Paul Rapoza (PRapoza) wrote:
Dear Mr. Stephens,
It sounds as though you had some negative experiences in Japan. I'm sorry about that. My experiences there have been generally positive and I stand by my original post. I'm sorry you disagree. I'll elaborate a little. For instance if an acquaintance called you by your last name only "hey Stephens!" that would not be considered polite, would it? "hey Rich!" would probably be more exceptable, neh? People who are acquaintances would use last name + san, which = Mr./Mrs./Ms./etc..., in Japan. But here would use first name only. That's what I meant.
Sorry for such a late reply - I've just returned from a trip and have so much to catch up on! Paul, (there I go with the first names already!), I don't think I would characterize my experiences in Japan as negative at all. Realistic sure, but not negative. The fact that my wife (Japanese, school teacher) and I don't want our kids to be educated there is the only reason I'm not still there. (well that and the fact that it was time to have a steady income and work schedule to make parenting a bit more stable, and I didn't want to get sucked into life as a "salaryman", ha!). I still have many strong connections to Japan and visit and will probably return to live someday.
I see what you mean by "hey Rich" being common here for acquaintances (though athletes on sports teams here in the states often do refer to their teammates by their last names: same in Japan). I guess I just think that an Aikido sensei would never be something on the level of an acquaintance, therefore I feel first names aren't appropriate. I feel the same way about my children's school teachers here in the states. There are some teachers these days who want to be called by their first names, but I guess I just don't like that much. I like their take on education vs. the old methods but the first name thing is a little too much for my tastes.
Christopher's Point about introducing ourselves with our last names only in Japan is a very good one. That's what Japanese would do in most situations and you know, on second thought he is probably right that the way Americans introduce themselves often dictates how they will be called by Japanese (e.g. "hi, i'm Mary" will lead to being forever addressed as "Mary-san")
The comment about language teachers not being held in high esteem might be true as well. But the point remains that they are always refered to as "sensei", and Japanese who teach language along side foreigners are always "family name + sensei". I was always refered to as "richard-sensei" or "stephens-sensei", even when the students were older and more accomplished in society than myself. And a school teacher, Aikido instructor or Ikebana teacher or anything else basically, will always be refered to as "sensei", probably even if the student is the same age and continues to associate with that teacher for decades, and past the stage of acquaintance and on to what would in the west become a friendship where first names would be used. At least that was my experience.
I guess showing respect is the important thing and if using first names can be done without loosening that bond, and if the sempai-kohai relationship can also be preserved even when both address each other with first names, then all is good.