Appreciate it while it lasts, because it won’t last long, say those who agree.

Some people would label Japan a conformist society. Others would use a softer term, like “group-oriented.” In general, though, there’s a consensus that Japan isn’t very tolerant of the potential for problems when individuals don’t give a second thought to doing things differently than other people would.

For most students, this means having to wear uniforms, score well on objective tests, and have restrictions placed on your after-class activities. For many employees, it means having to dress in a uniform or suit, work according to company procedures, and get roped into drinking with your boss or coworkers after work.

Still, there’s a window in the life of a typical member of Japanese society in which he or she really gets to be him or herself. As Twitter user @mayumayuchim points out, though, that time can be depressingly brief.

“Elementary school → No one respects your individuality.
Junior high school → No one respects your individuality.
High school → No one respects your individuality.
University → Everyone thinks Individualist people are cool.
Job-hunting → You differentiate yourself to employers by showing your individuality.
Life as a working adult → No one respects your individuality.”

It’s a bleak observation, but one that struck a chord with many online who rapidly retweeted @mayumayuchim’s sentiments. College is the unique step in the Japanese educational process that doesn’t have passing an entrance exam to another school as one of its primary goals, offering students an unprecedented level of personal freedom. After that brief moment in the sun, though, it’s on to the Japanese working world. While it may not be so uniformly against individuality as @mayumayuchim’s simplified evaluation would suggest, it is true that companies tend to prize enthusiastically cooperative team players over mavericks looking to shake things up, even if eventual improvement of the organization is their long-term goal.

Of course, there are some Japanese companies that value individualism, but still, most people in Japan would do well to take full advantage of their freedom to be themselves in college, because it might not ever come again.

Source: Jin
Top image: Pakutaso

Follow Casey on Twitter, where you’re free to be totally different than he is (actually, it’s probably a good idea).