Technological advancements in Japanese have led to a proliferation of new experiences of shame (e.g., cyberbullying). Traditional concepts of shame in Japanese culture have shifted over the years, but such change cannot simply be attributed to “historical circumstance” and “technological advancement.” We examine two key concepts regarding the meaning of shame in Japanese culture: first, the Deleuzian and Guattarian concept of the deterritorialization of shame; second, the meaning of shame in relation to culture, history, sand the human-technology connection. With respect to practical application of deterritorialization, we describe some therapeutic approaches in working on shame with Japanese men who are abusive toward their partners and children. Finally, we discuss the research and clinical implications of some of the new experiences of shame.

Keywords: shame, hikikomori, deterritorialization, fourth industrial revolution, Japanese culture

The 4IR and Social Issues of Shame in Japan

Technological advancements and globalization—as a result of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR)—have contributed to the wellbeing of many people’s lives in Japan. The issue of shame in the 4IR is not just caused by the advancement of technology. Tensions also exist as Japan moves toward multinational capitalism; the advancement of modern culture co-exists with the need to preserve traditional Japanese culture. However, the 4IR has also brought challenges to the traditional collective culture, which values respect and honour of others, the harmony of relationships over individuals’ rights, and the achievement of goals.

The 4IR affects the human-to-human connection in numerous ways. Heavy reliance on virtual communication through emails, social media, Skype, or Zoom has severely reduced person-to-person contacts in real life situations, thus, reducing the opportunities of full-fledged communications, that involve human touch, body-language, deep sharing and the joy of doing things together.

The big data from powerful corporations such as Google and Facebook have stored the private and confidential information of millions of people. Hackers and marketers can tap into such information. The lack of adequate protection of confidential information means that familial and individual secrets could be exposed from unintended sharing. The power of instant communication though social medial can be abused too, as in the case of cyberbullying. Depending only on virtual platforms to contact others also created the phenomenon of hikikomori in Japanese culture.

Hikikomori is a Recent Social Phenomenon

This is a phenomenon whereby Japanese youth physically withdraw from society and isolate themselves for extended periods of time, sometimes for many years. Rather than interacting with others face-to-face, they stay in touch with the outside world through cyberspace (Furlong, 2008; Koyama et al., 2010; Tateno et al., 2019).

A study done by Tateno et al. (2019) indicates that, out of 478 college/university students in Japan, 22.2% display symptoms of hikikomori and 39.8% show smartphone addiction. The cause of hikikomori is not entirely clear, but many theorists suggest that the decrease in direct communication between individuals and their families, alongside rapidly changing societal and familial relationship dynamics—due to the modernization of Japanese daily life—may be contributing to the development and prolonged duration of hikikomori (Koyama et al., 2010; Saito, 1998).

One of the more problematic symptoms experienced by people with hikikomori is an increased likelihood to be perpetrators of domestic violence. Saito (1998) states that sufferers often engage in violent behaviour and express hatred toward their parents; they feel rejected and judged for not meeting their parents’ and society’s expectations of success. In Saito’s research, among 80 participants (66 males and 14 females of average age 19.6 with 39 months of social withdrawn at the time of study), all diagnosed with hikikomori, roughly 62% had engaged in some form of violent behaviour at home (e.g., breaking things, punching walls, and yelling), and 51% had displayed violent behaviour toward family members (Saito, 1998).

Sufferers of hikikomori appear to have underlying deep-rooted emotional issues. In Saito’s study, 53% of subjects experienced a sense of hopelessness and guilt, and 88% experienced a sense of loneliness, boredom, and emptiness. However, contrary to what people might imagine, over 70% came from middle-class families; their parents were married, and they came from stable socio-economic backgrounds.

Hikikomori—with its symptomatic violent behaviour—appears to be rooted in a sense of shame that is unique to current Japanese society. The source of this shame may be the sufferers’ sense that they have failed to meet societal and parental expectations, as well as a loss of dignity due to being unable to accept who they are. In Japanese culture, psychological and behavioural issues are perceived as resulting from a lack of willpower, self-control, and self-discipline; discussing personal issues with those who are outside of their kinship creates a sense of shame (Tamura & Lau, 1992). In view of the stigma of mental problems, Japanese people generally prefer to deal with their issues within their immediate families, and only get help from extended family if necessary; mental health and family issues create a strong sense of humiliation.

A similar phenomenon can also be found in Chinese families. Wong (this chapter’s co-author) has worked with young Chinese people who had left their university education or work and stayed in their room for weeks or months. Their only companion was their computer. They seldom met people or went out to socialize. They spent most of their time surfing the internet, playing electronic games, or indulging in pornography. They also developed symptoms of depression, anxiety, and poor self esteem. They suffered from a sense of shame because they knew that they had failed their parents’ expectations and they had to depend on their parents for financial support. China is a Confucian society where saving “face” is very important (See Wong & Hwang, 2020).

The inevitable by-product of such isolation means boredom. Humans are wired for relationships, which are critical for meaning and wellbeing (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; McDonald et al., 2012). The lack of interpersonal and group activities leads to boredom and unhappiness. Another related problem is the lack of necessary social skills development, which leads to social anxiety and fear of social failure.  

Shame is one of the strongest stigmas in Japanese culture. Interestingly, as a result, it can also increase the drive for excellence, as people try to avoid it at all costs. Ethical codes of conduct, such as bushidō (the way of life of traditional Japanese samurai warriors) (Nitobe, 1899/2019), have been strongly rooted in Japanese culture for centuries. Bushidō is “the unwritten code of laws governing the lives and conduct of the nobles of Japan, equivalent in many ways to the European chivalry” (Nitobe, 1899/2019, p. 5). The samurais, knights, and aristocratic warriors of medieval Japan who were prevalent from the 12th to the 15th century followed the bushidō’s seven core ethical codes of conduct: rectitude/justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, veracity and sincerity, honour, and loyalty. These codes are based on Buddhist, Shintoist, and Confucius beliefs, and they form the principles of bushidō (honourable living).

In Japan, a sense of shame is often caused by the gaze of others, and the shame is internalized, i.e., directed toward the self (Doi, 1973). This sense of shame is created by one’s thoughts, behaviour, and emotions as they compare themselves to Japanese society’s moral and ethical standards (Sakuta, 1964). Shame is often experienced before others, especially mentors and elders, but it can also emerge when individuals compare their thoughts, actions, and feelings to their internalized criteria or frames of reference (Sakuta, 1964).

Thus, in Japan, people have a strong sense of obligation to avoid creating disharmony and to follow societal norms. In Japan, people concern themselves with sekentei, which refers to individuals’ perceptions of how society/others view them (Tatara, 1998). Sekentei is closely linked to individuals’ perceptions of their own faces, reputations, appearances, and sense of who they are. This often becomes a strong frame of reference and can lead to stigma in terms of judging one’s own social worthiness; thus, it promotes conformity in group settings.

In Japanese culture, it is a common practice for people to address one another by their family names. The family names to which people belong—kamei—are not simply their names, but are also the representations of their entire genealogies and their responsibility to honour their commitments; thus, shame follows if they fail. Japanese people are extremely careful not to bring any disgrace or shame to their family names.

Japanese culture has clear boundaries between individuals’ perceptions inside and outside of their family systems (Doi, 1973). The word for people considered “outsiders” is tannin, which means “persons with no blood relationship to oneself,” or “persons unconnected with oneself” (Doi, 1973, p. 36). Doi (1973) states that it takes time and effort to build authentic and close relationships that can become as close as those within one’s own family; until that time, those relationships remain tannin, i.e., acquaintances, not in the realm of kinship. In the relationship with tannin, a boundary between individuals—enryo—often exists to protect individuals from being overly intrusive with overbearing on one another.

Holding a sense of honour and dignity and avoiding shame are important to the Japanese way of life. If one member of a family is shamed—otherwise known as “loss of face”—the respect and status of the entire family in a community is diminished (Hsu, 1970). It is not simply a sense of embarrassment, but is a disgrace against ethical codes of conduct that brings shame to the entire family.

Therapy for sufferers of hikikomori involves working with them on their sense of shame. Shame is a core issue for violence, and those who resort to violence cannot change without facing their own shame (Hydén et al., 2016; Jenkins, 2009). The relationship between shame, violence, and aggression has been reported by various researchers (e.g., Gilligan, 2009; Simon, 2002; Teyber & Teyber, 2017).

Although facing shame is an important part of the change process, challenging people to simply take responsibility and own their shame may push them further away. Facing shame is a painful experience because “shame always speaks about our inner self rather than our actions” (Nathanson, 1992, p. 19). Moreover, “shame often follows a moment of exposure; what has been exposed is something that we would have preferred kept hidden, usually something of an intimate and personal nature” (Nathanson, 1992, p. 19). Thus, denial, minimization, and blame for another person’s behaviour—as well as denial, minimization, and displacement for one’s own responsibility to alleviate shame—may provide a protective function for a perpetrator’s self-esteem (Maruna & Mann, 2006).

Meaning therapy (Wong, 2016, 2019) is another kind of therapy that could help clients overcome their shame. Simply put, this therapy firstly emphasizes the importance of providing a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship for clients to face their painful memories. Secondly, clients would learn to name their painful emotions, such as shame or fear, so that they can tame it. Thirdly, they would reconstruct a more positive narrative about the shameful feelings. Finally, they would learn to take responsibility to pursue some meaningful and satisfying goal in small, realistic steps.

Therapeutic Application of Deterritorialization of Shame

Traditionally, in the field of psychology, shame has been understood as a multifaceted experience that includes feelings of anxiety, anger, disgust, and/or sadness, with a variety of negative cognitive appraisals of self, such as feelings of helplessness, resentment toward others, self-hatred, a sense of inferiority, and a sense of exposure. These feelings are related to unpleasant physiological arousal, which can in turn cause shamed individuals to hide and avoid others (Bradshaw, 2005; Dearing & Tangney, 2011; Gilbert et al., 1994; Tracy et al., 2007).

Shame is often thought to be caused by traumatic experiences and, therefore, therapists look for causes and then go about attempting to find solutions to “cure” the shame. However, this common and current worldview—the dominant narrative—can territorialize experiences of shame and can serve as a constraint on exploring other possibilities of meaning. Territorialization refers to numerous forms of preconceived definitions or boundaries of human phenomena that provide a series of vocabulary to identify and categorize such phenomena (Patton, 2006). Such preconceived definitions can be constraining; they serve to keep meanings stuck within particular—and perhaps unhealthy—realms. This strict boundary of meaning also defines the functions of what phenomena should do. Territorialization can create toxic shame, as well as its persistent nature. To work on shame, we must deconstruct the meanings we have assigned to it and look beyond the traditional “cause and effect” relationship. The process of “[d]eterritorialisation occurs when an event of becoming escapes or detaches from its original territory” (Colebrook, 2002, p. 59). Livesey (2010) points out that deterritorialization is an emergent, innovative, and productive process that creates a new reality.

Shame is often considered to be a by-product of the events of one’s life, such as abuse, divorce, and negative emotional experiences. We often treat history as fact; as a result, therapists often attempt to investigate the “roots” of shame and use history as a succession of facts that creates a cohesive story of “cause and effect.” However, there is a distinction between history and facts. Parr (2006) challenges the historical understanding of collective experience (absolute) and pits it against the unique individual experiences in time (relative). Parr (2006) summarizes this point by invoking Libeskind’s (2001) comment on the Holocaust: “[H]istory is not the statistics of the six million Jews, but a unique Jewish individual multiplied six million times” (pp. 132-133). In other words, the meaning of collective experiences of historical events may not capture everyone’s distinct and in-depth understanding of them.

Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming is essential. It refers to pursuing opportunities for new possibilities (Colebrook, 2002). When facing shame, it is critical to explore the unique meaning that each individual has created and not to categorize the meaning of shame based on a preconceived “cause and effect” relationship narrative; such territorialization prevents shame from “becoming.”  This is similar to Wong’s meaning therapy described earlier.

When working with shame by using certain types of therapeutic approaches (e.g., psychodynamic, objective relations theory), therapists often focus on an interpretive process, and they consider the therapeutic relationship to be a vehicle for change through perspective as projection, countertransference, and attachment rebuilding. However, in the deterritorialization process of facing shame, the therapeutic relationship is not an interpretive relationship, but is rather a dialogic one (Shotter, 2008). It is a different epistemological understanding of “intersubjectivity” and “mutuality.”

In this dialogical relationship—unlike the psychoanalytic and relational approaches—the client is not an object of consciousness or subjectivity; as the relationship develops, “another form of life emerges between us, a collective or shared form of life with its own unique character and its own unique world” (Shotter, 2011, p. 1). Similarly, Kvale (1996) explains dialogical interaction as “a situation of knowledge production in which knowledge is created between the views of the two partners in the conversation” (p. 296). Kvale points out the importance of co-construction of knowledge through interaction.

Therefore, instead of pursuing a “cause and effect” relationship in an attempt to “fix” and “heal” shame, the goal is to deterritorialize it, which refers to the process of “becoming other than itself” (Colebrook, 2002, p. 56). The goal is to create new territories that do not concur with those organized by the dominant narrative (Parr, 2006). Deterritorialization is not just a cognitive restructuring process, but is an experiential process of deconstructing a territorialized meaning of shame and co-constructing new territory by implementing one’s own desire and yearning to break away from restrained territorialized meanings of shame and to explore new possibilities.

The critical process helps those who suffer from shame to have a dialogue with shame in their own current territory of meaning, because such a dialogical process constructs new meaning. The concept of “singular memory” in the deterritorialization process is key. Singular memory “enervates the majoritarian system of history” (Parr, 2006, p. 126). Singular memory rejects the dominant narrative of shame; instead, exploration of singular memory can create narratives that have previously been unavailable (Jenkins, 2011).

“[S]ingular memory is where deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation meet (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994, p. 110)” (Parr, 2006, p. 129); it breaks down territorialized ideas and creates new and reterritorialized concepts. Deterritorialization and reterritorialization occur at a “moment when history becomes other than what it once was, that moment when singular memory breaks through the colonising and re-territorialising movement of memory” (Parr, 2006, p. 133). Therefore, the aim of working on shame is not to “heal” or “cure” it, but instead to break it away from such constrained territory and reclaim it with a reterritorialization by inviting other singular memories that were not previously included in one’s narrative.

The experience of going inside the territories of shame can also lead individuals to new territories, and thus deterritorialize the shame. Having a dialogue with shame in a different and unique way—where one faces the shame head-on and breaks down the secrecy—may immediately create new meaning, i.e., integrity, strength, and commitment. Such actively created meaning may become one’s own lived experience. Gergen (1999) calls attention to this process where meaning is “located in either my actions or in yours, but within the action-supplement conjunction, or essentially, in the form of coordination we achieve” (Gergen, 1999, p. 146). This is a process of re-positioning shame by deconstructing its meaning, exploring singular memory, and aligning it with forces of deterritorialization (Jenkins, 2015).

When we fail to live up to the ethical codes we believe in, for example, the Bushidō, we experience shame. Morita therapy (Morita 1928/1974)—Japanese traditional psychotherapy—acknowledges that human beings are motivated to seek self-preservation and self-actualization, which is a universal constructive desire called the “desire for life” (sei no yokubo) (Ishiyama, 1990; Morita, 1928/1974; Morita, 1998). This desire for life is compatible with the forces of shame, fear, and anxiety (Ishiyama, 1990; Morita, 1928/1974; Morita, 1998; Takano & Ishiyama, 2013). People wish to live well and excel in their social activities and relationships, so much so that they often experience “inconvenient feelings” (Ishiyama, 1990), which are negative feelings such as shame, anxiety, fear, and anger. However, it is a natural reaction for people to feel anxious and even fearful when they face important life events, such as examinations and job interviews, because they naturally want to excel.

Morita therapy appreciates the positive value of such “inconvenient feelings” as a reflection of clients’ constructive desires. Focusing on such a desire for life without being preoccupied with “inconvenient feelings” allows people to engage in purpose-oriented action (Takano & Ishiyama, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013). Putting feelings into action is where real change occurs, regardless of one’s emotional state. According to Ishiyama (1990), “They (people) may realize that they can engage in productive activities nervously” (p. 569). Similarly, Satir also acknowledges the role of human yearning—the universal longing that all human beings have to be loved, accepted, validated, and confirmed—and the fact that human beings are driven to positive directional goals (Satir et al., 1991).

However, the concept of desire should not be limited to a commonly understood sense of desire that is based on a lack (Bignall, 2010; Carter & Jackson, 2004; Colebrook, 2002); Carter and Jackson (2004) deny the concept of desire “that all motivation … is rooted in the unachievable desire to fill this lack” (p. 108). Conceptualizing desire based on a deprivation can create constraints. For instance, using a traditional conception of desire when working with people who suffer from attachment issues could cause them to get stuck, because the “desire” is to fill what is lacking. In a way, the desire in this sense can remain unfillable because one’s process of growth is differentiation, which is needed to create a unique identity of self (Carter & Jackson, 2004). In this conceptualization of desire, the goal becomes how to “fill” what is missing (lacking) and thus people often end up feeling stuck, as the process leads to the pursuit of what is missing.

Similarly, yearning can be perceived as something that is missing in one’s life. Unmet yearning creates higher expectations on self and others, and unmet expectations can create a sense of being stuck (Satir et al., 1991). As Pipher (2016) explains, “The opposite of yearning is savoring the exquisite now” (p. 172). People may seek and yearn for what is missing and may not be fully present in the here and now (Pipher, 2016).

Deleuze and Guattari discuss an ontological shift in the concept of the meanings of desire and yearning. They “reject the notion that desire is a secondary function to lack, arguing that desire is the primary, that desire does not lack anything, it just is” (Carter & Jackson, 2004, p. 116). In Deleuzian and Guattarian terms, desire is a power of expansion (Colebrook, 2002). Desire is a connection, and connecting with other desires can preserve and enhance life and eventually creates communities and societies as a whole (Colebrook, 2002). Deleuze and Guattari conceptualize desire as more of an energy of creation, proliferation, expansion, and dispersion (Linstead & Pullen, 2006).

Living according to the dominant narrative of shame can create constraints as well as a sense of being stuck; if our sense of shame supresses us, we might struggle with constant unfulfilled desire. To deterritorialize shame is to refuse to “participate in limiting and disabling historical narratives of self” (Jenkins, 2011, p. 41); deterritorializing shame challenges the deconstruction of conventional knowledge and creates new possibilities. Moreover, such dialogical interaction can disrupt dominant meaning systems and resist the dominant narrative of self (Jenkins, 2011), and thus it can construct meanings that transcend shame.

The therapeutic process involves facilitating active dialogue within the self and between therapists and clients in a way that explores possibilities for singular memories that have not previously been investigated. This breaks down the meanings of shame and constructs new ones.


Although the 4IR has brought profound material benefits to people’s lives, it has also created tension between the desire to preserve traditional Japanese culture while moving toward multinational capitalism and the advancement of modernism. Shame remains a critical component of Japanese culture; traditional Japanese codes of ethics and morals remain ubiquitous in Japan.

The tension between the old ways of doing things and the newer ways of life has caused the meaning of shame to become more complex in present-day Japan, as exemplified by the recent phenomenon of hikikomori. Traditionally, in the field of psychology, therapists have searched for “causes” and have tried to provide “healing,” but this chapter instead proposes the radical process of deterritorialization of shame, which promotes a dialogue with shame that works as an invitation to explore different dimensions of shame and one’s vast desires.

These possibilities of expansive meaning can be demonstrated in people who violate their own values and integrity, as they often feel stuck in their lives and unsatisfied with what they have or have not done. Having a dialogue with one’s own shame can be an overwhelming and painful experience because it comes up against one’s own expansive desires and yearning (Takano, 2014). As a result, people may try to blame, rationalize, and minimize their responsibility, and then they emotionally withdraw. However, individuals who attempt to rationalize their violent behaviour are in fact demonstrating that they recognize that their behaviour is wrong (Todd, 2010; Todd et al., 2014). Deterritorialization of shame is a process of inviting new possibilities of meaning through dialogue and by implementing singular memory into the dominant narrative. This process can create reterritorialization, i.e., new meaning of shame. As a result, the new possibilities in meaning can create transformation in individuals’ experiences with shame.

Regarding future directions for research, to implement into a therapeutic approach, first, it is critical to investigate qualitatively the concept of shame and desire, as well as the therapeutic effectiveness of using the deterritorialization approach. Shame has been commonly conceptualized in neuropsychological and attachment perspectives (e.g., Nathanson, 1992; Ogden et al., 2006), but it can be useful to investigate it through deconstruction. The purpose is to add another dimension to the phenomenon of shame in order to comprehend it in a more holistic manner, as some theorists and researchers suggest (i.e., Frankl, 1988; Takano, 2014; Wong, 2016).

 Second, future research should investigate evidence-based ways of inviting the therapeutic narrative that can lead to the deterritorialization of shame and to expand one’s desire and yearning. The therapeutic narrative should not be a random, non-purposeful conversation, but instead should be a precise dialogue with purpose and intention. Arvay (2002) writes, “Narrative is the linguistic form that we employ to make lived experience accessible and meaningful. It is through our narrative descriptions of personal experience that we make ourselves and others known to us” (p. 114). Narrative allows us to access other people’s worlds, i.e., how they make sense of their experiences, actions, and events (Riessman, 1993). Narratives are our ways of sharing our worldviews and unique personal experiences, and such dialogues can lead us to new meanings that we may not have previously envisioned.

Clinically, the lack of opportunity of developing deep and authentic relationship during the 4IR is worrisome, when people increasing depend on the internet as a means of communications. The virtual world can never fully satisfy the human need for intimacy, physical contact, and body language to fully convey one’s feelings and thoughts. Authentic relationships usually require mutual trust with honest and sincere communication. Sincerity or insincerity can not be easily detected in virtual communication. Failing to meet the basic human need for love and intimacy may lead  to mental illness, such as shame and depression. Therefore, meaning therapy emphasis the need to develop meaningful work and meaningful relationship as a way to overcome shame or other toxic emotions.


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Takano, Y. & Wong, P. T. P. (in press). Deterritorialization of Shame in Japan During the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). In C. H. Mayer., E. Vanderheiden, & P. T. P. Wong (Eds.), The meaning of shame revisited in cultures of the 4th Industrial Revolution.