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Dateline: 07/07/97

Japan, by nature, can be a very confusing experience for foreigners. Beyond the language, there is the Japanese collective conscience to take into consideration. For a foreigner, it is not just enough to speak the language, but how one speaks the language. One can not expect one's foreign form of expressions to be a universal form of expression, or one's moral standards to be accepted everywhere.

Haji (shame) is said to form the core of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is described as "shame culture " in contrast to Western "guilt culture". In the west one can say that one's behavior is based, or dictated, by a sense of guilt resulting from one's actions. The feeling of guilt in the west is an internal feeling; the feeling of shame in Japan is an external feeling. This is not to suggest that the west is shameless, but rather that historically, Japan, has placed a great deal upon the feeling of shame. One can look to the samurai period for an example of shame. For a samurai, being put to shame in front of the public was as good as death.

This is just one basic example of an integral part of Japanese culture. In general, when learning any foreign language, it is of paramount importance to invest some time into the culture and beliefs of a culture (whether one believes in them or not). This is not to convert oneself to another system of beliefs, but to accept and understand another culture. One will definitely find Japanese easier to understand and learn if one is conscious of the culture.

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