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Old 07-30-2005, 09:24 PM   #8
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
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Re: Does Budo require a sense of shame?

Hello David,

Was it not Ruth Benedict who suggested that Japan was a 'shame' society, governed as it was by social norms based on the group, rather than one marked by 'sin', which, along with 'guilt', is governed by a sense of appropriate personal relations and personal responsibility for one's own conduct in conducting such relationships? I would think that such a pristine distinction has been blurred somewhat since she was writing. It seems too neat. Nevertheless, I think that Benedict's rather primitive distinction has played a role among the Japanese in shaping postwar awareness of their own culture: a kind of washback effect, similar to that caused by Nitobe's Bushido.

In the original myths, when Izanagi in the Land of Yome sets eyes on the maggot-ridden body of his wife and flees, the latter declares, "A ni haji misetsu", translated by Philippi as, "He has shamed me". Later, Izanagi decides to purify himself by misogi, because he has been to "a most unpleasant, a horrible, an unclean land." "Therefore I must purify myself" and washes himself in a river. It is the circumstances that have caused the pollution, as much as his own conduct.

I understand that some scholars have tried to equate this episode with the shameful discovery of nakedness in Genesis, as a result of original sin. However, whereas Izanagi washed himself (we never hear any more about his wife), the man and the woman made some clothes.

In the OED, shame is defined as the "painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one's own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honor or disgrace one regards as one's own), or of being in a situation which offends one's sense of modesty or decency." This is pretty catch-all and covers everything (with the reference to conduct or circumstances).

I have trained in two dojos where one explicit aim of training was to confront the negative side of one's character. Shame and guilt were not particularly distinguished here, but in one of the dojos much emotional damage was inflicted, because neither the students nor the instructor were capable of handling the negative aspects uncovered. It was left to other members of the dojo to do what healing they could.

Best regards,

P A Goldsbury
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