Proper manners, or forcing kids to be too polite?

“-san” is often though of as the Japanese version of “Mr.” or “Ms.” A difference, though, is that -san can also be used with a person’s given name. So, for example, if someone is talking with Yoshio Yamada, they might call him Yamada-san, or they might call him Yoshio-san.

Or they might just call him Yoshio, with no -san at all, or maybe he’s got a nickname, like Yosshi, that people call him by instead.

But at certain elementary schools in Japan, plain Yoshio and Yosshi wouldn’t be options, because some Japanese schools prohibit students from calling each other by nicknames or dropping the -san. There aren’t any official statistics about how widespread such rules are, but one Tokyo public elementary school principal, speaking with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, said he thinks it’s becoming a more common rule at schools in the city.

Tokyo’s Kasai Elementary School, for example, has its teachers instruct students to use -san when talking with their friends. “If you foster a sense of respect for the person they’re talking to from a young age they won’t take actions that hurt others,” says Masaaki Uchino, Kasai Elementary’s 60-year-old principal.

▼ Did this guy spend his formative years not calling his friends with -san?

Advocates of having even children call each other with -san tend to feel that way for two reasons. First, dropping the -san when speaking with someone, a practice called yobisute, can be interpreted in multiple ways. In a positive sense, it can be seen as a sign that there’s no need to stand on stuffy ceremony, and it’s not at all uncommon for especially close friends in Japan to yobisute each other. But on the other hand, since -san is, fundamentally, a polite form of address, dropping it can also be seen as a sign that the person isn’t worthy of respect, especially if the people in the conversation aren’t that close.

Another issue is that, at least among the educators who spoke with Yomiuri Shimbun in favor of mandating the use of -san, there doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction between ordinary nicknames and derogatory ones. “Many nicknames that are based on a person’s physical appearance, or a mistake they made, are insulting,” says Mitsuo Nobuchi, the 51-year-old vice principal at Mito Eiko Elementary, a private school in Ibaraki Prefecture whose conduct rules for students include “Use -san when talking to your friends.” “We don’t believe that rules for how students should address each other will completely stamp out bullying,” admits Nobuchi, “but we do believe it’s a component of deterrent measures.”

However, some believe that forbidding yobisute and nicknames entirely negatively limits their ability to establish their own communication norms with their peers. “By prohibiting nicknames, I worry that they might be making it difficult for children to communicate smoothly and openly with one another,” said a 40-something elementary teacher from Saitama Prefecture. Many Twitter commenters also feel like such rules are going too far, with some citing nicknames as a potentially positive force.

“Such a dumb idea. What’s next? ‘Please call your classmates by their student ID number?’”
“Instead of stopping kids from using nicknames, how about if we stop them from bullying?”
“There are kids who feel embarrassed because their parents gave them a weird, flashy name…but with rules like this, they can’t ask their friends to call them by a nickname instead.”
“There are people whose nickname helped them create an outgoing persona and make friends, and there are people who got saddled with a hurtful nickname they don’t like. It’s pretty complicated.”
“In the third grade, my teacher just had us tell the rest of the class how we wanted them to call us…Worked out great.”

It could be that schools that don’t allow nicknames or yobisute are aware of the benefits that can come from those more casual forms of address, but feel the potential negatives outweigh them. Still, it’d be nice if they could find a way to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, in regulating how kids communicate with each other.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via Livedoor News, Twitter
Top image: Pakutaso (edited by SoraNews24)
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