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Cultural Ideals of Modesty


25 Jun 2002
I have read on many occasions that Japanese culture places alot of value on modesty. That its use of modesty is much more extreme relative to other countries, esp. the USA.

I was wondering if anyone has any insight/experience relevant to this topic?

Also, are the contemporary Ideals different than the traditional? Is there a movement away from the tradition? Or perhaps a trend?

Great question...what I have noticed is that they are more modest in society but behind closed doors...they can be a little more 'open minded' about things.
I think that modesty is one pillar of Japanese culture, you can find it in verbal and non-verbal communication, in art, in philosophy ("sabi"), in architecture, etc. Modesty and politeness are social rituals that - as Samuraitora indicated - are less important once formalities have been overcome. Japanese are not as stiff and formal as we usually assume.

It's difficult to say whether ideals have changed or not. According to my wife younger generations have lost their sense for the subtleties of Japanese language and tradition. I guess it's the same old story everywhere...
Thanks for the responses.

I have another question. In America, I know alot of people who expect everyone to act in accordance with some of their own cultural ideals almost subconsciously. So, to the average Japanese, is it expected that foreigners have skills in Japanese culture? Are there ideas they "take for granted" that are assumed universal? Or are gaijin(sp) basically considered to be "outside" and therefor above (or below) reproach for acting out of bounds?
Hm, there are of course a few social rules that even foreigners are expected to adhere to (basic things like taking off your shoes indoors etc.; take a look at our thread on eating & manners and at Stefan Schauwecker's page on Japanese etiquette).

I am under the impression that foreigners are generally forgiven, no matter which faux pas they commit, but that probably depends on the social context and on how deep they are integrated within the "Japanese system".

Perhaps some of our seasoned J-residents have more to say on that topic.
Here in America, we (as a society) normally are only forgiving when you are not living here. If you are a visiting foreigner, then we will let things slide. When you live here, you are expected to speak english and conform to our customs.

This is a broad view. Not everyone is like that.
Perhaps I am thinking more along the lines of beliefs instead of just customs. For instance, I have read that Japan is bit more lenient on issues of personal sexual preference. That there is a sort of "that's person x's thing, not mine" so they can do as they like even if I would never do it. If that is true, then I think it differs quite a bit from the United States perspective in general. Which seems to worry a bit more about peoples personal sexual goings on.

So, in the scenario of a Japanese individual in the states, I think there may be a bit more sway for being sexually deviant. It seems, though, that there would not be full acceptance of that sexual oddity given the American sexual perspective/belief.

In the scenario of an American in Japan, what might the average Japanese person think if the American were "nosey" about others sexual affairs? Would it be thought of as nosey in the first place?

I think that customs are based on beliefs, so one reflects the other.

What I've understood so far is that Japan is sexually more lenient due to the fact that they aren't burdened by the Judeo-Christian concept of restricting sexuality and branding violations of such restrictions as sin. Obviously puritanism is an unknown thing in Japan. At least that's my impression. ;)
Right I agree. A better way to describe what I am trying to convey is the difference between believing something is wrong/evil or just discourteous. What differs between Japanese and American culture when it comes to judging others behavior as forgivable. Like an American considering sexual deviance as unforgiveable and a Japanese person considering it a non-issue. That is a pretty incredible culture gap. So...

As sex is to many Americans, _________ is to many Japanese. Where ______ is generally a non-issue to Americans.

Are there any candidates for the blanks?

I hope thats a bit more clear! Sorry for any confusion.😌
hmmmmm .... pretty deep topic here.

Modesty. I think Nahoko is right.

Most young folks have (at least while being students) given up on modesty. Dang, the other day, at a friend's shop, a young lady of at least 22 was hammering away at her fly. She came out of the back part of the store and went straight to work on tucking in her shirt and then zipping up her jeans.

You see young women redoing or even putting on makeup on the train, subway, or on the bus. Hell, some girls even change from school uniforms to regular clothes right on public transportation.

Lots of young girls can be seen squatting throughout town.

Interesting that boys have been slower in this type of change.

You'll never be Japanese (unless you already are)!
You aren't expected to be Japanese (they prefer you as gaijin)!
You 'll never master their language (so no way in hell can you master their manners)
So, all of this means. You're allowed plenty of social gaffes (you're just a visitor that has overextended your stay).
Now, of course, not all Japanese will view it this way, some will even let you into their group, and you might even have a certain level of access to the group secrets.

Yes, few have crossed the line. David Spectre, Sean Kamui, Kent Delecot, Kent Gilbert. ( Sorry, sports figures are a different type of gaijin or even Japanese passport holding gaijin. ) If you cross the line, your reference changes from being just a gaijin to a [hen na gaijin] strange foreigner, meaning most likely that in your previous life you were a Japanese, come on, how else would you explain their ability to speak Japanese and hold chopsticks properly.

The Black Ships of Commodore Perry introduced Japan to the Puritan tight #$# way of life. Communal bathing areas were suddenly split into men's and women's. Husbands now had to hide their affairs. And Kabuki was finally brought forth as a traditional way of acting. (let's forget its origins ;) )

In general, I'd say that age of losing one's virginity starts as low as 13-14 and most high school kids have experienced the joys of adulthood.

Is this frowned upon? Probably not. Most parents would probably die, but they instantly forget that they too had fun at such early ages.

Is sexual education being taught? Lol... not much, that's for sure. Protection isn't used often, and STD's exists on a common level. Although, Japan has pride in its low level of AIDS cases. HA, I have 1 friend who has taken the test, everybody else I know wouldn't even dream of taking it unless they started having blotchy spots.

Homosexuality. Japan has records dating back at least a 1,000 years, well, at least concerning men. But these days, coming out is like a virtual crucification and the help of TV programs is necessary. Once you've come out, though, I haven't seen any real discrimination, but then again, many such folks work in the water districts.

hmmmm .... dang, this was long.

Cheers, and I hope I have helped a bit.
It sounds to me as generations pass by, modesty is becoming more faint, as it has been mentioned here and other situations many times.

As long as cultural pride is maintained, I suppose it might not be a concern. As far as sexual education, the children really do need to be taught that. I am surprised birth control has managed there to an extent, though I hear and realize that Tokyo is very crowded.
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hmmm ... yes, that's a good word, "faint"... fainter and fainter goes modesty.

lol, I'm no puritan that's for sure so :)
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