester Stallone. It would be difficult to say anything
about the variety of films watched other than that it reflects a very
eclectic set of tastes.
I probably rented more films than anyone else in the apartment. Before
leaving for the video store, I would often ask what type of movie to get.
Popular movies made within the last few years usually played well with
this group. If after playing for a while, if a movie does not appeal to
one or more of the people watching it, they will go into another room
and play games, read manga, listen to the stereo, or talk.
One of the advantages of watching movies on tape is that the tape can
be rewound quickly so as to replay a scene in case someone found the dialog
unclear. In addition, it is easier to ask questions about what is going
on at home than it is to ask questions at the theater. I often found myself
explaining idiomatic expressions, and clarifying references made in the
movie to things that they did not understand.
Tapes from Japan
About once every two or three weeks, a special package will arrive from
Japan and in it will be either one or two videocassetes. Most of the cassettes
are sent to Haruo by his friends, although Tetsuya also gets a fair number
of cassettes from friends back home in Japan. The programming on these
cassettes is entirely Japanese, and usually includes a game show, comedy
program, soap opera, and either a baseball game or a golf game.
Over the last year the collection of tapes in the apartment has grown
from 30 to 80. Most of these tapes have Japanese language programming
on them. When a new tape arrives, Haruo usually will preview the tape,
and create and index its contents, and their position on the tape.
As it is more common for the group to come together on the weekend,
that is usually when the tape will be played. For the first few months
while I was living in the apartment, when one person or a group was watching
Japanese language programs, they would stop watching them when I would
come into the living room. After telling them on a number of occasions
that I did not want them to stop watching when I came in and that I was
very interested in watching the tapes with them, they stopped switching
off the programs that they were watching.
Usually, someone would use the remote control to fast forward commercials.
I would often say that I liked the commercials and wanted to watch them.
Occasionally I would get to watch them, but in general I do not.
While watching the tapes, the young women are much better at volunteering
information about what is going on than the men are. The male answers
are usually quite short. I usually didn't ask too many questions, but
when I did it would usually be to ensure that I was following along with
the plot correctly.
One of the reasons Haruo was able to get so many tapes was that he was
taping American television programs and sending them back to some of the
friends who were sending him Japanese tapes. With the exception of Haruo
sister, family members would also send tapes to almost everyone who lived
in the group, but these would not come as frequently
In regards to going to movie theaters and the selection of movies, group
consensus is often a factor. Because the movie theaters in Chico are not
of very high quality (poor sound, uncomfortable chairs, too many extraneous
noises, and poor print quality) we often wait until movies come out on
videotape. Aside from saving quite a bit of money, there are a few other
advantages that the members of the group recognize with respect to waiting
for a movie to be released on videotape. Drinking beer, sitting on comfortable
sofas while eating dinner are some of the more common reasons given to
During the period of this study, two movies entitled Black Rain came
out. One was about an American cop trying to deal with the Yakuza
(Yakuza is a type of Japanese organized crime syndicate), and the other
was about the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Japan.
My informants were very excited about the Yakuza oriented Black Rain
and asked me what I knew about the film for two months prior to its release.
I saw the movie the day before they did and said that I liked it. I made
a point of going with them on the night that they went to see it. I wanted
to watch and hear their reactions to this movie as it was playing.
There were a number of scenes in which the actors spoke in Japanese
and subtitles were not provided. Iku and Reiko sat on one side of me,
and during the scenes in which there were no subtitles they made a point
of telling me "this should have been translated", and would go on to translate
the dialog for me. For those scenes that did have subtitles, they would
often tell me that they were incomplete.
A couple of months after watching the film in the theater, my roommates
told me that they heard that the actor who had played the lead Yakuza
figure had died of testicular cancer. They were momentarily saddened by
his passing and made a point of asking me again, after the movie was released
on videotape if I had heard of his passing. We all agreed that he was
a very talented young actor and that his loss was unfortunate.
Almost everyone in the group that I worked with was able to remember
the first movie that they saw while in the United States, and how many
times they had to watch it before it made any sense to them. My informants
told me that American movies are often shown in Japan with Japanese subtitles.
According to my informants, watching an American movie in Japan is quite
an interesting experience. They went on to tell me of how some people
who were native speakers of English, or who had spent a long time studying
English abroad, would hear comic dialog and laugh immediately, while the
rest of the Japanese audience would laugh a little while later because
they had to read the dialog and figure out what was comic about it. They
also told me how strange it was to now be laughing with the first group,
and how silly the must have seemed before.
As I have mentioned earlier in this text, Japanese was the primary language
spoken at the apartment. If someone wanted to talk with me, they had to
speak in English because I did not begin studying Japanese until after
I had lived with this group for three months. Often times the amount of
English that was spoken depended upon the person speaking and the subject.
It took a while for me to become a good listener.
Having a conversation with people whose English language skills are
limited can sometimes prove to be frustrating, especially when you really
want to talk with them. By becoming a good listener, I had to adjust my
interpretation of what people would say, and how they would say it. There
was often a lot of guesswork involved, and I would often restate what
I thought I had heard so as to seek confirmation that I was on the right
track. I believe that this active listening not only acted to facilitate
communication, but also to instruct whoever I was talking with on how
they could better put their thoughts forth in English.
This was not the first time I have lived in a multicultural household.
The first time was when I lived in the graduate house of Konkow Hall CSUC.
Half of the people living in my house were from Asia (Thailand, Hong Kong,
Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines). I did not often hear English while
I was in the kitchen and dinning area. After a couple months, I got used
to listening to people talk in languages that I did not understand.
I believe that this first multicultural living experience was beneficial
to me for it allowed me to adjust to living and working with people who
did not necessarily speak English very well, but who did want to be friends.
The person who moved out of the room that I moved into at the apartment
was a computer science major from Thailand. He had just finished his graduate
degree and was returning home.
Before I moved into the house, the Japanese and Thai students who were
living there had to use English as a common language for communication.
I think that this was to my benefit, and also to all of their benefit,
for it forced everyone to speak English on a regular basis for an extended
period of time. I do believe that having people who are non-Japanese living
in the apartment has been beneficial to all concerned, for to a certain
extent the Japanese students have been forced to use English, and I, as
well as the Thai students, have learned a little Japanese. But it goes
beyond learning a few words, or drinking toasts in each other's language,
and I hope that you, the reader, understand this point.
Iku and Reiko were quite good friends and had lived together in Chico
for about a year before they decided to move apart. They are still very
close friends, but they realized that their English was not improving
very much because whenever they were together they would speak to each
other in Japanese. Both ended up finding roommates who were native speakers
of English. In the time since they moved apart, their proficiency in English
has increased dramatically. I do believe that their move was a contributing
factor, but do not feel that it was the only factor.
Many of the questions that I would be asked referred to the English
language. I would often be asked to explain idiomatic expressions, pronounce
words, and to define words. One of the things that I told my roommates
as I was beginning Japanese was that I couldn't wait to start butchering
their language. They thought that my attempts at Japanese were sometimes
pretty funny, but were occasionally surprised by how much I could understand.
One of the things that I learned about in my Japanese class was that
you add the word "san " to the end of either people's first or
last names when you are trying to be polite in Japanese. Although I heard
the ending used a few times while around the house, the ending that I
heard more often was "chan ". I thought that this was some minor
variation, for it wasn't in any of the Japanese language textbooks that
I was using. Towards the end of my study, I mentioned this ending to Dr.
Thomas Johnson (Professor of Anthropology, CSUC) for another reason which
I will tell you about in a moment. He told me that the ending "chan
" is used primarily with children and girls, not adult males, unless it
is being used between males who became friends while children. Remember
what I said earlier about how it had been added to everyone's name. Say
Erik-chan out loud a couple times. To me, especially when this
is said by someone who is Japanese, it sounds like the word "erection."
After hearing this for a couple months I shared it with Dr. Johnson,
for it seemed like an amusing piece suitable for use in a class I was
about to teach. He told me that the groups usage of the term was not normal.
With the knowledge as to the terms proper usage, when I asked about
why they were using it, they just said it was for fun. They also got quite
a few laughs when I told them what it sounded like when they added "chan
" to my first name. Although the ending is not used much anymore, every
once in a while, one of the guys will tease me by saying Erik-chan. Tetsuya
would often ask to borrow my peanut butter by saying "Erik, can I have
some of your peanut butter?". The only problem is that his pronunciation
of the "t" in peanut, sounded more like an "s". After hearing this a few
times, I decided to tell Tetsuya what his "peanut butter" sounded like
to me. When I told him that his "peanut butter" sounded like "penis butter"
he laughed a lot and had me tell everyone else in the room of this great
mispronunciation. Although Tetsuya has gotten a lot better with respect
to pronouncing consonants that fall at the end of a word, he still likes
to joke with me when he asks for peanut butter by mispronouncing it on
purpose, and smiling.
Masao, whose English skills are probably the least well developed, told
me of his first experience in a fast food restaurant in Chico. Masao said
that he went up to the counter, studied the menu for a few minutes and
decided to order a hamburger. Masao said the cashier asked him what he
wanted, and he replied "a hamburger". Unfortunately, the cashier misunderstood
what Masao had said and brought Masao eight hamburgers. Masao told me
that he didn't say anything and that he paid for his eight hamburgers
The last anecdote is still fresh in mind, and probably will be for quite
some time. Iku's parents paid her a visit last summer. As it was a special
occasion, we all went out to dinner at a local Chinese Food Restaurant.
Iku's father was a businessman, and was fairly comfortable with English.
Her mother on the other hand would only speak in Japanese. At some point
during the dinner, Tetsuya was talking about how his English was still
very bad, and on particular he was commenting on one incident that happened
at work. Tetsuya works at a cafeteria as a cook. As the story goes, Tetsuya
was trying to get his assistant to prepare some grilled onions. The only
problem was that the assistant didn't know what Tetsuya was talking about,
for grilled onions came out something along the lines of "greierd ernyuns".
One thing led to another and everyone at the table was soon trying to
outdo each other with their pronunciation of grilled onions. I was the
judge of this rather unique contest. It went on for literally 15 minutes.
By the time it was over, I was sick of grilled onions but realized that
I had a lot of fun hearing them.
All of the males in the group know how to swear in English and use such
morsels as "god damn it", "fuck", "shit", and "Jesus Christ". Their repertoire
does not go much further with respect to performance, but I do believe
that they understand quite a bit more. I haven't heard any of the females
use profanity, and the males will only use it sparingly, and usually to
mark emphasis or to draw attention to themselves, but not to direct an
insult at someone else, or to directly promote hostile feelings.
Aside from materials required for class, the members of this group spend
a considerable amount of time reading. Golf, and Men's magazines, as well
as Manga are the items most frequently read for leisure by the
male members of this group. They will read both English and Japanese Golf
and Men's magazines, and the Japanese language Manga ( Japanese
comic book novels). The women don't particularly like the golf magazines,
and generally do not look at the American men's magazines. All however
read manga . In the apartment, there are approximately 120 editions
of several different manga series. Whenever someone gets a new
set of manga from Japan, they will read them and then bring them
out so the others can get a chance to read them.
Those who don't live in the apartment also have collections of manga
, and will frequently bring them by the bagful to the apartment for others
to read. When time permits, it is not uncommon for five or six people
to be sitting down in different locations around the apartment reading
Manga . These manga sessions sometimes last three hours
Mail from home is always nice. Everyone in the apartment would get mail
from friends and family on a regular basis. In addition to letters, there
is often times a photograph or two. In addition to letters, the members
of the group would receive birthday presents, and if they were staying
in the U.S. for Christmas, they would receive some sort of Christmas present.
My roommates told me that celebrating Christmas is something relatively
new to the Japanese, but that they like it.
Mothers and sisters often send care packages with a few special food
items that can't be obtained in the U.S., perhaps a newspaper clipping
if a friend did something notable like win an important baseball game,
and a videocassette of their favorite television shows. In terms of acting
as a morale booster, I've seen Yoshio go from being slightly depressed
and lethargic to bouncing off of the walls after the arrival of a package
at a time when he needed something that he couldn't get here. The same
goes for everyone else who lives at the apartment - myself included.
The last item is one of the more interesting items in that it is a newsletter
that deals with the members of the group and the residents (former and
current) of the apartment. The newsletter was created by one of the members
of the group who started work in Japan shortly after I moved into the
apartment. In the newsletter, which is written in English, updates have
been written about everyone in the group. Addresses are provided, and
future responses are encouraged. In the first issue of the newspaper was
an article about the marriage of the Thai student whose room I moved into.
The young lady he married was also from Thailand, had also just earned
her Master's Degree in Computer Science from CSUC, and did not meet the
man who was to become her future husband socially until a week after they
graduated. They meet while on a trip with a group of other foreign students
that took place shortly after graduation. My roommates, who were amazed
by how quickly events unfolded, were even more so when I told them that
she lived in the Graduate House of Konkow Hall while I was living there.
I too was pretty amazed by the whole thing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
COLLEGE AND CAREER
This study is primarily an ethnography of a group of Japanese college
students attending college in Butte county. This chapter is basically
an ethnography of their adaptation to American academia.
One of the first topics that needs to be addressed with respect to the
subject of adaptation relates to the differences in the American and Japanese
educational systems. The material which I will present is primarily based
upon the information that my informants provided.
According to my informants, life before college can be quite difficult.
This is because there is a great deal of pressure put on children by their
parents (mothers in particular) to perform well on the standardized tests
that are given each year throughout Japan. These tests are very difficult
and require many hours of study. Coupled with the difficulty of the tests
is a great fear of the consequences of doing poorly on a test. It is said
that the scores on these tests can influence one's entire life, for a
low score could disqualify one from getting a higher education, or getting
into a good college or university. Not getting into a good university
would put a severe limit on career choices and possible marriage partners.
On one occasion, I told a group of my informants that I had heard someone
say that the average Japanese High School senior has about the same degree
of knowledge as the average American college graduate. They agreed with
that statement. When I followed up by asking about whether college in
Japan was as easy as I had heard, they not only agreed, but told me stories
of their exploits. It should be mentioned that my rapport with the group
was quite strong, and that this information would not have been provided
to an outsider.
They said that although it is very difficult to get into a good University,
that it is very difficult to fail to get a degree once accepted. One of
my informants told me of how he would often skip class for weeks at a
time so he could play golf. Another informant said that on a number of
occasions he had other people take tests for him. Yet another said that
on a day on which he was to have turned a senior paper in, he went to
the box where the other papers that had been turned in was, took one that
looked good, tore off the title page with the other student's name on
it, attached a title page with his own name on it, and submitted it as
if it were his own.
College life in Japan is generally a lot of fun, for few demands have
to be met in order for success to be achieved. This contrasts greatly
with the American educational system. In many respects, the pressures
to succeed are opposite with respect to American and Japanese students.
In the United States, there is not much pressure on children to do well.
College is seen as being much more difficult to get though, and generally
is. For the Japanese College student coming to the United States, there
is a great difference with respect to their their expectations of Academia.
None of the members of this group are native speakers of English. All
of the members of this group had between six and eight years of English
before coming to the United States for college. Everyone in the group
acknowledged that knowledge of English is key to a successful stay in
the United States. Mastery of English is also seen by the Japanese as
being key to success in business due to the number of people throughout
the world who are able to speak English.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a major hurdle
for Japanese students to pass over, for without a high enough score, admission
to college will be denied. At California State University, a 500 is required
of students who are non-native speakers of English. The TOEFL is a subject
that causes a great deal of tension around the house.
The test is only offered a few times per year and is quite difficult.
Whenever someone in the group would be getting ready to take the TOEFL,
others in the group would often tell stories that they had heard regarding
how native speakers of English who had been allowed to take the test,
and how they often failed. This would usually be followed with a dialog
that revolved around their belief that it is unreasonable for them to
take a test they feel does not adequately assess their true English Language
It is very common for the members of the group, especially the female
members of the group, to have special study sessions prior to a TOEFL
test date. Though I would often be asked to edit papers or explain idiomatic
expressions, I was never asked to help out with one of these TOEFL study
sessions. Usually, one of the veterans of the group who had passed the
TOEFL would lead these sessions.
Normally, scores for tests are available a couple days after the test.
When scores come in, they are generally shared with the rest of the group.
Everyone has a good idea of where they stand with respect to the TOEFL
as compared to everyone else in the group.
I'm not sure which is worse, missing by twenty points or missing by
two. Haruo had taken the test about six times and his score improved dramatically
on each of the first three times he took the test. For the next three
times, Haruo averaged a 498. This score was two points short of what he
needed for admission to CSUC. The test was especially frustrating to Haruo
for he had come so close, so many times, and was yet so far away.
Whenever someone gets a 500 or higher, a small party is held and the
person(s) who passed the last test are presented with bottles of champagne
to open and share with the group. These parties are generally a lot of
fun and have special meaning for those they serve to honor. In general,
once a 500 is achieved, acceptance to CSUC is relatively easy.
Butte College has played a major role in the education of most of the
members of the group, for almost all of the members of the group have
taken classes at Butte College while waiting until they earned a passing
In general, Butte College classes are treated with less respect than
CSUC classes. It is felt that the Butte classes are not as good, and therefore
not worth as much effort. In addition, these students will take classes
at Butte, and drop them late in the semester if they feel that they will
not do well in them. This contrasts with the attitude that is associated
with classes taught at CSUC. One of the reasons for the difference is
that it is much more difficult to drop a class a CSUC than it is at Butte
The Writing Effectiveness Screening Test (WEST) is another test that
is of great concern to those members of the group who are CSUC students,
for without a passing WEST score, it is not possible to take the Writing
Proficiency (WP) courses that are required in every major. You cannot
fulfill the requirements for a major without taking and passing a WP course
with a grade higher than C. One of the reasons that this test is feared
is that so much can ride on it due to the way classes are often scheduled.
The members of this group, for the most part, will spend as much time
on an assignment as is needed to complete it. As mentioned in the chapter
on Communication, the members of this group utilize the computers owned
by the members of the core group as much as is practical. While I was
a member of the group, I often found myself in the role of proof-reader.
Something that I think should be noted is that it is common to find members
of the residential core group doing what is known as an "all nighter"
on a regular basis so as to keep up with their studies. As I too often
had to stay up on many a late night to keep up with my studies as well
as to collect data for this ethnography, I found myself making quick checks
of papers that were to be turned in five hours later that morning, and
talking about things like the differences between college in Japan and
the U.S., and those unknown things that lie beyond graduation.
Important papers would often be given to me for correction. Because
I was regarded as a successful graduate student and a helpful native speaker
of English my skills were in demand, but not as much as I had expected.
I believe that this was in part due to their usage of advanced word processing
programs. I expect that as the members of this group begin to use more
advanced Word-Processing programs in conjunction with grammar checkers,
that their writing will improve greatly.
My girlfriend, who was a graduate teaching assistant for the CSUC Department
of Human Communication was much in demand by those who were taking public
speaking courses, or who had to make class presentations. She was also
asked on a number of occasions to proof papers. Her advice was usually
heeded, and most of the presentations went well. No one ever mentioned
having a bad experience while speaking in class.
Yoshio and Kenji commented on a number of occasions that they preferred
taking math classes to other classes because they were easier to understand.
Dealing with English was the primary reason for this preference and will
be discussed shortly. The secondary reason for this was in part due to
the fact that they had covered much of the material while in High School,
back in Japan.
Dealing with English, for many classes, was often like dealing with
a long debilitating illness. Oral comprehension of lectures was often
difficult. Some of the more irritating problems that my informants brought
forth involved teachers who talked too fast, who would not repeat things,
and those who would not explain what they meant when they used idiomatic
In some cases, my informants told me that they would record lectures,
but that this was only for instructors who were very difficult. Though
all of the members of the group are aware that in the United States, students
are encouraged to ask questions in class, especially if they don't understand
what is going on, they said that they usually don't say anything. Haruo
and Tetsuya proved to be the exceptions in that they both would regularly
recount how they had asked their teachers particularly difficult questions.
Another thing that caused problems was the fact that most instructors
have a fairly large vocabulary and like to pepper their speech with odd
little lexical units so as to do any number of things. Unfortunately,
one of the things that this does, is to confuse non-native speakers. Aside
from owning one or two English dictionaries, each person in the group
is in possession of two or three English-Japanese dictionaries, and at
least one book on English Grammar. Though these dictionaries are not of
much practical use during a lecture, the members of this group more than
make up for this with their usage of dictionaries while doing homework.
In addition to whatever text they may have to be dealing with they will
have at least one dictionary within ready grasp. Words that are unclear
are looked up, not passed over.
Another problem with English that directly relates to instructors is
testing. Although the members of this group are used to multiple choice
tests, my informants said that many of the multiple choice tests that
they have taken here were too difficult and that they didn't feel good
about their performance because questions were often ambiguous, or the
instructor used lexicon that they did not understand. Time limitations
placed on tests were also difficult to deal with. My informants thought
that for most classes they should be allowed to use a bilingual dictionary
while taking a test. They gave high praise to those instructors who recognized
that their standard testing procedures should be modified somewhat so
as not to be an added negative factor in the evaluation of their foreign
students mastery of the subject matter.
Aside from ambiguous multiple choice tests, essay exams were seen as
major problems. At home, a one page essay written on the computer might
take between one and three hours, and still contain a number of grammatical
problems. Having only twenty minutes and no access to a dictionary or
possibility of asking a quick question was viewed as being more stressful
than reasonable. Coupled with the frustration of not being able to fully
understand a question, and respond to it adequately was something even
more frustrating - understanding the subject matter and not being allowed
to demonstrate that understanding.
Although almost everyone wanted to get A's all of the time, there was
a realization that such was not going to be the case. Although higher
grades were preferred, C's did not cause any problems. The group had an
average grade point of 2.99. There was a certain amount of competition
for grades, especially when a number of individuals were taking the same
subject at the same time.
One of the techniques employed by the members of this group was to repeat
courses that they had taken at Butte College and dropped late in the semester.
This often enabled them to get a better grasp of the material being covered.
Kenji, who was finishing up work on his Master's Degree in Computer
Science was often frustrated by the amount of attention that was paid
to the grammatical mistakes that he made on the written portion of his
master's project. The level of writing proficiency that his department
required was several steps above Kenji's ability. I spent a lot of time
working with Kenji on producing a rough draft for his committee to examine.
At times it would take him six hours to produce 600 words of text.
Many of the mistakes that Kenji made involved problems with correct
tense, and awkward sentence structures. Though sometimes difficult to
read at first, I could usually figure out what he was trying to convey.
For short sessions when I worked on Kenji's paper, I would sit at the
computer with him and make changes on the screen, while for reviews of
longer passages I would edit printouts of his paper, and then give the
edited copy to him. He would then make the changes that I suggested, and
clarify sections that I was unable to understand.
We spent a lot of time on his paper, trying to get it ready for his
committee to accept it. Though neither of us really said much about the
subject, we both realized that the extreme number of hours that I spent
working with him had prevented me from completing my Master's thesis on
Kenji said that this was the toughest writing assignment that he had
ever attempted, and often had doubts as to whether he would be able to
complete it. Although he had done exceptionally well in his class work,
especially the projects that involved mathematics, statistics, and computer
programming, his writing was never really subject to critical review and
development. He felt that the demands that were being put on him were
too difficult, and that he should have had more help with respect to his
I met with Kenji's graduate committee chair once, and he commented on
how tough it was to read Kenji's paper and that his writing was so bad.
He also said he wasn't sure why so many of the foreign students asked
him to be on their committees. Though I could empathize with his position,
I felt that he had not worked with Kenji enough with respect to developing
his ability to write about topics within his field. Kenji's graduate committee
was put together at the beginning of the semester he was to graduate.
In addition, he had not really worked on an individual basis with a faculty
mentor though he was known by most of the faculty in his department.
The actual computer program that Kenji had to create worked well, and
after his committee received a complete draft of his written component
they allowed him to hold his presentation (project defense). It was at
about this time that the $500 class ring that he had ordered arrived.
Though a very talkative and open person, the thought of having to present
his project and defend its merit worried Kenji a lot. Kenji sought my
girlfriend's advice regarding presentations and followed it very closely.
One of the interesting things about Kenji's presentation was the fact
that almost everyone in the group was there to watch it. The two members
who weren't there were out of town at the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. After
the presentation, Kenji's chair congratulated him, and we went outside
for some pictures. Twenty minutes later, Kenji was on his way to golf.
Of those who had chosen a major and were taking courses beyond those
for general education, Computer Science, Social Science, Psychology, and
Graphic Design were the majors that the members of the group had decided
upon and were actively pursuing. In terms of finances, almost all of the
members of the group came from families that were very well off. With
three exceptions, jobs in a business or corporation that their family
owned was assured.
Kenji, who had a degree in business and a Master's degree in Computer
Science, and Iku the graphic artist were the only two members of the group
who would actually have to spend a little time looking for a job because
their families couldn't create one for them. Kenji's search for a job
lasted approximately three months and was highly rewarding. I worked with
Kenji and helped him write his resume and the cover letters that he sent
to different companies.
Although not much happened during the first month of his search, by
the time he had stopped looking because he had been offered a very good
position in Japan for a large American corporation that was expanding
its market, he had been flown to Texas, Chicago, and Boston at the expense
of companies that were trying to recruit him. One of the companies that
tried to recruit him was a Japanese computer firm. The representative
from the firm would call Kenji weekly, from Japan, and attempt to get
Kenji to join his company. The Japanese recruiter did not stop his calls
after Kenji told him of his decision to work for the American company
that was expanding its business in Japan.
As of the time that this report was written, Iku was still on vacationing
after her graduation and had yet to make any bona fide efforts to obtain
a job. From what the others in the group have told me, she will not have
any problems getting a good job doing what she likes because there is
a great demand for talented graphic artists in Japan.
For Haruo and Tetsuya, there exists a good deal of pressure to come
home to Japan for summer vacation to work in the family business. One
of the reasons they are sometimes hesitant about doing such is that it
is much cheaper for them as foreign students to take summer school classes
than it is for them to take classes during the regular session. At Butte
College, summer school classes cost approximately $5 per unit plus a nominal
fee. This contrasts with the $100 per unit fee that is charged during
regular sessions. Though taking summer school class at CSUC costs about
$90 per unit, this is still much cheaper than having to pay $190 per unit
in addition to the regular fees that students who are regularly admitted
residents of California have to pay. A foreign student taking 12 units
during a regular session at CSUC would pay approximately $2730 in fees.
Therefore, many foreign students try to to take as many summer school
classes as they can so as to save money.
As mentioned earlier, most of the members of the group are very well
off and do not have to worry about expenses. From what my informants have
told me, in order for them to get a student visa, they had to show proof
that they had about $12,000 in the bank so as to cover a years worth of
expenses (educational and personal). One of the reasons for this is that
the government makes it very difficult for them to work while they are
in the U.S. as students.
In terms of the members of the core group, each would receive approximately
$3000 every three months from their parents. I received on average $675
every three months from my parents. I had to work full time during the
summer and part-time during the school year to cover my expenses.
This is not to say that getting work in Butte county is impossible,
just that it is quite difficult. According to my informants, half of whom
have worked in the area, they can only work for government institutions
such as CSUC or Butte College. All of those who have worked have spent
a fair amount of time working in the cafeterias for the schools they were
There were a few stories about how food used to find its way out of
the cafeteria kitchens into the apartments of other foreign students but
these stories stopped short of this group's front door. I remember eating
a few bowls of ice cream that was supposedly given out to all of the kitchen
staff prior to the major cleaning of a large freezer, and its subsequent
restocking with fresh foodstuffs. As I remember, it was pretty good ice
TABLE OF CONTENTS
You don't need a degree in anthropology to realize that something special
has been created in this apartment. Residents of the apartment, members
of the primary group, and those who come by often comment on the messiness
of the apartment and how much fun it is to be there. This chapter is about
the apartment and the domestic activities that occur within it.
As mentioned earlier, I lived in the apartment with Yoshio, Kenji, and
Haruo for over a year. We each had our own room. There were two bathrooms,
and each had a combination bathtub/shower. We also had a washing machine
and a clothes dryer in the apartment. The kitchen area was next to the
living room and was separated by a waist high counter.
There were four couches in the living room and a brown Naugahyde chair.
All of the furniture was used. Stains, rips, and loose strings could be
found on all of the the couches. I've mentioned in other places the types
of things that could have found their way into the couches. Because of
all of the couches, it is easy to seat a dozen people in the living room
and to not feel too cramped.
Aside from providing places for people to sit while socializing, watching
television, and or reading, the couches are frequently used by both members
of the apartment as well as the male members of the primary group as a
place to nap or sleep. It is quite common for Masao to spend several nights
in a row on one of the couches. Oftentimes when he does this, he will
borrow some sweat pants from Kenji to sleep in. It is rare for one of
the women in the group to nap or sleep on the couches unless there is
to be a special trip early the next morning. Female guests from out of
town will either be offered a bed to sleep in, or they will be offered
a couch to sleep on. If offered a bed, the regular occupant of the bed
will sleep in the living room on a couch.
The living room is the center of activity in the apartment. There are
many reasons why this is true. The only television in the apartment is
in the living room, the kitchen is directly attached to the living room,
there is a phone in the living room, the door to the backyard is in the
living room, and there is plenty of room for everyone to gather for various
types of activities in the living room.
With respect to Masao and Tetsuya, I would have to classify them as
being honorary members of the residential core group. Yoshio and I often
joke with Masao about the couch that he prefers to sleep on and have told
him that we are going to put a sign above it that reads "Masao's Couch".
Actually, the couch is now known and referred to as "Masao's Couch". Masao
usually smiles when we say this for he knows that he is always welcome.
I believe that almost all of the carpeted area of the apartment will
have to be ripped out and replaced after this group decides to move out.
I have been told on numerous occasions by Yoshio and Kenji that the rugs
were dirty and ripped a little when they moved in a few years earlier.
I know that it was in much better shape when they moved in than they try
to make it seem.
One of the few things that I knew about Japanese culture prior to moving
into the apartment was that it was customary to remove one's shoes before
entering someone's house. For the first six months this rule was not practiced
by anyone in the group for reasons other than comfort. Shoes would only
come off if you wanted to take them off. One of the reasons for this is
that the carpets would rarely be vacuumed, let alone cleaned. Walking
in the apartment with a pair of white socks on for a half hour would produce
stains equal in intensity to those that would be produced were you to
walk in the parking lot for the same length of time. Laurie would not
walk around the apartment barefoot because the floors were "gross and
When I moved into the apartment, Kenji told me that they (he, Yoshio,
and Haruo) would rent a steam cleaner and clean the rugs after everything
got settled. Six months later, I walked into the apartment after a long
day at school to find Yoshio, Haruo, Kenji, and a steam cleaner in the
living room. They were almost done with the apartment. I was surprised
and pleased with the unexpected cleaning event. No explanation was given
as to why on that particular day they had decided to clean the rugs.
After the rugs were cleaned, it was agreed that the shoes off policy
would go into effect. Everyone complied with this for a while. Perhaps
if the vacuum had been used more frequently, drinks and food were not
spilled on the floor so often, and golf clubs were not cleaned in the
living room, the rugs would have stayed fairly clean. As the level of
grime that stained the floor increased the frequency of not wearing shoes
decreased. After about two months of transition, shoes were worn wherever
and whenever people wanted to wear them.
In terms of the overall condition of the apartment, all I can say is
that I would not want to be the one to have to clean it prior to its being
rented to another group of students. All of the walls will need to be
primed and repainted. I filled in almost all of the 500 or so dart holes
in the living room. By now you probably can't forget the carpet. The linoleum
in the kitchen will also have to be pulled up and replaced due to the
holes that have been worn into it. The reasons for all of this wear and
tear are simple. This apartment is a very busy place because this is where
the group meets and does a significant part of its socializing. Aside
from the wear and attributable to usage, there is also wear that is directly
attributable to neglect and abuse.
All of the rooms have a similar style in that we all have our beds on
the floor without a frame, have used furniture, a desk with a computer
on top, and cement block bookshelves. On the walls we have posters of
various people, places, and things. Yoshio, Haruo, and Kenji also have
pictures of family and friends in Japan as well as various pictures of
the group and its members. They thought that I was a little strange because
the only picture that I had on display was a picture of my parents pug
The pictures and posters that they (Yoshio, Haruo, and Kenji) have on
their bedroom walls are mostly of American and Japanese media figures.
Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Jumbo Ozaki are but a few of the figures
that grace their bedroom walls.
Kenji and Haruo have stereo's with compact disk players. They each have
about 30 compact disks, and many more cassette tapes. Aside from Rock
and Roll music, the range of musical styles in both of their collections
includes jazz, classical, and meditation.
I let dirty clothes pile up in my room until I can't find anything to
wear. Yoshio, Haruo, and to a lesser extent Kenji will wash their clothes
as soon as they have enough for a small load of one color. I was amazed
that they actually separate their clothes according to color. I have only
recently considered doing this, and have yet to really practice this on
a consistent basis.
Whenever someone moves out of the apartment it is usually the case that
they will not be taking a lot of their clothes and furniture back with
them. One of the traditions associated with moving out is the giving away
of these items to the members of the group. The person who is moving out
will usually first ask those who live in the apartment if they want any
of the items to be left behind. For the items that remain, members of
the primary group are then asked if there is anything that they would
like to have. It is common for everyone to take at least one item. If
no one in the group wants the items that are left, efforts are often made
to locate friends outside of the group who may be interested in them before
the items are given to charity or are discarded.
With respect to the residential core group, bills for rent and various
utilities (cable television, phone company, energy, etc.) are split evenly
four ways. Haruo was in charge of handling the bills when I moved in,
and was still doing it after I moved out. He tried to be as exact as possible
when it came to figuring out what everybody owed. Usually Haruo would
pay all of the bills as soon as he could and would later tell each of
us how much we owed him. Because of this, Yoshio, Kenji and I would only
have to write two checks per month: one for rent, and the other to Haruo
for the various utilities.
The only bills that were not split evenly were for long distance telephone
charges. For these charges, everybody would be responsible for the calls
that they made. Members of the primary group who used the phone to make
long distance calls would also be asked to pay for their calls. It is
not uncommon for Masao, Iku, or Tetsuya to reimburse Haruo $20 for a long
distance phone call.
Although Haruo keeps very good records, he sometimes forgets to send
in the check for a bill. This will happen about once every two months.
No one seems to mind when this happens. The only time that this raises
some concern is when the phone company calls because we didn't pay off
an $800 balance.
I learned how to cook as a child because my mother and father had careers,
and were often too tired at the end of the day to come home and cook.
Masao, Yoshio, Haruo, and Kenji each told me that they didn't know how
to cook when they arrived in the United States. Tetsuya, who is the best
cook in the group, told me that his mother had taught him how to cook.
Tetsuya told me that his mother wanted him to be able to take care of
himself while he was away going to school. He also said that in some ways
his mother is very progressive, while in others she is not. When I asked
the other males (Yoshio, Masao, Kenji, and Haruo) if it was true that
most Japanese men are not even expected to know how to boil water for
tea, let alone cook a full meal, they all said that such was the case.
Some went on to tell me hilarious stories of what their father's had done
when their mother's were away (visiting relatives, or giving birth).
In the time that these males have been in the United States they have
to varying extents learned how to cook. Those who like to cook do, and
those who don't watch television, talk, read, and drink beer while waiting
for food to be fixed for them. The average dinner at the house is more
like an American college student dinner party than anything else. Shopping,
cooking, and eating are group activities, and the food is usually quite
It is most common for all of the males to cook and eat together. The
females, though frequent visitors to the apartment, don't spend as much
time there as do Masao and Tetsuya. Perhaps if they liked to play golf
things would be different.
Haruo and Tetsuya do most of the grocery shopping. This usually entails
a daily trip to one of the local discount food warehouses and an occasional
trip to one of the local Asian food markets in town. Haruo likes to shop
for bargains and will often buy non-perishable items that he feels are
well priced in large quantities.
The dishes that are prepared are usually Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian,
and American. Kenji told me that they (the Japanese males in this group)
learned how to cook Thai food from their Thai friends and roommates. Tetsuya
and Kenji also got quite a lot of experience as cooks in the Cafeteria's
of Butte College and CSUC. They said that at first the Thai food was too
spicy for them, but that they now loved hot and spicy Thai and Chinese
If Reiko or Iku are around the apartment before a meal they will usually
help with the cooking and cleaning. Kyoko does not normally help with
the cooking although she will occasionally bring homemade cookies or pie
to the apartment. Oftentimes, Reiko and or either Tetsuya or Haruo will
do most of the cooking. For meals that have more dishes, it is not uncommon
for almost everyone to help prepare at least one dish. Even Masao has
ventured into the kitchen and tried to help out on occasion.
For some meals, preparations start at six or seven at night, and food
won't be ready until nine or ten that night. I can assure you that it's
well worth the wait.
Because the kitchen stove is electric it is not possible to use a regular
wok. There are two rice cookers in the apartment. One has a digital readout
and has Japanese characters on the control panel. The other is much simpler
and only has an on/off switch. The fancy rice cooker is usually on, and
people will take rice from it as needed throughout the day and the night.
The other rice cooker is usually kept in storage unless it is needed for
a special occasion.
The kitchen itself is a filthy mess. Many of the dishes prepared are
fried in oil, and oil splatter is everywhere. If the kitchen is cleaned
up after a meal, it is usually done by one of the females in the group.
Sometimes even I get lazy and sit down with the guys on the couches and
watch television while Reiko, Iku, and or possibly Kyoko does the dishes.
Leftovers are usually left out in the pots that they were cooked in
or on the dishes that they were served on. I was the only one to consistently
wrap up leftover food. If something was left out and on the next day it
still looked edible, then it would be re-heated and eaten. If not it would
usually sit until someone threw it away because they needed the dish or
pan that it was in. Throwing out leftovers because they looked disgusting
and or smelled was not always a high priority activity. Most leftovers
ended up in the garbage.
The new forms of invertebrate life evolving in the showers was usually
a darker shade of brownish green than the stuff growing in the refrigerator.
Usually, the life forms in the refrigerator had either a reddish brown
hue or were green with white spots. Looking at the refrigerator with the
doors opened was much like looking at a stratigraphic cross section of
a rich archaeological dump site. Evidence of past meals and shifting dietary
preferences abounded. The refrigerator was not cleaned during the year
that I did fieldwork.
At mealtime, plates with rice would often be prepared for everyone.
The exact proportions of the other dishes that went on one's plate was
an individual decision. It would be common for Tetsuya to say "itadakimasu
" (In this context itadakimasu means thank you for the meal that
I am about to eat.) at the beginning of a meal. If he (or someone else)
said this, then everyone else would say it too. If it was not said, eating
would still continue. At the end of meals, Tetsuya would also say "thank
you" before putting his plate in the sink. Again, if he said this, then
everyone else would join in and say "thank you". The thanks were not directed
at any individual, but rather towards the group.
I have to admit that I am a fussy eater and that my informants took
notice of this. During the course of the year I tried a great many dishes
and now eat things that in years past I would have simply refused to touch.
I wasn't the only one who was fussy though. Only Haruo and Tetsuya liked
root beer. Everyone else thought that it was gross and that it tasted
like medicine. Only Tetsuya liked peanut butter, and who could forget
his famous mispronunciation? Most also thought that mint tasted bad.
Sometimes when Kenji saw me making a peanut butter sandwich he would
ask me how I could eat such a thing. Sometimes, Tetsuya, upon hearing
this, would ask if he could make a peanut butter sandwich. He did this
to tease Kenji about his ethnocentrically rooted fussiness. From time
to time, I would remind Kenji that I wasn't the only one in the apartment
who was fussy.
If members of the group went out to eat lunch or dinner, it was usually
to one of the Chinese restaurants in town. However, much interest had
developed in a new "Brew Pub" in town, and it was becoming a regular lunch
stop. With the exception of meals eaten at school, it was not very common
for members of the residential core group to eat out more than twice a
It would be unusual for a group of young Japanese males to posses let
alone practice all of the domestic skills that the male members of this
group have to. The adoption of duties and responsibilities traditionally
assumed by women in Japanese society is significant. Though far from egalitarian
with respect to sex roles, the males in this group are far more egalitarian
than their peers back home in Japan are.
That the males can and do cook well is a fact that is not lost by the
female members of this group. Rather than being allowed to come into the
apartment in exchange for their domestic services, they come as friends
and confidants. It will be interesting to see these people, my friends
and informants, after their sojourn is over, and they have started their
families and careers.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE REFLECTIVE GAIJIN
As Marcus and Fischer (1986) point out, the role of the ethnographer
in the ethnography is an important feature and should not be neglected
. It is for this reason that I have chosen to write a chapter that centers
around how I as a Gaijin came to be a member of this group, and
relate some of the activities and interactions that I had with this group.
In addition, I have provided additional autobiographical material in Appendix
Most Japanese dictionaries define a gaijin as being a foreigner.
This has not always been the case, for according to my informants, in
older dictionaries, gaijin means barbarian. Foreigner is the most
polite way to describe what gaijin denotes for most Japanese, the
connotation, however, is still closer to barbarian. I was never referred
to as a gaijin , nor was the term ever used in my presence unless
it was while I was asking about its usage.
As mentioned earlier, this ethnography is based upon a years participant
observation with a group of Japanese College students who were living
and going to school in Butte County. My study began towards the end of
May in 1989, and with respect to this ethnography, ended approximately
one year later. Like many other anthropologists, I have a story to tell.
I did not originally set out to live with a group of Japanese college
students for the purpose of doing ethnographic research. I happened to
get lucky and found myself in a rather interesting situation that I made
the most of. My friends are often envious the the great opportunities
that I often find myself involved in. To be blunt, I needed to find a
new place to live in Chico, and after checking out a few other notices
for "Roommates wanted", I found a rather plain looking notice posted on
the outside bulletin board for the CSUC Housing Department. The notice
was basically one of the preprinted blue cards that the housing office
uses and there was nothing denoting anything special or unique about the
room for rent or the people who were to become my roommates, friends,
Perhaps that is not entirely true, for I recognized that all of the
names that had been listed sounded Asian. In particular I thought that
they were probably Japanese. This caught my interest, so I wrote the number
down and called. Haruo answered the phone and after a few questions regarding
rent and that type of thing, I was invited to come over to look at the
The apartment was about a mile from CSUC, and was a part of a small
multi-unit apartment building. I drove to the apartment and got there
at about 7:30pm. I still remember quite vividly what I saw and how I was
The apartment was a filthy mess! Boxes of things that were being sent
back to Thailand littered the apartment because the person whose room
I was moving into had just finished his master's degree and was about
to return home. In addition to his boxes were boxes from two other former
Thai roommates who too had just finished their Master's degrees, and were
about to return home to Thailand.
The walls had stains all over them, and cobwebs could be found wherever
walls met at right angles or ceilings met walls. The carpet looked like
it had not been vacuumed, let alone steam cleaned in about six months.
Areas where traffic was heavy was easy to determine by the wear and tear
on the carpet. When I checked the bathrooms, I thought that new forms
of invertebrate life were evolving in the showers.
I was welcomed into the apartment by Haruo, and introduced to everyone.
Everyone had a beer, and I was immediately offered one and a place to
sit. I accepted the beer and sat down in a brown Naugahyde arm chair that
had clear tape covering the multitude of large rips that were on its surface.
Something that I noticed right away was the number of golf clubs in the
apartment. I believe that there was at least two sets of clubs for each
male in the apartment.
We asked each other about majors and stuff like that. They became very
interested in me when I said that I was interested in teaching English
in Japan after I finished my Master's Degree. They said that they could
probably get on the phone and arrange a job for me if I wanted.
A little while latter, an international beauty contest came on television,
and I stayed to watch it with them, for I had already made up my mind
that this was the place that I wanted to live in for the next year. We
all commented on the relative attributes of the various contestants. On
this night, none of the women who are a part of the primary group came
We also played darts for a little while. The dart board was held up
on a living room wall by a dart. There were at least 500 holes in the
wall from darts that missed the board.
All of the Thai roommates had left by the middle of June, and the apartment
looked much better, though in need of several hundred hours of repair
For the first few weeks, the women who were a part of the group were
very quiet while I was around, and would only speak to me when spoken
to. I believe that this change was hastened by another fortuitous event
in my life.
The event that I am referring to is my being hired as the Interim Director
of the Chico Museum, two weeks before two major exhibits were to open.
During those two weeks I worked an average of 17 hours a day. Everyone
was quite excited about my job, and offered to help.
At first I was hesitant to ask them for help, because I had never been
in a situation where I needed that much help, and did not have the resources
to pay them. Most of the work that I was able to have them help me with
involved preparing surfaces for painting, painting exhibit panels, and
moving large exhibit cases.
One of the first things that I found out was that no one in the group
had ever used a roller and paintbrush, so I had to teach them how to paint.
There were times when I found myself watching them paint and thinking
about how different it was from the painting styles that I was accustomed
to. In general they were very meticulous about their painting and would
often consult with one another after painting a wall or panel. There were
a few times when people who were painting surfaces with different colors
that met in a corner, would purposely put dabs of paint onto the wall
of the other person so as to tease them. This would be met with a retaliatory
dab on the aggressor's wall.
People who were considered slow would be teased by the others. In general,
everyone liked using darker colors when painting white was because they
liked the dramatic change that it made. A portable radio that had been
brought over from Japan, was left in the museum, and we listened to it
while we worked. The choice of stations was limited because the FM radio
broadcast band in Japan has but a slight overlap with the FM broadcast
band in the United States.
The women who during the previous week would not speak very much in
English or Japanese while I was around, were now asking me questions,
talking with me and speaking in Japanese to the other members of the group.
As the members of the group continued their work as best they could given
their school schedules, I began to realize that I was not just a roommate,
that I was now a part of the group and that I had a sense of obligation
and indebtedness to the group. Because of their great effort, the exhibits
opened and were well received.
After the museum opened, I took the funds that had been provided to
me to get assistance with the construction of the exhibits, and took everyone
who helped to see Batman, and then used the remaining funds to put on
a large barbecue with lots of beer,