J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

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 23, 2006



Originally uploaded by timtak.
Hounen Tsukioka, The Ghost with Open Arms (1882), in the National Musemu of Japanese History.

Maruyama Oukyo was a Japanese painter known for realism and occasionally painting ghosts. The painter is rumoured to be the originator of representations of ghosts with no legs but I suspect that the tradition is far older. Ths shows the artist being shocked as a female ghost appears out of one of his own paintings, with the image coming to life.

I have two theories about Japanese culture
1) The internalised other of the Japanese self looks rather than listens - it is the imaginary other, an eye in the sky rather than the symbolic ear of the Other. Hence, the Japanese self is in the visual, rather than linguistic plane.
2) The tabu (and perhaps the tabooed other) of Japanese culture is upon the feminine rather than the masculine. Hence Japanese horror focuses upon horrible women, while Western horror largely focuses upon horrible men.

This photo, "The Ghost with Open Arms" links the two theories together.

It shows a horrible woman coming out of the imaginary plane, female horror coming out the image. This theme is surprisingly popular in Japanese horror.

Ringu, probably the most famous Japanese horror film of recent years features Sadako, a ghost or monster that emerges from the screen of a television set when playing a particular, haunted video tape.

Izakayayurei ("Ghost Pub", 1994) is the story of a publican who promises his dying wife never to remarry, and then when he does his first wife returns as a ghost. In an attempt to have the first wife's ghost return to the other world, they are entrusted with a traditional Japanese scroll drawing of a ghost (as is being drawn in the picture above can be viewed here) which is said to be a portal to the other world.

I think that there are a lot of ways that this might be explained. Freud, Mead and others claim that we must internalise the view of another in order to have self at all. The other of the self has to be hidden, for the self to be the object of identification. It is enevitable therefore that something needs to be hidded in the plane, domain, or medium of self-identification, but what? A hidden eye or ear? I don't think that there is any need for an image of the other but I am not sure.

I think that the tabu bears upon the medium, image or language, itself.

In order for there to be a human self, we identify with a self-represenation. But if we were aware that the self is only a representation, then we would not be able to identify. Hence, we must forget that it is only a representation. We achieve this by a tabuu on the medium of self represenation, pretendind that our favoured medium is essence in itself.

Hence Westerners are inclined to claim that self is the dialogue that the self holds with itself, that ideas (not words) exist in minds, that words cut nature at the joints, and that grammar can not be doubted (e.g. "I think therefore I am" is indubitable).

I wonder if Japanese people are similarly unaware of "the veil of perception." To what extent is everything that we see merely ourselves? This is a knotty question, and I don't think that there is a right answer. But those that see essence as idea, are inclined to believe that the world of vision ("res extensio") is a internal sensation and not "the thing in itself." Similarly in Japan perhaps, the word is seen as that chit-chat, and perhaps (a hypothesis) the image is seen to be out there and shared.

Thus the return of the medium, the return of the image in Japan, and the return of the phoneme in Western culture, might be felt ot be horrible. The Japanese are not afraid of images as entities, but of the return of the image as veneer or the horrible "tain of the mirror".

Does this form of horror also exist in Western culture, in the linguistic field?

Recently I watched the American horror film, Emily Rose about a woman possesed by demons. It bears a strong resemblance to "The Excorcist." However I did notice that a central feature of the excorcism ritual was the attempt to find out the names of the entities that were possesing the woman. They were all men of course. But what was the significance of finding out their names? Till then they had been voices. Perhaps by finding out their names, perhaps, the horrible voice (phoneme) can be returned to the realm of language. This naming of the beast, theme can also be seen in the animation of the Wizard of Earth Sea.

Perhaps there are also a prevalence of proffecies (language) coming true, horribly, in Western horror?

The Shining is a good example of the horror of words in the Western tradition. I was truly horrified to find that Jack's book was simply made up of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" written over and over again. I think that the repitition of the single phrase made the medium (the ink, the paper) return, allowing us to see it for what it is: a medium and not idea. And similarly at the climax, just before Jack says "Wendy, I'm home," his sun writes r3drum on the wall in blood, which is murder written backwards. This "redrum" may in a sense be the equivalent of Sadako in the ring, at first only "noise" a pattern of sound and images, becomes real...enter Jack with his axe.

The word God (some prefer to write G_d) is often tabuu, and that the ancient Jews wrote it without any vowels YWH (Yaweh) so as to make it more difficult to pronounce. Some people write G_d, to thise day. Do not use the lords name in vain, for fear that you may realise that he is but a name? And then of course there is John, dear John.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God....And the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, says John. But this was far from horrible. Perhaps the realisation that Jesus is the word e.g. Jesus as myth hypothesis, is this sort of horror.

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Oh what cultural webs we weave. I 'bumped' into this site. It's been a decade since this Englishman lived in Japan for four years, and visiting this site reminded me of my years there more than any Japanese site I have seen since then. Perplexing!
Not being quite able to be sure one has understood anything at all...or do I? LOL maybe I'll never know.
Cheers Mark
I am from England too and we came to Japan at about the same time. I did not leave.
I am really cryptic, it occurs to me now, re-reading this blog post.

"And there is John, dear John" was primarily to draw attention to the beginning of Saint John's gospel which has it that "In the beginning was the word... and the word was God...and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us."

I am not sure that there is any relevance to the phrase "dear John" (other than that I am an admirer of John the Knostic Saint and author of the Gospel) but perhaps I can attempt to weave "Dear John" letters into this somehow?!

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