Saturday, February 06, 2010

Shock and Awe

The weird, inscrutable, and mysterious Japan theories begin:

On Akio Toyoda's "apology":

Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of auto information company in Santa Monica, noted that in Japan, "guilt and shame are very different things."

"He apologized for inconveniencing Toyota customers and causing them concern, but didn't actually deal with the issue of responsibility," Anwyl said. "In the U.S., for an apology to be sincere, the speaker must accept responsibility and express remorse.*" LA Times

Mr. Anwyl must have read Ruth Benedict's ancient and controversial interpretation of the Japanese, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword---which was based largely on interviews with Japanese POWs. Or perhaps he read a Berlitz guidebook on Japan. I have never understood the supposed huge difference between the two (guilt and shame), nor do I believe that it exists in such an absolute manner. Of course, I am not the first to say that...

I find this one of the most interesting controversies in years because it seems to be a complete role reversal. Now the Japanese are being accused of not apologizing, not apologizing soon enough, not apologizing correctly, not apologizing sincerely, not understanding a foreign culture, appearing cold, unfeeling, and logically dry (the latter is my accusation), all the things that Westerners---especially the US---are accused of in Japan. And it's not even connected to WW2 issues.

I can imagine the shock and confusion some folks must feel to learn that, yes, in the US and elsewhere folks apologize too, and also expect some sort of apology when they feel wronged. Sometimes, even non-Japanese must be apologized to despite the fact that you think you have not actually done anything wrong. Such a feeling is not unique to Japan. Imagine that.

*Is it different here? Is it not mostly form in both countries when corporations send out folks to "apologize?" Does anyone expect real sincerity in a corporate apology?

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