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Thread: Are Japanese more individualist or collectivist ?

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Are the Japanese more individualist or collectivist ?

    As I was reading a book on cultural differences inside Europe, I found the analysis of the famous Dutch cultural psychologist Geert Hofstede, who used to work for IBM and classified cultural differences under 5 categories :

    - power distance
    - individualism vs collectivism
    - masculinilty vs femininity
    - uncertainty avoidance
    - long-term vs short-term orientation

    Here is what he says about the second one, which I'd like to discuss here :

    Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are inte-grated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word 'collectivism' in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.
    You can find the results for 56 countries here

    Here is the graph for Japan :



    Japan scored 46 for individualism (0 is the most collectivist and 100 the most individualist). The most individualistic countries in the world were all English-speaking ones + the Netherlands (and unsurprisingly, Dutch is the most similar language to English, very similar to what linguist call Middle English, i.e. 12 to 15th century English). The USA scored 91, Australia 90, the UK 89, then Canada and the Netherlands 80 and New-Zealand 79. The only other countries with a score above 70 were Italy (76), Belgium (75), Denmark (74), Sweden (71) and France (71).
    Japan is by far the most individualistic country in Asia, as most score between 15 and 20 !

    However, Japan (46) is more individualistic than Southern European countries like Portugal (27), Greece (35), and very close to Spain (51). I believe that Italy's score (76) reflects much more the Northern Italian mentality than the much more collectivist Sourthern one.

    ----------------------------


    After this short introduction, let us discuss Japan's individualism.

    If you ask them, Japanese people will usually tell you that their society is a very collectivist one. They are very group-minded, sociable, care enormously about what others think about them, and often do things only because other people do it too ("if everyone jumps in the river, they let's do it too !"). In companies, they tend to seek everyone's opinion before taking a decision (so as to preserve the harmony). Traditionally, families accommodate 3, 4 or even 5 generations under the same roof. Nowadays, it's still common for grand-parents, parents and children to live in the same house.

    Seen like this, Japanese are colectivist. However, I've found them to be very individualistic in their private life.

    - Lot's of Japanese prefer to live by themselves rather than share a flat/apartent with a friend or even with their boyfriend/girlfriend, at least before marriage. After, some couples sleep in different rooms once they have children ! (I'd say, a third of them). Even in England, Europe's most individualistic nation, it is common for students or young people to rent a house and share it between 4 or 5 friends. The reason to that is that there are few small flats/apartmets even in London (usually detached or semi-detached houses), but also because it's more fun to stay with friends. Japanese however, even when studying abroad, almost always prefer to have their own place.

    - Nowadays, lots of Japanese don't keep regular contact with their extended families (cousins, uncles, aunts, let alone second cousins). I've asked lots of people about that and 2/3 very rarely or never meet their cousins, some keep contact with a few cousins and I am yet to meet someone who regularily meets most of them. That contrast a lot with Latin/Catholic countries (including French-speaking ones) where family gatherings are usually numerous (for Christmas, New Year, Easter, at marriages, communions, baptisms, birthdays, etc.). A typical (a bit extreme) example can be seen in the movie "My big fat Greek wedding" (though Greek are neither Latin, nor Catholic, so it's maybe more a matter of climate, but Catholic Belgians act almost as such). Japanese rarely have big family gathering and rarely invite people at home.

    - Lot's of Japanese do most of their activities and hobbies by themselves (or with just 1 friend). Many travel alone or go to study a year abroad by themsleves, which is quite an individualistic behaviour in itself.


    Altogether, I'd say that Japanese are more collectivist at work or when they must be in group, but any other time, when they can do things by themselves (or with 1 person, like their lover or best friend), they do. That explains the mitigated score of 46. Professor Hofstede's survey, however, dates back to the 1960's, 70's and early 80's. A nation's culture doesn't normally changes in just a few decades, but in Japan it is obvious that society has gone a long way since then, and today's score for individualsim would certainly be a bit higher.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Apr 16, 2005 at 20:49.

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  2. #2
    __________ budd's Avatar
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    good topic! i don't know either for sure, cept my man been paying for cable modem since july and he still got no internet
    oh well, i gave him the computer, my other friend says to leave him alone, "he has to learn for himself" in america, got to complain, ain't nobody gone check
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    They share a individualist collectivism.

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    ''- Lot's of Japanese do most of their activities and hobbies by themselves (or with just 1 friend). Many travel alone or go to study a year abroad by themsleves, which is quite an individualistic behaviour in itself.''

    The impression I got is that the Japanese prefer to go in groups, and in fact, I have heard many jokes about it. They seem to always stick together, they are extremely polite (japanese stereotypes maybe;)

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    Regular Member Mashu's Avatar
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    Maculinity vs Feminiity is really high yet Japan is known for their really cute and adorable items!?!?

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mashu
    Maculinity vs Feminiity is really high yet Japan is known for their really cute and adorable items!?!?
    Exactly ! That is a normal result, as the stronger the gender gap and the higher chances for having very feminine and cute-loving females.

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    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    Yeah, i get that one. Higher means the guys are more masculine and the women more feminin. (sp?) Thats definitly japan. Im surprised that the individualism vs collectivism isnt higher, they tend to prefer groups and consensus.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewok85
    Im surprised that the individualism vs collectivism isnt higher, they tend to prefer groups and consensus.
    I have just posted another thread that will explain it to you in detail.

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    super famicom dadako's Avatar
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    to my experience, individualist.

    but, all my friends in japan work in media or arts.

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    Regular Member KitsuneUdon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    ...Altogether, I'd say that Japanese are more collectivist at work or when they must be in group...
    I'm not too certain about the other countries that you mentioned, but I believe that their education system is what makes them much more collective than countries. As you probably know, it's the students that are in one classroom all day, all year, and it's the teachers whom alternate from class to class.

    Anyway, I've been told that this allows students to create a rather strong bond between fellow classmates and sometimes making life long friends out of them. Thus could this be one of the major contributing factors?

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    Quote Originally Posted by KitsuneUdon
    I'm not too certain about the other countries that you mentioned, but I believe that their education system is what makes them much more collective than countries. As you probably know, it's the students that are in one classroom all day, all year, and it's the teachers whom alternate from class to class.
    ... or is it their collectivist cultural tendencies that dictated their preference for an educational system?

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kov
    ... or is it their collectivist cultural tendencies that dictated their preference for an educational system?
    I believe that's it.
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    Samurai Golgo_13's Avatar
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    "Individualism" is a word that does not exist in the Japanese language.

    Conformity is a strong part of their culture.

    Doing things like dying one's hair blonde, tattooing, or piercing is still not truly individualistic because one does it because there are many others doing it--still "conforming" to a sub-culture.
    Last edited by Golgo_13; Apr 28, 2004 at 10:06.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KitsuneUdon
    As you probably know, it's the students that are in one classroom all day, all year, and it's the teachers whom alternate from class to class.
    Anyway, I've been told that this allows students to create a rather strong bond between fellow classmates and sometimes making life long friends out of them. Thus could this be one of the major contributing factors?
    I have always known this system (except the last 2 years of secndary school, because we all had different options). But that doesn't me less individualistic. Anyway, I heard that Japanese have difficult making new friends after school time, and most of their lifetime friends stay those of school. Also in sharp contrast wit me who doesn't keep any contact with school time friends and always make new ones when I change city or country... Anyway, people and tastes evolved. There are too many people in the world to keep hanging with those you already know only too well.

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    me gots isshooz...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Exactly ! That is a normal result, as the stronger the gender gap and the higher chances for having very feminine and cute-loving females.
    in the u.s., the gender gap doesn't appear to be as high, and the u.s. isn't nearly as and feminine as some of japan's stuff. that's probably why so many girls i know here go crazy over overpriced imported sanrio stuff at out local mall. this gender gap, could it explain why in japan they manga and anime for males and females seperately, while in the u.s. its considered a waste of money by many companies to make shows and so forth directly targeting girls? i remeber how enchanted i was with sailormoon when i first saw it when i was 12...it was the first show for girls i had ever seen!

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    Heimin
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    If this isn't a problem for the japanese society and all goes well, then we shouldn't criticize it, just because we're born in different societies.

    Our societies aren't functioning perfect themselves. And we are choosing to go on a japansite, because we are interested about this country with all its goods and beds.

    Well, we can criticize it, but shouldn't view it as weird or bad.

    I mean, none of you are interested in Holland, except maybe the weed you can buy here, but if you are, you would probably go on a hollandsite, en then you would criticize it's society, different from the american one. and blabla.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meiki
    If this isn't a problem for the japanese society and all goes well, then we shouldn't criticize it, just because we're born in different societies.
    What are you talking about ? I haven't seen a bit of negative criticism in this thread. Maybe you should quote, or be prepared to be criticised yourself for being too vague.

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    Comfortably Ignorant Faustianideals's Avatar
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    I think he was talking about the viewpoints of some people about Japan, not this thread. Anyways, I do think Japan is more individualist. They are usually trying to differ from the rest of the world. Or at least, that's my take on it.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thor
    I do think Japan is more individualist. They are usually trying to differ from the rest of the world. Or at least, that's my take on it.
    That's a good point. The Japanese are extremely individualistic as a group. (sound contradictory ? ). Relating to the world, Japan is always unique and different for the Japanese. But between themselves, they do care very much about social harmony, social trends, and what people think of them (peer pressure at a national level if you want). They can be individualitic for their hobbies (reading manga alone, playing games alone, travelling alone, keeping their head on their keitai in trains...) or in their lifestyle (many singles living by themselves in Tokyo !). However, they can be very sociable when necessary too. That's why as seem as as halfway between individualistic and collectivist for their lifestyle/hobbies, but extremely collectivist when it comes to social rules and working style (in companies), and united as a group compared to the "outside" (the rest of the world).

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    Comfortably Ignorant Faustianideals's Avatar
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    Yeah, japanese do tend to kept to themselves. Like you said, they read manga alone, travel alone, play games alone, and eat alone. They also make themselves look trendy too. I've noticed more, and more japanese rap popping up lately. So that would have to do with being trendy, and cool with the rest of the global society. You could say that they have been adopting traits from the american occupation of Japan. Or I could be wrong. Foreign devils are occupying our land, let's stay away from them? Few years later, japanese get use to Americans and other accept other culture with open arms(somewhat)?
    Japan is just cool like that, yes? lol

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    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Altogether, I'd say that Japanese are more collectivist at work or when they must be in group, but any other time, when they can do things by themselves (or with 1 person, like their lover or best friend), they do. That explains the mitigated score of 46. Professor Hofstede's survey, however, dates back to the 1960's, 70's and early 80's. A nation's culture doesn't normally changes in just a few decades, but in Japan it is obvious that society has gone a long way since then, and today's score for individualsim would certainly be a bit higher.
    That's why I love this forum so much. Maciamo, you do some great research and bring up some great points for discussion.

    I don't know what I can add here, but I must agree with your analysis and research. I have not known hardly a Japanese person who did not live alone when they were away from home and going to school or working. Even though it may have been more economical to share an apartment/flat with a friend, they preferred living alone. I never questioned them on this, as being an individualist myself, I also lived alone in an apartment in Japan as a student, and could've easily accomidated another person to split the rent. However, the people I had known were collectivists when they were at school or work. They would be a member of a club or group; party as a group, make decisions as a group, etc. But when the day came to an end, they would become individualistic and persue their own interests apart from the group at school or work.

    It seemed that when when they were in the environment of work or school it was the group/section, or club that mattered most. I also found this to be true when I worked for a Japanese company here in the states. Most of the Japanese I knew despised their having to stay after hours or to have to play golf on Saturdays or Sundays, but that is what was expected of them. But when they were away from that environment they were completely different people who had their own individual interests apart from the "group." In fact it was like they had two distinct personalities. And I would venture to say that hardly anyone at the company knew what their individual, or private, hobbies were.

    A couple of younger Japanese persons in their 20's I knew back in the 90's at the company I worked for said they would never conform to the Japanese system. They used to leave work precisely at 4:30pm and go home to be with their family and to persue their hobbies of playing tennis or bowling or whatever they were interested in. The funny thing is that the Japanese "group mentality thinking" or the older businessmen at the company, had a way of growing on them and making them conform. They were like, kind of forced to conform. After a couple of years these 20 something people started staying later and later at work and soon began to become like the elder Japanese businessmen. It was like their whole personality changed. It was something like the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Soon they were no different than any other Japanese businessman there.

    I questioned one, who I had become close with, on why he had changed and he said it was because if he didn't conform he would not advance within the company. Thus he conformed, gave up his individualism, and became a "corporate robot" like his compatriots. He still persued his individualistic hobbies, but he complained that he had less and less time to persue them.

    Thus the score of "46" you quoted above must be for those in their 20's for, as they age within the company, they conform like everyone else until they too are just like the people they did not want to become.

    It seems to be a sad, but true, fact of Japanese society. At least where these people are concerned. The protruding nail is tolerated in the beginning, but is soon hammered down if they want to advance within the corporation.
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  22. #22
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pachipro
    Most of the Japanese I knew despised their having to stay after hours or to have to play golf on Saturdays or Sundays, but that is what was expected of them. But when they were away from that environment they were completely different people who had their own individual interests apart from the "group." In fact it was like they had two distinct personalities. And I would venture to say that hardly anyone at the company knew what their individual, or private, hobbies were.
    I don't think they have two personalities. At work/school they are forced to participate in group activities because the system is like that, not because they like it. I know many Japanese who also dislike going to company trips with their co-workers (some enjoy it of course), or especially women who dislike having to "go for a drink" with their male coworkers/boss after work. But the Japanese are so docile and rule-abiding that they just do it without complaining and without resentment, whether they like it or not. In fact, they have never known another system, so for them it's the only way things can be. Those who have lived abroad for some time realise that it is not the only way, and many of them can't go back to live/work in Japan because of this social pressure. Most Japanese people just can't say "no", especially if everybody else does it.

    Sometimes I pity those who really don't like to spend their "free-time" with their coworkers by duty because they have their own interests and hobbies. I wonder if that is not partly why many Japanese who work for such companies do not really have any hobbies/interests anymore, because they don't have time for it. That is also probably why many Japanese women want to marry quickly and stop work, so that they will finally have a lot of free time. That is even truer if, like many women, they feel a deep urge to have a baby and care for it.

    Conclusion, I'd say that the Japanese are often collectivist by duty, by individualistic by choice, like in most Western countries. The main difference is that the Japanese tend to be more obedient (even servile) and accept things without questioning or complaining. They also tend to put other people's feelings before their own*. This is nonetheless not the same as lack individualism. What they lack is more a strong "critical sense" and "ego".

    * in extreme cases, I have seen a mother scold her child who felt on the ground and was crying because he was "blocking traffic and causing trouble to people around". Why who a mother care more about strangers than her own child ? This is typical Japanese behaviour. It is linked to the concept of "uchi vs soto" ("uchi" being the group we belong to at that very moment, be it the family, company, nation, or whatever - and "soto" people outside this group). It is also linked to the concept of "face". In this case, the mother and child were "uchi" and the people in the street "soto". The mother scolded her child not because she didn't care about him, but so as to save face toward the "soto" by not causing them trouble. Things almost always work this way in Japan.

    The most interesting is that the group one belongs to ("uchi") changes with the circumstances. Everything is in relation to the direct environment. It's probably the same all over the world, but the Japanese just seem to be much more aware of it. For example, while travelling around Asia, lone Westerners usually greet each others or start talking together, because they are part of the same group ("uchi"), as opposed to the local Asians ("soto"). I experienced this myself. However, when I came to Japan it was different because my wife, in-laws and friends were Japanese. So usually I did not consider Westerners as particularily "uchi" anymore, except for my friends. Most Westerners' way of reacting to this "uchi" and "soto" is to change their formality level in their speech. In French, German or some other European languages, this implies changing the "you" from "vous/Sie" to "tu/Du". In English, it's just the formality of the words used. But because of the absence (or lack of importance) of the concept of "face", Westerners will usually give more importance to the "uchi" without caring much about what the "soto" think or 'may think'.

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