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C H A P T E R 7
Dimensions of Culture
What You Can Learn From This Chapter
Cultural dimensions and examples of countries
Cultural dimensions important to understanding Japan
Cultural dimensions important to understanding China
In 1980, the Dutch management researcher Geert Hofstede first published
the results of his study of more than 100,000 employees of the multinational
IBM in 40 countries (Hofstede, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1991, 1997, 2001). Hofstede
was attempting to locate value dimensions across which cultures vary. His
dimensions have been frequently used to describe cultures.
Hofstede identified four dimensions that he labeled individualism, masculinity,
power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. His individualism-collectivism dimen-
sion describes cultures from loosely structured to tightly integrated. The masculinity-
femininity dimension describes how a culture’s dominant values are assertive or
nurturing. Power distance refers to the distribution of influence within a culture.
And uncertainty avoidance reflects a culture’s tolerance of ambiguity and accep-
tance of risk.
Hofstede and Bond (1984; also see Chinese Culture Connection, 1987) iden-
tified a fifth dimension, a Confucian dynamism labeled long-term orientation
versus short-term orientation to life. The Confucian dynamism dimension
describes cultures that range from short-term values with respect for tradition
and reciprocity in social relations to long-term values with persistence and
ordering relationships by status.
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When reading this chapter, and particularly when reading the lists of
countries that exhibit or fail to exhibit each dimension, you might think of
exceptions: individuals from a culture who do not act as might be implied
by these lists. These lists reflect an overall average; no one person should be
expected to fit that average exactly. Indeed, to expect so would be stereotyping.
FOCUS ON THEORY
Young Yun Kim (2005) characterizes individualism-collectivism as top of the list of theo-
ries guiding cross-cultural research in communication, psychology, and anthropology.
Individualist cultures stress self-direction and self-achievement; collectivist cultures stress in-
group loyalty and conformity. This rich area of research has focused on competition and
cooperation, conversational constraints, handling disagreements, silence, face work and con-
flict style, and in-group and out-group communication patterns.
Kim (2005) draws a relationship with individualism-collectivism and Hall’s (1976) theory
of high and low context cultures (see Chapter 3). Characterizations of high- and low-context
communication systems are closely associated with the characteristics of individualism and
INDIVIDUALISM VERSUS COLLECTIVISM
First is individualism versus collectivism. This dimension refers to how people
define themselves and their relationships with others. In an individualist culture,
the interest of the individual prevails over the interests of the group. Ties
between individuals are loose. People look after themselves and their immediate
families. Masakazu (1994) defines modern individualism as “a view of human-
ity that justifies inner beliefs and unilateral self-assertion, as well as competition
based on these” (p. 127). In a collectivist culture, the interest of the group pre-
vails over the interest of the individual. People are integrated into strong, cohe-
sive in-groups that continue throughout a lifetime to protect in exchange for
unquestioning loyalty (Hofstede, 1997). One difference is reflected in who is
taken into account when you set goals. In individualist cultures, goals are set
with minimal consideration given to groups other than perhaps your immediate
family. In collectivist cultures, other groups are taken into account in a major
way when goals are set. Individualist cultures are loosely integrated; collectivist
cultures are tightly integrated.
In individualist cultures such as the United States, for example, when meet-
ing a new person, you want to know what that person does. You tend to define
people by what they have done, their accomplishments, what kind of car they
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drive, or where they live. Individualist cultures are more remote and distant
(see examples in Table 7.1).
Individualism Rankings for 50 Countries and Three Regions
SOURCE: Hofstede (2001, Exhibit 5.1, p. 215).
Cultures characterized by collectivism emphasize relationships among people
to a greater degree. Collectivist cultures stress interdependent activities and sup-
pressing individual aims for the group’s welfare. Often, it is difficult for individ-
uals from highly individualist cultures to understand collectivist values. This
example may help: A student from Colombia may study in the United States and
earn a Ph.D., teach at a distinguished university, and publish important books,
but when he returns to visit Colombia, people to whom he is introduced will
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want to know to whom he is related. Colombians want to know who his family
is because that places him in society much more so than any of his accomplish-
ments in the United States.
In the United States, there are few family names—perhaps only Rockefeller,
Kennedy, DuPont, Getty—that carry such defining meaning. You are not socially
defined by your family name but by your individual accomplishments. A gener-
ation or two ago, people were introduced by family name, and a new acquain-
tance then asked permission to use one’s given name. The asking and giving of
permission was an important stage in the development of a friendship. Today’s
introduction by one’s given name only makes no reference to one’s family.
Individualism is so strong in the United States that you might even have difficulty
appreciating how people might feel content in a collectivist culture. Contentment
comes from knowing your place and from knowing you have a place.
In the workplace, in individualist cultures, the employer-employee relation-
ship tends to be established by contract, and hiring and promotion decisions are
based on skills and rules; in collectivist cultures, the employer-employee rela-
tionship is perceived in moral terms, like a family link, and hiring and pro-
motion decisions take the employee’s in-group into account. Hofstede’s data
revealed several associations with this dimension:
Wealth. There is a strong relationship between a nation’s wealth and
Geography. Countries with moderate and cold climates tend to show
Birth rates. Countries with higher birth rates tend to be collectivist.
History. Confucian countries are collectivist. Migrants from Europe who
populated North America, Australia, and New Zealand tended to be suffi-
ciently individualist to leave their native countries.
Another interesting association with inheritance practices was developed by
Knighton (1999). Those cultures that have rules for equal partition of parental
property among all offspring tend to be collectivist; those that have rules per-
mitting unequal partition and those that have historically allowed parents to
have full freedom in deciding who will inherit tend to be individualist.
Individualism and collectivism have been associated with direct and indirect
styles of communication—that is, the extent to which speakers reveal intentions
through explicit verbal communication. In the direct style, associated with
individualism, the wants, needs, and desires of the speaker are embodied in the
spoken message. In the indirect style, associated with collectivism, the wants,
needs, and goals of the speaker are not obvious in the spoken message.
Rojjanaprapayon (1997), for example, demonstrated specific communication
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strategies in Thai communication: Thais do not use specific names when they
express negative feelings; Thais tend to use words and phrases expressing prob-
ability, such as “maybe,” “probably,” “sometimes,” “likely,” and “I would say
so, but I am not sure”; Thais do not show their feelings if doing so would make
the other person feel bad; and Thais also use indirect nonverbal communication
by having less or avoiding eye contact and keeping greater personal distance.
Case Study: Japan as a Homogeneous Culture
From Hofstede’s (1983) research, Japan is placed about in the middle between
individualism and collectivism. Yet Japan is popularly stereotyped as a group-
oriented culture. In a 1995 study of Japanese students using the original Hofstede
questionnaires, Woodring found that students scored higher on individualism
and lower on power distance than Hofstede’s original sample. Woodring explained
that the higher individualism and lower power distance score might be explained
by age; that is, Japanese college students may value individualism and equality
more than Japanese society does as a whole. Hofstede’s longitudinal study did
show that national wealth and individualism were related. About 1990, the term
shin jin rui (literally “new human beings”) was applied to youths 25 years old
and younger, who were described by older Japanese as “selfish, self-centered,
and disrespectful of elders and tradition.” Hofstede’s study suggested that the
Japanese were group oriented, hierarchical, and formal. There are reasons to sug-
gest that at least younger Japanese prefer moderately egalitarian distribution of
power and feel moderately independent of collective thought and action. This
demonstrates that we should avoid allowing the Hofstede research to become a
stereotype. In 1986, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone described Japan as being
a “homogeneous” country—a widely held view by Japanese society at large. In
the following descriptions of Japan’s history, religion, and cultural patterns,
identify specific ways that homogeneity affects communication.
FOCUS ON THEORY
Miike (2004) believes that Asian scholars can “paint a number of wonderful portraits about
humanity and communication.” Miike’s own portrait of communication is as “a process
in which we remind ourselves of the interdependence and interrelatedness of the universe
. . . communication is a process in which we experience the oneness of the universe” (p. 74).
In this portrait, we can transcend the illusion of separateness, of fragmentation, and gain
a glimpse of the larger relationship of what often appear to be discrete aspects of life
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Japan is an archipelago formed by four large islands and more than 3,000
small islands covering 377,835 square kilometers, roughly the size of California.
More than 80% of the land surface is hilly or mountainous, leaving only 20%
that is flat enough for farming. Hence, Japan imports a large amount of its food
and relies heavily on the ocean. Seafood is a staple in the Japanese diet, and
Japan is the world’s leading producer of fish. As an island nation, Japan will
never be fully self-sufficient. It must export in order to import materials it needs
The population of Japan is approximately 126 million, equivalent to about half
of the U.S. population, and inhabits only 4% of the land area, which translates to
a population density of about 850 people per square mile; in the United States, the
comparable density is 58. Japan is divided into 47 administrative units or prefec-
tures. More than 78% of Japan’s population live in urban areas, with approxi-
mately 45% of the population living in the three major metropolitan areas of
Tokyo (the largest city in the world), Osaka, and Nagoya. Japan’s origins are not
clear. It is thought that Chinese culture as it passed through Korea was seminal.
Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun, as is symbolized on its flag.
Founded early in the Christian era, Japan has been ruled by a line of emperors that
continues to the present. According to legend, all Japanese are genealogically
related to the emperor at some distant point. In pre–World War II Japan, the
emperor was worshiped as a living god. Hirohito was the emperor from 1926 until
his death in 1989. Tradition dictated that a full year of mourning pass followed
by a full season to plant and harvest a crop of sacred rice before his son Akihito
could be formally enthroned as a symbolic constitutional monarch in 1990.
Two key points characterize Japanese history: more than 10,000 years of
culture continuity and the ability to adapt imported culture and technology to
the traditional culture. After Perry’s arrival with battleships in 1853, Japan
transformed itself from a feudal country into an industrialized nation by adapt-
ing Western technology. Later, from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, urban
Japanese experienced U.S. fashions, movies, and music. Following World War
II, Japan again adopted more Western culture. The postwar constitution drafted
by Allied occupation authorities and approved by the Japanese Parliament made
Japan a constitutional monarchy. The new constitution also renounced war and
forbade the use of military forces for offensive purposes. Again because of the
U.S.-inspired postwar constitution, Japan maintains only a defense force; over
the period 1960–1988, 0.9% of its gross national product was spent on defense.
(In the same period, the United States spent 6.4%.) Japan now pays several bil-
lion dollars annually to subsidize U.S. military bases in Japan. In response to
criticism for not providing troops in the 1991 Gulf War, Japan approved pro-
viding troops for the United Nations’s peacekeeping operations in noncombat
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roles in East Timor, Cambodia, and Afghanistan and later in Iraq and is becom-
ing more engaged in world security issues.
Even after a decade of poor economic performance, Japan remains the
world’s second or third largest economy with several world-class companies
that are technological leaders and household names. Japan is a major foreign
investor and a major foreign aid donor. Japanese life and language are Westernized.
U.S. popular culture reaches Japan more quickly than it reaches parts of the
United States. English loan words in the Japanese language grow at a fast rate.
Japan’s Westernization has been criticized by some Asian countries.
Japan is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world: More than
95% of its population is Japanese; Koreans, Chinese, and native Ainu constitute
the remaining 5%. In 1997, Japan’s parliament voted to replace a century-old
law that forced the Ainu to assimilate. The Ainu were recognized by the United
Nations as a native people in 1992 but still face discrimination in Japan.
Except among the older people, religion is not a strong force. Christianity was
brought to Japan by Jesuit missionaries in 1549. Although less than 1% of the
population is Christian, Christian lifestyles, moral codes, and ethics have become
part of Japanese life. The majority of the population traditionally practices a
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syncretistic combination of Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is exclusively national-
istic. It was the state religion from the Meiji Restoration of 1868 until the end of
World War II. It is not so much a creed as it is a link to ancestors and Gods.
Shinto means “the way of the Gods” and has three predominant ideas: worship
of the Gods of Japan, loyalty to Japan, and cultivation of a pure Japanese spirit.
Almost all Japanese are born Shinto. It is said that to be Japanese and to be a
Shintoist are synonymous. There are two types of Shintoism: Popular Shinto,
which has its strength in the home, and Sect Shinto, which believes in reincarna-
tion and service to humanity as service to God. A third type, State Shinto, which
taught that the Japanese were separate from other races, excelling in virtue, intel-
ligence, and courage, was abolished by order of the Allies in 1945.
Buddhism came to Japan from Korea in the mid-6th century. There are more
than 200 sects of Buddhism in Japan, with wide differences in doctrines.
Buddhism has been called the “adopted faith of Japan” and centers on the tem-
ple and the family altar. Most households observe some ceremonies of both
religions, such as a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral. Overall, though,
religion is more a social tradition than a conviction. Some charge that due to a
lack of religious beliefs, the Japanese have no principles. Meditation, aesthetic
appreciation, ritual cleansing, and a respect for nature’s beauty and humans’
part in it are important cultural beliefs.
Siddhartha Gautama (563–483 B.C.E.) was born in southern Nepal. He sought
supreme truth in meditation and became Buddha, “the enlightened one.” Buddhist
doctrine first took hold in northern India. Over the centuries, monks spread the reli-
gion throughout much of Asia. Today, Buddhism includes a wide variety of sects
grouped into three primary branches: Hinayana, Mahayana (including Zen), and
Tantrism. With 350 million adherents, Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest reli-
gion behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Buddhism accepted the basic con-
cepts of Hinduism—including reincarnation and the law of karma, which holds that
one’s actions directly control one’s destiny—but opposed the rituals and hardening
caste system of Hinduism.
Buddhism stresses ethics as the means to salvation. It offers the “middle way”
that avoids the extremes of mortification and indulgence. Following the “noble
eightfold path” of right living and actions frees the adherent of self who can then
achieve nirvana—the state of bliss in which humans escape the law of reincarnation.
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Largest Buddhist Populations (in millions)
Percentage of Total Population
SOURCE: Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1991, p. H6.
a. Includes Japanese who adhere to both Shintoism and Buddhism.
A study by Hajime Nakamura (1964) of the National Institute of Science
and Technology Policy in Japan asked citizens to name aspects of their country
of which they were proudest. Topping that list was Japan’s maintenance of
social order, followed by its natural beauty, its history and traditions, the dili-
gence and talent of its people, the high level of education, the country’s pros-
perity, and its culture and arts.
Critical to understanding the cultural patterns of Japan is the homogeneity of
its population, although some would argue that Japan is not all that homoge-
neous. However, the cultural myth of homogeneity is believed and therefore is
an important cultural concept. Because it is an island country and hence borders
on no other countries, Japan had been little affected by foreign influence until
1853. Japan’s isolation means that its history is its own. Everyone shares the
same ideas and, lacking outside influences, has no reason to doubt them. In
addition, as a small, densely populated country, its ideas and information are
easily shared. Even the tradition of rice growing contributes to a society based
on cooperation, minimizing conflict, and enhanced cooperation, which, like the
rice, are all necessary for survival.
Japan’s homogeneity contributes to its people’s “communication without lan-
guage” (Tsujimura, 1968, 1987). It is said that being monolingual and monoracial
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makes it easy for Japanese to understand each other with few words. The United
States, with its high level of diversity, is verbose—more talking is required to over-
come diverse languages, diverse lifestyles, and diverse ways of feeling and think-
ing. Japanese axioms teach that verbosity is dangerous: “Least said, soonest
mended” and “Out of the mouth comes evil.” Today, the education system main-
tains those same cultural values. All schools have the same curriculum. Schools
have uniforms and encourage students to take part in after-school group activities.
Japanese worldview is consistent with that of an isolated island. There is no
differentiation: People from the United States, Europe, and other parts of Asia
are foreigners. The world is divided into Japan and others: gaikoku, or outside
nation, and gaijin, or outside person.
Japan has often been described as a society in which conflict is avoided by
emphasizing homogeneity and dismissing differentness as incidental. The Japanese
do not have the same perception of self as an individual that is typical in the United
States; instead, the Japanese feel most comfortable with others who empathize.
To be completely understood, people have to cooperate in the same context, and
in doing so, there can be no differentiation of individuals. In such an extremely
homogeneous society, you are not seen as an individual, nor do you regard indi-
vidualism as a positive trait. It has been said that group life is to the Japanese what
individualism is to the United States. Homogeneity is the core value of society that
substantially defines other values and permeates all areas of life. This social inter-
dependence has been referred to by Takeo Doi (1956, 1973) as amae (noun that
comes from the verb amaeru, which means to look to others for support and affec-
tion). Amae is the feeling of nurturing for and dependence on another. Amae is a
sense of complete dependence based on a wish to be loved and cared for uncondi-
tionally. It develops in the relationship between mother and child and later trans-
fers to the child’s teachers and others in positions of authority. Amae is a reciprocal
relationship. Just as the child is dependent on the mother, the mother is dependent
on the child, which arises from the need to be needed. Amae, with its emphasis on
interdependence, contrasts sharply with individualism. (See Box 7.2 for a descrip-
tion of how the game of baseball reflects Japanese cultural patterns.)
Sporty Japanese Import
Baseball is not new to Japan. It dates back to 1873, when American teachers and
missionaries organized the first formal game. It spread throughout schools, for the
Japanese felt it taught self-denial and moral discipline. Some teams included Zen
meditation and emphasized purity of spirit. American teams such as the Giants and