Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
“Common view” that Japanese are typically collectivists is not supported by data (wiley.com)
62 points by DyslexicAtheist 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

I'm curious by what metric? One reason I choose to live in Japan is the respect for others. Drop your wallet you're more likely to get it back and with all cash that was in it. People generally don't party loud in their apartments but in support of that it's easy to find a bar or restaurant you can rent for the night for your party and places than can seat parties of 8 to 20 people without notice are abundant (izakaya). Places to practice instruments are also easy to find. Cleaning up after a picnic or at the beach seems better than most other places.

Whether or not that's evidence of collectivism I have no idea.

I haven't read the specific paper, but there are studies that try to classify countries by "cultural dimensions", of which "individualism" is one:


"Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV): This index explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.” Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only relates an individual to his/her immediate family. They emphasize the “I” versus the “we.” Its counterpart, collectivism, describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and others into in-groups. These in-groups are laced with undoubted loyalty and support each other when a conflict arises with another in-group."


”One reason I choose to live in Japan is the respect for others.”

Interesting. For me this is one of the worst things about living in the UK.

It’s quite normal for many people to go the park or the beach and just leave all their litter on the ground when they’re done. Or to tip out all the litter from their car into the street when they’re done eating a McDonalds meal. Things that would be totally unacceptable in Japan or even many other European countries!

In the UK I don’t think it’s lack of respect for others that is the real problem, however. People are generally polite to each other, willing to help people out and form orderly queues. It’s more a lack of respect for the environment around them (picking up litter is someone else’s job) or lack of awareness of how their actions affect others (I had no idea that revving my loud ass motorbike on a residential street at 1AM was annoying people)...

Sometimes I wish that the UK was more like Japan!

> I had no idea that revving my loud ass motorbike on a residential street at 1AM was annoying people

I was on a train going into London earlier this week and the guy sat behind me insisted on playing music loudly on his phone speaker. Which doubles the annoyance of being both terrible music (imo) and terrible distorted sound quality.

I asked him to turn it down after being annoyed for a bit, which he did for 5 minutes and then took a phone call (speakerphone, obvs) and turned the music back on.

I guess he knew I wasn't going to keep making a fuss and so didn't give a shit. It was mildly infuriating - but what are you going to do?

One possible tactic is to try and strike up a conversation with him. He'll probably turn off or turn down his music if given an opportunity to talk about himself (which most people love doing).

I think I'd rather deal with the music.

That's probably why people think it's okay to listen to music or have conversations on speakerphone. I'm not saying you are obligated to attempt to stop antisocial behaviour. You are proving his assumptions that people don't really mind.

It probably is. And personally, I don't really care. Because I have my earphones in and I can't hear anything coming from the outside world.

That's not to say that I can't care about rude behavior or do anything about it if it starts to persist. I've confronted more than one person who kept on with bad behaviors, at the coffee shop that I go to.

Usually a politely-worded request is all that's required. I may escalate to a second politely-worded request. I think that's only been needed once in 13 years of going to the coffee shop. The baristas handle it if it gets more out of hand.

There is behavior that I particularly don't have a problem with but other people do. This usually concerns the shared resource of space at the bar. One guy really needs his space, about half of a bar intended to seat 3. The coffee shop is his workplace and he needs everything just so. Other people roll their eyes and just give in, in many cases moving before he gets there. This, of course, suits him just fine. He seems to calibrate to just enough disagreeableness to get his way in this particular instance.

I'm just glad I don't have to get involved and can laugh from a distance.

"While in hell, offer to hold the pitchfork for a bit."

Talk to people...on the train?

Well, in a way he is already breaking one social convention, so one can be hope that he could be okay breaking any of them.

Talking to people near you is not taboo, though.

Very confused about why my original comment got downvoted.

I think it's a subset of people (let's call them "assholes") that do the littering, the engine revving, and so on. This is just an anecdote but usually the people I see throwing their rubbish out the car window are people driving cars commonly associated with young working class men with bad attitudes (boy racer cars like black astras and such). Or in other words: it's chavs. Most people are pretty decent in general, and IME chavs are bad actors along multiple dimensions.

I wouldn't say it is normal but it is definitely common enough to make me pretty angry on occasions. And then there is fly tipping, which seems a real problem where I live here in Fife - which is really odd as there are excellent council run recycling centres that take every kind of waste (admittedly with a charge for businesses).

Perhaps this is a result of two different cultural approaches to conflict minimization? My naive impression of people from these two cultures is that Japanese people are typically willing to confront others but seek to avoid being confronted while the English tend to be the reverse. Both approaches reduce the amount of public confrontations but have very different results in terms of public behavior.

Could this arise from Japan more of a shame-based society than England?

>quite normal for many people

Worth clarifying that it's not normal for the majority of people, and only a few people do it in specific occasions. But it does only take one bad apple to spoil things.

True. The optimistic side of me wants to believe that most people do not litter.

But it’s surprising (and sad) to me how many people do do this when they think they aren’t being watched. Often people who you would take to be perfectly fine, ordinary, upstanding types at first glance.

On the other hand, I watched a couple of members of a bunch of “youths” hanging out at a bus stop in London the other day who went out of their way to put their crisp wrappers in a nearby bin. Despite it being a pretty grimy littered street. So perhaps there is hope...

> This common view has persisted for decades despite prior influential reviews refuting it (Matsumoto, 1999, 2002; Matsumoto, Kudoh, & Takeuchi, 1996; Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; Takano & Osaka, 1997, 1999)

Odd they don't cite sources promoting the common view (Except for Hofstede, later).

> The common view is problematic because it takes this country-level difference and interprets a cultural dimen- sion of the country—for example, that American culture is individualistic and that Japanese culture is collectivis- tic—and then further applies that culture-level difference to individual members of those cultures. American indi- viduals are treated as if they are all individualistic and Japanese individuals are treated as if they are all collec- tivistic; that is, the common view essentially imposes a country-level effect (I/C) onto individual members of those nation cultures.

So they are saying that Japanese culture is collectivist, but Japanese individuals aren't. Makes sense to me. I litter more when in China than when in Japan.

Seems that you need credentials to access the full article.

Based on the abstract it sounds a good read. Japanese phrase “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” might need to be changed to “The nail that sticks out gets to see further”


"At 88 Japan scores as one of the most Long Term Orientation oriented societies. Japanese see their life as a very short moment in a long history of mankind."

I think the real difference is somewhere else. Japanese aren't individualists neither. Like other Asian people they tend to make a profound distinction between family and the world outside of the family. In other words, they think "we" and exclude you if you aren't part of the family.

"Common view" is usually very inaccurate.

More principled cultural measures like Hofstede's don't measure individuality of individuals (sic). They measure relative differences in a group of people from another in the terms of the culture and values as they are collectively represented in institutions and behavioral norms.

In Hofstede's cultural dimensions Japanese uncertainty avoidance may be interpreted and perceived as 'low individuality' because it restricts expression of expressing ideas and individual behavior. It does not mean that Japanese are drones without ideas as individuals. They must express new ideas using different channels when working inside Japanese culture.

Hofstede's ranking for individualism for select countries:

    US      91
    Japan   46 
    China   20
Japan ranks culturally quite high in individualism when compared to other East Asian nations. Japanese society does not have extended family system which forms a base of more collectivistic societies such as China and Korea. Where they really separate from the rest is masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, low indulgence and power distance. In contrast, Chinese uncertainty avoidance is very low. Lover than in the US.


Short definitions to avoid confusion from literal interpretation of the terms (these terms don't mean exactly the same what the common meaning is):

individualism: the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

power distance: the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

masculinity: indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organizational life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable (Sweden is opposite of Japan in this axis).

uncertainty avoidance: the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Strong uncertainty avoidance means maintaining rigid codes of belief and behaviour, and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas.

indulgence: the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses. Culturally less emphasis on leisure time and control the gratification of their desires.

Well, the comparison mentioned in the abstract is between Americans and Japanese, so Hofstede's rankings seem to agree with the "common view" mentioned in the paper...

This kind of stereotyping perpetuates myths in both directions and encourages the 'fetishization' of others. It creates gross generalizations about things like individualism, collectivism and shame that are not in sync with reality.

Slut shaming, unemployment, deviant behavior, low status jobs are about shame. 13 reasons why and slew of other media explore slut shaming in modern society. Hn commentators never fail to remind macdonald and wallmart workers about their status. Go back just a couple of decades and its even more pronounced.

Any one who has been to school here will know status and class consciousness is predominant in society. This raises questions about the value and accuracy of these kind of distinctions.

Differences seem to come more from relative wealth levels that allow better infrastructure, facilities, less frenzy for survival, leisure, some degree of independence and opportunities for self improvement. In Palo Alto people wait for pedestrians while in New York its completely different, you can do some deep analysis on culture for this or put it down to crowding and heavy traffic patterns.

I'm not going to say I can absolutely refute this paper but I can say that in my day job, which is an international not for profit in the Asia Pacific, with a strong Japanese sub presence I see collectivism and individualism, but I see a lot more collectivism. I'm told in the domestic equivalent circuit they fight like cats and dogs, but outside? It's a party line.

I also think there is a strong Confucianism element to things. Collectivism is a sister to respect for collective and hierarchical authority sometimes.

A lot of Western people (especailly a certain brand of Americans) parrot this line of thought like it's the 19th century when in fact what they're perceiving is their own inability to understand another culture. The atom bomb and hollywood has had a stronger influence on contemporary japanese culture than Confucius, but there's always this constant need to regress to a differentiated past.

I asked my colleagues who come from a range of Asian backgrounds and they tend to feel there is a resurgence of modern soft Confucianism. Obviously they could be chosing a trope to get out of the conversation too.

I'm not American. I'm in Australia but working with a body that covers all 56 Asia Pacific economies with some national chapters. The Bhutanese are very very strong on ancestor and elder respect (for instance)

So you tend to support the papers view?

Yeah, I've heard that there is some renewed interest in Confucianism which I think has to do with the global rise of fascist mythology, but for example it's still true that young Japanese are quickly losing interest in family values and traditional notions of responsiblities to society.

More like current Japanese economy makes it fucking hard to live out traditional Japanese family image. Life-long cushy salaryman jobs are sparse. Yet Japanese women who stick to the traditional image won't take up a dude working McJob. The only way save face (which is one of top priorities in Japan if not Asia) is to pretend you have no interest in that at all.

There're quite a few young people living out the traditional Japanese dream though. Birth rates seem to be coming back up too. Possibly because Tokyo (where most young people are concentrated, the rest of the country is more or less dying) is slowly becoming child-friendly. More spacious housing for affordable (as that can be) prices, more public facilities for children and child care/schools seem to be getting cheaper.

I don't know why people always focus on the birth rate in Japan. It's pretty standard to developed nations, and there are nations with a lower birth rate.

Their birth rate is now getting back up. It used to be quite a bit worse. On top of that, average Japanese life expectancy is rather long. Which makes it skewed towards elders.

And on top of that, they have strict immigration and don't feel like going Euro way at all. Thus population decline is massive compared to western europe.

It's because it's been below population replacement since the 1960's, so the age-sex pyramid has been inverted for a long time and it used to be unusual.

> young Japanese are quickly losing interest in family values and traditional notions of responsibilities to society

I think this is common across the developing world. Contributing to declining birth rates "why put in effort to bolster members of my society?" and similar notions.

More educated people have always had less children.

That's not true on an individual scale, only on a country average scale, and only post-industrialist. So basically, that's not true.

I know many japanese people (I am a go player) and I am very interested in this culture. When I have read the books of Amélie Nothomb, it was perfectly in line with my discussions with these people. The movie and book "Fear and Trembling" are excellent illustrations of Japaneese society. I have never seen japanesse people as collectivists. I do not understant why it would be a common view in America. AFAIK, it is not a common view in France.

It is worth noting that there is a Søren Kirkegaard book, with the English title "Fear and Trembling", that has nothing to do with Japan.

> I do not understant why it would be a common view in America. AFAIK, it is not a common view in France.

Probably because it is a common view in Japan and just about everywhere else in the world.

> a lot more collectivism

I see it too but rather than just Confucianism I think that individuals are too clueless to drive anything on their own and end up leaving decisions and directions to "consensus" instead of relying on what they can do themselves.

I rather blame education in Japan, which is absolutely terrible and actively destroys bright minds from an early age.

Recent news:


This university was caught penalising women test scores due to a belief they would "waste" chairs, since women may drop out school with pregnancy.

That's textbook example of collectivism over individual to me, and a pretty extreme one.

Can anyone give an example of how the "common view" could be true at culture-level but not at individual-level?

This editorial spends a page and a half talking about it without a single example.

The article says it is the ecological fallacy. Google "ecological fallacy example" and you'll find lots. A simple example: take a group of 3 people. One has an IQ of 200. The other 2 have an IQ of 50. The average IQ is 100. So the group is "average IQ" but if you pick a person at random they are likely to be substantially below average IQ. Examples get substantially more complicated in reality.

I see, thanks. I think they should have just said distributions are skewed, and skewed differently, if thats what they mean.

Using the term 'ecological fallacy' does exactly that. It is a specific, formal term. A common subtype is called Simpson's Paradox, and that comes up frequently as well.


I have troubles accessing the full article.

Thank you. The Scihub telegram bot told me he doesn't have it in its database yet, so it's seems to lag behind.

Lots of anecdotes without reading the article (which is par for the course in 99% of HN threads). Anyway, here's a quick summary:

* Culture level effects do not necessarily translate to the individual. That is, Japanese culture may be collectivist without any individual being collectivist.

* Other countries are more collectivist than Japan.

* Concepts like "collectivist" and "individualistic" are not binary or mutually exclusive. (People can switch from one to another depending on context or day of the week.)

All of the examples in this thread fit perfectly into the article's section on why the common view persists despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary: confirmation bias. For instance (not an example from the article): Americans are "individualistic" even though 51% of Americans go to church (the ultimate in collectivism) at least once a month. But that massive groundswell of collectivism isn't seen as such. Even the much disliked growth in partisan politics is just another form of collectivism.

fogetti 6 months ago [flagged]

There is no article but there is a paywall instead. Before you make your self-conceited, complacent argument make sure you don't render yourself stupid next time.

"Common view" by whom? Academics who needed to make things up to in order to make a name for themselves? Media who needed to fetishize to get views?

The only way we say one culture is "collectivist" and another "individualistic" is if we cherrypick data or history?

How we branded ourselves as an "individualistic" culture when for 500 years, our identifying cultural contribution was collectivist racism. The fact of the matter is that the west conquered the world because we were far more collectivist than anyone else. It wasn't the "rugged individual" who conquered africa, america, asia, etc. It certainly wasn't the "rugged individual" that wiped out natives, enslaved africans, etc.

It's funny how we took 500 years of our collectivism and then dumped it on the japanese, chinese, etc and branded ourselves as "individualistic".

All nations are individualists and collectivistic at the same time.

The individualism/collectivism scale describes the level of inter-dependence on closely related in-groups and the level of support for them and are all taking place on the level of an individual. Things like family fall into this category.

It has nothing to do with how nations/groups conquer each other.

Collectivism is the denial of the individual; it is inherently rude.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact