Crying and Culture

Before I came to Japan, I heard that Asians were stoic, that they smiled to conceal their feelings, that I would never know what they were thinking. So I was stunned the first time that I saw high school baseball players crying after losing a game. What poor losers! I thought. How unsportsman-like! I was also surprised to find that Japanese people often cried during farewell speeches. Even if they were teachers-in-training who’d only spent a week with the students, they would cry for sure when they said good-bye. I’ve lived in Japan long enough to know that crying is part of the culture. I understand now that it’s practically bad form NOT to cry after you’ve lost a high school baseball tournament game or when you’re saying good-bye. But in my heart of hearts, I’m still thinking, “Oh, come on. Try to have a little dignity.” I felt that way yesterday when I watched Mao Asada after she skated in the Olympics. She was the only medalist who didn’t smile or appear to be happy when up on the dais, and when she was interviewed immediately after skating, she couldn’t collect herself and she seemed bitter – not about losing out on the gold medal, but because she’d made a few mistakes in her program. I like tears of joy, and I often teared up along with the athletes who performed well (like Daisuke Takahashi and Kim Yu Na) but as one who comes from the country of “boys don’t cry,” I was sort of put off by the sobbing of Oda Nobunari.

My husband says that I don’t understand because I’m not an athlete. And supposedly Japanese people like to see crying because it’s a sign of sincerity. By Asada and oda’s tears, we can know that they did their best! But crying doesn’t play the same in every country. I can’t help thinking that when Akio Toyoda cried at the Congressional hearing yesterday, the Americans found him more weak than sincere. Perhaps what they felt was not sympathy, but something closer to contempt.

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9 thoughts on “Crying and Culture

  1. Mm, interesting. When is crying sincere ? When is it manipulation ? When is the unease of the person witnessing such display of emotion a result of cultural upbringing or scorn at what’s considered a lack of dignity ? Indians also cry a lot and with much more abandon than we Westerners are used to. My husband, who comes from a very macho culture finds that very, very hard to deal with. I also tend to get annoyed. But then, I can’t help wondering : maybe it’s more liberating, too ? What’s so wrong about displaying emotions without all the restrain that our culture has taught us… ? End of ramble 🙂

  2. Yes, this is something I’ve thought about too. I can understand Mao being a bit upset since she couldn’t do her best, and part of her upset may have been this ridiculous emphasis on what color of medal things were — I mean, it’s still a SILVER medal, that’s pretty damn good.

    I don’t think Toyoda cried at the actual hearing, did he? My sense was that he cried afterwards at the Toyota event. I was trying to explain to my boss, who just recently came to Japan from India and is British, that in Japan the tears aren’t seen as a sign of weakness….

  3. Interesting post. I suspected that the tears were a sign that they ‘did their best’, that Japanese need that show of emotion so they can be reassured that the person really did try their hardest. Possibly they wonder if the non-crying athletes just don’t care that they didn’t win, that’s why they’re not crying and it shows they didn’t put in a full effort.

    I was confronted by my different reactions to the Japanese girl crying, which annoyed me, and the Canadian girl’s few tears. I felt sympahthy for her, and felt like in her case it really was a case of emotions overflowing. Why was I so intolerant of the Japanese girl crying? I supposed I’m just collectively annoyed at Japanese athletes’ tendency to cry even when placed. I was almost ashamed of them as I watched the China Olympics in NZ, when even silver-medal winners cried, and it seemed selfish to me.

    But Westerners have been trained from an early age to disapprove of losers crying, I remember the contempt such ‘cry-babies’ were treated with in primary school! And only primary school, they learned their lesson after that, and took their loss, as you say, ‘with dignity’.

    Japanese society is very harsh about mistakes and people who make them, there’s no such thing as ‘just a mistake’ here. You let everyone down, you didn’t try hard enough, you’re a bad person! No wonder they cry! And the tears allow other Japanese to view them more sympathetically.

  4. Elaine, I think you’re right that Toyoda cried in front of Toyota people, not Congress. But it’s still interesting to me. I imagine that Americans in the states have heard about his tears, and I wonder how they feel.

  5. I’m American but have always liked the way Japanese HS baseball players and Little League players cry when losing a game. It always seems really heartfelt, and I thought it so refreshing that in this culture, it is okay for boys to cry after putting their all into the game. When the sempais on my son’s Japanese Little League (actually Nanshiki Shounen Yakyuu) team wandered about in tears, looking crushed and stunned after losing a big tournament game, I thought it was really touching and hoped that someday my son could have a similar experience of trying so hard and caring so much about the game.

  6. To be honest, it is disgusting to watch Little League WS players cry when they are losing.

    Don’t get me wrong. It is understandble and even sympathetic that guys who bet all their hearts cry when their trial is failed. I have no problem with Mao’s tear, because she seemed to really crying.
    However, what makes me annoying is that some LL WS players pretend to cry, because they are supposed and forced to do so. You can catch on this even if you’re not a facial expression expert. Some “losers” start weeping even before the final inning starts.

    Just another japanese example of hiding their intentions and deceiting others and themshelves.

  7. I saw a kind of Japanese performance where from start to end there is an old-fashioned granny crying while singing beside a river. What kind of genre is it?

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