American-Style Individualism in Japan: The Family Cost

Long known as a land of Confucian social solidarity, Japan has felt the influence of American-style individualism in recent decades, an influence corrosive of marriage and family life. Indeed, in a recently published study, social psychologist Yuji Ogihara of Kyoto University and the University of California, Los Angeles, measures the increasing strength of such individualism in the Land of the Rising Sun by assessing the degree to which Japanese family life now resembles American family life. Confucius (called Kōshi in Japan) would find Ogihara’s assessment deeply troubling. Sensibly, Ogihara begins his cross-cultural inquiry with a foundational definition of individualism.  Drawing on the work of other scholars, Ogihara defines individualism as “a social pattern that consists of loosely linked individuals who view themselves as independent of collectives; are primarily motivated by their own preferences, needs, rights, and the contracts they have established with others; and emphasize rational analyses of the advantages and disadvantages of associating with others.”  “The core element of individualism,” Ogihara elaborates, “is the assumption that individuals are independent of one another.”   Predictably, when he wants to illustrate what individualism looks like, he identifies America as a place where the “culture has become more individualistic over time.”  Few will dispute the markedly individualistic character of American culture.  But for Ogihara the question is “whether other cultures, especially East Asian cultures, have also shifted toward greater individualism.”  In particular, Ogihara wants to investigate “temporal changes in individualism in Japan and their ramifications on psychology and behavior.”   As part of his inquiry, Ogihara examines “individualistic concepts” as they have played out in workplace, school, and other settings as the consequences of “socioeconomic changes
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