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What is Japanese shame?


Japanese shame, or haji, is a cultural concept that centers around the idea of avoiding public embarrassment or bringing shame to oneself or one’s family. It is deeply ingrained in Japanese society and influences various aspects of daily life, from interactions with others to decision-making. Understanding the concept of Japanese shame is essential for anyone seeking to interact with or understand Japanese culture.

Historical Context

The roots of Japanese shame can be traced back to the country’s feudal era, where honor and reputation were highly valued. Samurai warriors would commit ritual suicide, known as seppuku, to preserve their honor and avoid bringing shame to themselves or their lord. This culture of honor and shame has persisted throughout Japanese history and continues to shape modern society.

Japanese Snack Box

Social Pressure

In Japan, there is a strong sense of social conformity that can lead to individuals feeling pressure to conform and avoid standing out. This pressure can create a fear of failure or making mistakes, as the consequences may lead to public embarrassment and loss of face.

Group Harmony

Another aspect of Japanese shame is the emphasis on group harmony over individual needs. In many situations, the needs of the group are prioritized over the needs of the individual. This can lead to individuals feeling responsible for the group’s success or failure and feeling a sense of personal shame if the group fails.

Communication Styles

Japanese communication styles also reflect the culture’s emphasis on avoiding shame. Indirect communication is common, as direct criticism or confrontation can be seen as causing shame for both parties involved. Nonverbal cues are also important in Japanese communication, as they can convey subtle messages without explicitly stating them.

Personal Responsibility

Japanese shame places a significant emphasis on personal responsibility. Individuals are expected to take responsibility for their actions and their impact on others. This responsibility extends beyond just oneself but also includes one’s family and community.

Impact on Education

The culture of shame in Japan has had a significant impact on education. The pressure to conform and avoid making mistakes can lead to a focus on rote memorization rather than critical thinking skills. High-stakes exams such as the university entrance exam can also create intense pressure for students and their families.

Business Culture

Japanese business culture also reflects the concept of shame. Companies often prioritize group harmony over individual success and emphasize loyalty and dedication to the company. Business relationships are built on trust, which can be easily lost if an individual brings shame to themselves or their company.

Guilt vs Shame

It is important to note that Japanese shame differs from Western concepts of guilt. Guilt focuses on internal feelings of wrongdoing, while shame centers around external perception and judgment from others. In Japan, it is more important to avoid bringing shame to oneself or others than feeling guilty for one’s actions.

Positive Aspects

While Japanese shame can have negative connotations, it also has positive aspects. The emphasis on personal responsibility and group harmony can lead to a strong sense of community and cooperation. The avoidance of public embarrassment can also promote politeness and respect for others.

Challenges for Foreigners

For foreigners living or working in Japan, understanding and navigating Japanese shame can be challenging. The emphasis on indirect communication and nonverbal cues can create misunderstandings, and the pressure to conform can lead to feelings of isolation or anxiety.


In conclusion, Japanese shame is a cultural concept deeply rooted in Japan’s history and society. It shapes various aspects of daily life, including communication styles, education, business culture, and personal relationships. While it can create challenges for foreigners unfamiliar with the concept, understanding Japanese shame is essential for anyone seeking to interact with or understand Japanese culture.

What is the Japanese concept of shame?

In Western society, guilt can be alleviated through confession, self-justification or legal proceedings, whereas in Japanese culture, shame cannot be resolved until the person complies with societal expectations, which sometimes involves drastic actions like suicide.

What is the fear of shame in Japan?

Taijin kyofusho is a condition characterized by an intense fear of interpersonal interactions, where individuals with this disorder experience extreme embarrassment or fear of displeasing others specifically related to their bodily functions or appearance.

What is the Japanese sense of duty?

Giri (義理) is a Japanese concept that can be translated to “duty,” “obligation,” or “burden of obligation” in English. Namiko Abe defines it as the act of serving one’s superiors with a devoted self-sacrifice. It is also linked to the intricate Japanese values of loyalty, gratitude, and moral debt.

What is Japanese Honour culture?

MEIYO, or honour, was an essential value for warriors, particularly the samurai. It involved upholding one’s principles and maintaining self-respect. Samurai placed great importance on their reputation from a young age and worked tirelessly throughout their lives to safeguard and strengthen it.

What is considered most disrespectful in the Japanese culture?

In Japan, it is considered impolite to stare at someone for an extended period of time or display public affection, like hugging or shoulder slapping. It is also considered rude to beckon someone with your forefinger. Instead, the Japanese gesture by extending their right arm with the wrist bent downwards and waving their fingers.

What is frowned upon in Japan?

Making loud noise or behaving inappropriately is generally not acceptable because it infringes on the personal space of others. It is advisable to avoid talking on a phone, instead opting to send messages, and consuming food or drinks should only be done on trains that cover long distances.

Maintaining Face

In Japan, maintaining face or saving face is an important aspect of avoiding shame. This means that individuals will go to great lengths to avoid causing public embarrassment or loss of face. It is common for individuals to apologize even if they are not at fault, simply to maintain harmony and avoid causing shame.

Shame in the Legal System

Japanese shame also has an impact on the country’s legal system. In criminal cases, the focus is often on the perpetrator’s shame and their responsibility to make amends for their actions. Offenders may be required to publicly apologize or make restitution to the victim or their family as a way of restoring their honor and avoiding shame.

Gender Roles

Traditional gender roles in Japan also reflect the culture of shame. Women, in particular, may be expected to prioritize group harmony over their own needs or desires. This can lead to a sense of personal shame if a woman does not live up to societal expectations of femininity or modesty.

Changing Attitudes

While Japanese shame remains an important cultural concept, attitudes towards it are changing. Younger generations are pushing back against the pressure to conform and prioritizing individual expression and creativity. The rise of social media and online communication has also created new opportunities for individuals to express themselves without fear of public embarrassment.


Overall, Japanese shame is a complex cultural concept that shapes various aspects of life in Japan. While it can create challenges for foreigners and put pressure on individuals to conform, it also promotes personal responsibility, group harmony, and respect for others. As Japan continues to evolve and modernize, attitudes towards shame may shift, but it will always be an important part of Japanese culture.

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