Japanese Culture and Hofstede’s Five Dimensions

This article looks at the differences between Danish and Japanese national culture two using the cultural model created by Geert Hofstede. Below I offer a brief refresher into what each dimension actually refers to.

However, I urge any reader unfamiliar with this model to take a quick look at my previous article Hofstede’s Five Dimensions. Furthermore, you can also find a brief introduction to Danish and Japanese culture in Danish and Japanese Culture at a Glance.

Hofstede’s Five Dimensions

Hofstede’s five dimensions is the most well-known cultural model. It aims to rank each national culture along 5 dimensions, thus providing a concrete way to compare two or more cultures.

Power distance: The extent to which people accept the uneven distribution of power. A low power distance therefore points to a society where the power structure is flatter, where wealth is more evenly distributed, and where decisions are more democratic.

Individualism vs collectivism: The extent to which the individual’s interests and identity prevails over the group’s interest and identity.

Masculinity vs femininity: Masculine societies emphasise competitiveness, assertiveness, and excelling, while feminine societies focus on quality of life and caring for the weak.

Uncertainty avoidance index: The extent to which a society feels threatened by the uncertainty of the future.

Long term orientation: The extent to which a society focuses on the future instead of the present/past.

Japanese vs Danish Culture

In the figure below we can see Japan’s values for Hofstede’s five dimensions compared to those of Denmark.

(From http://geert-hofstede.com/japan.html)

As one can see, the Japanese national culture is characterised by moderate power-distance, moderate individualism, very high masculinity, very high uncertainty avoidance, and a high long term orientation. Danish culture has low power distance, high individualism, very low masculinity, and moderate long term orientation. All in all, it would be safe to say that the two cultures are extremely different.

For a Dane, the culture differences would include:

  • A higher power-distance: Danish hierarchical structures are normally quite flat and it is expected that everyone has a voice, contributes to decisions, and so on. This is reflected by the Danish habit of questioning and criticising superiors openly, and expecting that leaders are visible and accessible. Although Japan does not score as high as other Asian countries in power-distance, to a Dane the difference will be striking since: hierarchical positions have a far greater importance than they are normally used to (more on this in later posts), decisions are less democratic, wage differences are greater, and so on.

  • A lower degree of individualism: Although the Japanese national culture scores moderately in this area (and demonstrates some tendencies towards both individualism and collectivism), a Dane will find the Japanese to be more group-oriented and place more emphasis on harmony of the group. This is also reflected in the communication style, where the Danes are far more direct, highlighting the wants and needs of the individual in what is said. By contrast, the Japanese will be more indirect, due to a reluctance to affect group harmony.

  • A far higher degree of masculinity: This is the most striking difference. The Danish society is one of the most feminine, emphasising quality of life, involvement, equality, and compromise. By contrast, Japan is extremely competitive (usually on a group level). This is something that is fostered from a very young age and serves as the main motivational factor in business, while in Denmark motivational factors include free time and comfortable living. Striving for excellence is at the core of Japanese values.

  • A far higher degree of uncertainty avoidance: This is another area where the differences are extremely pronounced. With a low uncertainty avoidance index, the Danes are comfortable in uncertain situations. They accept that things change and incorporate them easily into their work routines and so on. Furthermore, there are fewer rules and the work situations are less structured. Japanese national culture is exactly the opposite. The Japanese have an aversion towards ambiguity and emphasise structure and codes of behaviour. Managers are interested in all the facts and figures, and a lot of effort is put into feasibility studies (etc.) in an effort to identify and eliminate risk factors.

  • A higher degree of long term orientation: Japan is a long-term oriented society, which looks at the bigger picture and views an individual’s life as a short moment in time. In business, this translates to a far higher focus on long term investment (e.g. in R&D) rather than short-term profits. In Western countries, including Denmark, the focus tends to be more towards the short-term. Often, our business models, which require maximisation of stakeholder profits, do not allow for the same long-term focus that is common in Japan (i.e. our managers tend to get fired if they do not produce short-term results).

I hope you have found this article useful. Please feel free to leave any comments below, particularly if you have any experience with the abovementioned national cultures.

Sources

Culture of Denmark, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Denmark, accessed November 2012

Denmark – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette, http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/denmark-country-profile.html, accessed November 2012

Japan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan, accessed November 2012

Notes on Danish Culture, http://www.speakdanish.dk/kultur/, accessed November 2012

Study Site for An Introduction to Intercultural Communication, Sixth Edition, http://www.sagepub.com, accessed November 2012

The Hofstede Center, http://geert-hofstede.com/, accessed November 2012

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