Shame vs. Guilt: Japan’s Missing Boy

imageYamato Tanooka-chan, the dear seven year-old boy who was “fake-abandoned” as punishment for God only knows what indiscretion, was undoubtedly being shamed when he was left on the roadside. Berating and belittling drives conformity and is inherent in the Japanese way.  Anthropologist Ruth Benedict described the important difference between “shame” and “guilt” cultures in her 1946  book about the Japanese society called “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”   The difference between these approaches to achieving good (conformity) are significant and should not be taken lightly.

I knew nothing about Japan being a “shame” culture when I first travelled to Tokyo in 1980, but over time I came to know that feeling guilty by my own conscience was insufficient for my traditional man who had apparently been berated by his own parents and in turn was molding me using the same technique.  Being shamed for household transgressions– forced to swallow what I could not understand cost me my mind for a time; but the price paid by my beautiful half-Japanese children was far greater.

During my absence many unspeakable things happened to my children at the hands of their father, but one image is forever burned In my brain.  I often see my baby girl standing outside in the dark, freezing cold waiting to be let in.   Like a dog forced to take a shit it didn’t need to take she was sent out to reflect.  For the indiscretion of needing more practice and drills than the average child she was sent out to experience homelessness.

And I wonder, what on earth did Tanooka do?

Although many in Japan may express outrage at the Yamoto Tanooka case, how many of these adults have used “guilt parenting” to drive conformity in their own homes? Why hasn’t the government done more for the welfare of children when it comes to abuse, molestation and trafficking? The Japanese may be good at creating catchy cool products but they are “piss poor” at child welfare.  Even though the  Human Rights Council Special Report is primarily about young girls and sexual exploitation it describes Japan’s lack of modern social services.

I can imagine the words Tanooka’s parents might have spoken as they slammed the car door behind their little boy. With worldwide attention on the case what does Japan have to say about their prevalent shaming ways?

#Tanooka #humanity


14 thoughts on “Shame vs. Guilt: Japan’s Missing Boy

  1. I so admire your courage in the willingness to name and claim what is the truth of your experience. What you speak of – the process of parenting – is the fundamental and core process that shapes one a generation to replicate the sins of the one that has gone before. Any culture that so profoundly defends its unquestionable ‘right’ to ‘parent’ as it sees fit is already in the throes of chaos. Perhaps only when we begin to value and respect our children; to have the process of parenting be grounded in respect, integrity and generosity of sprit toward our children, will our world have a chance to be different. Thank you – I appreciate the strength and clarity of your voice. / Louise


  2. So kind Louise. Japan is so revered, so popular, that I feel like a lone voice. I know all countries and cultures are less than perfect as they are man made, but good is defined for us all if we seek it


  3. Thank you for choosing to follow Virtual Vitamins. In checking out your posts I am blown out of the water. You have experienced Japanese culture in ways I knew existed but thankfully have not had to endure. I require counseling before I will perform a wedding, and I touch on parenting in those sessions. I have already commented to some people that what was done to Yamato kun is an example of the opposite of accurate love. Too many parents consider a spanking to be “unloving,” when disinterest and abandonment are the true polar opposites of love. By the way, where do you live now?


  4. The shame of asian men due to their strong outdated family traditions is a huge problem especially when it comes to relations with white women. I can relate a lot.


  5. How sad. But no doubt to the parents this was acceptable as it was done to them and has been so for centuries. Breaking with tradition would be very hard as it is ingrained in its history. Is it possible that a brave new world could ever happen in Japan?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The story in Japan is that he was throwing rocks at passing cars, hitting the windshields, endangering the lives of the drivers. That’s just in answer to your question about what he did. Have a great week and keep blogging! 🙂


    • Oh yes I did read that. I am sure he needs some discipline and his par ants need help dealing with him. There is a lack of services to help parents in Japan. At their wits end it leads to abuse. Thanks for reading!


  7. Good post. I’ve heard that this episode has prompted some national soul-searching in Japan on proper treatment of children. Which in my opinion is badly needed, especially for a country with such a low birth rate. I don’t have a huge amount of experience of the subject, but it seemed to me that Japan puts a great deal of pressure on children and doesn’t always allow many opportunities for them to be – well, children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes and this contributed greatly to my ex-husband’s way of thinking which in turn tragically affected my family. Thank you for commenting so thoughtfully.


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