Week 7: Human Relationships October 19-25



  • Ch. 23, Pg 187-194 “Seniority Rules in Japanese Relations,” Sempai-Koha 先輩ー後輩
  • Ch. 24, Pg 193-200 “Japanese Group Consciousness,” Shudan Ishiki 集団意識
  • Ch. 26, Pg 217-222 “Dual Meanings in Japanese Human Relations,” Uchi to Soto 内と外
  • Ch. 10, Pg 95-102 “Japanese Social Obligations,” Giri 義理


Interview: a non-Japanese who has visited Japan. Discuss their impressions. Offer insights from your Japan 102studies.

  • Writing: Weekly Paper: “Impressions and Points from Your Reading”
    • 1. Interact with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
    • 2. Discuss how these cultural characteristics might affect your ministry with Japanese people.


    • Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan. Make a note in your blog concerning the information and/or your prayer.

    Extra Suggestions:



  • 4

    Week 7

    Alissa Bauer

    Week 7 – Human Relationships

    As I was reading about how much the Japanese value the group as a whole and learning the difference between uchi and soto, I wondered, how in the world does a foreign missionary get to be uchi??? Say you’re on a church planting team with other foreign missionaries… how would you keep from being only a part of that circle and get into a different one? Not only is the missionary foreign, but they don’t have as many connections as a local would. Is it even possible for a foreigner to reach uchi?

    Reading all of this makes me see how important it is that a church in Japan must look Japanese, not western. And how important it is that Japanese believers are witnessing, because a local would be more likely to listen to another local – especially if you’re in the same circle.

    • Steven La Voie

      Good question Alissa! I too have wondered how a foreigner can be on the “inside” or uchi while they are in Japan. I have heard of a few missionaries who were never accepted into the community. I think that if a foreigner tries to follow Japanese culture and be respectful to others in the Japanese way, there is a greater chance of them being accepted. Of course, this is not guaranteed to happen so it depends on the community around to them to make this decision. However, even if a person is never accepted in the community, God still accepts that missionary and the work that he or she is doing. While being accepted into the community and being considered “uchi” is a good goal to have, the Christian is called to do the work the Lord has called them to do whether or not they are accepted or rejected. Look at all of the prophets in the Old Testaments and Jesus Himself. Even Jesus Himself was not accepted but rejected, but the Father was pleased with Him anyway. We should be looking to please God rather than being accepted into the Japanese community. Still, I think that God moves peoples’ heart to accept foreigners as the relationships deepen and trust is built.

    • Alissa Bauer

      Steven, that’s a really good point and very encouraging. Thank you so much for this!!

    • Riz Crescini

      You wrote:
      “Reading all of this makes me see how important it is that a church in Japan must look Japanese, not western. And how important it is that Japanese believers are witnessing, because a local would be more likely to listen to another local – especially if you’re in the same circle.”

      I just want to respond with a big “Amen!”

    • Brandalyn

      I can’t speak to any of this about what I did, but the Lord has been gracious to allow me to become Uchi with my friend and her extended family. She came and lived with us as an exchange student for a year in Canada and God just orchestrated it so amazingly that she fit in as though she were a blood child. I think that our family really took the relationship with her so seriously as 9 of us went over the next year to attend her high school graduation (And I think that spoke volumes to her and her family). We have gone once every year or two since then over the last 17 years and I now go for months at a time to live with her. From what I feel and what she has told me, I have been accepted as their family. I wouldn’t say that I am accepted in the community, but within her extended family I have been adopted (as she and her children and husband have been adopted by mine). It is amazing to have this experience and insight. And it is such a blessing. But yes, I hear SO MANY accounts of foreigners who have spent their whole lives in Japan and are always Soto. So I think that the Lord can allow us to get relationships where we are allowed in, but it’s not easy. I have found that my deep interest in Japan, the Japanese culture – in understanding it and also assimilating to it – has really made Japanese happy and it seems to enhance my reputation with them. I do believe that coming in and being more focused on them and what is important to them and how to fit in with their culture speaks volumes about who the priority is in the relationship. I try hard to always show that they are the priority. I’m not wanting to push my western worldview of culture on them. I have come to Japan and I want to shape myself to fit their culture.

  • 1

    Japanese Social Obligations

    Steven La Voie

    After reading through this chapter on Japanese social obligations, I realized that I can somewhat identify with the Japanese on this kind of thinking. Growing up, I was taught indirectly that when someone gives me a gift or a favor, I am to return that favor with something of equal or lesser value. To not do that would cause others to look down upon me and might hurt the relationship with others. Part of my family is from the middle east and so I see a similar, but not the same kind of social obligations present in that part of the world. Since then, I have overcome this kind of thinking by God’s grace but see a whole culture entrenched in this mindset with the Japanese.

    To live in such an environment is very stressful and it really takes the heart out of giving gifts and doing nice things for others and not expecting anything back at all. I imagine that the Japanese feel an enormous pressure on them to give gifts to others to maintain harmony even if they do not want to sustain the relationships.

    In some ways, I see this as a form of people-pleasing for fear of losing what they desire the most, the approval and acceptance of the group that one is connected to. To avoid this fear of being cast out and shamed from society, many give into the social pressures and obligations of giving gifts and “paying another back” to avoid losing the harmony. This kind of thinking is not biblical as God wants us to please Him first and realize that we can never be cast out from His family once we are in.

    I think that showing a Japanese person how accepting God is to have them in His family once they turn away from their fears and shameful actions and trust that Christ has payed for them on the cross. The Japanese are in bondage to serving each other and it is futile to think that a person can please all persons. God never changes but people do. This is more of a prayer point for the Japanese than a ministry application but I see it everywhere in collectivistic cultures like Japan.

    • Alissa Bauer

      Steven, thank you so much for your reminders of cultural aspects that are not biblical. This was a good thing for me read because I need to be reminded that we should please God first over being accepted to a group or community. It can be easy in studying Japanese culture knowing I will enter it, to want to master so many parts of their culture in order to be accepted by them – while that can be helpful in cross cultural ministry, the most important thing is being accepted by God. Thank you for sharing this!!

  • 0

    Prayer for More Pastors in Rural Japan

    Steven La Voie

    I prayed for more Japanese pastors and missionaries to reach their own people.

    Heavenly Father, I pray that you may raise up more Japanese pastors and missionaries to fulfill the calling on their lives. May you provide for them the resources and finances to go through the training and schooling to get there. Guide them and lead them in what and where they should go after their training. May they rely on you for strength and wisdom as they lead the churches you have appointed them to lead.

  • 0

    Week 7, where does the gospel fit into the culture?


    The issues of Shudan and Sempai reminds me of a true story that happened to a Taiwanese friend of mine. While in college, she shared an apartment with six other women. A necklace went missing. One woman accused another, but the necklace was never found. Despite that, two other roommate joined the accusation, and the three women bullied the other into a confession that never came. However, she did commit suicide. My friend was a roommate that said and did nothing. Belonging to the group seemed to be more important than the defence of the innocent.
    When I combine this story with hearing of the treatment of the Japaense born Korean descent people, and the burakumin (who are they), I see they have failed to learn the Good Samaritan story. Since sin must be revealed for humility, before people can come to God, I wonder if this social mechanism is one that many Japanese can identify with, that they need a Savior to get them past their prejudices and group peer pressure. Perhaps a social obligation can be transferred from their earthly father to their heavenly father??

  • 3

    Week 7 - Brandalyn - Sempai-Koha


    I can sure see how this hierarchy system can be a challenging point for Japanese believers and churches. Pastors and leaders getting inappropriately elevated and lack of real dialogue amongst church folk and perhaps lesser belief in and engagement of the priesthood of all believers.

    1. I think there are great advantages to respect and politeness and organization/structure of society. But I can see it being a barrier/distancing element between people and something that reduces freedom and honesty. I think that people can lose their “voice” and it could lead to a lack of hope to be able to effect change or see outcomes that they feel strongly about. It could hamper learning of students if they can’t talk and question teachers.

    2. It is a dramatic change that I think will upend everything in the Japanese corporate world and likely filter down to changes in the whole culture.

    3. I can see these issues being very real and problematic! If this system becomes rooted NOT in respect for others and a focus on THEIR wellbeing and is, instead, leveraged for one’s own benefit and sense of superiority it can be VERY BAD and trapping for those lower on the heirarchy. I think that having higher levels above the Sempai students (that is engaged), is likely important to keep the Sempai in check – a sort of supervisory role. And to really be educating the message consistently, that with higher rank comes greater and weightier responsibility to care for and protect those below you. It’s not just a position of honor, but of responsibility.

    4. It can be good for respect, but it can be bad for establishing barriers between siblings that can prevent close connections and relationships. Again, it is probably less of a problem if it is rooted in caring for and respecting one another, but more problematic when it is used to an individual’s advantage.

    5. I’m maybe skewed in my thinking because I grew up with this kind of thinking that you should see yourself as a a beginner in the work force and expect to “put your time in ‘digging ditches'” before you expect to have a more ideal job or position. So… I guess I would accept it. I think that within the Japanese cultural context it makes sense. And it does exist to some degrees even in the west. But I think that as the culture changes, people are changing and maybe rebelling against that system and pushing for change. I don’t know that younger people are as interested in going along with this system.

    Cross Cultural:
    1. Often by skill/abilities. Sometimes by social status or Caste. Sometimes by the social status of one’s family (military family, royal family, political family).

    2. We don’t have the same respect systems and so I don’t think we’ve needed to develop the same rules and guidelines for respect as Japan has. But I do think that it is more important in other Asian countries (who share more similarities with Japanese culture) than the west.

    3. I don’t know. But I expect that some do. In the west we have had more of a respect system for elders and leaders in past decades – e.g. using terms like Mr. Mrs, aunty, uncle…. never using first names. Not using slang language with seniors.

    4. I think it is more likely to enhance how other nations feel that the Japanese treat them (surprised and honored by the respect). But I can see that Japanese might feel disrespected or slighted by other international people who don’t understand their system and don’t show them proper respect. It can be difficult when you have 2 parties coming in from completely different perspectives and systems.

    5. It has good and bad. Good in that people should not be minimized or slighted – but bad in that there is not extra respect and honor given to people. I think that Biblically we are all equal, but respect and honor and humility are also biblical principles. Can we maybe do both at the same time? Treat people as equals while also being humble and lowering ourselves and respecting others above ourselves?

    • Brandalyn

      Shudan Ishiki:
      1. I think Japanese society could then be described as a series of group identities with rules of conduct for each. How one acts is determined by your position within a particular group.

      2. I don’t know much about this, but I can see that if a group of young people get together and want to cause trouble and commit crimes, they could become quite a force in themselves. Also with bullying, if that becomes the group “thing” it could be so hard to stop because no one dare stand up and stick out.

      3. I think that this exists in every culture where we want to be true to ourselves, but the group/social pressure is so big that we still tend to want to fit in and be looked on as acceptable. I can see it being dangerous to be a true individual in schools where the group mentality of kids is so strong, that unless you have a strong group of “individual individuals” to support you and protect one another, you’re be very vulnerable to not fit in, express outlying opinions and likely be punished or ostracized for it.

      4. It sure seems to align. It is more important to fit in and maintain the peace than it is to hold to what you feel/believe.

      5. It’s not maybe fair, but it is Japanese. I don’t know what one would do – going and not drinking would also likely bring similar rebuke. But I don’t think that going and drinking because of pressure is good or right.

      1. yes. I don’t think it is encouraged. So many other cultures – especially mine – it is so strongly encouraged and groomed.

      2. I think it is generally valid. Going back to a comment on a previous chapter that I think maybe these asian countries started from a similar root or had similar influences that formed them. But I don’t know enough about other cultures to really say much about others.

      3. Some of these strategies include the Kohai – Senpai, the honorific language used for people above you, the need for full unanimous decisions in groups – for example these are nearly non-existent in north America.

      4. It seems to be more of a thing for western/European nations. I think that the group is more important in Asian cultures, African and middle eastern cultures.

      5. The desire to fit in during adolescence – which is the period of second greatest growth of the brain – is “dangerous” if young people are in unhealthy groups that promote the development of beliefs and world views that are not positive. I think it is a common theme in all cultures, each with their unique pitfalls – the desire to be too independent in the west can result in unhealthy rebellion, the desire to fit in too much in Japan or asian cultures can result in unhealthy being pushed around by the crowd (even if they’re doing the wrong thing) and imprinting you with a belief that bad acts aren’t actually bad.

      6. I think that respect and honor and humility are important ingredients. I think that teaching individuality with a view to honoring and caring about and doing what is best for the group is important. I think that part of honoring people can be taught as listening to their thoughts and feelings and honoring their views.

    • Brandalyn

      Uchi to Soto:

      1. I had never thought of this until this book – the hard exterior, the tall walls and tress blocking “inside” from “outside” but yet the interior of the house not being near as hard or thick, but sliding walls, rice paper etc. It makes sense. And the Genkan would then be the meeting of those two spaces. It makes for a good analogy and picture of the Japanese way.

      2. A lot of the rules of hierarchy and social properness that are required in the outside are not required within the uchi – family. Formal language, formal titles, honorific actions like bowing, tatemai etc. Within the family casual language is ok, you don’t need to use full sentences and masu-forms. You don’t need the “san” suffix,

      3. this is also the case in Canada. More rural areas seem to have a concept of those who are “from away.” And not matter now long people live there, if they weren’t born there and moved in, they’re always considered as being “from away”. I find that rural areas seem to be dominated by generations of families who have been there for a long time and have long histories with one another. Cities, more often that not, contain people who have moved around, do move around and are not rooted to long standing histories. So in a away the people in the cities are more of a group in themselves in that they’re all “new migrants”

      4. I have no idea! was it too casual?

      5. I expect it would be more pronounced in rural/country areas, but humans are humans… they’d likely encounter it to some extent anywhere where it was obvious that they were “new”.

      1. I think more education on how to interact with international people for the benefit of business relations – teaching a sort of international “uchi” – we need to develop another level of “business insider” relationships and treat people accordingly within it.

      2. Not really. It seems like a harsh, negative view of the Japanese. I guess maybe because I don’t share this view. I don’t know too much about the perception of the Japanese on a global scale. It seems like it has made sense for the Japanese to focus on rebuilding their nation and economy after WWII and they did a fabulous job that I can’t fault them for. Do I think that they could be a force to be reckoned with ? YES! But I find them more to be admired than disliked or feared. This view posed looks a lot at the isolationist/soto perspective of Japan, which I do think is there, but I see that it has been a benefit for the country.

      3. I think they must. But I really don’t know too much about it. I just know that there is a lot of hard history with Korea and Japan that colors views of those nationalities in Japanese eyes.

      4. They seem to fit with foreigners being soto and therefore held at arms length and not deeply engaged in relationship and trust. I am a bit intrigued as my experiences with numerous Japanese over my 17 years interacting with them is completely different, so I am always curious why people have had these experiences and if/how I and my experiences might be different. I think that foreigners need to be educated on the Japanese culture of group consciousness, of kohai-sempai and of uchi-soto to understand what they see and feel and experience and how to navigate it. It would also be interesting to get advice on this from a native Japanese. What would they suggest? Can anything be done to bridge it? Does the invitation have to be extended by the Japanese person, or can it be extended by the foreigner?

      5. It does demonstrate a great distrust of outsiders – but I would say that this is actually quite common in many cultures – including my own. We see it a lot in the USA as well! I think that there is something to be said for outsiders not valuing your country or home as much as you do because of what you and your family have invested in it, but to believe that everyone who is not one of you is out to get you is not founded in truth/accurate. I think there is a middle ground to not trusting blindly, but not making enemies of people. I also think, that the more that we include people and make them feel at home and give them ownership, the more likely they are to pull with us and not against us.

      6. I think it is a great example of soto. Foreigners are seen as outsiders, different and not trusted. Again, I think we have a lot of that in various cultures – whether it is people of different skin colors or different tribes, or cultural backgrounds. Humans don’t tend to love and accept people who are different naturally, we seem to have to be taught that. And it can be a very tough sell – I think that fear plays a big role.

    • Brandalyn

      1. I don’t think it is good when it involves financial hardship and stress. I have seen this in my friend’s family and it is not good. When money has to be withdrawn from the children’s savings to pay for expected Giri that they can not afford. It’s a bit of a never-ending cycle that isn’t easy to stop because there is no beginning and end. Somebody is going to get/feel short changed if the system is to change.

      2. Weddings, probably graduations and special academic milestones, funerals, I am sure there are also business obligations I’m unaware of.

      3. Giri requires reciprocity and so a return gift is required. It seems to fit for me with their concepts of maintaining Wa and balance and harmony. I like the idea of it when it is genuine from the heart – I am never a fan of just obligation.

      4. I think that a mix of both is required. I think that social expectations can mold and guide, but that without some individual desire/motivation we become like that Bible verse that says “if I do {such and such things} but have not love, I am but a resounding gong.” I really think that the heart of WHY we do things is so critical. If we only do things out of individual motivation we can tend towards being too self-centered and not focused on others. But if we’re too much driven by social obligations we are not true to ourselves and not genuine in what we do.

      5. I think that it is the same as many other traditional Japanese cultural norms, I think that it is getting less strong in the current generations. Probably also the exposure to international influences impacts this as well – Japan is more open, people travel and study abroad and see that there are other ways to “do live”.

      6. I think that within the cultural context of Japan, she should have brought a gift. As her teacher, they had a reasonably long-standing relationship and especially, given that her friend brought a gift, it would also be expected of her.

      Cross cultural:
      1. North America – Christmas and birthdays. Maybe anniversaries. I’m not too sure about other nations. Celebrating milestones is generally the reason. But Christmas it is just a social thing – it’s an annual reason to give.

      2. I think it can be bad. It further emphasizes soto and being different or from the outside. I think it can be a bit insulting of their culture and what is important to them. It doesn’t enhance one’s ability to assimilate into the culture.

      3. It is a social obligation/expectation to show that you are part of the group. I would be willing to go, but not to drink. I think that doing something that you are AGAINST is wrong, even if it is a social pressure. I think that there are similar, but maybe less strong customs in other countries. Going out for drinking or social events seems quite common in many cultures.

      4. We are not used to it. We are not used to being given something out of obligation and having ourselves put into a position of obligation. I think that it is a good opportunity to speak with Japanese friends to discuss your two differing cultures and to explain that with you they don’t need to give a giri gift. It might grow the relationship more as you speak about this topic in an open manner.

      5. I have been told by my Japanese friends that they, too, have a greater appreciation for hand-made gifts. But it is quite the opposite of the giving of cooking oil or sugar with a set value to just balance the value of what was received!

  • 0

    Group consciousness and Christianity


    The group identity and group consciousness I can see being a challenge in bringing the gospel to Japan. Being an outlier is not a good thing, and so to take a stand for a belief that isn’t held by the wider group and society is problematic and that is essentially what Christianity is – turning away from the common ways of the world to the uncommon ways of the Lord. We need to understand this and perhaps be strategic in “group evangelism” and “group discipleship” as opposed to focusing in on individuals.

  • 0

    Giri and God


    Odds are that the Japanese culture lends itself more to Japanese Christians becoming slaves to “religion” rather than “free in Christ” because they are so shaped by a culture of obligation and proper conduct. They may very well look more to the “rules” of being a Christian than the heart of a relationship with the Lord. And even the concept of salvation and Christian living, believers are likely to get caught in the trap of trying to earn God’s love and merit or pay him back for his gift of salvation.