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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

Stages of Consciousness in Japan

Updated: May 18, 2021

In this article I’ll be building on the stages of consciousness framework that I introduced in a previous article and apply the framework to the Japanese context.

If you have not read the introduction article, I highly recommend that you read that first.

I actually spent over thirty hours discussing this topic with my students here in Japan. My students shared some great observations about Japanese culture and also other cultures. The discussion was fantastic! Of course there were many different perspectives and not everyone agreed completely.

So what I’m about to share is simply a collection of observations, opinions, and speculations.

I, along with my students, don’t have all the answers (obviously!), and of course, all observations include generalizations. But I hope that sharing these observations can help you understand Japanese society through the lens of the stages of consciousness framework.

So let’s start with a very, very brief summary of what the different stages of consciousness are because we’ll be referring to the different stages by color throughout this discussion.

Stage one is beige. It’s about basic survival. Stay safe. Don’t die.

Stage two is purple. It’s focused on making the gods happy so that they bless you instead of cursing you.

Stage three is red. It focuses on power and domination, often revolving around a strong leader.

Stage four is blue. It’s about belonging to a system with hierarchy and structure. Everyone follows the rules and respects the traditions.

Stage five is orange. It emphasizes productivity, logic, and efficiency. Capitalism, democracy, science, and technology thrive at this stage.

Stage six is green. It prioritizes equality and is sensitive to everyone, so it embraces diversity and inclusion.

Stage seven is yellow. This stage involves a big shift. Yellow integrates, or mixes all the stages. It transcends, or goes beyond each stage, but also includes each stage. It embraces the healthy version of each stage, and also accepts other people at their various stages. A number of people want to be at this stage, but there are very few people who are at this stage.

So those are the seven stages we are focusing on. There are other higher stages, but they become increasingly complex, so we’ll just focus up to yellow.

Keep in mind also that each stage has both healthy and unhealthy versions. The key is to know what stage in necessary for any situation, and how to be healthy instead of unhealthy.

In our recent classes here at Bridge Beyond English in Yokohama, we discussed how this framework looks in various countries or cultures, including Japan. Today I want to focus on what we discussed about Japan.

In terms of Japan’s history, my students, who are almost all Japanese or have a lot of experience in Japan, had a variety of perspectives on what stage each period of history was. Generally, like most cultures in history, Japan seemed to have started at beige, moved to purple, and then experienced some red and blue. Perhaps Japan went back and forth between stages depending on the situation.

For example, when there was more threat, red power would increase, but when stability allowed, blue stability would increase. Also, when Japan was closed, it was more blue, and when it was open, it was a bit more orange because of new ideas from the outside. We can see this trend in most cultures throughout history.

One observation that seemed to be quite clear was that the Meiji Period was a time when orange was embraced intentionally. This meant that new ways of thinking were adopted and new technology was embraced. So Japan’s colors during the Meiji Period were strong blue tradition with purple religion as part of that tradition, but also started becoming more orange.

Please keep in mind that I’m sharing overall observations and opinions from my class discussions.

As Japan militarized and started using force in various parts of East Asia, we could see red power popping up. It’s interesting to notice that when strong blue group structure is strengthened with orange technology (like bombs, airplanes, and communication tools), then if there is a threat or desire for control, the red power can become enormous. Again, we can see this in many countries throughout history.

My students overall agreed that at the height of World War Two, Japan was very strong red, blue, and orange. Some would also argue that purple was prevalent because the Emperor was seen as god. But when the war ended, we see the red almost completely disappear. So what happened post-war? Well, basically all my students observed that Japan continued to be very strong in blue as it’s main color. But it also continued to use its orange efficiency and productivity. However, instead of using the orange efficiency to dominate with power, it recycled the orange into the extremely efficient rebuilding of the nation and economy. After a devastating war, Japan maximized its strong structure and efficiency to expand industries, infrastructures, and become the number two economy in the world.

As Japan became stable and successful, perhaps there was a bit of green growing. This could have been because of global business and more diversity coming and going in Japan. It could also have been influenced by Japanese having more wealth and freedom to travel abroad and experience different cultures and ideas. Not to mention, television and other technology was rapidly accelerating the spread of diverse ideas.

Some of my students noted that in 1985, a law was passed that pushed for more gender equality in the workforce. So it seems that a bit of green equality led up to that, but also caused the green to grow even more.

Now let’s look at some connections.

Japan becomes stable and more globally connected.

People travel more.

Diverse information spreads faster and faster.

Women begin to gain more equality.

Then what happens next?

Well, as more women join the workforce, the birth rate eventually continues to decline more and more. In turn, there is an increasing labor shortage. And what is the solution to a labor shortage? Foreign workers increase.

So Japan continues to experience more and more diversity, which opens the door for more green stage to be nurtured. Of course, orange technology also helped increase efficiency and helped manage the labor shortage.

Now remember that these are all just our class discussion observations and speculations. So please do decide for yourself what colors were present and why.

What about when crisis happens?

We already saw that post-war Japan made a big switch - red mostly disappears and orange technology and efficiency rebuilt Japan in a very positive and healthy way.

In 1992 when the bubble burst in Japan, obviously, the economy suffered. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic also impacted Japan’s economy up until now.

As one of my students said,

“Crisis is the time we see people’s true colors.”

And in connection with that, crisis is the time that change is possible. This could either be an inappropriate change of color or an unhealthy response. Or, it could be positive change, healthy response, or even an integrated approach, which looks more yellow.

So here’s an observation. It seems that after 1992, Japan was strong blue and orange. That means strong structure and also strong productivity.

But did the shock to the economy cause much of Japan to increase their blue?

If blue feels safe and structured, could it be the place where many people resorted to because the orange productivity had spiraled out of control and crashed?

If so, one could argue that more blue was a wise choice. But one could also argue that more orange should have been embraced in a new, healthier way, which would be innovative and productive but also sustainable.

And then we have the 2020 pandemic.

How has Japan responded? Blue? Orange? Green?

Of course it’s a mix and it’s complex. Nobody will agree completely.

Could it be that Japan’s government, some traditional companies, and the older population have increased blue characteristics?

Could it be that less traditional companies and the younger population have tried to move toward more orange and green?

I find it interesting how the Japanese government was relatively slow to declare a state of emergency in March of 2020 compared to some countries in East Asia. Partly it was due to the low number of Covid cases. But you can also see the strong blue in the government as they took time to follow procedures for decision-making and tried to make sure to maintain harmony within the government and with the citizens. You can also see the strong orange flavor of Japan that really didn’t want to slow down the economy. So blue and orange were both present.

From our class discussions, I observe that Japan has faced a strong tension for a long time and continues to face it even more so now with rapid change and a big crisis.

So what colors make up Japan in 2021?

Could it be that Japan is currently around 40% blue, 40% orange, and 20% green?

Could it be that Japan really does love orange productivity, but its blue traditional tendencies are so strong and embedded within the culture that the orange is slowed down?

And could something similar be said about how blue slows down the green?

For example, people within a Japanese organization may want to embrace more orange or green, but there are rules, hierarchies, relationships, and procedures that get in the way?

Since Japan places such high importance on these things, it can sometimes be quite tricky for someone to initiate rapid change while also maintaining relationships and belonging.

The hanko is the official stamp system in Japan, which is like getting a signature or approval from an authority. When people were working from home during the state of emergency, the hanko system was slowing down a lot of things. So that system is slowly being abolished or updated to become more efficient, which seems great. In this case, the crisis helped speed up change.

And look at remote work. Much of Japan struggled to utilize technology to work remotely, but when the pandemic struck, change and innovation happened incredibly fast.

Crisis can force people to change.

This change can be beautiful if done right. It can also be negative.

Just think of all the people not only in Japan but globally, who hoarded hand sanitizer, masks, and even toilet paper. That’s an example of many of us going into survival mode, becoming beige or red to protect ourselves. In some ways that’s necessary during a crisis. But of course it’s always good to consider what the appropriate stage should be, if it’s healthy or unhealthy, and how long to remain in that stage.

One interesting idea came up in our class discussions about the difference between blue and green. Both stages value harmony. However, what is at the root of that desire for harmony?

Well, at the blue stage, harmony is highly valued because if you don’t act harmoniously according to the hierarchy, traditions, rules, and group, then you might be kicked out, shamed, or punished in some way. So the blue harmony is about avoiding conflict that might cause someone to lose their security and group belonging. It’s more inward focused and about self-preservation.

On the other hand, green harmony is more outward focused. Instead of trying to maintain one’s own security and belonging, it focuses on helping people outside the group or hierarchy to have belonging, inclusion, and equality.

So in conclusion, based on some of the main things that came up with my students, it seems like, in Japan, blue traditional structure and orange productivity are strongest and have a tension. Green is also increasing as Japan becomes more diverse and embraces more equality.

Remember that all colors have an appropriate time and place. And, that all colors have healthy and unhealthy expressions.

So my hope is that Japan can continue to use its wonderful, structured, blue foundation in positive ways. This foundation contains so much rich culture, tradition, and stability.

Japan also has shown the world its capability to utilize orange efficiency and productivity. It’s shown how orange can be used in ways that are healthy and unhealthy. Ways that are innovative and sustainable. But also ways that are destructive or unequal. And this is what every country struggles with.

As Japan embraces more green diversity and equality, it might challenge some of the blue and orange values. But we’ve already seen so much positive growth and awakening in Japan around so many issues such as gender equality and climate change. I hope Japan can continue to grow as it discerns how to utilize all the stages in the best way possible, especially at a time when change and integrated ideas are not only necessary, but inevitable.

I feel the same way about my home country (the United States) which has such mixed colors, which makes it very complex. Maybe I’ll share about that in a future article.

My students are mostly a mix of blue, orange, and green. Most of them were raised in blue families in a blue culture but have also embraced orange and green because of their experiences. I would say that, although most of my students are most comfortable with green, orange, and some blue, they are trying to be yellow. This means that they want to continue growing so they can integrate the positive aspects of each stage of consciousness in a way that is appropriate for each situation. I feel that it’s the same for me.

I’m really grateful for my students who shared such great perspectives about Japanese society with me. I learned a lot and I hope these observations also helped you to see Japanese society and yourself in new ways.


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