Japanese shame versus Machinations of Mean

I recently had occasion to listen in on a conversation between the S/O and her siblings. They were discussing a conversation one of them had.

The account was twice, even third, removed, so rather than prattle on about how she said that he said that she said, I’ll narrate this as if I experienced it firsthand.

The gist still remains the same. Pretend I was there. It will be germane to this post.

Brother (1), and his Sister (1), are Japanese hapa.

Brother (1) is married to my S/O’s Sister (2).

Sister (2) recounted a conversation that she sat through recently:

Sister (1), is married to a Mexican-American man, and she was making an observation to the group, which included Sister (2).

Sister (1) was of the opinion that Japanese people are largely hypocritical and/or phony. She told the group that Japanese people act nice to your face; they are all smiles and head nods in public, but they are secretly spiteful and harbor many animosities and harsh opinions which they keep private. These animosities do not sit quietly, however. When in the comfort of familiar surroundings, the antagonisms and judgments flow forth like a tsunami. The very same people who craftily act nice and friendly to your face withhold a plethora of judgmental and disapproving opinions of you which they unleash to others when you are not in the vicinity.

Next time you meet them, it will be the same facade of friendliness you encounter, while the Machinations of Mean chug away quietly in their heads.

Sister (2) used this logic structure in her choice of mate.

Sister (2) told the group that Mexican culture is quite different. Mexicans don’t hold anything back and usually wear their hearts on their sleeves. If they don’t like you, you’ll usually know it. Appreciating this openness and frankness, Sister (1) gravitated toward that culture, and eventually, married into it.

I’ve thought on and off about this since. I believe that in some respects, Sister (1) is correct.

Culturally, Japanese people do tend toward the demure.

The strong shame-culture roots of Japanese society leads most Japanese people to restrain many strong opinions and emotions; this is especially true of the women. The problem therein is that people, all people, are innately cruel, judgmental and disapproving. This is how we are built, and Japanese are no different.

The problem becomes: what do we do when our natural human social inclinations are culturally restrained? Japanese shame culture has no room for open expression of such harsh confrontational antagonism. Still, Japanese culture is resilient, and though Japanese apparently adapt rather well to the American cultural landscape on the surface, they do no relinquish the antiquities of their historical legacies of etiquette and social co-existence so easily. For this reason, Japanese-Americans, despite living in this country for many generations, have held tenaciously to their shame socialization stemming back centuries.

Ultimately, Sister (1) is correct.

Taking it a step further, I must ask: is this (Japanese reticence) a “bad” thing?

From the American perspective, the phoniness and interpersonal duplicity is annoying, even offensive. In our world, we are big talkers, big actors, excessive in all we emote, and in America, this is possibly the modern incarnation of its Africanized slave-induced diversity which introduces gregariousness and extreme clownish extroversion. American culture has been permeated by the antithesis to Japanese shame restraint for so long that the Japanese two-faced method tends to be viewed somewhat noxiously by our “real talk” splendor of frankness.

This is not a strength, however.

Frankness and shameless expression of disdain weakens the structure of our social culture. There is great strength in culturally imposed interpersonal peace, especially with strangers. The more we feel confident expressing emotions of negativity with others, the more erratic and destructive collective society becomes.

A culture that tolerates meanness can only learn to embrace meanness; a society that embraces meanness refines it as a skill, as a measure of success and a prized trait. Meanness, owing no debt to respect or self-policing, tramples over all of us.

Collective meanness makes our world sinister.

Are hypocrisy and artifice for the sake of geniality, on a societal level, really that harmful, when the alternative is wide-scale human fracture?