Yoshimitsu, Benedict, Endo: guilt,
shame and the post-war idea of
Abstract: The idea that Japan is a ‘shame culture’ and that the Japanese have a weak
sense of sin has been an in uential one, both in Japan and abroad. It has also often
in uenced attitudes towards Japan’s behaviour in World War II. This idea, however, has
its roots in the Japanese critique of pre-war ideology after World War II and in the Japanese
reception of Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. In various forms, the idea
also became an important element of Nihonbunkaron, those theories of Japanese culture
which have been so popular in post-war Japan. The same idea was also given a powerful
and in uential expression in the novels of Endo Shusaku (1923–96). Earlier Christian
theologians in Japan, such as Yoshimitsu Yoshihiko (1904–45), had often seen traditional
Japanese culture as closer to Christianity than modern European culture. To such thinkers,
Japan’s war with Britain and America was in part a war on modernity itself. By contrast,
Endo accepted the post-war belief that Japan was a shame culture, distant from European
Christianity. As his career proceeded, however, he came to take a more positive view of the
‘weak’ Japanese self. In this sense, his work closely parallels the development of Nihonbun-
karon itself. Paradoxically, however, Endo’s ‘Japanese’ reinterpretation of Christianity
proved highly popular not only in Japan but also abroad, raising the possibility that it was
less exclusively Japanese than his work suggested.
Keywords: Japan, Catholicism, Endo, Yoshimitsu, Benedict, Nihonbunkaron
Is the difference between the German experience and the Japanese possibly this, that in
Germany the Nazi period produces a sense of profound guilt about the actions of the
past, whereas Japan feels not guilt but shame about its past? What do you do with
shame? Read any of the Greek dramatists. Read the novels of Shusaku Endo or Kazuo
Ishiguro. Rather than admit you performed a shameful act you say, some God did this,
some God jogged my arm and I killed him, you invent reasons for exculpating yourself.
The best way to deal with shame is to sweep the thing under the carpet as quickly as
possible. Then you can work, then you can live again. Whereas guilt is a burden which
one can only get rid of by talking and talking and talking about it.
(Lord Annan in Thomas 1990: 77–8)
As the old joke tells us, the world can be divided into two types of people: those who divide
the world into two types of people and those who do not. The notion that the Japanese fall
Japan Forum 13(1) 2001: 91–105 ISSN: 0955–5803 print/1469–932X online
Copyright 2001 BAJS DOI: 10.1080/09555800020027692
92 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
into the former category – that they obsessively divide the world into the Japanese and
everybody else – has by now itself become an important part of the image of Japan. (The
venerable social psychologist Minami Hiroshi has gone so far as to identify this tendency as
one of the two distinctive characteristics of the Japanese people (Minami 1994: 1)). Indeed,
at least since the publication of Peter Dale’s polemical and highly in uential, The Myth of
Japanese Uniqueness (1986), there has been the widespread suspicion that claims that the
Japanese are in some sense ‘different’ are deeply self-serving myths. Yet, of course, the point
of the old joke is that whoever makes such a claim automatically consigns himself as well to
the former category. In this sense, there is no doubt that much of the discussion of ‘the myth
of Japanese uniqueness’ has itself a somewhat mythical quality.1 Certainly, Japanese
intellectual life can look very different from the vantage point of a historian, as Carol
Gluck’s discussion of the obstinate staying power of the progressive consensusamong post-
war Japanese historians indicates (Gluck 1991). As one Japanese historian has urged, with
reference to the Nanjing Massacre, foreign scholars should realize that ‘Japan, like other
democratic countries, contains various different views within its society, and that these
views vie with one another for the status of a master narrative’ (Yoshida 2000: 119).
Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the knot of issues referred to by Lord Annan
– culture, guilt, shame and attitudes to the War – has had a profound impact on Japan’s
image, both within the country and abroad. Behind many, perhaps most, discussions of
Japanese behaviour, there lurks the assumption that it is Japan’s differences from the West
which will provide the key to an understanding of Japanese actions in the political,
economic or cultural spheres. This difference is often seen as a difference in moral or
ethical attitudes. In this paper, I should like to discuss the development of this idea that
the Japanese lack a sense of guilt or an awareness of sin, locating its origins in the
immediate post-war repudiation of wartime ideology by Japanese intellectuals and in the
Japanese reception of Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and relating it to
the longer post-war development of theories of Japanese culture. In particular, I want to
look at the novels of Endo Shusaku, considering his treatment of the questions of sin and
guilt in the context of these theories. As Lord Annan’s remarks suggest, novelists can
indeed have a great in uence on a country’s image. This is especially true of Endo, who ¯
not only has been one of the most widely translated and read Japanese novelists in the
post-war period, but was also deeply concerned throughout his career with the relation-
ship between Japanese culture and the West.
In order to understand Endo fully, we need to see his work as participating in three
different but overlapping traditions of discussion within Japan. The rst of these is literary
and involves the pervasive belief, current since the Meiji period, that there is a profound
connection between literature, especially the novel, and the creation or expression of a
‘modern’ self. This body of discussion has been excellently surveyed by Tomi Suzuki, who
I-novel critical discourse, in short, became from the mid-1920s the dominant paradigm
and meta-narrative by which almost all literary works, including classical texts, were
described, judged and interpreted, regulating the reception and production of modern
literary texts and governing contemporary views of the Japanese literary and cultural
(Suzuki 1996: 3; see also Williams 1999: 1–24)
Adrian Pinnington 93
Protestantism itself played an extremely important role in the development of this
critical discourse (Suzuki 1996: ch. 3) and so it naturally overlaps with a second body of
discussion, that of comparative religion. This has been marked in Japan by an equally
pervasive assumption of a link between Christianity and a strong or independent self, able
to assert itself against social or communal pressure (for a representative example, see Hori
et al. 1979). This notion, which is heavily in uenced by Weberian theories of modernity,
has deeply affected studies of Japanese religion (see Amstutz 1997: especially ch. 5; on the
general in uence of Protestant anti-Catholic polemics on the study of comparative
religion, Smith (1990) is excellent). More importantly for our purposes, it also played a
very important role in Japanese discussions of modernization after the war. As a result, it
has in turn overlapped with the last tradition of discussion, and the one I will chie y focus
on here, that of Nihonbunkaron (theories of Japanese culture). Here, among many
discussions, I have found myself in broad agreement with the anthropologist Aoki
Tamotsu’s account (1999). Although perhaps overly schematic, and somewhat arbitrary
in its limitation to the post-war period, Aoki’s account of the development and alteration
of Nihonbunkaron over time is valuable, not only for its historical perspective, but also for
the stress he lays on the correlation between Japanese views of themselves and foreign,
especially American, views of Japan.
In Aoki’s view, almost all post-war discussions of Japanese culture nd their starting
point in Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and in particular in her stress
on Japanese groupism and the idea of Japan as a shame culture. Aoki distinguishes four
stages in the development of Nihonbunkaron : 1) the negative perception of Japan’s
distinctiveness (1945–54); 2) the perception of historical relativism (1955–63); 3) the
positive perception of Japan’s distinctiveness (earlier stage: 1964–76; later stage: 1977–
83); 4) the movement from distinctiveness to universality (1964–present). These stages
can clearly be linked, as Aoki argues, to the Japanese shift from a widespread sense of
failure, in the immediate post-war period, to a widespread sense of success in creating a
viable, modern and wealthy society. Perhaps the only place where Aoki seems to me to go
seriously awry is in his analysis of the last stage. This, he argues, citing Allan Bloom (1988)
and ‘revisionists’ such as Chalmers Johnson (1982), has been marked by a strident
rejection of cultural relativism in the West and a return to a pre-WWI stress on the
universal validity of Western modernity (Aoki 1999: 175–9). Undoubtedly, following the
end of the Cold War, there has been a vein of triumphal liberalism, exempli ed by the
work of Francis Fukuyama (1992), which has also affected some studies of Japan (see, for
example, Wolferen 1989; Buruma 1994). At the same time, however, Aoki ignores the far
more in uential rise of postmodernism, social constructionism and a kind of leftist
culturalism in European and American intellectual life, in uenced especially by the
Frankfurt School and Foucault, and well represented in American studies of Japan (e.g.
Pollack 1992; Simpson 1994; Ivy 1995; Igarashi 2000).
However this may be, I think that Aoki is undoubtedly right to stress both the in uence
of American views of Japan and the extent to which Nihonbunkaron can be understood
only when set against the widespread disillusionment with traditional Japanese culture
which intellectuals felt following defeat in the war. In this sense, I believe that Endo is an
exemplary gure. Not only has his view of Japanese culture been clearly in uenced by
Benedict, but it is also clear that he was also both in uenced by, and reacted against, the
post-war critique of pre-war ideology mounted by the Japanese so-called ‘modernizers’
94 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
(kindaishugisha ). Thus, his developing view of the difference between Japan and the West
not only has its roots in the post-war period, but also shows a close correlation with the
development of Nihonbunkaron itself. Critics of Endo have not paid a great deal of
attention to his conception of Japanese culture as such, perhaps because his sense of a
profound gulf between Christianity and Japan’s traditional spirituality has seemed natural
or self-evident.2 Endo’s understanding of this gulf, however, is historically speci c and by
no means representative of the views of earlier Japanese Christians, especially Catholics.
To bring out this speci city, I should like to begin my discussion with the views of one of
Endo’s own early mentors, Japan’s leading pre-war Catholic intellectual, Yoshimitsu
Although Yoshimitsu is a fascinating gure in his own right, here I can do no more
than touch on his thought. (My account is largely based on Yoshimitsu (1979), Hanzawa
(1993), Kato (1985) and Endo (2000d).) He was born in Kagoshima in 1904, and his
father died while he was still in Middle School. From this time he began attending a local
Protestant church. In 1922 he entered the First Higher School (Dai-Ichi Kotogakko ) in
¯ ¯ ¯
Tokyo and began attending a Bible study group led by the charismatic Uchimura Kanzo, ¯
with whom he developed a close relationship (on Uchimura, see Miura (1996)). Towards
the end of his time at the high school, however, he began to lose patience with the stress
on personality in Uchimura’s mukyo kai (non-church movement) and to move towards
Catholicism. He also developed a passionate interest in philosophy. In 1922, he
graduated and entered the Ethics Department (rinrigakka) of Tokyo Imperial University.
Under the in uence of his new mentor, the saintly and charismatic Catholic priest,
Iwashita Soichi, who had returned in 1925 from an extensive sojourn in Europe, he
decided to join the Catholic Church and was baptised in 1927. In 1928, he graduated
and, on Iwashita’s advice, spent two years in Paris studying philosophy under Jacques
Maritain. Deeply in uenced by the latter’s brand of Neo-Thomism, he returned to Japan
in 1931 and began teaching theology at Sophia University. From this time, he also began
writing and publishing extensively. In 1933, he married his ailing ancee, who was
already bedridden and who died of TB later the same year. From 1939, he began
teaching part-time at Tokyo Imperial University, at the recommendation of Watsuji
Tetsuro, and, after 1940, when Iwashita died, he became the recognized intellectual
leader of Japanese Catholics. In 1945, however, following the death of his younger sister,
he too died of TB, aged only 41.
Much of Yoshimitsu’s writing is concerned with the exposition and development of
Maritain’s Neo-Thomism, and the exploration of the themes of Christian mysticism,
although he was also greatly interested in modern European thought and literature.
Famous for the dif culty of his arguments and the obscurity of his written style, he also
wrote extensively for a non-Christian audience interested in European culture. His
general image, as represented, for example, by the essay on his work by the well-known
critic Kato Shuichi, is of an aloof man, who steadfastly maintained his commitment to
universal values at a time when Japan was dominated by an especially vicious form of
right-wing ethnocentrism (Kato 1985). Indeed, according to Kato, it was only the
ignorance of the censors and the dif culty of Yoshimitsu’s style and vocabulary that
allowed him to publish works so subversive of of cial ideology. Endo, who came to know
Yoshimitsu well when he entered the Catholic student hostel of which Yoshimitsu was the
warden, also recalls him as refusing either to criticize or countenance the war, simply
Adrian Pinnington 95
advising students not to answer foolish questions posed to them by the police (Endo ¯
Yet, Endo also recalls Yoshimitsu talking to the students about his participation in the
famous Kindai no chokoku (Overcoming modernity) symposium, held and published in
1942 (Kawakami and Takeuchi 1979). This participation of a Catholic theologian in a
gathering of supposedly ultra-nationalistic intellectuals has attracted surprisingly little
comment. The symposium itself, of course, has become infamous as an example of the co-
operation of Japanese intellectuals in the justi cation of military aggression (see, e.g.,
Iwasaki 1991). As such, it has generated a considerable secondary literature in its own
right (see, e.g., Doak 1994: 134–51; Minamoto 1994; Fujita 1999). Following a famous
article by Takeuchi Yoshimi, the chief interest of post-war Japanese intellectuals has been
how to rescue the theme, felt to be important, from its exploitation as wartime propaganda
(Takeuchi 1979; see also Olson 1992: 43–77). The symposium itself, however, is
generally held to have been a failure owing to the inability of the participants to arrive at
a common de nition of modernity. Yet, in one sense, this could be regarded as the best
thing about the discussion. Certainly the members of the Nihon Romanha (Japanese
Romantic School), who initiated and participated in the symposium, such as Kamei
Katsuichiro or Hayashi Fusao, urged the identi cation of modernity with the West and a
return to an uncontaminated Japanese tradition. But in the event they found themselves in
a distinct minority. Another view, equally nationalist if less chauvinist, was that it was now
up to Japan to pick up the torch of European culture, which had reached a dead end in its
homeland, and to take it to new heights. This was proposed in different ways by the
composer Moroi Saburo and the Kyoto School philosopher Nishitani Keiji. (Interestingly,
Moroi bluntly stated that traditional Japanese music had no future, while Nishitani
confessed that, although European literature had living force for him, almost all classical
Japanese literature left him cold). Yet another view, proposed by the critic Nakamura
Mitsuo and the historian Suzuki Shigetaka, was that it had been Japanese modernity that
had been super cial and one-sided, and that a deeper understanding of European culture
was necessary to overcome it. The critic Kobayashi Hideo and the physicist Kikuchi
Seishi, meanwhile, from very different points of view, rejected outright the kind of
historicism that underlay the very notion of modernity.
Seen in this way, the symposium largely rejected the shrill cultural nationalism of
wartime propaganda, and in this respect it seems more intelligible that a Catholic thinker
should have been invited and agreed to participate. Yet, the idea that there was no
consensus among the participants is somewhat misleading. In fact, the one thing that no
participant was prepared to defend was the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ ideology of liberalism,
individualism and capitalism (see Shillony 1981, especially ch. 6). It was this which was
held to link the war against Britain and America with the intellectual’s cultural struggle
against modernity. In other words, Anglo-American ideology was the modernity which
they wished to overcome, and for many of them Western culture, especially anti-
modernist Western culture, was itself an important weapon in the struggle. In this sense,
Yoshimitsu’s background in the Roman Catholic anti-modernist theology of Maritain3
and others made him a willing participant. To Yoshimitsu, as to many Catholic thinkers in
the West, it was the atheism unleashed in their different ways by Renaissance humanism
and Protestantism which had led nally, not only to the horrors of capitalism and
plutocracy, but also to the French and the Russian revolutions. Like other Catholic
96 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
thinkers (see Allitt 1997: 221, 257–8), Yoshimitsu was distinctly sympathetic to Italian
fascism while being openly opposed to Nazi racism (as indeed were many Japanese
intellectuals (Hanzawa 1993: 89–90, 101)). Yoshimitsu was prepared to recognize the
achievements of science – and in this sense did not call for a simple return to the Middle
Ages – but he argued that we needed to recover a sense of God in order to recover a true
In particular, he argued that it was false to think of the Renaissance as a recovery of the
spirit of the ancient world. The ancient world, with its natural morality and spirituality,
was a world that had been waiting to be completed by the supernatural wisdom of
Christianity, just as Thomism had completed the natural philosophy of Aristotle. This last
point is important, because it seems that Yoshimitsu in essence saw traditional Japanese
culture as akin to that of the ancient world in Europe. In other words, it was a culture with
a healthy natural sense of morality, order and the supernatural. This culture, for him, was
far closer to Christianity than the atheistic world of modern European humanism or
communism. This positive attitude to nature and thus to ‘natural’ culture was for
Yoshimitsu, as for other Catholic thinkers, one of the things that decisively distinguished
Catholicism and Protestantism. (In fact, Uchimura Kanzo had a remarkably similar
attitude towards Japan, America and Britain (see Miura 1996: 65–81, 114–24).) This
attitude allowed Yoshimitsu to call for a return to the traditional Japanese spirit, not only
because all subjects owed loyalty to their rulers, but also because the war against Anglo-
America marked a return to a healthier Japanese culture, one that could indeed eventually
be completed by Catholicism. Here, we see the striking difference between the attitudes of
Yoshimitsu’s generation and those of Endo’s. ¯
Of course, what intervened was Japan’s defeat and the total discrediting of the kind of
anti-liberalism represented by this symposium (see Minami 1994 189–95; Dower 1999:
233–9). Critics like Kuwabara Takeo began immediately to argue that, far from Japan
overcoming modernity, Japan had never really become modern in the rst place (Aoki
1999: 60–1). What is very striking about the post-war debate, however, is the way in which
it focused, not on the views of the militarists and their supporters, but on the question of
why these views had not been more effectively opposed. In other words, the question of
war responsibility was seen as essentially the question of why people had been too weak to
oppose the views of the government and the militarists. This is clearly connected to the
widely noted tendency for Japanese to see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators
of the war (for a particularly astute discussion of the structure of such a sense of
victimhood on the part of the Protestant churches, see Kaino (1999)). Widespread
indifference or opposition to militarist views was taken for granted. For example, in a
famous symposium held by members of the group of writers linked to the journal Kindai
Bungaku (Modern Literature) in 1946, on the question of ‘the responsibility of the writer’
(Ara et al. 1972), the discussion quickly shifted from the question of which writers, if any,
had truly opposed the war, to the question of why most writers, including themselves, had
not been able positively to oppose the war, despite personally feeling very critical of it.
This was explicitly contrasted with the active stance which European writers such as
Thomas Mann had taken in Europe. The answer, which in view of the traditional
perception of a close link between writing and the creation of a modern self was perhaps
a natural one, was that the Japanese had failed to develop a modern self. The novelist
Haniya Yutaka, in an especially striking passage, argued that:
Adrian Pinnington 97
If we think of Europe . . . the Europeans themselves have always had their own form of
authority – for example, until the last century there was God. Moreover, this was
thought to be the God of all humanity. Europeans were always made to stand before a
kind of court. People couldn’t live without continually re ecting within themselves
upon what they were doing in the face of God. In other words they had to live on the
basis of a kind of unity between society and the individual. When, after that, that God
became society, or became humanity, the form changed but the individual, as if he were
continually in court, had an inner sense that he ‘should’ be a particular way as a human
(Ara et al. 1972: 64; part of this passage is also translated in Koschmann 1991: 181)
This stress on the link between Christianity, modernity and a strong self was also taken
up by the Weberian Kindaishugi group of Otsuka Hisao, Maruyama Masao, Kawashima
Takeyoshi and others (for a general account see Kuno et al. 1995: 213–59; see also
Kersten 1996). This led then to the famous debate on shutaisei (subjectivity, self-
assertion) (see, in particular, Koschmann 1996).
It was against this background that Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
was translated and read in Japan in 1948, a fact which helps to explain some of the
ambivalence and oddities of the Japanese reception of the book (on Benedict’s reception
in Japan see Dale (1988: 176–87), Hendry (1996) and Kent (1996); for an extremely
detailed account of almost all Japanese discussions of Benedict see also Soeda (1993)). As
Clifford Geertz has argued, in a witty and perceptive essay on Benedict, in itself the book
is perhaps better seen as a kind of Swiftian satire, in which the alienness of Japan is used to
unsettle US assumptions about the naturalness of their own society, than as a work of
‘scienti c’ anthropology (Geertz 1988; see also Lummis 1982). At any rate, and bravely
enough in the context, it is clear to the unprejudiced reader that Benedict’s main aim is to
stress the truth of cultural relativism (which here means essentially ethical rather than
epistemological relativism). She is certainly far from urging the superiority of American
values or liberal capitalism over other cultural systems. It is indeed a paradox of such
liberalism (and one that we have by no means escaped from today) that the tolerance of
differences between cultures involves by de nition the tolerance and even positive
validation of highly illiberal societies. Yet there can be no doubt that the thrust of her
argument is that Americans have no right to judge a different culture by the values of their
The immediate Japanese response to Benedict, however, was to accept much of her
description as true, but to regard it as primarily an indictment of the backwardness of
Japanese society. This is clear if we look at the famous special edition of Minzokugaku
Kenkyu (Studies in Ethnography), published in 1949, in which various leading Japanese
scholars from different elds were invited to review and criticize the work. Although the
tone of the essays varied from outright hostility to enthusiastic praise, the actual under-
standing of the book revealed in each article shows much in common. For example, the
most positive essay, written by the leading modernist and legal specialist, Kawashima
Takeyoshi (1949) praises the depth of Benedict’s analysis and remarks that her depiction
of the ugly side of Japanese society calls for deep re ection on the part of the Japanese. He
criticizes, naturally enough, the way in which she ignores both historical change and the
play of different social forces within Japan. Basically, he argues, in line with his own work
98 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
on Japanese society (see Muta 1999), that the tensions which Benedict nds between
sensual enjoyment and self-sacri ce are really tensions between the values of the people
and the elite. In a similar way, the hierarchy which she emphasizes is also strictly a feature
of upper-class society, not of the majority of the Japanese people. Similarly, the famous
minzokugakusha (ethnologist) Yanagita Kunio takes up Benedict’s distinction between
shame and guilt cultures, and argues that ordinary people in Japan do in fact have a strong
sense of guilt, derived from Buddhist karma, while the shame culture which she describes
is a traditional feature of bushi culture alone (Yanagita 1949). In a striking passage,
Yanagita then argues that Japanese have, since the Meiji period, too easily allowed the
culture of the bushi to be passed off as the culture of the whole of Japan.
I think that in these essays we can see clearly the way in which Benedict’s description of
Japanese culture was interpreted in terms of the post-war critique of Japanese culture as
pre-modern. Benedict’s view of Japanese culture is seen as not only naively re ecting the
ideology of the militarists (the standard leftist critique of Benedict (see Lummis 1982)),
but also as pointing to the reasons for the failure of Japan to develop a truly modern self.
This connection with the issue of the failure of Japanese to oppose the war helps explain
the enormous importance which Benedict’s contrast between ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ cultures
took on in Japan, despite the fact that she devoted only a few pages of her book to the issue
(Benedict 1977: 156–9). True to her commitment to cultural relativism, she is at pains to
avoid making a value judgement. It is evident that in her view shame and guilt are both
present in all cultures, but that some rely mainly on one and some mainly on the other to
control behaviour. Guilt is associated with an absolute standard of morality, an inner
sense of sin and the ef cacy of confession. Shame, on the other hand, is an external
sanction, and is associated with a situational morality. Confession does not help relieve
the feeling. Strikingly, she argues that guilt is becoming less and shame more important in
the United States. Here her main focus seems to be on attitudes towards sexuality, as she
associates the original Puritan morality of the United States with the psychological
problems of repressed present-day Americans. This would suggest that she sees shame
cultures positively, just as she views Japanese sensuality in general positively (see also her
remarks on American ‘puritanism’, sin and sexuality in Benedict (1959: 126)). On the
other hand, she also clearly associates shame with an excessive dependence on the opinion
of others and reliance on a rigid social code. Whatever her intention, it is clear that most
Japanese have taken her description of Japan as a shame culture as an implicit value
judgement. Again, I think that the chief reason for this is that they have read into it their
own sense of the failure of Japan, as against Europe and America, to develop a strong and
independent self capable of resisting the group.
Any reader of Endo’s novels, especially his early novels, will immediately be able to
recognize the profound in uence which Benedict’s contrast between shame and guilt
cultures (known somewhat confusingly as haji no bunka and tsumi no bunka (sin culture) in
Japanese) and the post-war discussions of the failings of Japanese society have had on his
conception of the relationship between Japanese culture and Christianity. They will also
be able to see immediately the deep difference between his view of Japanese culture and
that of, for example, Yoshimitsu. (For Endo’s own sense of this gulf, see especially Endo
and Sato (1991: 41–5).) At the same time, however, from the beginning he suggests a
more complex sense of the contrast between pagan Japan and Catholic Europe than the
Japanese proponents of a ‘strong self’. In this, he is clearly in uenced in part by the
Adrian Pinnington 99
European Catholic novelists who were the main focus of his early academic studies, and
by the example of Francois Mauriac in particular. (For an excellent discussion of the
European, and especially French tradition of the Catholic novel see Fraser (1994,
especially chs 1 and 2).) In Endo’s White Man (Shiroi hito) (1960), for example,
the European protagonist is drawn unconsciously to collaborate with the Gestapo out of
suppressed sadistic impulses. (Sadism itself is a persistent theme of Endo’s work, and we
may note his view that de Sade himself was a kind of baf ed Christian (Endo and Sato
1991: 113–14).) The strict Catholicism of the protagonist’s upbringing becomes
entwined with the very sins it is designed to suppress, and yet, by the end, his evil actions
themselves have afforded him a vision of the good which he had previously been denied.
Endo himself remarked that it was his knowledge of the evils done in the name of the
French Resistance that made him sceptical of the claims for a strong self made by
members of the Kindaibungaku group (Endo and Sato 1991: 122).
When we turn to Yellow man (Kiiroi hito) (Endo 1960), published in the same
year, and set during the war in Japan, however, we see immediately the strong contrast
which Endo draws between European and Japanese sensibilities. Here, Chiba, the rst of
many of Endo’s ‘weakling’ protagonists, confesses to the European priest, not merely his
sins, but more importantly his inability to feel them as sins:
you white men, you turn life into a tragedy or a comedy. But for me there is no drama.I
didn’t understand sin at all. Or rather, I had no sense of sin. . . . I repeat, a yellow man
like me lacks your consciousness of sin or vanity; we lack any such profound or
exaggerated feeling. All I have is tiredness, a deep tiredness, a sense of fatigue which is
muddied, damp, heavy, like the colour of my yellowish skin.
(Endo 1960: 86–7)
The novel then switches to the diary of Father Durand, an excommunicated Catholic
priest – and the rst of many lapsed priests in Endo’s ction – in which we are shown
vividly both his profound sense of sin and his fear that, in the Japanese environment, he
will lose this and become as indifferent as the Japanese themselves. Many of these same
themes are repeated in Volcano (Kazan) (Endo 1978a).
A noticeable feature of Endo’s work, here and later, is his strong, almost visceral
consciousness of racial difference and his exploitation of this difference as a metaphor for
the spiritual differences between the Japanese and Western traditions (see Gessel 1989:
241). Endo himself, in a typically powerful essay on the topic written in 1956 (Endo
2000c), claimed that he had had no particular consciousness of racial difference until he
left Japan to study in France. Both on the voyage, and in France itself, he not only
witnessed racism but was also subject to racist abuse himself. In many ways, for Endo, the
worst offenders were those well-intentioned but patronizing French who believed
themselves to be free of racism, and who yet unconsciously insulted the African and
Asian students in their midst. This European racism he sees as intimately linked to
imperialism and to the reluctance of Europeans to recognize imperialism for the evil that it
is. Yet it was also true, he concluded, that non-whites, including himself, harboured a
secret desire to look like whites or to be accepted by them. It is above all this desire that
must be overcome if we are to overcome racism itself, he argued. Endo’s points are well
taken, yet, even in the essays written before his departure for France, we have a powerful
sense that the difference between Japan and Europe is not merely a matter of culture but
100 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
in some way lies deep in the ‘blood’. The novels too contain powerful evocations of the
differences in smell, colour and texture between ‘white’ and ‘yellow’ bodies. This is
perhaps another way in which Endo’s work bears the marks of his wartime upbringing (for
Japanese racial attitudes in the war, see Dower (1986: 203–90 and Koshiro (1999)).
The connection between these meditations on the difference between Europeans and
Japanese and the problem of war responsibility, however, is made much clearer in Endo’s ¯
next work, The Sea and the Poison (Umi to dokuyaku) (Endo 1972). This is based
loosely on an actual incident in which American prisoners of war were subjected to
vivisection by a team of Japanese doctors. The novel, which is much more skilfully
constructed than the earlier works and which achieved a success which took even the
author by surprise, traces the process whereby the various members of the team nd
themselves agreeing to participate in the experiment. The contrast with Shiroi hito is
striking. In their different ways, all of the various members of the team – the young intern
Suguro, his colleague Toda, the nurse Ueda – end up involved in the crime, not because of
any positive contempt for the enemy, still less because of any desire to win the war, but
rather simply because of a fundamental weakness or lassitude that prevents them from
opposing their unconscious desires to do evil. The long description of Toda’s childhood
and upbringing, and his excessive concern for how he will appear in the eyes of others,
seems almost designed to illustrate the difference between a shame and a guilt culture
(Endo 1972: 113–14). The point is underlined when the only white character to play an
active role in the book, Hilda, the German wife of a senior doctor, is appalled by the nurse
Ueda’s attempt to speed up the death of a patient. She cries out: ‘Even though a person is
going to die, no one has the right to murder him. You’re not afraid of God? You don’t
believe in the punishment of God?’ (1972: 98).
It is, of course, true that there is a contrast between the characters who, in Benedict
fashion, simply believe that, as long as the crime remains undiscovered there is no
problem, and those who are bothered, as it were, by their own lack of a sense of sin.
Undoubtedly, in these early Endo novels, we see the author’s sense that the protagonists
suffer from a sickness which cannot be cured by the Japanese culture they know. At the
same time, however, there is the equally strong sense that it cannot be cured by the culture
of Europeans either. Here, I think, one can see the seeds of all the author’s later
development as a novelist. In one of the best essays on Endo’s work, written by the
eminent Lutheran theologian Kitamori Kazo , we nd some very acute observations on
Endo’s attitude to sin (Kitamori 1991). Kitamori has been one of the most creative of
Japanese theologians, and is well known as the author of the famous Kami no itami no
shingaku (The theology of the pain of God) (Kitamori 1986; see also Michalson 1960: ch.
3). In his essay, he relates that a friend of his had made the joke that Endo’s theology could
be described as ‘ashi no itami no bungaku’ (the literature of the pain of the foot). This is, of
course a reference to the fumie, the image of Christ which Christians were forced to step
upon to show their apostasy in the Tokugawa period. Kitamori, despite the apparent
similarities between his own theology and Endo’s views, alluded to by his friend, is
anxious to distinguish them. In doing so, he points out that in Endo’s earlier novels,
although the characters have no consciousness of sin (and here Kitamori discusses the
views of Benedict), there is little doubt that what they are doing is evil. In this sense, these
novels offer a critique of Japanese culture. In the famous Silence (Chinmoku) (Endo ¯
1976), however, the sense of evil, while still present, recedes, and the sense of
Adrian Pinnington 101
humans as weak rather than evil is emphasized. By the time of On the Shores of the Dead Sea
(Shikai no hotori, 1973), a novel that deals in part with the life of Christ, the sense of
weakness has almost entirely displaced any sense of sin. For Kitamori, this is the point at
which Endo leaves behind any orthodox understanding of Christianity.
If we put this another way, we can say that, as his work proceeds, as for many another
Japanese thinker, the initially negative picture of Japanese culture grows more positive. In
this sense, it seems to parallel closely the development of Nihonbunkaron as a whole. Just
as Benedict’s characterization of Japan as a shame culture was initially accepted in a spirit
of contrition after the war, but was later reversed into evidence for the greater humanity of
Japanese society (see Dale 1988: 176–87; Soeda 1983: 270–306), so too in Endo the very
lack of a strong self comes to seem a precious asset. In Silence, for example, the famous
image of Japanese culture as a ‘mudswamp’, in which the clear distinctions of Christianity
are inevitably lost, is actually far more ambiguous than most critics realize (for a good
discussion, see Williams (1999: ch. 4)). For Rodrigues, the priest who nally betrays the
Church and apostatizes, actually rst learns true humility through this action. It is only
after he has abandoned the false absolutes of European culture that he can recognize the
action of Christ in his own life, and begin to hear the voice of Christ. Christ, as it were,
speaks though silence. Even in Endo’s nal novel, Deep River (Fukai kawa) (Endo
1994), the contrast between the Japanese discovery of tolerance and ecumenicity,
deriving from an Asian background, and European arrogance and ethnocentrism remains
strong. (This is despite the fact that Endo’s own views on the relationship between
Christianity and other religions was, by his own admission, deeply in uenced by the work
of the British theologian John Hick (see Williams 1999: 255, n. 9)). In the novel, a group
of Japanese tourists visit India, a world, in the words of the tour guide Enami, ‘that we
once knew but have now forgotten’ (Endo 1994:108) where they discover a deeper
acceptance of life and its suffering. The criticism of Europe, however, is mainly contained
in the letters of Otsu, a young Japanese seminarian, who eventually joins a Hindu ashram
caring for the sick:
I can’t help but be struck by the clarity and the logic of the way Europeans think, but it
seems to me as an Asian that there’s something they have lost sight of with their
excessive clarity and their overabundance of logic.In the nal analysis, the faith of the
Europeans is conscious and rational, and these people reject anything they cannot slice
into categories with their rationality and their conscious minds.At the seminary they
were most critical of what they saw as a pantheistic sentiment lurking in my unconscious
mind. As a Japanese, I can’t bear those who ignore the great life force that exists in
(Endo 1994: 117–18)
We seem here to have returned to the world of Endo’s earliest essays, in which he
contrasted the gentle and amorphous pantheism of Japan which ran in his blood with the
rigid and alien world of European monotheism (Endo 2000a, 2000b).
Yet, at the same time, as my discussion so far should indicate, we have also come a very
long way from the tone of contrition and self-critique which marked Endo’s earlier work.
Now the intolerance and moral absolutism of European Catholicism are seen as linked not
to European success in achieving modernity, but rather to Europe’s ethnocentrism, its
imperialism and its drive for clarity, symmetry and order. It is the traditional Japanese
102 Guilt, shame and the post-war idea of Japan
reluctance to make clear choices that allows the young Japanese priest to open himself up
to the value of India’s profound religious heritage in a way that is held to be impossible for
European Christians. As in so many Japanese critiques of the West, Endo’s contrast seems
to become infected by the very Orientalism which he wishes to oppose. But this shift does
also make Endo representative of a wider shift in the way many Japanese have come to
think of their own culture. The very qualities that seemed in the immediate post-war
period to have consigned Japanese modernity to failure have now come to seem Japan’s
best guarantee of success. The deeper irony, however, when we compare Endo’s work ¯
with the thought of, for example, Yoshimitsu, is the way in which he arrives at a very
liberal form of Christianity in the guise of a return to a traditional sensibility (a point made
by the Japanese Protestant theologian Kitagawa Shin (1975)). Endo’s rejection of sin, of
the supernatural and of the exclusive claims of Christianity, like his emphasis upon
compassion for the poor and suffering, far from being out of line with post-war trends in
European Catholicism, or European culture more generally, seems entirely in harmony
with them (see especially Endo 1978b). Indeed, this perhaps helps to explain Endo’s
popularity abroad, as well as his appeal within Japan. Certainly, Endo’s liberalism is not
the liberalism of nineteenth-century Protestantism, but then neither is that of today’s
Europe. Rather, like his compatriot D.T. Suzuki, Endo seems to be offering up, in the
guise of a return to tradition, a form of religion precisely suited to the modern world.
Waseda University, Tokyo
1. There is, for example, a tendency among non-Japanese critics of Nihonjinron (Theories of Japaneseness) to
ignore or downplay the strong tradition of domestic, mainly leftist critiques of Japanese culturalism, as well as
the important contributions to such theories of Japaneseness made by non-Japanese scholars (for an example
of this tendency, see Mouer and Sugimoto (1995)). The whole idea of the existence of Nihonjinron as a
distinct genre of writing is challenged by Revell (1997) and Ben-Ami (1997). For the Japanese tradition of
critiques of Nihonjinron see, for example, Aoki (1999: 84) and Minami (1994: 130–6).
2. In the only book-length study of Endo Shusaku in English, Mark Williams offers a series of close and
persuasive readings of the major novels, emphasizing the in uence of Jung on Endo and the way in which the
novels subvert the categories into which they initially appear to fall. This leads Williams to argue that the
opposition between East and West is a relatively super cial one and that the thrust of Endo work is to
transcend this opposition by a process of ‘paradoxical inversion’ (Williams 1999: 51–3). I think that the
opposition that Williams sets up here (between accepting or transcending the opposition) is itself a false one.
For Endo, the opposition between East and West is essentially an opposition between a soft, amorphous
polytheism, in which all oppositions are uid and relative, and a rigid monotheism that insists on the
absoluteness of its own categories. In opting for the ‘East’, Endo is also opting for a relativity about all
contrasts (save his own, which continues to be emphasized even in his nal work, Deep River).
3. Of course, I am aware that Maritain himself was, for a Catholic theologian of his time, very politically liberal,
and that he became a strong spokesman for the compatibility of democracy and Catholic thought (see
McCool 1994: 88–91). Nevertheless, it seems to me that Yoshimitsu’s thought brings out well the potential
illiberalism of a work like Maritain’s Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau (1950), a book which
Endo also knew well.
Adrian Pinnington 103
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