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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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Dead Cicada

dead cicada II
Originally uploaded by clairish.
According to the Japanese neuroscientist, Tadanobu Tsunoda (1978), the Japanese use the that part of the brain which is used to process language in Westerners, to listen to the sound of cicadas and other insects. The neuroscientist concluded that the Japanese detect meaning (such as the end of the summer, or the heat of the day) in these sound and are thus processing these sounds linguistically.

There are problems with the results and this interpretation.

Other scientists have not been able to replicate the results, which remain highly controversial (Dale, 2011).

The fact that the sound of cicadas is processed by the part of the brain that is processing language in Westerners can be interpreted to mean at least one of two things
1) The sound of cicada's like the other sounds processed in this area are being interpreted linguistically.
2) The sound of cicada's like other sounds including linguistic phonemes are being interpreted like insect sounds, as sounds rather than signs.

I propose the second, more radical interpretation, that Japanese have a tendency to NOT process sounds linguistically. Thus when you talk to a Japanese person, they may be listening to the a-linguistic, purely phonic content of your speech.

And there is research to show that this is in fact the case (Ishii, 2003). Using a emotion word, versus emotive tone of voice Stroop test, where subjects are made to listen to

1) Someone saying "I am happy" in a cheerful tone of voice
2) Someone saying "I am sad" in a sad tone of voice
3) Someone saying "I am happy" in a sad tone of voice.
4) Someone saying "I am sad" in a happy tone of voice.

In the channel-conflicted 'Stroop' conditions, subjects are likely to make mistakes, or pause before they are able to recognise the meaning of the sentence being spoken. Japanese subjects, much more than Americans, were likely to listen and be swayed by the emotive content of the voice, rather than the linguistic meaning of the words. In a sense the Japanese are listening to the words as if they are the chirping sound of cicada.

Dale, P. (2011). Myth of Japanese Uniqueness (1st ed.). Routledge.
Ishii, K., Reyes, J. A., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Spontaneous Attention to Word Content Versus Emotional Tone. Psychological Science, 39–46. Retrieved from http://php.scripts.psu.edu/users/n/x/nxy906/COMPS/indivdualismandcollectivism/culture%20lit/to%20print/Kitayma2003threecultures.pdf
Tsunoda, T. 角田忠信. (1978). 日本人の脳―脳の働きと東西の文化. 大修館書店.

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