The Uchi: Group Consciousness in Japan

From the oldest villages in the countryside to the bustling crowds navigating the streets of Tokyo, Japanese society has long functioned through the importance and success of group consciousness.

Shuudan Ishiki = 集団意識, which directly translates as ‘group consciousness’ (jisho.org) refers to the Japanese instinct to “adhere to the values of the groups to which they belong” in order maintain harmony in said groups (The Japanese Mind).  This is often referred to simply as the uchi = 内, or ‘group’.

Honne (true feeling or intention) and tatemae (what is said) certainly play a significant role in this concept of maintaining group harmony.

Since the harmony, or wa, is so important to Japanese society, one must consider the other members of the group when speaking, so as not to say anything hurtful or clash against the group flow.

“[Group consciousness might be] the most important Japanese character,” our resident culture expert Kanako states.  “We like to agree, and dislike to disagree.  We want to have the same opinion as many people as possible.”

Kanako also mentions that Japan has a majority rule.  “The word minna means everybody or everyone.  Japanese often say ‘I do so because everyone does so’ and ‘I think so because everyone says so’”.

Whether it be a group of friends, a college class, neighbors, a sports club, or any other type of group, it is necessary to be conscious of the group.

This is so important because groups inevitbly come to a point where a decision has to be made on behalf of all members, such as where to go to dinner.

It should be noted that members of the group sometimes make mistakes and go against the group, or don’t quite fit in if they are new to the uchi.  But as a famous Japanese proverb says, “the nail that sticks out will be hammered down”, with the help of respect and social grace.