One of the hardest parts of trying to adopt a cross-cultural mindset is understanding deviations from the norm. Hofstede and Trompenaars’ work shows conclusively that there is an “average” set of attitudes and beliefs shared by the majority of members of a given culture, and given enough cultural commonalities, most people will tend to behave in a similar ways. But what about the outliers? Are they “less authentic” representatives of a culture? While thinking about this topic, Japan’s snowboarding sensation Kazuhiro Kokubo immediately came to mind. Kazuhiro caused an uproar in Japan when he stepped off the plane in Vancouver to attend the Winter Olympics this past year; his “shirt was untucked, his pants hung low below his hips, and his tie was loosened revealing an unbuttoned shirt. Kokubo sported dark glasses indoors and double nose piercings. He also wore his hair down, revealing a mane of dreadlocks.” (CNN article Feb. 18th 2010 “Olympic snowboarder’s ‘street’ style offends Japanese”)
Judging from the level of outrage in Japan concerning Kazuhiro’s dress (he, his snowboard team manager and two coaches was banned from attending the Olympics opening ceremonies) indicates he is not in line with the expectations of the majority of Japanese people on how it is acceptable to represent yourself publicly, but he’s not the lone representative of counter-culture in Japan. Even in a culture where “the nail that sticks up gets pounded down,” Soushoku danshi (Grass-eating boys), Ganguro Girls, Bosozoku and many other subcultures abound among the Japanese youth. Can anyone say that the members of these subcultures are less culturally Japanese than an “average” Japanese person? While you’re unlikely to encounter anyone in a Japanese corporate boardroom sporting Ganguro-style hair extensions and makeup, assuming that all Japanese people think/act/feel the same will yield the same results as assuming that all Americans think/act/feel the same.