Culture of Interest Japan Theoretical Foundations of Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Culture of Interest: Japan

Theoretical foundations of cultural and cross-cultural analysis: Japan and America

Japan: Mildly collectivist culture

American culture

American: An individualistic culture

Similarities and differences in Japanese and U.S. culture

Potential biases of researcher

Appendix I- Hofstede four Dimensional Theory

Edward Tylor (1832-1917) defines culture as a collection of customs, laws, morals, knowledge, and symbols displayed by a society and its constituting members. Culture is form of collective expression by groups of people. Since the dawn of industrial revolution and later, due to an increased integration of cultures across nations, cross-cultural analysis has assumed much import in scholastic discourse within psychology, anthropology, and psychology. Present study is an endeavor to make a cross-cultural assessment of American and Japanese culture. More differences than similarities have been found in both the cultures. Where Japanese culture fosters Aimai, meaning ambiguity and vagueness, Americans are intolerant to this characteristic. Based on Hofstede's four dimensional theory of cross-cultural analysis, findings regarding individualism-collectivism index, power distance index, uncertainty tolerance, and masculinity-femininity index of American and Japanese people have been presented. Secondary research of pertinent literature and rigorous comparative analysis reveals that while both cultures are monocentric and value masculinity, they are diametrically opposed in uncertainty avoidance and individualism-collectivism index. The paper is divided in seven sections each highlighting different but interconnected theme regarding cross-cultural analysis of American and Japanese cultures.


As a member of society, human beings interact with each other and this interaction creates a culture particular to that society. Anthropologists have researched the term 'culture' in a holistic manner. Edward Tylor, the famous British anthropologist described culture as a collection of knowledge, morals, laws, convents, customs, symbols, and habits that are adopted and displayed by member of a society (Ferraro & Andreatta, 2011). Other scholarly definitions of culture are similar in meaning but with different words. Each constituting element of culture is related to the other and they are not isolated by virtue of their nature and practice. Ferraro and Andreatta (2011) have described material objects, ideas, values, attitudes, and behavior pattern as part of one's culture. Symbols are also primary element of respective cultures and sub-cultures of a society. These are verbal as well as non-verbal cues that stand for particular meanings.

Significant changes have taken place globally in the 21st century. Political, social, and economic interdependence has led to exploration of different cultures in other countries. This has led researchers to investigate the cross-cultural dimensions of a society. In such intellectual discourse, cultural and cross-cultural theories have been presented to obtain a conceptual framework of understanding different cultures and how to fit in them. It is the diversity of cultures that generates differing human attitudes and behaviors regarding discoursed perspectives. Recent studies such as one conducted by Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (2009) are aimed at making the audiences understand how to communicate across different and often conflicting cultural settings. Section II will highlight the culture of Japan as an area of interest other than my own culture whereby the researcher will present an introduction to Japanese culture. Sections III, IV, and V will describe cultural characteristics of America, an explanation of theoretical underpinnings to help analyze the Japanese and American cultures, and report the main similarities and differences in both the cultures respectively. The researcher's potential bias in analyzing both the cultures will be reported in section VI followed by conclusion and identification of further research potential (section VII).

Culture of interest: Japan

Aimai, meaning vagueness and obscurity, is the dominant characteristic of Japanese culture. It is not only tolerated in Japan but cherished as well. Such cultural characteristics are representative of a low-key and modest human attitude toward ones' self. The principal interest in Japanese culture was aroused due to multiple factors of which two particularly stronger ones are Japan's tremendous ability to rebuild their country after the WWII. Despite losing the battle in an unceremonious manner and having to face such vast level of destruction, the nation soon recollected itself and emerged as technology cum exports hub of the world. Davies and Ikeno (2002) observed that geography played a major role in shaping the culture of Japan. Most part of the country is isolated from rest of the Asian continent by virtue of being an island and surrounded by mountains. Having to live in close proximities, the Japanese people are closely knit social units. Being virtually locked on an island and having frequent rains, Japanese people used to grow rice that required collective labor. Thus, collectivism is also a dominant feature of Japanese culture.

The second compelling factor that made Japanese culture interesting to the researcher also emancipates from the former. The Japanese culture helped the country effectively and efficiently manages resources and human capital (Sackmann & Phillips, 2004) in post war era. The impact that Japan has made in influencing the world commerce after the post WWII decades is enormous. How could a nation having to face such magnitude of troubles be able to quickly bounce back on the global horizon of commerce and industry? Thus, resilience of Japanese people to make a significant impact on global culture of trade, commerce, and industry is worth investigating. The course of investigation will also highlight dominant cultural strengths and characteristics of Japan that made it occupy the economic realm of the world.

Theoretical foundations of cultural and cross-cultural analysis: Japan and America

Each nation has a unique culture in which customs, symbols, morals, and laws are reflective of the collective conscience of society. Geert Hofstede presented the four-dimensional theory to understand culture and its differences within different societies. The author surveyed 117,000 IBM employees across the world. The study spanned over different geographical regions of the world. Four dimensions that are determined to explain culture of a country are individualism-collectivism; power distance referring to social hierarchy being observed; uncertainty avoidance referring to establishing goals and parameters, and masculinity-femininity referring to a person and society being person oriented or task oriented. The theory presents an appropriate framework to analyze and study cultures across different countries. The society can be gauged with reference to these dimensions. Currently, with an increased emphasis on professionalism (Schwartz, 2007) and systems approach to problems of human beings, four-dimensional theory is used to explain the cultural differences of the U.S. And Japan. Two other dimensions, long-term orientation as well as self-indulgence and restraint were later included in the original four-dimensional theory of culture. Cross-cultural psychology can be adequately understood by applying the four dimensional (now having six dimensions) theory of Hofstede in which objective analysis is required to study culture and constituting elements. The power distance index established in studying culture refers to the extent to which lower level of members of a society or organization tolerates unequal distribution of power. They defer to authority and prefer complying with the established order. Cultures having less power distance index indicate that people are more 'democratic' and expect consultation process to take place before important decisions can be made. Equality is a major characteristic of cultures with lower power distance index. The indicator reflects the perception society members have regarding power differences.

The second dimension that can help researchers understand culture and its impact is the individualism-collectivism dimension. More collectivist a society and its members are, more integrated groups are formed and loyalty of members is owed to the group they relate to. Unlike individualistic societies, collectivist society members are not expected to make affiliation decisions solely on their own interest or leaning. They are expected to take into confidence or even comply with decisions and aspirations of extended family members. Cohesion into groups is more important than self-identity. Loyalty to group enables the members to seek security and social protection. Authority is not challenged and rather adhered to. Uncertainty avoidance is another aspect of culture that is tolerated in some cultures more than others. People of uncertainty avoiding society try to minimize it through clarity of speech, body language, and symbols. Thus, predictability is a salient feature of Japanese society whereas Americans are somehow tolerant of uncertainty. Society with low-uncertainty avoidance index is more tolerant of changes in life patterns and scheduled tasks. Planning in these cultures is rough and does not need to be in practice at all the times. People allow members of their groups to influence upon their plans, schedules, and even their lives. Formalization of procedures, rules, and regulations is not expected nor applied in low-ambiguity avoidance cultures. Masculinity femininity index refers to the extent to which a society indulges in competing or preserving relationships respectively. The more a society is masculine, more it is inclined for competition and individualism. People on the other hand in a feminine society prefer to guard relationships. They do not consider personal success and preference to have precedence over their group members.

Human development in both Japan and America are influenced in opposing manners. The values and customs being followed and cherished by the Japanese people are tilted towards being a collectivist society, though not high…

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