In contrast to American individualism, Japanese are group-oriented. Japanese do not like to be alone or to do things differently from others. They stick together: eating, working, or traveling in a group. Following others and being part of a group gives them a kind of carefreeness and joy. Why are Japanese group-oriented? The reasons originate from their geography, history, and culture.
Geographical location and climate play a key role in promoting this group-orientedness. Japan is isolated from other countries. Japan is composed of four main islands which are surrounded by sea and located far from America, Europe, or Australia. Thus, Japan is isolated from other countries. In the past, this geographical location make it difficult to communicate with other countries, so this isolation reinforced their tendency to stick together.
Furthermore, the climate of Japan has created a rice-producing country based on collective work. Japan is located in a part of the monsoon area which stretches from Siberia in the north to Indonesia in the south. In summer, seasonal winds blow from the tropical south seas and bring heavy rainfall to Japan. With the temperate climate and plenty of rainfall, Japan has become one of the most favorable countries for rice farming. Rice-farming involves rice-planting, cultivation, and irrigation works in large fields, so it requires a lot of workers. Rice-farming is collective labor or group work, and this collective labor encourages group rather than individual. In Japanese geography, the isolationism and the favorable climate for rice-farming have created their group-orientedness.
In Japanese history, homogeneousness and the SAKOKU policy also helped to create the group-orientedness. Japan is a homogeneous country. The islands of Japan were first inhabited 5,000 years ago by some people from China. For 2,000 years since the founding of the country, Japan has been a racially homogeneous nation. No major invasion by other racial or cultural groups has occurred. In addition, the SAKOKU or "closed country" policy contributed to the formation of group-orientedness. In the beginning of the 17th century, many foreign Catholic missionaries began to visit Japan and were considered harmful to Japanese Buddhism. In 1639, a series of measures called the SOKOKU were enacted to prohibit Christianity in Japan. The SAKOKU prohibited Japanese from leaving the country, Catholic groups from entering the country, and all foreign trade and diplomacy. Due to this police, Japan was closed to the world for over two hundred years. Also, this 200 years period was peaceful with no civil wars. In Japanese history, homogeneousness and the SAKOKU policy helped to create the group-orientedness.
Japanese HAJI culture and a value of harmony have also emphasized the group rather than the individual. Japanese culture is the HAJI or the shame culture. Most Japanese have been afraid of being ashamed or embarrassed. For Japanese, being ashamed comes from doing something different from others. Likewise, showing individuality or being independent may cause an embarrassment, so Japanese feel carefree following others in a group. Japanese culture also values a harmony in human relationships. In Japan, an individualist is considered a cold-hearted and selfish person. Japanese value avoiding conflicts and keeping good relationships with others. Japanese companies are good examples of the value of harmony. To deepen relationships, people in a company share some activities such as sports, parties or drinking after work. Japanese companies also have a group decision-making system. Whenever they have to decide on some problems, supervisors and subordinates get together and hold meetings. Discussing and respecting other's opinions, they make a decision with which everyone is satisfied. In Japanese culture, a fear of shame and a value of harmony have created Japanese who are group-oriented.
In conclusion, Japanese geography, history, and culture have created a remarkable tendency: the group-oriented Japanese. Whether this tendency is good or not is a matter for discussion. Because of this tendency, the Japanese maintain a harmonious society and a cohesive power for progress; however, the Japanese can do nothing by themselves and lack independence and individuality.
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