In this chapter, I consider the issue of the individual and the group in Japan, on the basis of what we have seen at C-Life in the body of this book.
What do we mean by individualism and individuality? Individualism is a particular concept of the self, which sees it as in some sense autonomous and not bound by external constraints. Those who emphasise this point have generally associated with it ideas of morality, privacy, and rationality. Individuality, on the other hand, is a universal quality, part of human nature. It represents the fact that the individual has agency. It may be said, moreover, that the mere fact that any two people are not exactly alike, and do not share the same body or spatio-temporal location, means that their experiences cannot fail to be different. They have different perspectives on the world. Thus, individuality is a universal condition, whilst individualism is a concept, one which is most typical of Western societies. As I have noted already, ‘the West’ and ‘Western’ can be problematic concepts (they are often ill-defined or ambiguous) but I follow the authors cited in using them here. Failure to separate individuality from individualism has greatly confused the debate under discussion here. Obviously, the fact that a society rejects the notion of individualism does not mean that its members lack individuality. But some writers seem to make an implicit assumption otherwise. This has great relevance for this book as I discuss a similar confusion in the Japan literature between ‘groupism’ as an ideology and a lack of individuality.
Before discussing the concept of individualism in Japan, we need to take a moment to notice how the concepts of individualism (a specific concept about how the individual should be) and individuality (the existence of an inviolable individual self) have been confused in the literature. Indeed, some anthropologists argue that the notion of individualism itself is a concept special to ‘Western culture’. In this view, to prioritise the individual over society is to attempt to analyse other cultures in terms of ‘Western constructs’. Dumont (1986) suggests that the