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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, April 21, 2010


Election Sound Trucks, Yoshimichi Nakajima, and Architecture

I can't blame this politician but I really used to hate these election cars. Twenty years ago, when I was learning Japanese these beasties would come by blaring someone’s name and saying thank you, I would, or did on one occasioning run after the truck shouting "Urusai!" (You are being loud/shut up!) to which the politician replied, with thanks.

These days, I have become used to the election cars. I almost feel fond of them.

The western part of me still feels, however, that these announcements would be okay if the politicians said something, such as what their policies are but in general all they say are greetings, the name of the politician and an appeal to vote for me.

There is also a "mythology"(Barthes) to these announcement in that their speech serves to tell the residents, through whose street the car travels, that the politician cares about that particular street.

This politician, running for office in the Yamaguchi City Town hall. Yamaguchi City is now very large. The politician whose sound truck appears in this video, comes from this particular part of town and has and will, I presume, represent the wishes of this his locality or "constituency." So in a sense it makes sense to vote for the politician whose name one hears blaring out of the most sound trucks. There, I never thought I would say it: election sound trucks make sense. If I had a vote, I might even vote for this politician )I do not have a vote because I am not a naturalised Japanese citizen).

The existence of sound trucks is another demonstration of the fact that Japanese do not care a flip about words, in the sense of what they mean - the locutionary act. The meaning of words is almost only in their illocutionary, performative aspect. The performative meaning of this speech at is loud and clear; "I, Mr. H, the politician am making an announcement in your street because I cares about getting the votes of its residents." The politician could simply repeat his name and some mumbo jumbo. Indeed, that is what the vast majority of Japanese politicians do.

Yoshimichi Nakajima’s Japanology which points out the prevalence of verbal announcements in Japan is very good. Not only does he point out the prevalence of linguistic pollution in Japan but also he goes on to show that words must be public, not private in Japan. The Japanese are very tolerant of all sorts of announcements and endless tapes and motto-signs (e.g. those that encourage road safety, or that we greet each other). At the same time they are very intolerant of the expression of personal opinion in a vocal way. E.g. it is the very worst of form to use a mobile phone in a public area, even if one talks in a low voice and I have to pay my students to ask a question in class.

However, what Nakashima does not point out is the Japanese equivalent of the word, or the Western equivalent of the suppression of private speech.

The latter (Western suppression of individual freedom), is observed, I believe in Western architecture. One is free to express oneself verbally in the UK, because speech is yours, it belongs to the individual. In Japan one can express oneself freely in ones house architecture and Japanese cities bristle with some of the most un-harmonious individualism known to man. But, in the UK, if you change anything about the appearance of your house, even the window sills, then you will be fined by the local council, because appearances are public. The situation is reversed in Japan: the word is public, but appearance belongs to the holder.

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