Ibasho

The other day a staff member at my school asked me for an equivalent expression in English for the Japanese phrase ibasho. He described it as a heartwarming phrase for students. My Japanese-English dictionary was useless, as were various language translators on the web. However, a good old fashioned Google search revealed that ibasho refers to a place that is safe for an individual both physically and mentally to the point where they feel they belong in that particular place.

Obviously there is no direct translation in English. The best I could come up with, based on my limited understanding, was: Rest assured, you are always welcome here. When asked for an abbreviated version I came up with “a safe place.”

It may be tempting to associate ibasho with the concept of community building in public school classrooms in the United States, but there are differences. First, it should be noted that in Japan, teachers act as surrogate parents. They are both counselors and educators. In fact, if a student ever gets in trouble with law enforcement, the police contact the school before they call home. In contrast, teachers in the United States are encouraged to draw lines with students on personal issues and send them to separate counseling offices to take care of problems relating to matters outside of class. Although American educators work hard to promote a sense of community in the classroom, it appears to fall short of the concept of the Japanese concept of ibasho.

Which is better? I think it’s debatable and I’m not going to pick sides. Also, I think my understanding of ibasho, and many other Japanese cultural nuances for that matter, is very limited and perhaps even naïve. So Japanese scholars of the Internets, please educate me and those reading this about the finer points of ibasho.

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