J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


"I", Mindsets, Lets-be-friends-ism, and the Terribly Polite Self-Confindence of the Japanese

"I", Mindsets, Lets-be-friends-ism, and the Terrible Self-Confindence of the Japanese by timtak
"I", Mindsets, Lets-be-friends-ism, and the Terrible Self-Confindence of the Japanese, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
For many years I have been introducing students to the research of Emiko and Yoshi Kashima (Kashima & Kashima, 1998) which found that speakers of languages that drop pronouns (e.g. Italian, Spanish, and Japanese) are less individualist than speakers of languages that do not allow the omission of the first person pronoun (such as German and English).

Added to that there is priming research which shows that just reading and circling the pronoun "I", as opposed to the pronoun "we", encourages people to be more individualistic, and primes an individualistic mindset (Oyserman, 2011) that enables "I" sayers, to for instance, spot the odd one out (see image top right) more quickly (Oyserman, Sorensen, Reber, & Chen, 2009).

So when I read that there was research (Chung & Pennebaker, 2007; Pennebaker & Davis, 2006) on the use of pronouns among people of various social status, I presumed, quite wrongly, that people who use the first person pronoun would be more powerful, of higher status than those who did not. In fact the reverse is true. Americans who have a high status use the first person pronoun "I" far less (correlation -0.4) than those of a lower status (see here for a couple of examples).

That Japanese rarely use the first person pronoun might be explained by appeal to the theory of "Amae," (Doi, 2002) a word difficult to translate into English, which refers to an emotion and non-verbal appeal to others to love me and 'read my desire.' The Japanese are encouraged to read the desire of others, and thus, do not need to use first person pronouns to make personal demands, like high status Americans. Presumably non-I pronoun using powerful anglophones are seeing the world in a more Japanophone way.

More and more I feel that Japanese "collectivism" is as Yamagishi (2002) says in his book (cover bottom left), a "lets-be-friends-ism" philosophy, which although prevalent has nothing to do with being weak, conformist or altruistic. As Pennebaker's research suggest, the "collectivist" or "interdependent" mindset may go hand in hand with that of self-confidence, and power.

The image bottom right above is from the excellent animated video series "Peeping Life" (Mori, 2012) showing a Japanese man attempting to negotiate his, verbally very polite and seemingly humble, wife's removal of the chain from the door to let him in from the rain. Needless to say, he fails.

Doi, T. (2002). The Anatomy of Dependence. Kodansha USA.
Chung, C. K., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2007). The psychological function of function words. Social communication: Frontiers of social psychology, 343–359.
Kashima, E. S., & Kashima, Y. (1998). Culture and Language The Case of Cultural Dimensionsand Personal Pronoun Use. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29(3), 461–486. doi:10.1177/0022022198293005
Gardner, W. L., Gabriel, S., & Lee, A. Y. (1999). ‘I’ value freedom, but ‘we’ value relationships: Self-construal priming mirrors cultural differences in judgment. Psychological Science, 10(4), 321–326.
Mori, R. 森りょう. (2012). Peeping Life -The Perfect Extension- #1 チェーンロック越しの夜編. Retrieved May 1, 2012,
Oyserman, D., & Lee, S. W. S. (2007). Priming‘ culture’: Culture as situated cognition.
Oyserman, D., Sorensen, N., Reber, R., & Chen, S. X. (2009). Connecting and separating mind-sets: Culture as situated cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(2), 217.
Pennebaker, J. W., & Davis, M. (2006). Pronoun use and dominance. Unpublished data.
Yamagishi, T. 山岸俊男. (2002). 心でっかちな日本人―集団主義文化という幻想. 日本経済新聞社.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.