Japanese vs. American Male Gender Roles

Being a comparatively isolated island country of Asia, Japan has been finely sheltered from external incursions. Even though its past includes a few domestic conflicts, the populace of Japan has by and large preserved and benefited from a nonviolent country for more than two thousand years.

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The populace of Japan is inclined to the philosophy of ‘Confucianism’ which has phenomenally impacted not only the culture but also the historical development of Japan.

The morals of the ‘Confucian’ system give emphasis to a pleasant culture in which a ‘hierarchical’ configuration is preserved thereby teaching the people faithfulness, piousness, and reverence for elders and powers as also stressing individual inner virtues such as honesty, morality, and compassion. Moreover, Confucianism stresses a hierarchical societal structure, which presupposes the compliance of younger people to the elders and male authority over women and children (Reischauer & Craig, 1973).

In the beginning, Japan was an egalitarian society in nature but developed a robustly patriarchal society in later years (Reischauer & Craig, 1973). The system of male American society on the other hand differed radically in many aspects. Among the American males, allegiance was perceived as an agreement in a legal and legislative system whereas loyalty in Japan was distinguished as moral conduct distinguishing the ethical principles of Japanese males to be extensively different from those of their American counterparts.

Furthermore, feudal American males perceived their women as weak and powerless creatures requiring protection (Reischauer & Craig, 1973) whereas the Japanese male stereotypes envisioned their women as being subordinate to men, but gave them a right to become heirs to their possessions and position from their family units, and expected their women to display the same courage and devotion as men. Similarly, in the fighter era, even the Japanese men, we’re supposed to be proficient in literature as well as arts (Otake, 1977) which was not the case of “macho type” (Chia et al., 1994) males in American society who were required to attain success only in their distinct domains of war. Chia et al. (1994) wrote that ideal men in Japan were not the “macho type” described in the U.S. culture because Japanese males men were adapted to the Confucian tradition, which places values the traits of fine arts, music, along with military arts incomplete men. Thus we see indistinctiveness in the male gender expectations in Japan as compared to their counterparts in America.

Williams and Best (1990a), in their cross-cultural study of gender stereotypes, indicated that Japanese masculine stereotypes were favored over feminine stereotypes in Japan as compared to America where the situation was reversed.

They also found that Japanese male stereotypes were perceived as less active than American male stereotypes. On the domestic front, the Japanese fathers assumed critical roles in parenting their children whereas American fathers were generally associated with nurturing parent roles in America (Williams and Best 1990). This proves the fact that gender typecasts are an outcome of cultures, the idea of cultural difference in male gender roles has been supported by numerous studies (Basow, 1984; Chia, Moore, Lam, Chuang, & Cheng, 1994; Lara-Cantu & Navarro-Arias, 1987; Moore, 1999; Novakovic & Kidd, 1988; Ward & Sethi, 1986; Williams, Satterwhite, & Best, 1999).

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Gender stereotypes change over the years along with societal changes. Changes in occupational choices of Japanese males as compared to American males clearly reflect differences in gender stereotypes in their respective societies. Whereas American males are supposed to be dynamic, brave, and go-getters, typical Japanese males are expected to be polite, docile, cooperative, and peaceful. Numerous researchers have investigated gender stereotypes cross-culturally (Chia, Moore, Lam, Chuang, & Cheng, 1994; Lara-Cantu & NavarroArias, 1987; Lobel, Slone, & Winch, 1997; Ward & Sethi, 1986).

Even in contemporary Japanese males, ethics such as accord, commonality, and faithfulness have been highlighted and promoted in the process of renovating ancient Japan to a present industrial nation. Males in America, on the other hand, have witnessed degradation in the value system, which evidently is falling apart. More and more Japanese males became income producers as the country industrialized, and the partition of gender for labor became severe and obvious.

Typically males spent more time working outside the home, in Japan and women stayed at home to take care of children and household chores in contrast to the wives of American males who were rapidly getting involved in the industrialization process and were demanding equality with men (Otake, 1977). Thus the Japanese male society transferred and adapted the Confucian ethics in work settings to achieve relatively high economical prosperity as compared to American males where the problems of industrialization were clearly visible. The males in the companies of Japan acclimatized a permanent occupational system, and constancy and commitment to the company were implicit, this not being the case in a typical male American society.

The working males of Japan undertook group accountability and judgment by personal harmony through the absence of written rules as opposed to the comprehensively written legislative directives for the working males of the American working culture. The stereotype men of Japan expected their women to undertake absolute accountability for domestic chores and children giving them the authority to make decisions in addition to the control of the money at home so that the male members could be liberated from domestic issues and could be dedicated to their work.

Typical males in Japan desire a traditional family pattern (Arichi, 1993) and the Asahi newspaper (“Henkasurukekkonkan,” 1989) reported that about 50% of men between the late 20s and early 30s had no dating partners.

Traditional families are those in which the man is an earning partner and member and expects the woman to be a homemaker (Nihon Fujind antai Rengoukai, 1998) which is radically different from a modern American family, where the male knows and wholeheartedly accepts the wife as a working partner and not only a homemaker (Twenge, 1997).

In the conventional male Japanese society, children are reared up by inculcating the morals and ethics of the society in them. Whereas American boys are trained to be independent, the Japanese male children specifically the boys are expected to discover and instill this communal dual configuration by way of male socializing.

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Research students of Japan have universally acknowledged the claim of Doi (1973; 1996) that ‘Amae’ is a distinct feature in Japanese child-rearing which is peculiarly different from that of Americans (Shwalb & Shwalb 1996).

Young boys are taught to obey their parents and elders at home, a process which begins when they are very young. When they begin going to school, they enter the ‘senpai-kohai’ or the ‘senior-junior’ correlation where the senpai’s beliefs and commands are supreme and necessitate compliance. When they enter college, it becomes the most fundamental situation to form the ‘senpai-kohai’ association which influences them all through their existence.

When the young males join work, they are positioned by maturity, and all over again the ‘senpai-kohai’ associations are created in accordance with the duration of services offered to the company. The ‘senpai’ is highly honored and respected by granting him an elevated status by the kohai, while the ‘kohai’ obtains along with the job, position, and timely promotion, along with support and care even for his family members. Consequently, vertical associations are formed not only in colleges and universities but also in the public and private companies in which the males work (Nakane, 1970). There is no evidence of any such kind of relationship in the American male society, whether at school, college or workplace.

There is an emphasis on these personality traits of Japanese males throughout their society making them highly desirable characteristics among male stereotypes of Japan. Males of Japan are not expected to impede in any way, the hierarchical relationships which are only expected and encouraged to be greatly valued. This highlights the strong differences in the personality traits of American males as compared to their Japanese counterparts who have not much scope for room to employ talents comprising of management, determination, equality, vivacity, and power in the strict hierarchical system.

The Japanese males are necessitated to imbibe characteristics such as tranquility, courteousness, and perception towards others at the higher end of the hierarchical system as they are perceived as being more functional than those at the bottom of the ladder of hierarchy (Nakane, 1970). Thus, as opposed to American males, Japanese men, through their experiences, learn and acquire both masculine and feminine characteristics which enable them to function peacefully in any relationship.


Arichi, T. (1993). Nihon no kazoku ha kawattaka [Have Japanese families changed?]. Tokyo: Yuhikaku.

Basow, S. A. (1984). Cultural variations in sex-typing. Sex Roles, 10, 577–585.

Chia, R. C., Moore, I. L., Lam, K. N., Chuang, C. J., & Cheng, B. S. (1994). Cultural differences in gender role attitudes between Chinese and American students. Sex Roles, 31, 23-30.

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Henkasuru kekkonkan [Changing attitude toward marriage]. (1989). The Asahi Shinbun, p.4.

Lara-Cantu, M. A., & Navarro-Arias, R. (1987). Self-descriptions of Mexican college students in response to the Bem Sex Role Inventory and other sex role items. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18, 331-344.

Lobel, T. E., Stone, M., & Winch, G. (1997). Masculinity, popularity, and self-esteem among Israeli preadolescent girls. Sex Roles, 36, 395-408.

Moore, D. (1999). Gender traits and identities in a “masculine” organization: The Israeli police force. Journal of Social Psychology, 139, 49-68.

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Otake, S. (1977). “Ie” to jyosei no rekishi [History of “ie” and women]. Tokyo: Kogundo.

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Twenge, J. M. (1997). Changes in masculine and feminine traits over time: A meta analysis. Sex Roles, 36, 305-325.

Ward, C., & Sethi, R. R. (1986). Cross-cultural validation of the Bern Sex Role Inventory: Malaysian and South Indian research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 17, 300-314.

Williams, J. E., & Best, D. L. (1990a). Measuring sex stereotypes: A thirty-nation study. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Williams, J. E., Satterwhite, R. C., & Best, D. L. (1999). Pancultural gender stereotypes revisited: The five-factor model. Sex Roles, 40, 513-525.

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