“Maybe You Have to be Friends to be Nakama”: School Friends and Cultural Logics in the United States and Japan

Amy Damrow


I examine the concept of school friends by drawing on the ideas and experiences of one Japanese boy as he lived and attended school in both the United States and Japan. This ethnographic case study facilitates a comparative analysis of peer relations in schools through centering an 11-year-old’s perspective as he participated in and navigated ecological systems in both countries. Data include formal interviews with the youth, his parents, and his teachers, observations in schools in the United States and Japan, eco-maps, community maps, and sociometric questioning over a fifteen-month period. The study identified the strategies used to navigate social spaces, the different logics of school friends in the sociocultural spaces examined, and the subtle ways that particular types of communities are built in classrooms. Implications for teachers, teacher educators, administrators and others interested in building social, linguistic, and cognitive skills and a healthy school climate are discussed.


School friends, social and emotional learning, teacher education, comparative international education

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