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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, October 17, 2007


Lacan and Anpanman

Originally uploaded by SirPurple
Japanese infants, especially young Japanese boys, love Anpan-man. Anpan-man is a male cartoon character whose face is made of "Anpan," meaning bread (pan) filled with sweet, brown bean-paste (an). Anpan-man is a generally nice guy and a superhero in the sense that he can fly, punch mightily, and if the people he is helping are hungry, he can feed them his face, as shown in the illustration (right).

Japanese boys can become quite Anpan-man obsessed. There is a boy in my son's kindergarden that refers to himself as Anpan-man when asked his name. I knew a boy that repeated an "Anpanman" chant in an obsessive complusive fashion when he was nervous, perhaps.

What is this Japanese obsession with Anpan man?

Is there some connection with caniblaism, sacrifice, or self-sacrifice? Possibly Anpan-man has connections with all these things, even with the transubstantiation of the body of Christ, the Eucharist and Mass. After all, Anpan-man is made of a Western import, bread, and not rice.

However, I would like to suggest that the popularity of Anpan-man in Japan may have something to with Japanese boys wishing to identify with their mother. I suggest that Japanese infants want to symbolically suckle (give breast milk to) others. I got the idea for this because a certain Japanese male infant that I know wants to give his (non existant) breast milk to his father. This behaviour is not so strange in itself since young children tend to wish to copy their significant others. The boy in question likes to spoon feed his parents, brush his parents' teeth, and carry a briefcase, all in imitation of his parents.

All the same, the affection for Anpan-man among Japanese males is often obsessive. I suggest that Anpan-man provides the male infant with a imaginary means of identifying with his mother, even after he becomes aware of the fact that his own nipples do not give milk. He can imagine that, in some sense he is, like his mother, in some sense edible. By this manouvre, the Japanese infant manages to identify with his own corporeal objectification as body and image.

Jacques Lacan, the post-Freudian psychoanalyst, argues that infants tend to have two sorts of self-concept: "imaginary" and "symbolic". While it may be doing some injustice to Lacan, I understand these as being visual (imaginable) and linguistic. That is to say that infants come to identify with images that they have of them selves, and and also with the linguistic referent to which they refer to themselves: "I", or their own name. Lacan further argues that the latter type of identification is preferable and normal in Western culture - that we should grow up from identifying with our self-image to indentifying with our self narration. A great number of other "narrative psychologists" working independently, claim that it is intrinsically human to narrate oneself into existance, as the imagined hero of a novel of ones own self telling.

Lacan futher argues that this movement from imaginary to symbolic self identification is motivated in part by the social dynamic of the (Western) family. Mother is the imaginary, the visible parent, the parent with which the child identifies (before perhaps even with his own image in the mirror) visually. Father is the symbolic parent. Father is often absent, but somehow very important. Father is the parent that is narrated into existance for the child, through such statements as "this is your father." [In some societies is its an uncle that takes the role or position of the father. The father is a narrated existance. The "name of the father", his hallowed name, is what makes him a father.]

In the West, in the oediple triangel, the father wins. Lacan argues that children would like to maintain a strong relationship with their mother (to the point of merging even) but fortunately for their development, the father gets in the way of this relationship. The child finds himself repeatedly alone at night, left with only his mother's statement, "I am going to, I have to sleep with daddy." Or "I am daddy's".

The name of the father "daddy," becomse the name or prohibition of the father ("Nom or Non de Pere" -- Lacan makes a cheesy pun on "Nom" - "name" - and "Non" "no!" of the father) in that the arrivale of an awaress of daddy, also signifies an arrival of an awareness that baby will never be what mother really wants, the object of her desire. Instead, daddy, father is a signifier that refers to something that mother really wants, and reason why the infant can not have his or her mother.

After fretting around for a while, the Western infant gives up on trying to be a baby, gives up on trying to be bundle of cuteness that might almost have been the "phallus," the apple of his mother's eye, and instead, identifies with the winner in the triangle of love, daddy, the signified, daddy the linguistic entity. The child starts to identify with his or her name and the first person pronoun in the hope that this signifier also refers to an entity which has, or will one day have, that special something that can make mummy (or a surrogate mummy, a future wife) "mine".

In the West, that special something that daddy has is sexual. While insiting that it is not a real male sex organ , Lacan calls daddy's special something a "phallus". And it is the subject of taboo. I am not sure about Lacanian theory but in reality it seems to me that if the male sex organ were not taboo in Christendom, they would not be raised to the status of the ultimately desirable, and frightening object, that attracts mothers so effectively.

The above may (or may not) be useful when trying to understant out why Westerners identify with their self speech, or why sexual love is held in such high esteem, and yet taboo at the same time, in Western Culture.

Further, Freud and Lacan tell us that the child is "castrated," through the awareness that
1) Mother does not have a phallus
2) Neither does the child have a phallus now
3) That dad has a phallus
The child comes to think that the object of the mother's desire is elsewhere, hidden, daddy's. The phallus, that thing that will enable the child to be loved, is something that even a male child does not yet have. The child looks to the future and dreams of a time when he or she will have a partner, when he or she will have romantic love. Dreams of a time when he will have or she will be given, a phallus, that thing that (hell, why else would she be sleeping elsewhere?) mother seems to lack.

Freudo-Lacanian theory may be incorrect even regard to Western culture. Personally, I am rather persuaded by the Lacanian version. In Freudian theory humans (both adults and infants) are essentially sexual beings. In the Lacanian version it is the upbringing that results in the oh-so-very-high valuation of sex. The child is ejected from the mother's bed, left alone, and told to wait, to wait until one day it will have an opposite sex partner of its own. In the West is thought normal to rear (torture?) young children in this way. Young Western children cry themselves to sleep at night, but stop crying with the dream that one day, they too will have someone, in a sexual relationship of their own, to hug.

While I can see how this theory applies to the West, in my opinion it does not apply to Japan. Japanese parents sleep with their children! This fact needs repeating. Japanese parents let their children sleep in the parental bed until they are about 4 to 11 years old. Where do they have sex? Presumably, sometimes in front of their children! Sometimes, and I know Japanese that have testified to this, the children have watched. This watching is something that Freud claims is enough to drive children mad. But not, obviously, in Japan.

For reasons that I will not go into in this post, in my opinion (or theory of Japanese culture) the Japanese identify with visual self-representations, with the imaginary rather than the symbolic. Again, as argued in other blog posts, the Japanese place taboo on female sexuality, childbirth, rather than upon male sexuality, coitus, and upon the visual (think Sadako) rather than the symbolic. A reversal is going on.

It occurs to me that the awareness, among Japanese children, that the child does not have breasts, that work, that can feed others may represent a sort of castration, or rather mastectomy. This mastectomy does not result in an alienation from identification with the *object* of the mother's desire, but it results in an alienation from identification with the *subject*: mother.

Lacan stresses the child's desire to be the *object* of the mother's desire. A child in a Japanese family could continue to feel, and bearing in mind the love and affection that is lavished upon Japanese children, may often continue to feel, that they are still the prime *object* of their mothers desire. They can continue to feel that they are the "phallus"

However the Japanese child may feel alienated from direct identification with the mother as desiring *subject*. Love is not only about being loved. Love, as in Wuthering Heights for example, is also about identification with the other. "I am my Heathcliff" said Cathy in one of the most famous statements of the essence of love. Being the object of love is important. Being the subject, being the same as, merging with, feeling close, inseperable, bonded with the subject is also important.

For the Japanese child, the realisation of his or her own mastectomy (inability to breast feed), forces the Japanese child to realise that he or she is not the mother, distanced, other. "I can not feed," "I have no breasts". "I am not my/a mother"

Much as the child may attempt to identify with, , and succeed in being the object of his mother's love, he or she wil realise that the love relationship he or she has with mother is not satisfying. Mother loves the child, but is distant. Who wants to be a love object? Being loved is great. But think of being the object of lewd and lavcious love! Being a love object is also rejection.

At this point, for the female infant (as for the male infant in Western society) can dream of a time when she can be a mother, subjectively indentify, identify as subject, and sleep with her own children. For the male infant, however, the father may emphasise this seperation and offer a compromise.

In Japan, as far as seperating mother and infant goes, the role of the father is weak. The child sleeps between mother and father in "the river character" (the Japanese ideogram for river is three verticle lines with the shortest in the middle,), so if anything the child represents a rupture in the relationship between father and mother rather than the other way around. However, the father is not completely without a rupturing function, and the Japanese family is not entirely without "oedipus." The Japanese father reiterates the subjective-alienation of the child from mother, that is to say the father emphasise the fact that the child is not the same type of subject (a feeding subject) as his mother or father.

While basking in the love of, that is being the object of mothers and father's love, the child will also become aware that those two people (mummy and daddy) are parents, whereas I am not. By forming a even visual category ("parents," the-large-bodied) to which the child does not fit, the father serves to emphasise the fact that mother and child are not the same. The father proves that the child is a child, a subjectively alienated other.

The compromise?

According to Lacan, the compromise that the Western child reaches is to believe that he or she one day may have *or* get the "phallus", the object of mother's desire.

The compromise that the Japanese child may reach is to believe that they may eventually be the subject, subjectively united with mother by eventually being able to be edible, eventually being able to feed, or create. As Japanese children grow up they gradually become aware that parents are both in a sense edible, both parents are in a sense mothers. Mothers breast feed and fathers produce food through work.

Anpan-man is an imaginary step in this direction.

As an aside, the Japanese obsession with cooking programs, such as the Iron Chef is perhaps all part of the same compensation for the infantile mastecomy: "one day I will be able to feed people".

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