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Honor In Defeat: Japanese Vs. Western Perceptions

1473 words - 6 pages

Normally a defeat would produce shame but there are some ways in which defeat can be converted into an honorable end that redefines a personal failure into an overcoming of the circumstances, usually through honorable death. Defining what constitutes shame is a difficult task, primarily due to the fact that different countries have different ideas about what constitutes shame and how to face it.
For most societies the basic definition of shame can be broken down into categories, for example: shame could be the loss of face, meaning somebody causes another person to feel embarrassment or to have their reputation tarnished in some way. Shame can also be related to loss of personal honor or degrading of a person’s social status. Shame is often times revealed in times of disaster or in the face of some form of catastrophe.
A failure to properly handle a negative situation such as a disaster, or receiving blame for one’s role in a situation [in which the majority of public opinion indicates that  disaster might have been preventable if only X solution had been implemented earlier] causes a loss of face which in turn is an example of shame.
One example of a disaster situation in which the blame was placed on persons who had a public role in  the disaster was the recent incident in Fukushima, Japan. This incident was followed by resignations and a loss of face on the part of the Japanese government due to the Japanese people’s perceptions of who was at fault in the management of the disaster and its consequences.
The Japanese reaction to  the shame [in this case the negative publicity attached to the handling of the situation] is somewhat different from the western perceptions and reactions. Especially in relation to war and warriors, Japanese conceptions of  shame are markedly different from those of a Western perspective.  To the Western mind, a death constitutes the ultimate defeat and would, therefore, be shameful if it occurred in circumstances of blame or if it was a suicide.
In western society suicide is seen as cowardly, because it means that the person who killed themselves did not have the fortitude  or strength of character to face whatever situation caused them to contemplate and ultimately to commit the act. In other words suicide from the western viewpoint is the “easy way out”. To the Japanese mind, however, a set of dishonorable or face losing circumstances is redeemable through an honorable death -- and, contrary to the western view, this includes suicide under certain circumstances.
This raises questions as to why taking one’s own life is the better option.  Through reading Japanese literary works we are able to get some insights  into the mindset which surrounds this method of surmounting shame and turning shame into an honorable defeat.
According to Morris [1975]: “For the Japanese warrior, death has a particular psychological significance, [...] one’s way of dying can validate one’s entire life” (Morris 38-39). [Emphasis...

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