Ron Tisdale wrote:
Something that occurred to me while reading your comments actually surprised me a bit...I remembered the 'age mate' traditions I was exposed to in East Africa, and noted some similarities between the ideas contained in sempai / kohai relationships. It would seem that many 'traditional' societies have much stricter rules about how people in the society relate to one another. Codification of these rules seems to vary...but they often seem to be under-pinning the society in interesting ways.
In East Africa, the 'age mate' system, for lack of a better term just now, binds together people who go through similar rites of initiation at the same time, and the bounds formed tend to reinforce the structure of the society. One of the noted problems in East Africa is that colonialism destroyed and / or warped this system (through banning / modifying / pushing underground the circumcision ceromonies), throwing whole societies off-kilter. It is to be noted that Japan avoided colonialism, and as a traditional society pushed head long onto the contempory scene, it was able to hold on to many facets of its past in some form of it's own choosing.
It would seem that having that choice has made Japan somewhat unique. Any thoughts on this?
I am making a large generalization here, but think there are two features that stand out in Japanese society. To what extent these are features of a tribal society and can be seen in other societies is a matter for discussion.
1. Japanese society places great stress on age and the conduct expected of one when a certain age.
There are three major milestones in the life a Japanese person: (a) entering elementary school at the age of 6; (2) becoming adult at the age of 20; (c) one's kanreki, celebrated at the age of 60. All of these milestones are marked by quite elaborate ceremonies.
A corollary of this is one is expected to act in accordance with one's age and so, for example, I will virtually never enter certain bars, even certain stores, in Hiroshima because these cater exclusively for the 'teens' and 'young'. This is despite the fact that I am on the periphery of Japanese society, since I am a foreigner and my 'social antenna' are never expected to be as finely tuned as those of Japanese.
2. Relationships formed when one is a certain age are lasting, sometimes throughout one's life. Thus, reunions of classmates in junior high school often take place (it is even better of one's sensei is still living and also attends) and are occasions for collective nostalgia for the time when one was 'young'. Note that these reunions are of one's junior
high school class, for it is at junior high school when relationships such as that of sempai\kohai system are firmly established and when the student learns the obligations expected of sempai and kohai.