Shame culture


I grew up in a shame culture-Japan. Everything was about trying hard not to embarrass your family, your classmates, your coworkers, your employer..it is basically that each citizen is always part of this large group and entity so Japanese people are trained to put the needs of each group ahead of ours. Japanese people are very sensitive, shy and reserved. They tend to worry what other people think of them. They are definitely more conscious than Americans that I know here.

I remember my math teacher telling us, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for not doing the homework!” And the way he said it in front of the class, I would have been embarrassed. Instead of feeling guilty for not completing his homework by the deadline, the student was made to feel ashamed. But what are the major differences between guilt and shame anyways? They both impose certain negative feelings when you do something inappropriate.

I personally have a mixed feelings about the concept of shame culture. Definitely there are advantages to it but individuality is suppressed in a shame culture unless one is living up to the expectations of the group he or she belongs to. It is hard to explain but unlike American culture, Japanese culture does not encourage individual to feel good about themselves for being who they are! No way because you may embarrass yourself and other people. Don’t bother your family and other groups for being an embarrassment.

So this reminds me of the controversial subject which is still haunting Japan after 70 years. Japan lost the second war and war criminals were tried and some of them committed suicide. They must have felt shame much more than the guilt. They felt embarrassed that they couldn’t win the battle and had to surrender to America. And the head imperial soldiers couldn’t save the former Japanese emperor’s face. It’s all about saving face in Japan..

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