Group Thinking

In Japanese thinking, the concept of Shudan Ishiki or “group consciousness” is vitally important to everyday life. Every interaction is closely tied to being aware of what the group thinks and does as opposed individual actions. In other words, in Japan, the group is more important than the individual. Two dominant categories exist in Japanese thinking: the uchi and the sotoUchi being those inside the group (family and associates) and soto being those outside the group. Life consists of remaining in the uchi while avoiding soto status. Because Japanese people tend to think as a group, what benefits the group is seen as the correct thing to do, even if the individual suffers from the decision. For example, if a Japanese company decides that it is beneficial for the company to send a family to live in Mexico for the next three years then the individual will need to comply or he may face great shame and even a loss of employment!

Loyalty to the group is essential which can be good or bad depending on the group’s core values. Often times it is more important to retain group solidarity to maintain harmony rather than oppose the group, even if acting in opposition is the right thing to do. If an individual opposes the group, he risks being excluded from the group, which often times is unbearable for those living in a group-oriented society. A common saying exhibiting this in Japan is, “The nail that sticks up is pounded down”. The nail being representative of an individual.

How can this impact missionary work? In general, a strong group culture tends to create a unified church. New decisions within a church tend to take a lot of time as everyone has to agree before it can be done. But, when the decision is made everyone is in agreement. Church discipline, on the other hand, may be difficult as maintaining harmony is vitally important unless the power of the group could be used to help change the individual to fit group standards. However, there are some issues with group culture as well. In the instance of evangelism an individual may not want to become Christian because it would likely place him outside the group in his family structure if they are not Christian. (Even if becoming Christian is the right thing to do!) Once a certain level of comfort exists within an established group there appears to be little need to take risks that would threaten the group, which could be another hamper to evangelism. Please pray for us as we learn to work with the Japanese church!