Japan: Collectivistic Culture vs. Individualistic Culture

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Part of getting to know my wife, was also getting to know the cultural differences she had to adjust to when she assimilated to the American lifestyle for college. When we decided to get married, it was my turn.

We chose not to live in Japan but when we visit her side of the family, there are many unspoken rules I have to follow and certain ways I must conduct myself when interacting with… everyone.

We chose not to live in Japan, partially, because we enjoy our cultural individualism. For my wife and most of her friends, they’ve been “Americanized” so much that re-assimilating into their native culture would prove to be extremely difficult, but not impossible, for them.

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To help you wrap your head around this a little better I found this web entry:

“Cultures are typically divided into two categories: collectivist and individualist. Individualist cultures, such as those of the United States and Western Europe, emphasize personal achievement at the expense of group goals, resulting in a strong sense of competition. Collectivist cultures, such as those of China, Korea, and Japan, emphasize family and work group goals above individual needs or desires.
Collectivism and individualism deeply pervade cultures. People simply take their culture’s stance for granted. In the U.S., everything from ‘self-serve’ buffet tables to corporate structure to cowboy movies reflect the deeply ingrained individualism.
Both collectivist and individualistic cultures have their failings. People in individualist cultures are susceptible to loneliness, and people in collectivist cultures can have a strong fear of rejection.

Traits of Collectivism
▪ Each person is encouraged to be an active player in society, to do what is best for society as a whole rather than themselves.
▪ The rights of families, communities, and the collective supersede those of the individual.
▪ Rules promote unity, brotherhood, and selflessness.
▪ Working with others and cooperating is the norm; everyone supports each other.
▪ As a community, family or nation more than as an individual.

Traits of Individualism
▪ “I” identity.
▪ Promotes individual goals, initiative and achievement.
▪ Individual rights are seen as being the most important. Rules attempt to ensure self-importance and individualism.
▪ Independence is valued; there is much less of a drive to help other citizens or communities than in collectivism.
▪ Relying or being dependent on others is frequently seen as shameful.
People are encouraged to do things on their own; to rely on themselves.

Attribution is the process of understanding the actions of others based on limited information. Since the process is inexact, large errors often creep in. In individualistic cultures, there is a strong bias towards attributing a person’s behavior to the characteristics of that person, instead of to the situation that person is in. This is called the fundamental attribution error. People in collectivist cultures have this bias to a much lesser degree.
Personality Types
The stereotype of a ‘good person’ in collectivist cultures is trustworthy, honest, generous, and sensitive, all characteristics that are helpful to people working in groups. In contrast, a ‘good person’ in individualist cultures is more assertive and strong, characteristics helpful for competing.
The idea of the ‘artistic type’ or ‘bohemian’ is not usually found in collectivist cultures. However, collectivist cultures usually have a ‘community man’ concept not present in individualist cultures.” – psychology.wikia.com

In Japanese society, collectivistic culture is partially responsible for the Hikikomori phenomenon. I would never claim to be an expert but the research I’ve done on this subject suggests that, typically teenage, men become Hikikomori because of overwhelming pressure to be successful AND part of the group. When they have a mental break, they reject all of these values and retreat from everything and everyone.

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Despite our cultural differences, there was a reason Eminem wrote, “The Real Slim Shady”. Pop culture thrives on collectivistic tendencies.

Every country has its flaws and my point is not to say one country or culture is better than the other BUT different.
Keep an open mind and you might see how much we actually do have in common.

I try to everyday.

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Author: hikikomori78

American Hikikomori is an upcoming short film that explores the emotional struggles of a Japanese teenager named Isamu Fujihara, when he moves to America.

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