Last time I mentioned the words uchi and soto, meaning in-group and out-group, which is a favorite topic of Japan bloggers since there are so many examples of it at work in daily life in Japan. Another well-known Japan-related concept which I’m required by the Japan Blogger’s Treaty of San Francisco to bring up at least once a year is deru kui wa utareru, which means “the standing nail is driven” and which describes the tendency for Japanese society to identify unique individuals — the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and all that — and “hammer” them into shape until they’re the same as everyone else. While all societies must strike a balance between individuality vs conforming to the larger group (we all want to live our lives in a unique way, yet we must all wear pants in public), Japan has historically had real issues with people who didn’t fit in with the majority, to the point that parents of savant children will often leave Japan and live in the West, where rare gifts can be appreciated more. No place is the “standing nail” proverb more apt than junior high school, which is more than just the final three years of compulsory education — it’s a machine for turning bright, creative children into straight-laced, confirming Japanese adults. My daughter is half Japanese and half American, with her American side being quite strong, and she’s encountered more than a little stress trying to being a round peg in a square hole in Japanese junior high school…I’m really glad it’s all behind her.
Junior high flattens Japanese “standing nails.”