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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.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Finger Pointing and the Specular Self of the Japanese

The Japanese have a specular self, that is to say that their self consciousness centeres on the awareness or imagination of themselves, reflecting (quite litterally) upon themselves, rather than in talking to themselves.

For this reason, when a Japanese person, like Suzuki Ichiro, wants to reinforce conscious decisions and actions he does so by pointing his bat. Railway workers and bus drivers regularly point at signals and other things when they check them, to reinforce the awareness of having performed the act. These finger pointing checks are only carried out in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (as a result of Japanese influence). In the UK on the other hand, train drivers "call the road" that is to say they call out the colour of signals or other signs along the way. They do not point at them.

The western self, as many many psychologists and philosophers will tell you, is centered upon self speech, it is the monologue that we have with ourselves. The Japanese self centers upon however, the awareness of ones self as an image. You could say that the Japanese are permanently in "the mirror stage."

However, while Lacan and other white men claim that it is only through indentification with the symbolic (language) that one can optain a third person, objective perspective on self, it seems to me that the Japanese are quite able to internalise a mirror, to simulate a mirror in their minds eye and take a third persons perspective of themselves.

While men westerners think that appearance is superficial and external, in Japan voice and speech be viewed as that which one does for others. Speech is external, communicative, transfers information from one person to another, and does not get reflected back to Japanese speakers. While Lacan and James Mead seem to think that speach is always heard, understood and cognised by the speaker, in Japan I believe speech, rolls out of mouths like water off a ducks back; it is said and gone. On the other hand again, Japanese would be surprised to hear that we Westerners can not imagine ourselves unless we have a mirror. They do it all the time. How else could they "refect upon their behaviour" (hansei)? There is not even a word in English for hansei in English.

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