The well-known contemporary comparative and cultural philosopher Thomas P. Kasulis not too long ago published a book entitled ‚Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference.‛[1] His book lays out a compelling argument about how cultural generalizations between Asian and Western philosophies can be employed to discover deeper cultural insight about these disparate environments. He focuses on the cultural differences between Japan and the Unites States arguing that Japan is a culture based on ‘intimacy’ while America is a culture that is based on ‘integrity.’ Utilizing these two generalizations Kasulis illuminates cultural differences between Asian and Western values that help to demystify the Far East as well as teach us important cultural lessons we can apply in more familiar settings.

While generalizations aren’t always healthy (or accurate), they do serve as a lens with which to better understand the unknown. As one generalization leads to a better and more accurate generalization, one can gain deeper insight into a culture. And, as Kasulis writes, ‚[t]he only way to refute a generalization is by posing a better generalization (one that is a more effective heuristic, one that can account for more of the data‌).‛[2] Kasulis makes a helpful point here. As we get to know a particular foreign culture we begin to peel off layers of generalizations like we peel off layers of an onion, each time a new layer comes off we are provided with fresh new insight into that particular culture (admittedly sometimes making our eyes water). In saying this, it may be worth time spent to think critically about the way generalizations can be mined for deeper cultural understanding.

In his book Kasulis contrasts Japanese and American culture by looking at two heuristics—intimacy and integrity—that represent Asian and Western worldviews respectively. The differences between these worldviews are profound and can have a significant impact on the way we understand culture. When integrity (American) acts as the worldview individuals are related externally seeking out a radical individuation from one another. A person is theoretically ‘untouchable’ able to remain free from the constraints of compromising his or her own virtue. People live as society of free, self-determining individuals and seek autonomy from other members of the community. This sort of worldview creates philosophical notions such as ‘justice,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘democracy.’ The reflective nature of this worldview is bright or clear. In other words, with integrity as the experience base, Truth is ‘brought to light’ as objective and divine and the way to lead a fulfilling life is to ‘seek the light’ that Truth provides. These ‘integrity’ based values and ideas are indicative of a philosophy that is typically born from a Western worldview (for example think of the US Constitution as a document that intends to maintain integrity through its theoretical ability to organize a society in terms of freedom and justice).

To contrast this view, in an intimacy (Japanese) based worldview interpersonal relationships are internal, and rather than seeking autonomy from others, the members of a community seek overlaps and similarities. In this worldview being possessed of ‘humanity’ comes not as a gift from God or as a common genetic inheritance, but as created through community interaction and exercising ritualized roles. The reflective nature of intimacy is dark, unknown, and ‚‌cannot be ‘brought to light’ in an axiomatic manner‛[3] simply because there are no objective and divine rules that exist outside of the nominal world. Only a canonical tradition that has been formed by a community of intimate relationships serves to provide the ‘dark’ reflective nature of this worldview. In this view people are constituted by both their relationships and the environment that they live in rather than through radical individuation.

The chart[4] below lists these differences:

Characteristic: Integrity Intimacy

Basis of Verification

Objective and Public

Objective and nonpublic (expert)

Form of Relationship



Reflective nature of its ground

Bright, clear


These characteristics can become clearer by understanding the way in which relationships between people are understood in each respective culture. Figure 1 represents the integrity (American) worldview and figure 2 represents the intimacy (Japanese) worldview.

Relationships based on intimacy are intrinsic and overlap where one person invariably sees themselves as part of the other, and vice versa. The area of overlap is the ‘dark’ reflective nature, while the perceived autonomy of the integrity based relationship keeps things ‘clear’ and ‘bright.’ With integrity, relationships are external and one person remains unaffected by the other retaining personal virtues and integrity. The question I pose at this point is; are we able to learn anything from these generalizations?

Hawaii and Governor George R. Ariyoshi

Kasulis’ work, while providing valuable insight into the project of understanding cultural difference, also teaches us significant lessons about leadership. Can a person who must interact between disparate cultures such as those of a Western orientation and Asian orientation walk both paths of intimacy and integrity, or must a leader choose one path or the other? While in Hawaii I had the fortunate opportunity to meet the former Governor of the State of Hawaii and found an answer to this question. A brief biography[5] to frame this story is helpful:

George R. Ariyoshi of Hawaii became the first Asian American to be elected governor in the United StatesGeorge Ryoichi Ariyoshi (良一 有�, born March 12 1926), served as the third Governor of Hawaii from 1974 to 1986. He assumed the governorship when John A. Burns was declared incapacitated. When he was elected, Ariyoshi became the first American of Asian descent to be elected governor of a state of the United States. He also holds the record as the longest-serving state governor in Hawaii, a record that will likely never be broken because of term limits. Ariyoshi is now considered an elder statesman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
George R. Ariyoshi of Hawaii became the first Asian American to be elected governor in the United States. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Japanese immigrant parents, Ariyoshi graduated in 1944 from McKinley High School. As World War II drew to a close, he served as an interpreter with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service in Japan. Upon returning stateside, he first attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, then transferred to Michigan State University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. He then went on to receive his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

Ariyoshi’s political career began in 1954 when he was elected to the territorial house of representatives. He was later elected to the territorial senate in 1958, then to the State Senate in 1959. He served in the senate until 1970 when he ran for and was elected Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii in 1970 with Governor Burns. When Governor Burns fell ill in October 1973, Ariyoshi assumed his constitutional role as acting governor.

In the election of 1974, he was elected governor in his own right, with Nelson Doi as his first lieutenant governor. He was re-elected in 1978 with Jean King as lieutenant governor and in 1982 with John D. Waihee III as lieutenant governor. Ariyoshi’s administration was marked by fiscal conservatism as the post-statehood economic boom came to an end. He guided the state through its first economic recession. Barred by term limits from seeking another term in 1986, Ariyoshi was succeeded by Waihee. After leaving public office, he served in a variety of corporate and non-profit capacities.

As the first Japanese-American to become governor of a U.S. state, one can’t help but ask whether or not his contribution to American politics has created a novel approach to government leadership. His challenge was one of diversity and included balancing disparate foundational ideologies to create a Hawaiian-American culture that could handle the issues of contemporary Hawaii while at the same time creating equal opportunities for the diverse residents of the State. Therefore curiosity can’t help but ask whether or not Governor Ariyoshi brought Japanese values (intimacy) to the table as he made decisions as the governor of Hawaii. The sense is that one can safely assume that his actions and decisions were largely informed by Japanese values. What is curious to this reflection however, is that it appears that Governor Ariyoshi also maintained strong American values (integrity) of justice and fairness, and when he speaks of these values, he frames them in the vocabulary of integrity—Rawls, Jefferson, and Rousseau—rather than in the vocabulary of a more Japanese or intimate orientation.

Let me turn once again to Thomas Kasulis. In his critical analysis of Japanese and American cultures, as previously mentioned, he parses Japan and America into two different heuristics. He characterizes Japan in terms of ‘intimacy,’ and America as ‘integrity.’ Conceding once again that characterizations of culture forcing one to generalize about those unique values that typify these cultures may prove troublesome, it is very helpful when trying to understand how one may be able to interact cross-culturally, especially between Asia and the U.S. The ideas put forth by Kasulis shed light on how Governor George Ariyoshi handled his Japanese or intimacy based cultural background while serving in an American or integrity based political context.

In his work Kasulis sets up ‘political’ models of ‘integrity’ as assuming ‚‌an external relationship among individual persons, each with her or his own integrity, the state is constructed by creating a series of external relations among these discrete individuals. These relations are typically laws that bind the individuals into their political relationships. Integrity tends to see the whole or the state as composed of its parts—its individuals—and the external laws connecting them politically.‛[6] In contrast to this he writes of ‘intimacy’ political models as ‚‌theories regarding the members of the state as interdependent so that the state as a whole is holographically reflected in each individual.‛[7] These are two very different models of political organization. Theories on how these two models interact are usually disposed to set them in opposition and often discuss the way in which they are incompatible. Therefore it seems, if Kasulis is correct, and Governor Ariyoshi had a monumental challenge in his horizon.

During my personal interaction with Governor Ariyoshi, while not explicitly discussing these two political models, he made it evident that he saw these two conflicting political models as entailing one another. His success as the governor of Hawaii showed that he was able to find a way to make these two models act as what Kasulis refers to as a ‘mirror-image’ of one another.[8] There was no doubt that Governor Ariyoshi had a clear understanding of how to balance his own philosophical orientations (intimacy) with that of his country of residence (integrity) and utilized this understanding to take him to the top of the political arena in Hawaii.

Considering the large influence Japanese culture now has on the Hawaiian landscape, it seems appropriate to say that Governor Ariyoshi facilitated this growth. Governor Ariyoshi’s style of leadership, walking both paths of intimacy and integrity, has strong implications for the American political narrative and has undoubtedly improved and enriched the American tradition. While the challenges he faced represented the diversity that defines Hawaii, listening to Governor Ariyoshi speak of his experiences as Hawaii’s top political leader not only supported Kasulis’ theory, but was also encouraging and helpful.

South Africa and Beyond

This past summer I spent a few months in South Africa working with companies and individuals to provide a deeper understanding of Asian, and more specifically the Chinese tradition. I have to say that I was impressed. South Africans who are interested to make their way to China and profit from the Chinese economic explosion are beginning to wise up and realize that in order to gain access to the economic sphere in China one has to go through the arduous process of becoming intimate with its cultural vagaries.

This past summer while discussing the Chinese tradition, I introduced a unique understanding of personal identity and relationship building that seesintimate community relationships as the key factor in how a person identifies oneself within a community (very similar to the intimacy model explained above). Understanding this mode of personal identity and interpersonal relationships is crucial to navigating your way around China. Whether the interest in China is business, politics, or simple everyday tasks (like shopping in a Chinese market) having an understanding of a more intimate and community based personal identity is one helpful way to clue in on survival and savvy in China.

Doing business in China requires that one can walk both paths of intimacy and integrity. My understanding of the cultural climate in South Africa is that this particular cultural milieu requires that same ability to walk the fine line between cultures based on communal relationships and cultures based on ‘freedom’ and ‘justice.’ If this is true, do South Africans have a jump on the game in China? Further, can we learn something from a leader like George Ariyoshi and can generalizations like those made in this article be helpful to learning about a culture? Lastly, can leaders walk both paths of intimacy and integrity?

[1] See Thomas P. Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002).

[2] Kasulis, 8.

[3] Thomas P. Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), 78.

[4] Adapted from Thomas P. Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), 71.

[5]Source:, September 2005.

[6] Thomas P. Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), 125.

[7] Kasulis, 126.

[8] See Thomas P. Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference, (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), 138.

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