Which is Virtue? “Culture of shame” Rooted in Japanese and “Culture of Sin” in Other Countries.


As a characteristic of the Japanese, there is an image of “clean heart” such as caring, courtesy is right, but sometimes they give different impressions. Japanese people actually viewed from overseas have a negative image such as self-expression being passive, being too concerned about eye-catching, humility being rather self-destructive.

Where is the nature of such Japanese coming from? This time we compare Japanese culture and Western culture, and we will explore the values ​​that are rooted in Japanese.

The Difference Between “Sin” and “Shame”


“The Chrysanthemum and the sword” written by Ruth Benedict, an American anthropologist did a study of the national character of the Japanese. In this book, she stipulated that while Europe and the United States emphasize inner conscience (= sin culture), Japan worried about the public sight, such as what other people think of them (= culture of shame). The difference between them is based on whether the source of the normative regulation for the act is in the inner self (conscience) or outside (world) of self.


Seen by God – “Culture of sin” born from Christianity

Europe and the United States are Christian civilizations, and religious precepts exist in the norm of behavior. If we keep God’s commandments, our hearts are kept fresh and there is no cloudiness of one point, but contrary to it we have a strong sense of sin.

In their hearts always acts in the absolute norm that God exists and is seen by God. That is connected to guilt consciousness (breaking the promise with God is “sin”). Benedict called this “a culture of sin”.


People Are Watching – “Culture of Shame” Born From The Public Decency


Meanwhile, Japan is polytheism, the consciousness of God and Buddha is not so strong, the target naturally heads towards the eyes of the public.

“I do not want to be laughed at by other people”
“I do not want to shame”

This regulates the behavior of the Japanese. Instead of deciding the action based on whether it is right or not, Benedict analyzed it as a “culture of shame” that the public decided what to do with what the world thinks.


The Difference Between “Sin” and “Shame”

For example, when comparing Europe, the United States and Japan, the consciousness difference between “sin” and “shame” appears conspicuously.

In the case of Japan, they start working after graduating from university. But in the case of Europe and the US, it is comparatively flexible, to have several jobs, to take a job to go overseas easily and feeling light. Normal Japanese may see it as an embarrassing thing because they are not steady and straightforward(←I don’t understand why it’s embarrassing). But in reality, they do not obey “the tacit understanding someone decided” It is only that they act up to the lifestyle which suits themselves.

Besides,  entrepreneurs get respected in Europe and the United States. Japan is paying attention to those who work for a stable company that is top in the popular company ranking.
“As much as I bother you, I also have a wide tolerance for others bothering me”
This  European way of canceling each other and on the other hand,

“I should not bother other people, so I better not do anything”
Japan is easy to reach the idea that “not doing anything is better” from “not bothering people”.



On the other hand, in the business scene and friendship. Japanese tend to dodge a subject of money,  but westerners talk right straight. It is a trusting relationship to communicate with everyone as clear as they are clear.

Even about littering, in the culture of shame Japanese are concerned about the evaluation of the surroundings and do not litter, but in the culture of sin, they can not throw garbage away from the consciousness of being seen by God.

Difference in Cultures That Comes to be Seen with Proverbs

The difference like the West and Japan can also be caught from the proverb. You will find that consciousness of “sin” and “shame” is rooted at the root.

Proverbs in the West (the root is “Sin”)

A guilty conscience feels continual fear.

God comes with leaden feet, but strikes with iron hands.

A clear conscience fears not a false accusation.

Japanese proverbs (root is “shame”)

Samurai has a bite to eat toothpicks
(A samurai uses a toothpick even when they don’t have anything to eat.
Samurai are the people who put pride and honor above anything else.)

I will scrape the shame of the trip
(Meaning that you can not do something because you are embarrassed usually,  but on the spot when you are traveling you are free to do anything)

To listen is a temporary shame, not to hear is a lifetime shame
(As you can see)

Culture of Shame Shows the Evaluation of Japan

The culture of shame as Ruth Benedict says I reckon criticism against Japan is also ridiculed.

Japanese people feel very embarrassed if someone finds their wrongdoing. As a result, they could be willing to die(from Samurai culture). But if they can not tell others about what they are doing, it also means that they do not feel bad about what they did.

But the goodness of culture of shame is that consciousness is always directed outside. To not do something that bothers others and act thoughtfully for others. This cherishes harmony while living in group life and leads to mutual compassion. One attraction is that there is a sense of security that you will be able to understand without saying much if you always conscious of your surroundings.



When comparing “culture of shame” and “culture of sin”, the characteristic of Japan becomes clearly visible. “Culture of shame” that concerns the public is treated as if it is bad, in other words, it can be said that it represents the beauty of the heart of the Japanese.

However, when it comes from a global perspective, there is also one aspect that the level of “shame culture” is too much and it hinders self-expression. The virtue encompassed by “shame”. And the difference between “compassion” and “difficult to understand” is as thin as a knife’s edge.

It may be good to think again about the “culture of shame” rooted in the Japanese.

Which is Virtue? “Culture of shame” Rooted in Japanese and “Culture of Sin” in Other Countries.” への1件のフィードバック



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