The first meeting at the beginning of a relationship.
In the context of ICU, this is how April/September/OYR students find themselves in situations where they have a chance to meet each other.
Japanese POV: It may be a simple matter of finding someone to talk with for some people. But for others it can be stressful and energy-consuming. At the first meeting, they select the persons whom talk with carefully. On the other hand, other person do not mind that.
Outsider POV: A basic characteristic of forming Japanese relationships seems to be the consideration of the benefit of the relationship beforehand, because in Japan, individuals are not so much considered for their own ability, but who they know.
Japanese: When a suitable person is found to talk to, they approach the person shyly. The conversation is started by asking where the person lives, how old the person is, or which club the person belongs to. If they find they have things in common (same hobby or same hometown), a good feeling develops. However, their nervousness will continue. On the other hand, other people find it easier to meet people for the first time. When they find someone new, they will approach them with a smile and start some kind of small talk.
Outsider: Americans don't really consider where and when they meet people or hesitate to start conversations.
Japanese: Some people find these inital conversations worrysome or stessful, and other people are good at making conversation. They can follow the subject with ease. They can easily bring out the characteristics of the person they are talking with. Thus the conversation can progress enjoyably, and it can continue or stop naturally.
Outsider: Japanese people are concerned about 間合いのつめかた(maai no tsumekata), which means how/when to progress in a relationship, a concept that most foreigners are thoroughly unaware of. The context of a situation and the ability to "read the air" dictates the appropriate behavior in Japanese mind.
The end of the meeting:
Japanese: The end of the meeting, some people will exchage e-mail addresses, hoping to later to send email. However, they are glad to exchange e-mail addresses because that is proof of their new friendship. Exchanging e-mail is the best way to keep a friend, and as they get to know each other, their conversation will improve in time.
Outsider: Americans may exchange phone numbers, and it doesn't matter if they will call the new person or not. Often phone numbers are exchanged for other reasons than simply just to "become friends."
Another day after the meeting
Some people worry about whether they have become friends or not, so when they meet the persons, they hesitate to interact with them. On the other hand, some people do not think about weather or not they have become friends, they think only of the good time they had with the new person.
Outsier: For [Americans], personality and individual compatibility determine how the relationship will progress.
One of the main problems between the groups at ICU, the OYRs, the September students and the April students seems to be actually meeting one another. In Japan there are certain ways one normally makes friends, such as joining a club or living in the dorms. But many of the students do not have these opportunities. For example, many clubs do not want OYR students, who are preoccupied with traveling and are only at ICU for a year anyway. Compared to other Japanese universities, a relatively small number of people join clubs at ICU. So ICU students are already at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting people.
Relationships in Japan are taken very seriously, maintained, nurtured, and sometimes extinguished. To many OYRs, this is a strange process...especially to many Americans, who make friends with anyone, anywhere, and for any reason, and rely on their own personal ability to make it in life rather than the relationships they form.
That is to say, the way of making friends is serious problem for some people, and for others it is quite easy. Of course, friends are a very important part of life for everyone.
Examples / Actual Cases
Many OYRs initially were interested in joining the Smooth Step circle, which would have been a great way to interact with Japanese students however, it turned out that the Smooth Steppers didn't want OYR students because they couldn't participate in March practices. The practice seemed to be made as to completely discourage OYR participation.
It also seems that many Japanese people feel intimidated by foreigners joining clubs! Smooth Step didn't want foreign girls because they are "too cute." This competitive factor completely discourages meeting in a club or circle scene.
And even Japanese people have trouble meeting other Japanese people. A September says: When I first entered ICU, I didn't know anyone - I felt so alone, because there were no friends that I could spend time with. I was very motivated and wanted to make friends, but it was hard. The JLP classes were too small and the other classes were too big (since I was taking GE classes), and those classes were almost completely comprised of individual work. There was no "出会い", no chances to meet people. Even though I met many other September students, I didn't get a
chance to meet OYR students and April students.
Solution / Recommendation / Suggestion etc.
It is impossible to tell Japanese people to give up on their mindset, so the best thing for a foreigner in Japan to do is understand how Japanese people approach making new relationships. Foreigners should take the initiative when it comes to making Japanese friends, and they should also be aware of "imposing" too much of their own personality on sensitive situations; ie any first meeting one has with Japanese people they hope to befriend!
Good initial conversations are a solid foundation for a good friendship!
When having conversations with Japanese people, be aware of quanity(make your contribution only as informative as required), quality (make your contribution truthful, and do not say anything for which you lack evidence), relation (allow people to know how they relate to you), manner (communicate clearly, avoid ambiguity and be bfief), and behavior (be aware of the other person's feelings, and listen and respond to what they have to say).