Japanese Collectivism: The Key to Survival in Japan

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, who come to Japan feel the cultural difference very much, and being able to understand and accept it is a key to surviving in Japan. If you are going to learn more about Japan, you will be stressed by the basic cultural difference. In reality, as a tourist, Japan is a very fun country, but it is very difficult for foreigners to work in it. But to live for a long time in Japan, accepting the different culture is very important, and before accepting you have to understand logically how the social system works. Well, then today I’ll explain a very big key “Japanese Collectivism”.

*There is an English and a simple Japanese version. If you want to learn Japanese by reading some articles, I recommend you to read the Japanese version.

*If you know how to read Japanese well, I recommend you to read this book.

Japanese collectivism is like # of Instagram

Japanese collectivism is like # of Instagram. When a Japanese person meets you, they analyze what kind of # you have as well;

man in white button up shirt wearing black sunglasses
Photo by RODNAE Productions on

Mr. Tanaka: #Tokyonese #Loves soccer #Toyota worker #Likes Gucci #Married

The Japanese analyze your personality and behavior in their hashtag. The Japanese don’t see you as an individual because they believe that groups make individuals. They think of you as a member of a group with certain characteristics. This is a very important point, so understand it well. The idea that the group makes an individual or the idea that individuals make a group are so different.

So now let’s look at the characters of this hashtag.

Now I give you an example. It’s a Japanese guy who works in Toyota.

1: The Japanese are in some groups (Hashtag).

For example they are like this.

  • The Japanese group
  • The group of Toyota workers
  • The soccer club group
  • The University of Tokyo Graduate Group
  • Your family group

2:There are large and small groups

Depending on the number of people in the group, there are large and small groups, and these groups have different roles.

  • The small groups: The family, The soccer team
    • The social influence is not so great. But the relationship of people is very deep, so it gives you a good influence on your heart.
  • The big groups: the university graduates, the concept of “the Japanese”
    • The social influence is very big, so if you dedicate yourself to these groups, you get the money or the power. But there is not much deep heart relationship between people.

3:The groups have the unspoken rules

There are many unspoken laws in the groups, and no one can teach you logically because they cannot understand well. That’s why the members will act similarly to other people in the group. If you go outside the rules, there are two levels of punishment.

  • Level 1 Bullying: People will attack the black sheep. If this sheep becomes white, it will stop this bullying. But you should understand that Bullying is a warning to get to level 2. If you fight the groups, the punishment will go to level 2.
  • Level 2 Explosion: If you don’t become “the white sheep” despite the bullying. The punishment changes to ejection. It’s like anathema, and the group members will ignore you.

Also you should not perform for another group when you are in a group. For example, going home to your family when other co-workers are working is a very bad act. But it depends on the companies, there is a possibility that they will admit it when the tacit rules of this company accept it.

4: Japanese people participate in groups in their lives

  • The Japanese belong to several groups. And they think about which group they should act for their own benefit. But when they act in the group, they don’t act for their individual idea, they follow the group’s order.
  • If a group were to expel a Japanese person, this person would not be disappointed because he or she is involved in other groups as well. But if he loses the relationships of all groups, he will be “the lone wolf” and in this situation this person is very dangerous.

5: The “lone wolf” person is very dangerous

  • People who are not in any group are called “The Invincible Person” because they do what they want by not following the rules of the group. These people are capable of committing violent crimes and terrorism.
  • These people are capable of committing violent crimes and terrorism. If the violent rules are decided upon in this group, it will be more dangerous. But sometimes Japanese history changes because of people like this.

Do you understand the principles of Japanese society? The “individual” is scarce in this country. And since the individual is such an important concept in Western society, there is a great possibility that you will feel stressed when you come to Japan.

And I’m a very individualistic Japanese, so I know how an individualist can live in this country. It’s to pretend to be a collectivist. The rules of collectivism may seem unreasonable to you, but it’s important to show your individualistic nature to your limited friends and to pretend to be a collectivist at work and elsewhere. If you think pretending to be something you are not is a problem, then this country is not the right place for you.

What are you willing to sacrifice to live in Japan? Thinking about it will lead to a happier life in Japan.

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