Monday, November 28, 2011
A Theory about Japanese Mikoshi Festivals
Many or most Japanese festivals feature "O'Mikoshi," but there are few theories as to why the Japanese (and not only the Japanese) are into carrying their gods around on stretchers. The theories I have seen, and agree with, stress unity, solidarity and cohesion (Takezawa, 1998) and prestige (there is a pecking order in who gets to carry the god, before whom: see Kalland, 1995). I respect both theories but here is my take, with thanks to my trainspotting son.
Normally the geographical fixed-ness of the Shinto sacred anchors the word view and society (c.f. theories that Japanese society is spacially organised: Bachnik & Quinn, 1994, Pilgrim 1995, and Nakane, 1970), so when the sacred starts to move on its mikoshi (beir, litter or palanquin) this signals the arrival of a topsy turvy, "liminality" (Turner, 1967) big-time. I suggest in this video that the mikoshi have the same attraction as trains. My son used to really love trains. Trains, with their moving frames of reference, teach us that movement is relative, nothing is stationary, unless something is sacred.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
In Search of the Japanese Self
Partly as a result of wondering how it is that Japanese can see their relationships with others, including the world, as being internal to themselves, I asked 20 Japanese to rate the extent to which certain things and phenomena are so much you that "If it were changed you would cease to be yourself," and "Not public, or anyone else's." I am not sure if I asked the right questions but I was trying to get to what my subjects thought themselves to be.
I was particularly interested in whether they would deem their view / visual sense percepi as being themselves or out there in the world, as well as the relative selfness (?) of body, self, speech and voice.
I had predicted a greater importance afforded voice since it always seems that in shows featuring suited representations of Japanese cartoon and maskted tokusatsu characters, they have to mime to the voice of the standards voice actor for them to be felt to be the real thing.
The results, shown above, show that Japanese identify most strongly with their head, foollwed by theif feelings, internal self speech, dreams, body, voice, and finally vision. Vision was felt to be way down the list, below the mid point of the scale (1-5) where 5 meant entirely essential and private, whereas 1 meant inessential and public. All the same they were half way to avowing that their vision might be private and that the wold they see might not be shared with anyone else.
I should have included some other, but less, self phenomena such as clothes, name, possessions, home, self-facts (such as being from Saga obviously a 1 on the "not public" part of the scale, but perhaps important to ones identity.)
I think that I should also make the scale a little longer 1-7 perhaps to allow for more variation between the top (head?) and bottom (possessions?) of the scale.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in the above graph is the reversal of the relative heights of the blue and red lines for the three items on the right. It is clear that my two questions are different. In the case of dreams for instance, one might imagine oneself continuing to exist as oneself without dreaming, and yet feel it very strange if anyone else saw, or could see ones dreams. It was interesting however that both voice and vision should be evaluated in the same way. Would I be more surprised if I suddenly had another voice, or if someone else had the same voice as me? I (incorrectly) feel that I have quite a neutral accent, so I am not sure I would be all that surprised to meet someone with my voice.
Finally, I am tempted to think that other people see the same colours as I do, and share the same visual field as I, but I would find it very strange if my experience went dark, if I were to become a philosophical Zombie. Perhaps my subjects' lack of surprise refered to the possibility that they should go blind.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Kasulis' Internal and External Relationships
Kasulis argues that the essence of Zen artistry can be found in the Shinto tradition. He points to three things. First he suggests that contra other forms of Buddhism, the plain, undecorated, inornate nature of Zen artistry is shared with Shinto. More boldly he claims that the "ordinariness" of Zen, which not only shuns being fettered by Buddhist scripture, but sees the philosophy of the Buddha written in all things, mirrors Shinto animism. Finally he argues that Shinto purity of heart (magogoro) is closely related to the state of mind, or no-mind, attained in Zen.
I am one of those people that thinks everything Japanese is Shinto, even if it claims to be Buddhist, I look forward to reading Kasulis' book "Shinto: The way home."
In his introduction to the Japanese section of the book, Kasulis talks about "interior and external relationship" using this diagram above. Kasulis' diagram could be argued to be a detail from Markus and Kitayama's famous diagram which itself has precident in Kimura Bin, Eshun Hamaguchi and Wasuji Tetsuro among others.
Keeping his eye on the relationships however, Kasuli argues that in the West they are seen as being exterior to the person, something that each of the related can objectify, whereas in Japan they are seen as being interior to each and both of the related, consituting them. This means that, he argues, while a Japanese garden may appear "unnatural" in the way that it is cut and pruned into a "surnatural" shape, the gardner is part of nature and nature would loose something of its naturalness if its relationship with the gardner were to be removed.
The interiority of Japanese relationships is part of the cultural psychological cannon (I wonder if cultural psych has become a religion for me) that I ascribe to, and I do not doubt it at all. I can't doubt it because I ask my students, "do you see your relationships as occuring within you", "do you think that in a way others occur within yourself?" and they say "yes." "Other people are inside you?!" I ask them to confirm, and as they nod, I have trouble understanding their reply.
Do they mean that they are simulating intra-psychic others - co called imaginary friends? They may feel very real, as Cathy says, "I am my Heathcliff,"and Celine Dion says "You're here in my heart."
But, I was wondering yesterday whether, if having a mirror in ones head means that one is more inclined to affirm "the veil of perception." The veil of perception is the notion that all that we percieve is internal, our own perceptions, upon a mental screen, no the real world so, as Nietzche quips, we can only ever point to ourselves.
While I am susceptible to this view, generally speaking I do not look at the world in that way and generally feel I am looking at the world and not myself. When I asked my (Japanese) wife, she was quick to affirm the veil of perception, so I wonder if this is part of the origin of the feeling of interiority. Maybe I will be able to do a survey. I have been meaning to for a while but I used to think that the veil would be on us not them.
Heine, S. J., Takemoto, T., *Moskalenko, S., *Lasaleta, J., & Henrich, J. (2008). Mirrors in the head: Cultural variation in objective self-awareness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 879-887. http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Website/Papers/Mirrors-pspb4%5B1%5D.pdf
Kasulis (1998) "The Self as Image in Asian Theory and Practice" p 338.
Markus. H. & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the Self: Implications for cognition, emotion and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253. Downloaded from http://www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf on 2011/11/11
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.