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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Obake by Kyosai

Obake by Kyosai by timtak
Obake by Kyosai, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Another Japanese monster comes out of the image from here. For others click on ringu.

I believe that Japanese are identified with their bodies, or self image from the perspective of their universalised eye of the other (e.g. secularly "Seken no me" or religiously, the sungoddess' mirror). Images of people are therefore, as well as being anthropomorphised to a far greater extent (consider Japanese virtual idols, such as Hajime Miku), inherently problematic in that they give the lie to the imaginary Japanese self. When in a horror morive an image becomes real, it promotes the realisation that the viewer is also an image, and "already dead" (Lacan, and Sixth Sense:-).

How quickly can I explain my understand of Lacan and Japanese culture?!

The internalisation of an other is essential for self. Humans gain their sense of self by internalising the perspectives of others, first their parents, and then more generally and learning to see themselves, and identify with these internalised-external perspectives. These "selves" give individuality just as they take it away. Self is gained at the price of internalising others, or the other. Self is gained at the price of morality.

Most Western theorists, such as George Herbert Mead, argue that the internalisation of the other is fully or effectively achieved only in Language. They assume this to be the case based on the fact that phonetic speech *only needs to be said to be heard*, it bends around, it does not need a mirror, they point out. The self therefore is found in the experience of hearing oneself speak (Derrida's s'entred parle?).

What these Western theorist fail to note is that
1) As a mental experience, self representations in language are no more inherently reflected than self-representations in images. One only needs to think "I" as to experience the thought, true. But one only needs to imagine oneself as to experience that imagining.
2) There is no necessity entailed in speech, vocal or mental, that requires the vocaliser or thinker to identify with self speach. This identification is cultural. We Westerners are taught to identify with ourselves as meanings. And people can be taught to identify with themselves as imaginings, as I argue they are in Japan.

In either case there needs to be cultural encouragement to agregate and care about the aggregation of either linguistic or imagined views upon self.

Lacan was a obscurantist, and I understand little of what he had to say but he says things that (alas!) I can't find in any other author.

1) That both linguistic and imagined self-representations are possible.
2) That the self is believed in due to the percieved intersection of these two forms of self-representation.

We ignore the fact that sound never comes from vision, that there is no essential difference between speech and miming (see the tragedy of those watching mimed songs in David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Mullholland Drive).

Even so, Lacan, like other Western theorists, decry the imagined. Lacan says that the imaginary world lacks the possibility of universalisation.

A person that lives in the imaginary is always trapped in binary relationships between themselves and a viewer. He is right in a way, but he did not take into account the skill with which Japanese people layer so many different imaginary self perspectives, so many eyes, to achieve as much autonomy, or almost as much autonomy, as those that aggregate the ear of the other.

In both Japanese and Western culture there is a drive towards purifying the self of either the linguistic or imaginary. Westerners "should" be purely worded. Japanese should be purely un-worded and imagined.

But in both cultures, the absence of the other-style of self-recognition is self-destroying; both are needed to maintain the illusion of self.

The Japanese are far happier with the realisation of truth. Their greatest and finest look the void in the eye. But for the rank and file, for anyone, loss of self is terrifying. To realise that ones self is only a self-represtantion, a dead thing, an externality, is both liberating, and the
greatest horror.

And here, in the above image, is that horror. The image comes to life, and tells us that the, our image, is only an image.

When the words stop, when the telephone is just a recording (chakushin ari), or noise (ringu), and the image comes to life (above), one is faced with the lie and the terrifying truth.

Another cool thing about Lacan is that he associated the visual with the motherly and language with the fatherly. We live in our mothers eye, and our father's ear. "Fathers" are a social linguistic construct and "mothers" are the people that looked at us, reared us. It is for that reason that the superego is dad, and the Lacanian Other is the topos of name of the father, and that the monsters that come out of the image in Japanese horror are women. I think that this ghost, in the above image, is a woman.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The Mind of Manufacturers

The Mind of Manufacturers by timtak
The Mind of Manufacturers, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
This is a book intending to encourage university graduates to go into the "thing-making, " manufacturing industry, introducing the mindset of those in the industry. Manufacturing as a profession is popular in Japan, not considered back stage and a little dirty as it may be in the UK.

Japanese people that work in manufacturing are proud to wear their manufacturing workers uniforms, as shown on the image on this cover. Those that take pride in expressing themselves, their apititutes, their creations, and their affiliations visually, as the Japanese do, are good at making-things as the Japanese are.

While I love Brian McVeigh's book "Wearing Ideology" it tends to over-emphasise the external source and oppressiveness of the "ideology," (though he does talk about negotiation) rather than "wearing" as authentic, creative self-expression. If an American Lawyer or Computer programer were to say "I am (proud of being) a computer programmer," then this would be seen as an autonomous belief rather than a engendered ideology, because we logocentricists see words as spring from the mind. Images too spring from the mind, and find expression in Japanese manufactured goods, and uniforms.

This cover image is copyright of Recruit a Japanese recruiting company that edited and published this book.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Externalized-Self-Gaze in Japanese Martial Arts

Externalized-Self-Gaze in Japanese Martial Arts by timtak
Externalized-Self-Gaze in Japanese Martial Arts, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Noh Master Zeami points out that to master the art of Noh drama one must, through repeated attention to mimicry and form, cultivate a "Riken no Ken" (離見の見, see Yusa, 1987), a sort of out of body experience of Self.

Miayamoto Musashi in The Book of Five Rings (五輪書)says that the swordsman must learn to become and thus see himself from the point of view of his enemy (敵になると云ハ、我身を敵になり替りておもふべきと云所也).

And in kyuudo (the Japanese art of archery), as demostrated by my seminar Student Ikki Yamamoto (2009) in this graduation thesis, nothing is more correlated with kyuudo performance than the ability to see oneself from the outside.

To achieve this end practioners of kyuudo practice form incessently, in front of mirros, using a sort of catapult device before they are even allowed to pick up a bow, and with a sort of brace to ensure that their feet are in the right position.

Through minute attention to form, and repeated mimicry of set positions, they gradually become so aware of their form that they are able to see it from what might be called a "third person perspective," or equally, an externalised self gaze. This ability to see oneself from what Mc Veigh aptly calls the poisition of an "invisible spook" (Wearing Ideaology, 2000) correlates most highly - more than frequency of psychical training or psychological skills and traits such as power of concentration, or desire to succeed, with the ability to do, and win at kyuudo.

I liken the Japanese martial, and Noh, "Path" (michi, 道, dou, do) to a 'different kind of trancendental dialetic." There are those such as Hegel, Plato and Lacan in the Western tradition that one can discourse ones way to a sort of higher plane. By stepping further and further back from the subjective position, one can, they claim, achieve a depersonalised, truer, transcendental. A similar thing may be going on in the Japanese martial arts.

Yamamoto, I. (2009) "Mental Training: Self Image in kyuudo." Unpublished Gradutation Thesis, The department of Tourism Studies, Faculty of Economics, Yamaguchi University.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Remember that Failure is Always Your Own Fault

Remember that Failure is Always Your Own Fault by timtak
Remember that Failure is Always Your Own Fault, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Harsh sports philosophy from the country of "Hansei." There is no word for hansei (or "kaizen", other than "kaizen") in English. This T-shirt entitled "The Mind Set of Victors" encourages its wears to face up to their failings because it is only by facing up to them that one can improve.

Weiner, an American social psychologists on the other hand, encouraged people to pass the buck and believe that defeat was bad luck (or someone else's) fault. Martin Seligman's "Positive Psychology" encourages those that fail to blame someoone else, to pass the buck. The more that one learns to pass the buck, the more pumped and full of it one will feel, and the more that one can maintain self-esteem in the face of failiure. The more self-esteem one has the more motivated one will be, to try harded to win and improve.

The Japanese sportsman however, blames himself for his failings and thinks about how he can improve himself so that he can win next time. The most important thing is not how he sees himself (otherwise blaming himself would be painful) but winning itself, and perhaps the accolation that the winner receives from others.

These days (or perhaps for some time, for instance in the case of Naoko Takahashi's couch Koide), it is become more and more fashionable to use praise, and buck passing in Japan too. The new youth of today are not encouraged to think about their faults but are lavished with praise.

It seems to me that Japanese Educational theorists are washing Japanese culture down the toilet.

Shippai no genin ha tsune-ni jibun no naka ni aru to ninshiki suru beshi

Thursday, June 09, 2011


"Cut their Hands" & "Always Be Cutting": The Purity, and Ruthlessness of Miyamoto Musashi

Delicious! by Ikayama
Delicious!, a photo by Ikayama on Flickr.

Miyamoto Musashi remains Japan's most famous swordsman. He wrote"The Book of Five Rings," available freely on the net. Reading this excellent work, I was intrigued by its use of flexible, inductive reasoning (compare DiGrassi's five rules, which are deductive, almost laws of Physics and thus supremely intransient), and by its use of almost totemistic metaphor. Musashi recommends that swordsmen become running water, and a short-armed monkey. Above all I was struck by the by the purity, or sheer ruthlessness, of its author.

At least three (1, 3,4, and probably 5 which is a mirror of 4) of Musashi's five fundamental stances used in sword fighting, mention that their objective is to cut the hands of the opponent: no grandiose beheadings, and torso slashings for Musashi. Musashi's technique, contra that of the sports of foil and sabre, recommends "go for the corners" (extremities, p. 31), particularly cutting into an opponents arms and hands.

After explaining the fundamental five stances of sword fighting, in typical Zen influenced style, Musashi recommends "the stanceless-stance" because he says, it is not about the stance. No, on the contrary, do not think about parrying, hitting, or knocking but to paraphrase the "A.B.C" espoused by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, Always Be Cutting.

Musashi writes, "whenever you cross swords with an enemy you must not think of cutting him either strongly or weakly; just think of cutting and killing him. Be intent solely upon killing the enemy."

All very good advice in a swordfight, I have no doubt.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Totem badges Old and New

Totem badges Old and New by timtak
Totem badges Old and New, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Top row: Shinto shrine amulets (omamori)
Bottom row: Kamen Rider OOO medals, Kamen Rider W Gaia Memories
Please see also an even longer history of totem badges from Australian bull roarers, through shrine amulets, seals (mitokoumon's inro) to the seal of the Shinkenja- Super sentai.

My son plays with various totem badges that are said to transmit the spirit of a supernatural entity to a person allowing them to transform into a superman of sorts. These "totem badges" seem to have much in common with the good luck amulets (omamori) available at shrines.

The seem to contain some information (written - omamori, in an RFID chip - OOO's medals, in a USB memory - gaiai memory), connected with a super-human spirit (in the case of the omamori a shinto spirit or kami, in the case of OOO's medals and gaiai memory a super animal or 'ancestral' kamen rider). This information acts as a vector between the super-being and the holder, endowing the latter with power to conquer foes, such as exams diseases and enraged aliens. They often make a noise. Rattles are popular totem badges in North America (Levi-Strauss has a page of rattles in one of his books on totemism). Bull-roarers or Churinga roar when waved around ones head. Omamori are often fitted with bells. OOO's medals, and various transformatory cards make a noise when read with a special purpose reader. Gaiai memory (and engine souls) make a noise when a button is pushed or when inserted into a sort of reader.

Do amulets change (henshin!) people? Surely not?

They all contain a message, information, or symbols, representing a supernatural entity as noted above. They are also the double of their owners. Masked Rider OOO is the double of Hino Seiji. Shoutaro Hidari uses two Gaiai memory to transform into Kamen Rider "W" (double), his double, in more ways than one. Omamori are said to work as a self-replacement (migawari), taking on the bad luck that might otherwise befall their owner.

Shintoists believed that getting a totem badge from their shrine, the sacred space of their religion, gave them a life or self or spirit. The spirit was themselves and also it was the spirit of the shrine. About 70 years after they die, the spirit merged with the spirit of the shrine, or now Buddhist temple since the cycle of spirit has been broken.

Christians have "Christian names." My name is "Timothy", which is a name from the Bible. It is primarily a phoneme. I get it from the sacred space of my ancestor's religion, and I apply it to myself, thereby perhaps taking on board bit of the God, maybe. Does having a name change me? Does it give me anything, such as a self or life (no way, surely?).

The symbols, in all cases, come from the supernatural to give something special to their recipients.

One of the first Japanese superheroes that appeared on TV, was Mirror Man (Mira-man, 1971). Appearing at the same time as the original Ultraman, he shared many of the typical characteristics of Japanese superheroes, and with Shinto. He used a Transormatory item (henshin aitem) to transformed (henshin). Mirror man use a Shinto shrine amulet (omamori). He could only transform when in front of a reflective surface, usually a mirror. He was possessed, as it were, not by a giant from outer space, but his super-human father who lives in the world of two dimensions. (Thank you James)

Image top row far left: 貝で作られたお守り :) by kozika and far right: ハローキティのお守り :) by kozika

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Baby Snot Sucker

Japanese mothers tend to be even more dedicated to the cleanliness of their children, bathing *with* them, cutting their nails, cleaning out their ears at a frequency that suggests that these acts go beyond a concern purely for physical hygene, pointing to a culture of hygene and motherly pruning to achieve it. One aspect of this mothering, is in the way that Japanese mother's remove their children's nasal mucus.

Devices to remove nasal mucus from the noses of babies with colds do exist in Europe and the USA, such as "Nosefrida The Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator" "the "Bulb Syringe Aspirator" which uses a bulb rather than oral sucking and the "Graco Nasal Clear Nasal Aspirator" which uses a battery powered vacuum pump. They are more likely to be powered by means other than oral aspiration - sucking -and those that do use the suck to clear the nasal mucus may be called "bizarre" by commentators in the US for instance. Bodily secretions, especially faeces but nasal mucus as well I believe, tend to be more taboo in the West, compared to Japan, as previously noted.

Please note that the snot does not go into the mouth of the mother but into a vial which can be washed out. In the old days, however, I am informed that Japanese mothers used to suck their baby's snot directly into their mouths.

Many animals engage in social grooming as a way of reinforcing social bonds. The grooming that is lavished upon Japanese children reminds me of the affectionate pruning that Western mothers may give to their husbands. Some Western mothers have a tendency to clean and scrape their husbands hands, nails and feet. It seems to me that in parallel with Richard Schweder's observations regarding "Who Sleeps by Whom," the recipient of maternal grooming is generally children in Japan, and more likely to be romantic partners, particularly male partners in romantic relationships in the West.

Schweder, R. (1995) "Who Sleeps by Whom Revisited: A Method for Extracting the Moral Goods Implicit in Practice."
Nelson and Geher (2007) "Mutual Grooming in Human Dyadic Relationships: An Ethological Perspective." URL

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