Guilt and shame, Part 2

Picking up on this from yesterday, I was thinking today about some of the ways Japan’s Shame Culture differs from America’s Guilt Culture. I want to use everyday examples, and not get caught on “histories”.

The first that came to mind was prosecutorial standards.

People love to complain about how the Japanese police-and-prosecutor system seems backwards and Third World. As we recently saw in the example of Chris Savoie, the American who somehow became a dual citizen while living in Japan. Late last year, he attempted to take his kids back from his divorced spouse, Noriko. He had been granted custody by the State of Tennesse.

Well, sure enough, Noriko had him arrested. And the next thing you know, he was sitting there in the police holding pen for the up-to-23-day period that prosecutors are allowed to hold a suspect. No charges, just on ice.

He made stateside and expat news on this event. Because to Western standards, this looks like an abuse. The man had custody. And then, when taken into custody, “disappeared” for a couple weeks (no habeas corpus).

In the Guilt Society context, Savoie had two injustices done to him. One, he had a right to the kids. Two, with that right, the government disregarded it and held him in the pokey, without charges.

But in the Shame Society context, it goes more like this:

Chris Savoie’s marriage failed. No matter who was really responsible, how could just one partner be all at fault? Some of the fault must be Chris Savoie’s! And so, he has shame. And worse, he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging his shame as a member of the failed marriage.

Worse, he now comes back into Japan and causes a disruption! Now the harmony of the community has been upset, and everyone’s attention is focused on this scandal (i.e. more shame). Let’s stick him in the pen for a couple of weeks until he comes to his senses and decides to be “more responsible!” (i.e. appreciates all the shame that he is causing.)


Now, two things I must say. By laying out the shame case, I don’t want anyone to think:

1) That I am justifying prosecutorial misconduct or a legal system that does not honor common law rights of the accused. I took an oath to stand by those concepts. I am only pointing out that there is more than one way to look at a situation, and if you are in a culture that emphasizes that different way, this is what you get. As I said yesterday, “guilt” is still a feeling in Japan. But shame counts for more.

2) I appreciate that the 20th century Japanese fascists, after the war, “hid” in the concept of culture (i.e. made their same fascistic arguments that they made before and during World War II, but felt comfortable to explain that it was “Japanese Culture” and not their own program of thuggery and general lawlessness.) Unlike Germany, where “the West” is still hunting down fascists to this day, the Allied Powers basically gave the Japanese fascists a free pass after hanging just seven or eight.

So I appreciate authentic Japanese culture, but in no means want my words twisted that I am some kind of lackey for the Japanese neo-fascists running around this place, just because they nowadays resort to the “differing cultures” excuse. It’s bad enough that my tax money has to go to defend them.

It is simply to say that America is a product of a culture where guilt was the consideration, and in the context of the prosecution example, the abuses around the time of the English Civil War (no habeas corpus, attacks on freedom of speech and conscience, show trials and long-running mockeries of the law like Court of Star Chamber) weigh heavily on our thinking.

But here, Confucian order, Buddhist perfection, strong group identity, and other concepts that are just alien or uncomfortable to the West have much more of a role to play.