J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Shame and the Male Gaze

Shame and the Male Gaze

The image on the left is from a book recommending Nudism to Westerners, in an attempt to "grow up without Shame". The genitals have been by me blurred to conform with current Japanese law. The image on the right is from Nakao (2010) "Since when did the Japanese find being naked embarrassing" and is one of the sketches by Heine in Admiral Perry's impressions of Japan at the end of the Edo period. According to Nakano (2012) and for that matter Isabella Bird, the Japanese did not have anything against the display of genitals until shocked Westerners arrived.

The Japanese did have words about the separation of the sexes however. It was said that Japanese males and females should only "share seats" (sit together) up to the age of 7 (Nakano, 2010, p. 18 「男女7歳にして席を同じうせず」) and that among samurai talking (yes!) to the opposite sex was avoided with males and females being kept strictly apart in the Edo period. (武士では男女が言葉すら交わすことも憚れた時代、男女の別厳しく問われた時代ではなかったか。」ibid).

I wonder if the Western nudists achieve their aim of growing up without shame. I went to a boarding school and managed to cease from being ashamed of my body, especially when as a late developer I had no pubic hair and a small penis compared to my peers. My shame was so great that I think that in order to beat it I had I no longer identified with my body at all. I can remember that the greatest time that I felt shame was when a house master, a father figure of sorts, came into the boys showers when I and some of my peers were there.

I guess that if the Japanese were in gaze of a mother then they would not feel ashamed, and it is only because the gaze felt is somewhat sexualised, that one might feel ashamed at all. Since Westerners feel shame towards their nudity and guilt about their moral behaviour, and Japanese felt shame about their moral behaviour but no shame or guilt about their nudity.

Does this suggest that a reversal therefore of the parent that looks and listens. As a boy I used to imagine that my father was watching, and cheering, me when I ran in cross country races.


West it is felt that there is a
Motherly ear listening (according to Freud and Derrida at least)
Fatherly/Male gaze watching (which would make sense explaining the reason why nudity is so shameful)

Japan it is felt that there is a
Motherly gaze watching (hence the absence of shame towards nudity, since the mother gaze is non sexualised)
Fatherly/Male ear listening (hence the strictness with regard to talking to the opposite sex).

In my lectures I make Japanese men and women, who do not otherwise sit together, sit and talk to each other. What a Westernising devil! Perhaps I should cease and desist.

If anyone wishes I cease and desist with regard to the image on the left please leave a comment below or email me via nihonbunka.com.

Nakano, A. 中野明. (2010). 裸はいつから恥ずかしくなったか―日本人の羞恥心. Tōkyō: 新潮社.
Bird, I. L. (1880). Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: An Account of Travels in the Interior Including Visits to the Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of Nikkô and Isé. J. Murray.
Smith, D. C., & Sparks, W. (1986). Growing Up Without Shame. Elysium Growth Press, book.

Labels: , , , , ,

This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.