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3.2: Unit Reading and Activities

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    Up until now, we’ve looked at culture from an individual perspective and from a country or regional perspective. Cultures can be divided into many categories, but one interesting set of categories is the idea of a collectivistic society and an individualistic society. This is often referred to as “individualism versus collectivism” because they are opposite ideas.

    Hofstede (2020) describes individualism as “a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families,” and collectivism as “a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular ingroup to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” This dichotomy (a division between two different things) is often summarized as “Me” and “We” cultures, and can also include:

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Adapted from Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov (2012)

    Individualist Cultures Collectivist Cultures
    *Focus is on individuality *Focus is on group harmony
    *Individual achievement is stressed *Group success is stressed
    *Personal opinions are voiced *The concept of “face” is important

    There are many more characteristics, and some can be argued against, but this information is simply to help you get a better understanding of the concept of individualism and collectivism. There are many videos online that explain individualism versus collectivism, but an interesting one is titled, “Collectivism/Individualism Through Dance” (URL is below the picture).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Screenshot taken from

    Although it’s a little old, the video briefly explains both concepts, and uses dancing as an example to illustrate their meanings. The video compares a Middle Eastern traditional dance to a more modern style of American dancing. Now, let’s compare two different styles of dance and the places where they happen: Rave dancing in America and Bon Festival Dancing in Japan.

    Music at raves varies, but it can be generally categorized as Electronic Dance Music (EDM). The dancing that goes along with it also varies, and has several names, such as “shuffling,” “Melbourne Shuffle,” and “Liquid Dancing.” The important point to look at is how the dancing is done at raves. Dancing is generally done alone, and is an expression of each individual. It’s a time for a person to show his or her uniqueness and individual skill. This actually applies to most raves in Western countries, not just America.

    Obon Festival (お盆), on the other hand, is a Japanese Buddhist custom that gives families the opportunity to honor their ancestors. During this time, many families come together to visit and wash family graves before visiting a local festival. It is at this festival where a dance called “bon-odori” (盆踊り) performed. The dance varies from region to region, but essentially a large group of dancers performs the same movements while wearing the same or similar traditional clothing. Many dances tell a story, or depict a regions history or well-known characteristics. Regardless of the region, clothing, and dance moves, the message is the same—everyone dances in unity. This is not the time to show one’s unique abilities or bring attention to oneself.

    These two dances are one characteristic of individualist cultures and collectivist cultures. There are many other ways to understand individualism and collectivism, but for the sake of this chapter, understanding the general idea is most important. In short, individualist cultures focus on individual success, take care of their own needs before others, and place importance on individual identity; collectivist cultures, on the other hand, focus on group success, take care of each other’s needs, and place importance on fitting in rather than expressing unique identities that may go against the group’s identity.

    Traditions, Customs and Beliefs

    In the last unit, we defined tradition and customs. Your dictionary may have given the same meaning for both, and this is true for many dictionaries, but the reality is that there are subtle differences that need to be understood.

    Customs can be viewed as social practices, meaning something that a culture does regularly. Most people in that culture understand it and follow it. For example, when you enter a home in Japan, most Japanese people take off their shoes.

    A tradition is similar to a custom, but it has been passed from generation to generation, and it usually changes a little over time. For example, a common way to celebrate Halloween in America is by wearing costumes, but those costumes have changed over the years, from ghosts and witches to famous people and “sexy” versions of almost any character you can think of—even zombies!

    To make things more confusing, a tradition can be considered a custom, but not all customs can be considered traditions. Just think about them in relation to time and popularity. If what you’re looking at has not lasted a long time, and can be considered a part of a family or individual, it is a custom. Traditions are usually very old, passed to future generations, and many people follow them.

    A belief is accepting something as true, or having faith in a way of thinking because it has become a part of your cultural ideology. As you probably guessed, a belief can be religious. Many of Japan’s traditions and customs are based in religious beliefs, mainly Shintoism and Buddhism. Beliefs can also be superstitious—stories such as myths or legends containing supernatural beings!


    See if you can finish these popular superstitious beliefs from Japan:

    • If you whistle at night, …
    • If you lie down after a meal, …
    • The numbers 4 and 7 mean…

    Think of three more superstitions from your home culture! What are they, what are their meanings, and where did they come from?

    This page titled 3.2: Unit Reading and Activities is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Daniel Velasco.

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