By Kasumi Ishizuka
A lot of actions are restricted by shame culture in Japan. There are three reasons Japanese culture is thought of as a shame culture. Firstly, many Japanese are afraid of making mistakes and being different from other people. Actually, Japanese students can’t express themselves compared with foreign students, because they are afraid of making mistakes. Therefore, when Japanese students study abroad, they will be surprised by the positive attitudes of foreign students. Secondly, the history of shame is very deep. Japanese have had this culture since the Samurai era. In this era, when Japanese felt shame, they even killed themselves. Japanese had such an extreme culture therefore it’s very difficult to remove this culture today. Now, shame culture is related to suicide. Finally, many Japanese don’t say their mind because of the shame. Sometimes they say opposite words. Shame makes communication worse. This essay will explain the Japanese shame culture.
The first reason which Japanese culture is said to be a shame culture is that Japanese negative attitudes are caused by shame. Most of them are afraid of making mistakes when they say something. As mentioned in the Daily Yomiuri, it is very important “… for Japanese to be mindful of evaluating eyes of the others and avoid shame or haji.” Moreover, it is the worst thing to expose one’s shame in public (Behind the Paper Screen / Japan's 'culture of shame'). Japanese protect themselves from various problems because Japanese have very high self-esteem. They always think how to avoid being put to shame. If one is put to shame, the one will be wounded emotionally. They are afraid of being in such a situation.
Japanese often think that someone will say the same thing as their own ideas. If the ideas are wrong, the person who don’t say the idea will not be put to shame. But it is very Mottainai, which “… is a Japanese word loosely translated to mean not to be wasteful” (Tan, Chin). So they don’t say their ideas even if they have good ideas. If the idea is good, the person who is praised is the one who said the idea.
Comparing Australian students with Japanese students, Australian students show very positive attitudes. When teacher ask the students a question, most of them raise their hands and desire to answer. If they make mistakes, they seem not to care about it. The friends around the student also seem not to care. Another example is that Australian students said “Konnichiwa”, “Arigatou” with loud voice when they saw Japanese students studying abroad. If they said it with the wrong Japanese words, they didn’t look ashamed. On the contrary, they said wrong Japanese proudly with their faces beaming with smiles. It is very glad for them to say something they newly learned. However, Weistrop said that Japanese students are very shy. Japanese students may have trauma, something shocking and unforgettable happening. They can’t forget the experience of making a mistake and being ashamed. For example, when a student answers the question, the answer is wrong, and the teacher says “Oh, you couldn’t understand what I asked?” It may hurt one’s feeling. Therefore, these students can’t express their own opinions anymore. It’s very important for Japanese to set much value on each answer or opinion even if it’s wrong.
The second reason is that the history of shame is very deep. Schorr said the samurai era started in 1192, the Kamakura era. Samurai had a lot of pride. When one was outfought, they feel it is shameful to be killed by the enemy. Then, they took their own lives. It is called seppuku or hara-kiri. The way is to cut one’s own belly with sword. In this era, it was better to die than bringing shame on oneself. “Compared to the shame which is attached to suicide in Christian society, in Japan it has traditionally been an honorable act. In the code of the samurai, ritual suicide – seppuku – was a tragic but noble means of exiting from life – a means of atonement and of taking responsibility” (Wilson). Japanese had such an extreme culture. Therefore, it is difficult to remove this shame culture from Japanese lives. Japanese have lived with this culture for about a thousand years. Needless to say, Japanese don’t have such a culture in Japan now, but still people don’t like to be put to shame.
According to a research carried out by Kageyama, now about 31,000 people take their own lives a year, because most of them can’t talk about their troubles feeling shame or other factors. It is surprising. It shows that a large number of Japanese choose to die rather than being put to shame. This is very similar with the seppuku culture in samurai era. Many Japanese have serious problems. But they can’t consult with someone. Shame is one of the causes of Japanese suicide. Even children commit suicide because they have no one to consult with or feel shame to consult. As mentioned in LA times, “…suicide victims needed counseling and did nothing to the bullies” (Reid). In case there is a bully, the people who bully the weak and people who do nothing in spite of knowing the bully should feel shame. Bully is a shameful thing. Many Japanese feel shame in some situations when one should not to feel shame and don’t feel shame in some situations when one should feel shame. It’s a strange culture.
Japanese once had an extreme but beautiful culture. Samurai mainly accepted their own shame. But now, there are some people who don’t feel shame when they should feel shame.
Finally, Japanese don’t say their mind. In Japanese culture, “… no doesn’t always mean no and yes doesn’t always mean yes” (“Useful Japanese Culture, Tips” YouTube). Japanese sometimes say opposite words like this. It is shameful for Japanese to say the true mind exactly. The people around the one who say the true mind may think the one is grasping. For example, when one offers assistance, the other person may say “No, thank you.” even though the person need the help. If the one offers assistance again, then the other person asks for the assistance. This means when person offers help twice, then the other can ask for the help. It is a Japanese politeness and virtue. This is a silent understanding of Japanese culture. On the contrary, foreigners express their own mind exactly. The communication style in Japan is different from foreign one. Most of foreign people don’t know this Japanese culture therefore it is one of the causes of the problem when Japanese and foreigners communicate with each other. Shame culture makes communication worse.
It is bad for one’s body and mind not to express their true mind. Pattison says “Any human emotion can become internalized. When internalized an emotion stops functioning in the manner of an emotion and become a characterological style… The person doesn’t have anger or melancholy, she is angry and melancholy” (93). When people can’t express their true mind because of the shame, they may become to be angry and melancholy. The shame culture can be cause of sickness. The proverb, “Care killed the cat (Worry is often the cause of illness)” is just express this relation between the shame culture and illness. “I've never even heard of anyone specializing in depression, though. The bigger problem in Japan is that a stigma attaches to anyone seen as treating crazy people, and the status of psychiatrists remains very low” (French). Japanese have stereotype to depressed patients and crazy people. It is shameful for Japanese to be known as such a person. In addition to this, the people who treat such illness also suffer from prejudice. Some of Japanese may think treating such crazy people is not a good work and even it is a shameful work. Japanese stereotype is very deep and difficult to remove. Therefore people need to live ordinarily if it is difficult to live so for not to be expose stigma and shame to other people.
To conclude, this essay focused on the three reasons of many actions being restricted by shame culture in Japan. Many Japanese can’t say own ideas because they are afraid of making mistakes. It is shameful for Japanese to make a mistake in public. Even though many foreigners say own ideas with positive attitudes. The history of the shame culture is very deep and it is difficult to remove the culture from Japanese mind. In Kamakura era, many samurai killed themselves because they feel shame to be killed by enemy when they outfought. Now, many people kill themselves because of this culture. This culture has a large power to take one’s life. Japanese sometimes say the opposite of what they feel. It is shameful for Japanese to say the true mind to other people. This is one of the problems of communication between Japanese and foreigners. Shame culture makes communication worse.
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