Insider and outsider

Uchi and Soto are indeed interesting aspects of Japanese culture. Uchi literally means “house” or “home”. Uchi refers to those who are in the same inner group. For example, your family members and coworkers are considered part of your inner group (“uchi”) so you are expected to degrade them in front of people from “soto” (outsiders) even if you think highly of these people in your inner group. Because it is considered disrespectful to boast of your inner circle in Japanese society. Humility is extremely valued in Japan. So you can take a look at the following conversation, and you will have a better understanding of this concept. 😮

Visitor: Suzuki shachou wa irasshaimasuka? : Is the President Suzuki there?

Receptionist: iie. Suzuki wa ima orimasen. : No Suzuki is not available.

*You notice that a receptionist who works for Mr. Suzuki did not refer to her boss with a title. But because the visitor is from the outside, it is appropriate to degrade the president to show politeness to this visitor. It’s very interesting, and people who have never experienced that are often confused.

Additionally you should talk about yourself humbly and it’s considered polite and it’s a social norm actually. By being humble about yourself, you making the other person look better thus showing respect. On the other hand, if you are talking to someone in your inner group such as your subordinate at work, there is no need for you to degrade your family member (usually) or to be humble in general. Japan people interact with each other based on social hierarchy, age, status etc. This concept is usually new to people from other countries and it’s often interesting to explain how this works.

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