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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Wearing, Wrapping, and Signing Culture

Wearing, Wrapping, and Signing Culture
Originally uploaded by timtak
Not only does Brian Mc. Veigh (Wearing Ideology: state schooling and self-presentation in Japan, insert top left) have a lot of interesting things to say about uniforms, cuteness, and fashion in Japan, he goes further; he explains how these things can have meaning in and of themselves.

Using a “dramaturgical analysis” originating in Goffman ("The presentation of self in everyday life") McVeigh describes how selves can be constructed on stage, and consisting in and bounded by their presentations. If the self can be constructed on stage, then there is no need of a third term, the actor that with a narrative to grind. Meaning can be brought out onto the stage and be worn. This is wearing ideology.

Roland Barthes and Joy Hendry point out how visual signs and visual exteriors are important in Japan. But both expect there to be something else, a center, a something that is wrapped.

Barthes has already explained in "Mythologies" (inset bottom centre) how visual signs (magazine photos particularly) have the structure of an 'alibi'. "I was not there, I was somewhere else." Barthes does not believe in Mythology. Alibi's and signs, Barthes says, point off, salute a meaning somewhere else.

Then Barthes came to Japan and found that there are lots of signs, but they seem to point nowhere. For example, used to beautiful tasty French food, where the look indicates a different spicy flavour Barthes found Sushi in all its significant visual splendour, and all tasting the same, of wasabi and thick soy sauce. He found an empty space in the center of Tokyo signifying the massive power of an emperor, who does not rule. Japanese signs, Bathes says, have an empty center.

Likewise, Joy Hendry (in "Wrapping Culture" inset top right) points out the Japanese attraction for wrapping. But almost nowhere, except in her discussion of Barthes and towels given as gifts does she examine the possibility that Japanese "wrapping" is not exactly wrapping at all. The surface is not there to contain anything. The towels and the wrapping are consummatory. While the wrapping looks like a vector, or medium, it has meaning. The "wrapping" is the real Mcluhan.

Both Hendry and Barthes do not have a theory for explaining how symbols and surfaces can also be centers and selves. Brian Mc.Veigh however, using the self-on the stage tradition (of Goffman), proposes a mechanism for how the self, and meaning, can be constructed, consist and be bounded by presentation. Wearing is not an alibi for ideology somewhere off stage, but rather ideology is worn, and the visual is meaningful.

In his other great book, "Higher Education as Myth," Mc. Veigh weighs in against the lack of the logos in Japan. So I am not sure how much his revisionism in "Wearing Ideology" is intended. In any event this is the only book of Japanology that I can think of that seriously attempts to bring the center back on stage; the only book watching a mime show that presents a theory of mime, rather than harp on about the lack of a script.

Having said that, the book is not an easy read and feels a bit like a graduation thesis wherein the theory has been added because theses need theory, rather than that the author believes what he is writing. So perhaps, Mc. Veigh is an accidental apologist, a reluctant revisionist of the theory of Japan. Either way, his books are essential Japanology!

Finally, I don’t think that Mc.Veigh, or Goffman, go far enough. They still use the metaphor of a stage with its implied audience, and heteronomy. Actors live on stage, performig for the sake of others off stage, rather than for each other and themselves. As James Mead (Mind Self and Society) argues, actors can can only make visual gestures meaningful for themselves is if they see the faces of their audience or stand in front of a mirror. In my view, the actors in Japan carry their audience, or a mirror with them. The Japanese are wearing ideology, because they have mirrors in their heads.

A review of three of the best books about Japan
Joy Hendry "Wrapping Culture"
Roland Barthes "The Empire of the Signs"
Brian Mc.Veigh "Wearing Ideology"
written on the occasion of giving a lecture on Japanese fashion.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Just one Page of the Book of Television Personalities

Just one Page of the Book of Television Personalities
Originally uploaded by timtak
In "The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan," Donald Ritchie points out that Japanese culture pours out images, fads, fashions and famous faces at a rate unknown in any other culture (or at least the West). It is a good book, but I find the tone of his work to be rather belittling.

Donald Ritchie does not mention that his ouvre, and indeed the very book he is writing, forms part of the output of that which might be called "the idea factory."Westerners, western culture pours out ideas, at a rate unknown in any other culture.

Every Japanese woman and her uncle becomes a "talent" (television personalty) if they make the big time. They get to have their face in the thick book of television personalities.

On the other hand, every Western man, or at least academic and his aunt, pump out an ism, that fill bookshelves in Japan.

The Japanese produce almost no ideas. Zen is the idea to end all izms.

Westerners produce surprisingly few fads, compared to Japan.

Donald Ritchie does not, I fear, quite make it into "the fountain of isms" but his theories of Japanese film may have made it into the encyclopedia of Western thought.

Japanese self-identify with their visual self expressions, especially their faces.

Westerners self-identify with their narratives, with their phono centric words, especially their names and the "isms" that they have coined. (You can tell I am a Westerner, trying herein to coin an "ism"). What shall I call it? Takemotoism?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Vuvuzela Advantage for Asia at FIFA WC 2010

Vuvuzela image copyright Dr. ZVLV.

Complaints about noise of the vuvuzela horns popular with South African soccer fans have been reported by the presss since the start of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Various top players, such as Ronaldo and Messi, and coaches from European and South American teams have stated that they believe the deafening roar of the Vuvuezellas adversely effects their concentration.

But Japan (vs. Cameroon) and North Korea (vs. Brazil) have been playing very well.

According to Heejung Kim's ground breaking research on the relationship between culture, language and thought (2002 see pdf online), "atriculatory supression," or the suppression of human ability to think in phonetic language, has a greater impact on Eurpean Americans than it does upon Asian Americans. Kim claims that Europeans and their decendents have a stronger tendency to think, solve problems, and express themselves in phonetic language than Asians.

Comparing European American and Asian American performance on a problem solving task it was found that:

1) Making subjects talk about the task increased European performance but decreased Asian peformance (in the former case since talking stimulates Europeans' thinking, in the latter case because Asians were effectively being asked to perform two tasks at once)

2) Making subjects repeat the letters of the alphabet, effectively suppressing their ability to think in phonemes, had only a small negative effect upon Asians, but greately decreased (by about 20% more) Europeans' problem solving ability.

It is therefore unsurprising that the deafening roar of Vuvuzela at the 2010 FIFA world cup should adversely affect the concentration of European and South American teams. The surprising thing for some may be that the non-Western (non phono-logocentric) teams may not be adversely effected, or may even play better, concentrate more as a result of the roar.

Repeating the alphabet results a cognative load. The Vuvuzelas on the other hand have the effect of silencing the voice of the mind so I am predicting shockingly good results for Japanese, Korean and North Korean teams.

My advice to European and American teams is, wear ear plugs. The inability to communicate with team members is going to be less importantant than the inability to think.

Graph Copyright Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 828-842.

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