Japanese Feel Shame, Taiwanese Feel Nothing
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
December 26, 2013
Summary: The Japanese feel no sense of guilt. But at least they feel a sense of
shame. Japan has been wracked by one political scandal after another.
But public opinion and public vigilance provides a strong line of
defense. On Taiwan, the people's sense of shame remains entangled with
rank sentimentality. It is distorted and deficient. Whatever collective
constraints Taiwan society might once have had, have evaporated amidst
Blue vs. Green political struggles.
Full text below:
Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose is suspected of accepting 50 million yen in illegal campaign contributions from the Tokushukai medical group. Under intense public pressure, he announced his resignation. This is not the first time something like this has happened in Japan, nor will it be the last.
Japan has a culture that stresses shame, but not guilt. Guilt originates from within oneself. Heartfelt moral convictions constrain one's behavior. Shame, by contrast, is the result of pressure exerted by others. External forces constrain one's behavior. Over the years many Japanese politicians have accepted illegal campaign contributions. Buty they step down only after being shamed. For the Japanese, until others discover their wrongdoing, or until a wave of condemnation appears, they have not sinned. This is a characteristic peculiar to Japan's culture of shame.
Once the Japanese culture of shame asserts itself however, it is like opening Pandora's Box. Society then blows it up all out of proportion. The masses go into a collective trance. They hear the rumblings, and undergo mass induction into a shared faith resembling unspoken dogma. It is sublimated and transformed into collective social pressure.
Naoki Inose once hurried about amidst the dust and confusion of Tokyo. Even when his wife died he worked around the clock. He succeeded in his bid to become the Hero of Tokyo. His popularity among Japanese politicians was second only to that of Shinzo Abe. But the moment his bribery scandal erupted, everything changed overnight. He became Public Enemy Number One. People demaned that he be pilloried. The Japanese media demanded his resignation. The consensus was that every day Seto remained in office dishonored the Tokyo Olympics with the international community. This illustrates the Japanese peoples' exaggerated sense of shame. Their intense emphasis on shame, and cavalier indifference to friendship, is clear to see. This was the reason for Naoki Seto's rise, and it was also the reason for his fall. .
The Japanese feel an intense sense of shame. It is a reflection of Japanese society's collective social constraints. The Japanese are cavalier about personal friendships. They make fine legal distinctions. Japanese often talk about how someone's conduct violated a certain law. But they seldom complain about systemic injustices. The Japanese often talk about how someone broke a certain rule. They rarely condemn a referee for being selfish and heartless. This is why the Japanese can make such an startling about face, and not feel any guilt. This is why when the Japanese make such an abrupt about face, they need not concern themselves with matters of friendship.
Once a climate of shame has taken formed, the Japanese never give "venial sins" a free pass. For example, former Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara was another rising star in the Democratic Party. He accepted a measly 200,000 yen in political contributions from an ethnic Korean woman he had known for years. When discovered, he hastily resigned. The Japanese public expressed no regret over his fall from grace.
Once someone has crossed an invisible line within Japan's culture of shame, the Japanese will no compromise merely because he holds high office. For example Democratic Party Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was under pressure to resign for falsifying his list of political contributors. The prosecutor never actually indicted him. But the Japanese political stage no longer had a place for him. For Japanese politicians, political contributions are their daily bread and butter. But step across the line and one ends up like Naoki Seto.
As we can see, Japan's political game has its own set of rules. There is the law. There are also social constraints and public pressure. These let politicians know that in addition to obeying the law, they must also have high ethical standards. There is no room for sentimentality. These social constraints also let Japanese politicians know that once their fig leaf has been snatched away, they must bear the full weight of political responsibility. They cannot skate by on personal connections.
Compare Naoki Seto's case to Wang Jin-pyng's influence peddling scandal. The contrast is stark. When Seto's bribery scandal first emerged, he argued that he "merely borrowed some money from a friend." He produced a signed IOU and considered himself cleared. But public opinion, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, and the Tokusou Group eventually forced Seto to resign to save face. Compare this to Speaker of the Legislature Wang Jin-pyng's influence peddling scandal. The domestic media and the public wallowed in sentimentality. They spun the Ma government's prosecution of Wang's wrongdoing as "political persecution." The Pan Green opposition waved banners and shouted support. They went after the officials who investigated Wang's wrongdoing with a vengeance. As we can see, Taiwan's politicians lack any sense of guilt. They also lack any sense of shame.
In short, the Japanese feel no sense of guilt. But at least they feel a sense of shame. Japan has been wracked by one political scandal after another. But public opinion and public vigilance provides a strong line of defense. On Taiwan, the people's sense of shame remains entangled with rank sentimentality. It is distorted and deficient. Whatever collective constraints Taiwan society might once have had, have evaporated amidst Blue vs. Green political struggles.
Some say that Japan ten years ago reflects what Taiwan is today. But politicians should know when to hold and know when to fold. Today's Taiwan lacks even this iota of shame.
2013.12.26 03:40 am