The recent re-call of default airbags manufactured by Takata offers an interesting insight into the Japanese concept of blame and shame and how it manifests differently to what we, as a nation of individuals, who debate and critically analyse things endlessly, may demand. The muted and withdrawn reaction of the Japanese manufacturing company has led to accusations that they are not taking adequate responsibility and that they have been covering up defects found in the past. Interestingly, the legal system discourages owners of faulty cars from seeking redress in the courts-
The cultural tendency in Japan to maintain superficial harmony plus dislike of face-to face confrontation and a less polarised view of blame can at times make non-Japanese people feel that things are being “swept under the carpet”. It is no surprise that litigious behaviour is less common in Japan than in the USA and interestingly, some experts say that the legal system discourages car owners from seeking redress from manufacturers.
Although Japan is not necessarily a blame society, it is certainly a shame society. Being exposed to public shame in Japan is not something to be taken lightly -think Samurai acts of ritual suicide- so it is no surprise that it leads to a lack of communication and a closed mentality. All these can come across as evasive and cowardly and at worse, can cause massive misunderstandings.
You don’t need to look any further than the perceived lack of public atonement from Japan after the 2nd World War or the behaviour of Olympus executives towards Michael Woodford for exposing fraud to get a flavour of how the Japanese psyche influences certain behaviours, which, to those from different cultural influences, seem incomprehensible.