Both Japan and South Korea are democratic but still very collectivistic countries. Why democracy did not make Japan and South Korea more individualistic?

  • 1
    Cultural/religious foundations (including but not limited to influence from taoism/confutionism/buddhism). Countries in Asia typically (regardless of economic/political system) have very collectivistic and less individualistic tendency.
    – user4012
    Feb 11, 2015 at 21:25
  • 3
    Why is the "but"?
    – Anixx
    Feb 12, 2015 at 16:11
  • 2
    By very definition, isn't any organized political system a form of collectivism...except for perhaps a true dictatorship?
    – user1530
    Feb 13, 2015 at 5:16
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    In what aspects are these two countries considered more collectivistic and also compared to which countries?
    – Blaszard
    May 23, 2017 at 7:06
  • 2
    This is a non-sequitur. Compare "France is a very agricultural country. Why did democracy not make France less agricultural?"
    – James K
    Mar 22, 2019 at 21:29

4 Answers 4


I am a South Korean born South Korean citizen.
Democracy was given to South Koreans, just one day.
They didn't fight for it. No such civili uprising for freedom and equality as in France was present.

Democracy came with the liberation from Imperial Japan through the winning of World War II by the United States.
Befor the liberation, Korea was still a monarchy with a caste system.

Koreans weren't even thinking about individual rights until they were liberated by the U.S.A.

Before the liberation, Koreans were living in pretty much medieval times where the towns villagers peer pressured each other to enforce certain decisions or "cultural practices".


Upon further research on the history, these are my findings.

I now find my own previous answer ignorant but I shall try and own up to it by trying and providing a more balanced view on the question.

But first of all, I am questioning the Original Question itself.

Are Democracy and collectivism mutually exclusive? In my opinion, the question implies that democracy and collectivism are mutually exclusive. I did not notice this when I first wrote my answer. I'd say democracy and collectivism are not mutually exclusive. What is democracy if it's not the collective effort of the general public to govern themselves instead of a small separate class(the royal, the elite, the nobles, etc) making the decisions?

The short answer

Koreans often gather around the capital city in a protest against the government. Some 40,000 people gathered to make their voice heard.

Is this collectivist? I think so.

Is this democratic? It certainly looks like it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016%E2%80%9317_South_Korean_protests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candlelight_vigil#South_Korea


I found some Korean efforts that took place around the time when the Imperial Japan invaded and annexed Korea.

While the Korean monarchy was still holding, before the Imperial Japan annexed Korea, the Korean monarchy made an effort to modernise the nation. This modernisation effort is called Gwangmu Reform. (link below)


This reform addressed military modernisation, abolishment of the old cast system, public healthcare, infrastructure and more.

After the annexation by the Imperial Japan, the Korean monarchy was abolished. Then Democratic Republic of Korea was formed. It was a government in exile in China but I believe this was the foundation and the direct predecessor of the current South Korean government.


Now to why Korea and Japan are not individualistic. Well, we can argue, first of all, whether they are or are not individualistic as of now. The question assumes they are not individualistic but who draws the line?

But here are some comparisons that might give you some hint on how democratic and collectivist South Korea is.

In the U.S.A. there is an argument that goes healthcare and financial hardship are totally individual responsibility. At least that is how people regard in the South, I suppose. But in Korea, people are more understanding of people in financial hardship. They don't think it's all because they are lazy. They rather try to help and most people don't think spending tax money to help them is going to make them even lazier. They have all been there- extreme poverty- through the war and Japanese occupation before.

Another good example is healthcare. If healthcare was as inaccessible and expensive as it is in the U.S.A., Koreans, in my theory, will hold the government accountable and demand an affordable system. To the Korean mentality, a healthcare system that is not affordable for even the poorest is unthinkable.

  • What about the Taisho Democracy in Japan, possibly equivalent to the Weimar Republic in Germany?
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 6, 2016 at 12:31
  • Erm…South Korea did not develop its modern democracy until 1988, 40 years after independence. Democracy was not given by the US; the US gave the dictatorial Rhee regime. And also, South Koreans absolutely fought for democracy. Gwanju Uprising much?
    – H Huang
    May 22, 2022 at 20:47

I won't argue if these populations are truly collective in nature but one factor in why these populations behave as they do is because of cultural diversity itself. When countries are democratic and stable there is sometimes mass immigration. Looking to the west in the US there is much migration from central and south America and in Europe there is immigration from Africa and the Middle East.

The same is not true with South Korea and Japan - both have very homogenous populations.


Without immigration both cultures will retain their identities without any real change that of which would have been brought from migrants. I do not think democracy itself changes the nature of a population, rather the people who immigrate to the democratic country.

  • Could the down voter explain what they did not like with my point?
    – Matt
    Feb 12, 2015 at 20:39
  • I didn't downvote. It's an interesting theory, but without citations I think it has to remain merely a theory.
    – user1530
    Feb 13, 2015 at 5:14
  • I agree; it is just a theory. His question is really why have they not changed since be coming democratic. My only point is that culturally there have not been any shifts and just one factor of that is how homogenous the populations are.
    – Matt
    Feb 13, 2015 at 5:19
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    But are migrants actually needed? Surely an individualistic culture could also be imported by Hollywood movies, returning foreign exchange students, ... (Also suppose that once all cultures were collectivistic (not too unreasonable in the 1492 - 1900 timeframe) - where do the individualistic individuals come from?)
    – user45891
    Feb 13, 2015 at 12:50
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    Ok so what was the radical change that happened sometime before, maybe a bit during the 1970ies in the US & Europe but DIDN'T happen in Asia? Century of the self claims it was psychology, other say the ideas of the Enlightenment, Ayn Rand would probably point to Capitalism. Hopefully the Asians were spared of Ms. Rand but all other ideas certainly are known thorough the whole world - I think you need to prove that a homogeneous population is unable to up with individualistic ideas (Counterexample the enlightenment: Very little ethnic diversity but high class diversity)
    – user45891
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:01

I think you have a false conjection in your question: that somehow democracy comes together with individualism.

While it is certainly easier to have an individualistic society when the society is democratic there is no intrinsic requirement for the two to go hand in hand or even for democracy to automatically lead to individualism.

Case in point would be Germany in the 1950’s: you did as you were told, you ‘followed your father’s orders as long as you streched your feet out under [his] table’ and you respected the authority of higher up. The real change didn’t come about until the 1968 protests—while these were made possible by democracy and civil liberties granted in the constitution each and every liberty had to be somewhat fought for.


I think in the most of the world "democracy" means collective decision-making for the betterment of the public rather than an individual. Even the Latin word "res publica" means "public affair" as opposed to individual one. I know that in the US they teach in scools that democracy is somehow connected to individualism, but this is just very rude propaganda aimed to linking Capitalism with democracy.

  • 2
    I don't recall any particular teachings of democracy = collectivism or individualism.
    – user1530
    Feb 13, 2015 at 5:15

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