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.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Individualistic Japanese Architecture

Individualistic Japanese Architecture by timtak
Individualistic Japanese Architecture, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Japanese cities (and most cities in East Asia) are a jumble of Western, Asian, traditional, modern, baroque, and just plain weird architectural styles. Planning regulations are lax and mainly concerned with ensuring the safety of the occupants, not with ensuring harmony with the surrounding buildings.

Cultural psychologists (Miyamoto, Nisbett, & Masuda, 2005) have associated Asian urban enviroments with purported Asian collectivism by arguing that Asian cities are diffuse, anonymous, lacking in a focal point, and encourage Asian wholistic modes of thinking.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that Japanese architecture both traditional and modern is 'ruggedly individualistic'. Traditional Japanese architecture, while belonging to a tradition, is often extravagent or even ostentatious in for instance the style of its rooves, gatehouses and entrance halls. More modern articture often, or usually, displays no concern for harmony with the surrounding architecture.

The Japanese are harmonious in regard to the expression of opinions in public sitations. Opinions are to be kept to oneself in Japan. Visual expressions of one ones preferences, proclivities, style, tastes, creativity, are often individual to the point of being obtrusive.

But then again, perhaps, there is nothing obtrusive about Japanese architecture at all. Japanese consider individualistic architectual preferences a common-place. And to a certain exten the individualities of Westerners and Asians are invisible to each other. Though Westerners have original opinions that are they are keen to expound, opinions, theories, policies and linguistic contrusctions in general are trivialised, or even, in the Zen Buddhist tradition especially, but also in common idiom (理屈言うな), perjorative. Similar visual expressions of individuality appear to Western eyes as trivial, mere image, peacocky, or vain. Sometimes it is difficult to see how individual we all are.


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Monday, February 20, 2012


Onikyan: Friendishly Cambered Car Wheels

Onikyan: Friendishly Cambered Car Wheels by timtak
Onikyan: Friendishly Cambered Car Wheels, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The angle of the wheels on this Honda Life (light car) is called "Onikyan" which is short for Oni Kyanba- or wheels at a fiendishly inclined camber. Wheels positioned in this way result in degraded performance and very uneven tyre wear so their only merit is their ("rather bad") appearance.

The creator of this masterpiece said that he wanted to demonstrate his prowess at customisation (he is particularly good with this area of the car). While the car is currently not road legal he believes that it could be driven to local cities such as Hiroshiima and Fukuoka to take part in "dress up" (Customisation) car shows. Approximately half of the revenue of this garage is for "regular work" and half for show-ization (sho-ka) to make cars ready for "dress up" car-customization shows.

The size of the automotive aftermarket parts market is about the same per capita (about 580 dollars in Japan, 2007 figures, to about 600 dollars per capita in the US) but Japanese cars do fewer miles and are on the road for less time and are of a higher reliability, so presumably a far greater proportion of that market is spent on non-essential, customization of the car.

As another indication of the extent to which Japanese people like to pimp their ride, all of the companies (Mode Parfum (Blow Design), Aimgain, Wald, Junction Produce, Anceltion (RIP)) recommended as offering "Vip Styling kits" in this English language article on how to make your car look like a VIP's (pimp's?) car are Japanese companies.

Additional evidence that the Japanese are the kings car customization includes the fact that Japanese jargon refering to styles of car-customization, such as "hippari" to refer to stretching tyres onto outsized rims for a super low profile tyre/wheel.

It is my contention that people express their individualism not to others, or even specific internalised others, but to their "generalised other" (Mead) their Super-addressee (Bakhtin), the Other (Lacan), or Super-Ego (Freud) of their psyche, "Thou" (Buber/Nishida) or their gods, which in Japan do not listen but look. The Japanese desire to individuate and enhance themselves in the eye of their Other, since it is from this position that they see themselves objectively as lovable, individual human beings.

The Japanese are no so keen, on the other hand, on tuning up their cars so that they go at a fastest speed from point A to point B. Speeds are purely linguistic achievements. Making it look like their cars are going at the fastest speed (e.g. by "drifting") on the other hand, is highly descirble as do cars that simply look individual like the example above.

Videos of "Demon Camber" cars (with swearing)

Video of this particular car at a show in Hiroshima

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Friday, February 17, 2012


Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making is also a Metaphor for Coitus

Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making is also a metaphor for Coitus by timtak
Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making is also a metaphor for Coitus, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
[Cross posted from Shinto Blog with additions]

The most important festival of the Shinto religion is the New Year Festival. At this time Japanese people will visit a shrine, give their children money, and eat certain foods one of which are rice cakes said to contain the spirit of Amaterasu, the mirror-sun-goddess. In traditional homes, such as farm houses, and in some schools and community centres, the rice cakes are made in a traditional way known as "mochi-tsuki" or rice beating.

In a well known Japanese dictionary (Koujien 4th edition) it says that, "Amotsuki" (餅搗), an old but not defunct word for "mochi-tsuki" which means beating rice to make rice cakes, was used as a metaphor for "boji"(房事) which means coitus.

The rice beating ritual performed at New Year gave me a impression of representing coitus when, as is traditional, a woman turns the rice while her husband beats it.

In the ritual that I saw performed, and took part in, a woman knelt or crouched down beside the "usu" (bowl) and make relatively high pitched noises encouraging a man wielding a big mallet to beat the rice cake, sometimes with a grunt. Apparently quite a lot of males die each year of heart attack as they wield their mallet. The ritual is quite hard work. The men build up a sweat. The rice cake becomes more and more gooey. The thwack, thwack of the mallet (kinu) hitting the gooey rice in the bowl resounds. Finally everyone rejoices partaking of the gooey white rice cake. It is quite a carbohydrate high after all that exertion. Bearing in mind the shape of the tools used, the gender division of labor, their relative positions, and the color and consistency of the final product, I made an interpretation which prompted my my Japanese friends to call me a pervert. Then one day I was reading my dictionary and came across the entry above.

These metaphors may be quite irrelevant and coincidental but since the Shinto-Amaterasu myth is represented in Shinto New-Year's festivities, the fact that a ritual seen as a metaphor for sex (at least in times past) should take a central role in the festivities suggests that perhaps there is a similarly metaphorical episode in the Susano Amaterasu myth. At least one researcher has suggested that the bit where Susano-O throws a backwards skinned horse into the clothing room of Amaterasu such that one of her weavers dies as a result of a shuttle entering her body, may be a metaphor for coitus.

It would not be unusual that sex is represented in Shinto festivities (examples, click with caution and or or parental advice). One commentator (essayist Ei Rokutsukel,2004) expressed the opinion that many or most Shinto festivities were related to sex.

Christian festivals (Christmas and Easter) represent birth and in the Shinto tradition birth is, or was, the dirtiest most defiled thing, as taboo as sex is in the Christian tradition.

With these reversals of the most sacred and the most defiled -- with Japanese and Western religion being so polar -- I used to think that war between Japan and the West would be inevitable.

Similar entries to that photographed above from an other edition of the same dictionary
餅つき 2男女交接の例え Amotsuki (rice beating) is a metaphor for sex
臼と杵 男女の仲がぴったり合うこと Usu to Kinu Pestle and Mortar/mallet very close male female relationship
臼から杵 臼は女、杵は男を象徴する。女から男に働きかけるのは逆であるの­意で)逆であるさまにいう
Mortar to Pestle. Women should not approach/influence men.

Ei Rokutsuke et al (2004) "Matsuri ha Eros de Aru"(Festivals are Eros/Erotic), "Nihon no Matsuri" (Japanese Festivals). Asahi Newspaper. publications.asahi.com/ecs/detail/?item_id=6205

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Thursday, February 16, 2012


Hours Studied Per Week at US and Japanese Universities

Hours Studied Per Week at US and Japanese Universities by timtak
Hours Studied Per Week at US and Japanese Universities, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The labels indicate the percentage of first year university students that study (out side of class) in each of the time bands. For example nearly ten percent of Japanese students do not study at all, whereas in the US only 0.3% of students avoid study entirely. More than two thirds (66.8%) of Japanese university students study only 1-5 hours per week --at most an hour per weekday-- whereas this percentage is only about 15% in the US. The above graph is based on data collected by the Central Council for Education of the Japanese Department for Education and Science, as reported on the front page of today's (2012/2/16) Asahi Newspaper.

The newspaper reports that, alarmed at these statistics, the Ministry of Sports Science and Technology intends to implement entrance and exit tests to ensure that university students are studying more, with a view to creating graduates that can be major players on the global stage (グローバルに活躍する人材, Asahi, 2012).

There is nothing new in the these type of comparisons. Brian J. McVeigh's comprehensive, though damning and as yet untranslated, "Japanese Higher Education As Myth," as well as many domestic commentators, have been pointing out that academically, Japanese universities are allow students to concentrate on their part time jobs, their club and social activities rather than ensuring they study academically. As Mc.Veigh points out, Japanese academic has no academic ethos, little awareness of the value of study, so as soon as escalator of entrance exams end, so does the motivation to study.

The Japanese education department indends to extend the escalator, adding stricter assessments at the end of university life, forcing students to study while they are university if they are to go on to graduate and get a job.

They are going to require that Japanese university teachers become stricter in their evaluations and refused to allow students to graduate even though they have a job lined up. And even though the company ready to employ that student is not nearly so concerned, when compared with US companies, with the academic achievement of the students it intends to employ.

Japanese companies do not care so much about whether students have studied academically during their time at university. If a student has invested time and energy into their club or part time job, achieved a position of responsibility, or shown intelligent, practical, creative endeavour in any aspect of their lives (including academically) then they are happy to hire them. Some companies shy away from students who are particularly academic, perhaps with the belief that having too many scholarly types in the office does not make for successful business. Japanese companies stress 'on the job training', and learning by experience so that university graduates start at the bottom and do not come into work situations where they are expected to apply the theories that they have learnt at college.

The education that Japanese universities have provided, therefore, may be argued to be in line with the demands of Japanese society. Theories - which is after all what universities teach - are not as useful, or as lauded in Japan. Providing interesting lectres, opportunities to interact with each other, be stimulated, experience academe and the lifestyle of academics in "seminars," and to gain life experience in part time jobs and clubs, has provided Japanese students with the social skills training required of them in (non-theory based, non-logocentric) Japanese society.

I set a large amount of homework in my English classes especially. I use online testing to force my students to study outside of class. I believe for students to be competative in a declining economy, academic study is important. But at the same time I fear that Japanese universities are by their attempt to mimic Western universities are going to present fewer opportunities for students to obtain the flexibility and social skills that Japanese society still requires.

One of the reasons why Japanese students do part time jobs is because there are few immigrants, or a 'working class' doing them instead. University students are the working class of Japan. The man the pumps, wash the dishes, serve at tables, and work in the fast food restaurants. The same lack of an underclass obviates the need for a university educated elite. Japanese fulfill all roles at different ages of their lives.

The University evolved out of seminaries, training schools for priests. Their original specialisations were theological studies of the Bible and the Koran. Westerners, and those of the "book religions" believe that one can live ones life based upon the advice gained from the pages of a book, by applying theories.

It seems to me that Japanese companies and their employees have been major players on the international stage. So major were their plays that British industry was wiped out by competition from Japan. As Japan mimics the West more and more, and as Japanese university graduates wonder become more and more out of phase with the living tradition of their employers, will the Japanese economic miracle continue to function so well?

I try to encourage my students and colleagues to integrate theoretical learning with practical experience. I have argued that we should be teaching "part-time job theory," and "club theory," and encourage students to research and analyse these areas of their lives. I hope there is a middle path.

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NMB48 and Tarzan

NMB48 and Tarzan by timtak
NMB48 and Tarzan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The climax of the chorus of the recent chart topping song by teenage girl-band, 'idol group' NMB48 is "steel panties," refering to their collective intention not to take them off for their boyfriend until they are 20 years of age. The song's title, "Junjou U19" means "Pure (i.e. non sexual) emotion or affection, and the "U19" may mean under or equal to 19, since the lyrics mention adulthood which is considered to be from 20. The boyfriends are going to have a long wait in some instances because at least one of the members is 13 years old. Yes, indeed, only 13 years old.

Having seen the video, it seems that it has been created with the intention to include as many ways as possible of allowing the viewers to feel that they can or will see the "steel panties" refered to the in the lyrics, with low camera angles, miniskirts, rotating girls, somersaulting girls, girls lying down, hanging from wires, rolling over balls, on tightropes, a trapeze, podia, and finally fired from a circus cannon. I think it is very inventive, but not to my taste.

Japan is bursting at its creative seams. Donald Richie's "The Image Factory: Fads and fashions in Japan," details the many ways in which Japan is a powerhouse of creative image making. Alas, the myriad images that Japan makes are different, and often not popular among those with Western sensitivities.

A big problem for human society, perhaps the biggest, is encouraging men and women to cooperate. There are two extremely effective ways of doing this. 1) Persuade all members of society that they are neutred men. 2) Persuade all members of society that they are wombless, bloodless women. The West takes the former route, Japan the latter. In each case it is imperative that the unattractive parts of the idealised sex are banished: their desire in each case is taboo. Jesus was a man in his ability to lead, be righteous, brave, and strong but there was no one iota of lewdness about him. The idealised woman in Japan is similarly, self-sacrificing and supposedly berift of desire. The Western "gentle" man, and Japanese "idol" stop at the waist, they are castrated, spayed, anaemic, and perfect.

This repression however, gives rise to even greater desire for its disolution, for (in the West) a gentleman who is also an ape man; Tarzan/Earl Greystoke a combination of pure male sex and complete gentrified repression. I think that NMB48 are the Japanese equivalent of Tarzan/Greystoke, pure sex, and pure chasity rolled (often literally) into one steel pantie.

The idealized synthesis of purity and sexuality (Ranger, 2011) is also found to an extent in the British lady, such as portrayed by Audredy Hepburn (who was tremendously popular in Japan) in the naivity of the characters played by Marylyn Munroe (though she was a little too sexy, and not quite pure enough for Japanese taste) and the disembodied chamellion Lady Gaga who almost seems a little Japanese. However, In Japan there is a desire for a more extreme synthesis which is why we see thirteen year old chidren, in miniskirts, singing about sex, wearing "steel panties".

Other examples of Tarzan, that the Japanese need to import if they are to enjoy, include the macho heroes such portrayed by Arnold Schwarnegger, and Sylvester Stallone, who are an idealised synthesis of testosterone and righteousness.

NMB48 poster by MadAdminSkilz copyright Kyoraku Yoshimoto Holdings Co., Ltd.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012


Does this photo make you feel lenient towards prostitutes?

Does this photo make you feel like dying, or punishing a prostitute? by timtak
Does this photo make you feel like dying, or punishing a prostitute?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The answer may depend upon whether you are American or East Asian. I predict that Japanese will be more lenient towards prostitutes after viewing this picture, whereas Americans are likely to be more severe.

Proulx and Heine (2006), in their research on Heine's "meaning maintenance model" found that viewing images that interfere with our expecations about the world, or our meaning frameworks, such as Magritte's surrealist art, and the above photo, have the same effect as thinking about deat. Both are inclinded to make Westerners wish to achieve 'symbolic immortality,' by thinking that they and their culture is good, moral and harsh on prostitutes. American's shown this photo demand that prostitutes pay a higer bail. They argue that death is just one way of loosing ones sense of meaningful-ness, and that being strict towards prostitutes, asserting ones sense of right and wrong, is one way of attempting to regain it.

Recent research by Kellams and Blascovich (2011) has shown that while thinking about death makes Westerners more severe in their punishment of prostitutes replicating the above research, it makes East Asians more lenient. Ma-Kellams argues that since Asians see the self as bound up with other people, they achieve a sort of immortality by helping other people, and increasing these bonds.

If death makes East Asians kinder, then images such as the above where the colours of the cards have been reversed, that threaten our sense meaning, are likely to make East Asians more lenient, and kinder to prostitutes too.

In the wake of the terrible tsunami distater in Japan, the ideogram for intra-human bond (絆 kizuna) was chosen as the character of the year, marriage rates rose and impressions of marriage became more positive. It may be that when reminded of death, and human insignificance in the face of natural disaster, Japanese are more likely to attempt to achieve material, rather than symbolic, immortality.

Ma-Kellams, C. and Blascovich, J. (2011). Culturally divergent responses to mortality salience. Psychological Science. 22(8):1019-24.
Proulx, T., & Heine, S.J. (2006). Death and black diamonds. Meaning, mortality, and the meaning maintenance model. Psychological Inquiry, 17, 309-318.
Original photo Playing Cards by Number 34

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Friday, February 10, 2012


Anime Girl Face Conformity

Anime Girl Face Conformity by timtak
Anime Girl Face Conformity, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

They could almost be the same girl, with a variety of hair colours. In the Edo period too, stylised pictures of "beautiful women" looked like they could have been of the same woman but now the woman's face is very different. Images of beauty have changed.

The above is the first page of google images, searching for anime face girl.

It would be interested to ask a pool of subjects whether they think the images are of the same girl by different people, or of different girls, and to compare these results with say, googles first page of impressionist beautiful women. While I do not believe that the Japanese are generally conformist (as is generally believed) I do think that views of feminine beauty are very convergent in Japan because the Japanese idealise and enhance the image more. I have argued (Leuers and Sonoda, 1999) that since Westerners idealise and enhance character traits more, their self-professed character traits are far more convergent than those of Japanese.

It is amazing that there is a photo (or two?) in there.

Copyright their respective copyright holders. please use comments or nihonbunka.com contact link to have this image removed from the net.

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Super Friends East and West

Super Friends East and West by timtak
Super Friends East and West, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Japanese super friends tend to be wordless, pure body, and yet self: the heroes of the works they star in.

Western supernatural friends tend to be pure mind, with a message, but it is often with their mind-readers that Westerners identify. It would have worked far better for my theory if Westerners had also associated with the supernatural as mind and message, rather than with the human mind-reader but it could just be that the parallel is far from perfect.

The Western superfriend dramas do not feature cultural heroes that many of the Japanese robots are. Japanese children grow up idolising Ultraman but Western children do not generally grow up wanting to be any of these these detectives. The dectives are rather viewed by adults who may be wondering what what sort of mess they have been woven into and why someone is going to die.

I also get the feeling that secrecy of the Western superheroes "alter ego" (not present in most Japanese superhero series) probably has something to do with the secrecy of the message that the detectives are trying to read.

These Western detectives ability to read language from the other world, often from the visual world (Tim Roth in "Lie to me" and Patrick Jane in "The mentalist" read people's faces, Cory from The Sixth Sense sees sadness in a dead man's eyes), parallels the Japanese superheroes ability to write symbols, shown most splendidly in the series "Shinkenja." These Shinkenja power rangers line up in full view of everyone, on a sort of stage, and take out their calligraphic phone (shoudoufon) to write a totemic ideogram on the res-extensia, and it is this ability to write that allows them to henshin, change.

Images from Mazinger-z by joeszilvagyi, Doraemon by Wacko Photographer, Pikachu by ntang, HG 00 Gundam by Chag, Ryuk by Yami Ghor and Ultrama photographed by me but all characters and images copyright their original creators.

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Western Super-Friends as Pure Mind

Western Super-Friends as Pure Mind by timtak
Western Super-Friends as Pure Mind, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

"Transformers" started in Japan but has become popular in the US, which also has its own Gundam in "Iron Man". There is an "Iron Giant" based on Ted Hughes story ("The Iron Man"), and Lilo's friend Stitch.

In my opinion, however, the Western imaginary friends that mirror the many super robots in Japan, are the plague of ghosts that have been helping us out recently. The first one I saw was in 1969 on the BBC in the tv series "Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)".

The basic pattern of Western 'human plus super-friend' dramas is that a detective is helped by a ghost or ghosts. The ghosts have no body only a message, a will, and the human's job is to let their will be done, so that the Ghost can disappear. The genre includes "The Sixth Sense," "The Dead Zone," "Tru Calling," "Ghost Wisperer," "The Medium," "Raines," and "The Listener." "A Gifted Man" though a doctor is along the same lines.

Their protagnoists have a lot in common with the geniuses that read minds in "Lie to Me," "The Mentalist," "Criminal Minds," and the various "CSI."

All of them, by their extrasensory, or extra sensitive powers of perception are able to read the message, the words, the will, of the superbeing that has not been said and act upon it.

The human heros are, contra the Japanese humans, the puppets of their super-natural friends. And yet it is they that are the titular characters. In almost all cases (Dr. Malcolm Crowe from Sixth Sense and Hopkirk as possible exceptions) it is the 'reader' that is the central character, or self with whom the audience identifies. Westerners, perhaps due to the Judeao Christian influence, like to see ourselves as 'readers' who carry out the will of supernatural friends.

In Japan, though the robots are controlled, they are heros, the eponimous/titual characters, the focus of attention. No one buys Amuro Rei dolls, or Nobita Posters. The Japanese robot superheros are body and self at the same time. Will, such as that of Nobita and Light is fallible, external, and leads people astray.

It is interesting, but probably conicidental that in Japan technology and robots are associated with the West, and that human-ghost interaction is the most famous theme in the traditional drama of Japan. It is as these culturals have found imaginary friends in each other. Again coincidentally, or due to the spread of TV, the super robot genre started, as far as I know, in the late 60's early seventies about the same time as Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

Images copyright their respective copyright holders. Please comment or contact me via the email link on nihonbunka.com to have this image removed from the Net.

Thanks to Ɲ for inspiring these observations.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012


Japanese Super Friends as pure Body

Japanese Super-Friends as pure Body by timtak
Japanese Imaginary Super Friends as pure Body, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

A sub-genre of superhero fiction are partnerships between super-friends, and a human (often a boy). This genre is particularly popular in Japan.

These super-friends are controlled by an otherwise ordinary mortal man or boy. Mazinger-Z was a giant robot radio controlled by a boy. Pokemon (pocket monster) Pikachu is kept in the pocket of his friend, ready to fight at his bidding. Doraemon, another robot, lives in the closet of a boy called Nobita, ready to help the latter in the many ways he can. Gundam is a robotic suit worn by a boy called Amuro Rei. Ultraman is an extraterestial giant that possesses and is possessed by a squadsman called Hayata; unlike Clark Kent and Superman, Hayata and Ultraman are not quite the same thing.

Others similar entities include Tetsujin-28, the god of death in "Death Note", the mother-possessed (!) suits in Evangelion, the giant mecha that appear in every series of Super-Sentai (Power Rangers), and duality observed in the Masked Riders such as Kamen Rider Denou.

Western superheroes are far more likely to be a unity that only appears dual due to the fact that for some of the time, the superhero poses as a normal, but "secret" "alter ego." Western superheroes are dual only epistemologically. Japanese superheroes are ontologically dual.

Japanese super friends are often but not always giants, and often but not always robots. They are also often unable to speak. Pikachu can only say its name, Ultraman can only pant. Many Japanese superheros and characters (such as hello kitty) do not have mouths at all, or have masks which cover their mouths.

Lacking in language, these super friends often carry out the will of their human partner. The super-friends are *all body* - taken to the extreme in Gundam and Evangelion - that provide the power, or technology to carry out the human will.

Western Imaginary friends on the other other hand, as I will argue in a seperate post, are often all mind and no body. They provide their human friend with information. Western super friends above all speak to their human partner. The human carries out the will of the imaginary super-being.

Images copyright Mazinger-z by joeszilvagyi, Doraemon by Wacko Photographer, Pikachu by ntang, HG 00 Gundam by Chag and ultrama photographed by me but all characters/images copyright their original creators.


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Traditional Japanese Beauty

Traditional Japanese Beauty by timtak
Traditional Japanese Beauty, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Japanese in the Edo period had a fairly localised view of beauty, so much so that these beautiful women look very alike to the point of appearing identical. These Traditional Japanese beauties had neither large round eyes, nor double eyelids. Their eyes were slit like and their features were generally small and angular. Pointy noses where in, but not particularly large ones. This leads me to believe that the current Japanese fondness for large round eyes, especially with creased ("double") eyelids is partly the result of the influence of Western, caucasian, images of beauty upon Japan.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012


The Illusion of Control in Pachinko

DSCN1334.JPG by kaihizzle
DSCN1334.JPG, a photo by kaihizzle on Flickr.

Western psychologist, Ellen Langer (1975), claims that people gamble, even they know that on average the establishment wins, because they think that their choices are special, luckier, better than other peoples choices; gamblers suffer from an illusion of control. They think that they can effect the outcome of their bet by making the right decision. And for this reason, Western gambling usually includes an element of control (skill) and above all, lots of choices. The roulette wheel is typical in in that it provides the gambler with lots of ways to bet, to play a hunch, to beat the odds with a certain system.

Pachinko however involves little in the way of choice and surprisingly little skill.

The Choices in Pachinko
The only important choice, as far as I am aware, is the decision on which machine (dai) to use. This is important because machines are, by law, meant to be set to have a certain odds of winning which remain constant during business hours and since it is important that some people win, parlours usually set up number of winning machines. About the only useful advice I have read on this is that since the owner wants as many people as possible to be near a winning machine, the winning machines are generally fairly evenly situated roughly in a zig zag. However, it has been my impression, and that of a frequent player, that some parlours illegally control the odds in real time setting machines to win especially when they see a new face. In other words there really may be beginners luck in some Pachinko palours because the non-beginners are more likely to play anyway and having beginners luck, as experienced by the lady in the article, helps to get people hooked. Secondly newly installed machines are sometimes more likely to be set to win to give customers the impression that rich parlours with a turn over of machines are places where they can win.

Skills in Pachinko
While pachinko magazines may report various techniques, the only skill that many rank and file players seem be aware of is to direct the balls to the right place. Once this place has been found (and magazines claim to tell their readers where this is) punters will sometimes use a coin to keep the dial in the same position. There is some skill in getting the balls roughly in the centre,roughly on a sweet spot, but it makes surprisingly little difference where the balls hit. If skill were important the machines could be made more like video/computer games with moving targets but this is not the case.

The Illusion of Control in Pachinko
So if choice and skill are not all that important in Panchinko, why do Japanese people become addicted? They know that the parlours are making money and that on average the machines are set so that the players loose. How can they have an illusion of control, an illusion of uniquness that they will win whereas other players will not? My theory is, from talking to a few players, and from the way in which machines don't pay much then suddenly pay out big time ("reach" and then “win time”), is that players ave an illusion of having more gut, or mettle (根性/konjou) than other players. They think that they can keep their hand steady, and keep pumping the machine until it pays out when other players would have become lilly-livered and given up. This illusion of control is partially true, just as their is a partial truth to the effect of choices in Western gambling. Addicted players do play longer, and do thus stay on to "reach" the big payouts. The difference lies in what personal characteristics each culture emphasises. Westerners believe in the power of their free will, in their ability to make unique beneficial choices that others have missed. Japanese believe that they are able to persevere, suffer, grind on, fight, ganbaru longer than others, to the point of having an illusion of uniquness and an illusion of control.

This illusion of uniqueness is furthermore not, I think, an enhancement of a particular characteristic so much as the belief in the players ability to have none, no characteristics, completely unswayed (even in spite of all the loud noises and flashing lights), to keep hitting that sweet spot, to be come like a rock, to become nothing. And thus pachinko resembles Buddhist meditation, and pachinko machines resemble mandelas, and one of their effects is to empty the mind of the player. This makes pachinko particularly attractive, and addictive, to those that have troubles enough already.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Individualism and Collectivism of Japanese Superheros in Human andSuper Form

Individualism and Collectivism of Japanese Superheros in Human and Super Form by timtak
Individualism and Collectivism of Japanese Superheros in Human and Super Form, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

As predicted, the alter-egos of Japanese superheroes are more individualistic than their super human forms, in the extent to which they will not sacrifice themselves for their groups and the extent to which they go their own way. It is the superheroes in their super form who are more conformist, more respectful of the needs of others.

The same tendency was found among Western super heroes from a Japanese perspective. The most commonly chosen Western superhero was Spiderman, who is encouraged to realise that "with great power comes great responsibility." Perhaps Spiderman is rather Japanese.

It would be ne interesting to do the survey among Westerners who know more unharmonious Western superheroes such as the Hulk and the darker side of Batman. In spite of the data collected in Japan, I still predict that many Western Superheroes are individualistic to the point of being anti-heroic in the 'go against the grain' sense, while often their alter-egos are at least pretending to be conformists. I.e. that in the images beneath the graph above, the individualists are on the right.

Unfortunately I do not have access to Western data but I predict that Western superheros may seem more individualistic than their human alter-egos to Westerners.

This data taken together with a previous study, may support the notion that, while Japanese superheroes are more collectivist than Western ones (by all appraisals) this may represent the socially desired norm, rather than the social reality. Or, more strongly, Japanese admire collectivists because they aren't, and Westerners admire individualists because they 'wanna be'.

With thanks to Taku Shimonuri who suggested comparing the ind/col of superheroes and Yasuko Takemoto who pointed out that one needed to be an individualist to become a Japanese superhero.

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A "Love" Hotel

A "Love" Hotel, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The ubiquitous short stay hotel, affectionately know as love hotels or in abbreviated Japanese rabuho, with prices by the hour or two, and by the night if you come after about 10pm. They are usually situated at the outskirts of town, sometimes in a hotel complex (there are two affilated hotels in this photo) often, in rural areas for privacy, and near motorway interchanges for easier access. They are, of course, hotels primarily designed for the purpose of having sex.

Two condoms usually in a little basket, are invariably provided at the head of the bed, and sometimes there are vending machines selling sex toys.

The rooms are often themed, with such varieties as: classic four-poster-bed style, slightly Japanese style, mirrored ceiling, gymnasium style, wild west style, cute-pink and pastel shades style, disneyland style, or simply various styles of interiour decoration. The style of interiour decoration will be displayed on a poster outside the room or in the front lobby.

The rooms often have jaccuzzi baths, and one room or "cottage" in this complex has a sort of swimming pool bath with flowing water so that one can swim without going forward - the swimming equivalent of a jogging machine/treadmill.

Typical prices are about 60-70 dollars for 2 hours and (after 10 pm) 100 dollars till the next morning. Users are typicallly young couples that live at home, parents and couples that live in three generation households who do not have a sufficiently private space in their homes, those having extra marrital affairs, and occasionally men who are accompanied by or who order prostitutes (or "delivery" "health" masseuse) to the rooms.

I am not aware of the existance of short stay hotels in the UK. In the USA there are short stay hotels but they generally serve only the latter type of customer, so I am told.

Love hotels are often fullly booked on Christmas Eve when it is traditional to take ones girlfriend out for a bonk, such is the Japanese idea of the spirit of Christmas.

"Love" (appropriately pronounced "rub") Hotels are usually set up in such a way so that the occupants of the rooms do not need to meet the hotel proprietors. As one enters the room the door is automatically locked so that one can not leave (except in emergency) without depositing money in a vending machine. Alternatively the front desk of the hotel in an urban situation may be a kiosk with a small window such the desk clerk and the customers can not see each other. Before the advent of vending machines controlling door locks, there were sometimes systems of pipes that allowed customers to send payment in canisters sucked or blown down a network of pneumatic pipes.

The rooms are often very spacious, with living room areas, large (often glass walled) bathrooms, and king sized beds. The rooms of the hotel in this photograph are semidetached masionettes, with a living room and bathroom area on the ground floor, and a bedroom on the upper floor.

From a British point of view, their is a definate strangeness, which seems to lie in the difficulty of visiting (with a partner) a space whose purpose is so overt.

British couples take each other back to their respective apartments with the tacit assumption that sex may be on the cards, but at the same time with possibility that they may just watch TV, drink tea, or fall asleep in various degrees of proximity ("I'll take the couch").

When taking someone to a love hotel on the other hand, there is presumably an overt assumption, that one is going there for the purpose of copulation. Not withstanding the euphamistic name, "love hotels" are a space designed and designated for purpose of sex acts. An invitation to a love hotel is thus, not just "lets go back to my/your place for a bonk," but "lets go to a sex gymnasium," or "lets rent a room for ****ing in."

Having said that, some Japanese couples do just go to enjoy the themes and luxury of the love hotel environmment. And they are luxurious, and a nice place to stay even if you do not use them in the way that their designers had in mind.

Unfortunately, love hotels sometimes do not welcome single customers, or groups (such as groups of backpackers).

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Varieties of Kamen Rider Forze

Varieties of Kamen Rider Forze by timtak
Varieties of Kamen Rider Forze, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

I am in the process of doing an experiment to find out who is more individualistic, the Japanese Superman or the Japanese Clark Kent. In the West it seems that the post-transformational Super form of superheroes is more individualistic than their "alter ego." In Japan on the other hand, folks like Hino Eii, Philip and the Elvis Hairstyled high school student who transform into Masked Riders are individualistic to the point of being weird. Super sentai too, cooperate more in the heroic rather than pre-transitonal (hennshin mae ) form. To understand the situation in Japan, imagine if Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, were really eccentric and that Superman and the Hulk were really square..

But on the other hand, Japanese superheros tend to have a variety of forms or modes, such as the various super forms of "Kamen Rider Forze" as depicted above. In Japan they are all different, but they are all perhaps more upstandingly harmonious than their "yankee" alter-ego. Imagine if Bruce Banner could transform in any of a Green, Red, Yellow and White Hulk, and all these Hulks were square.

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Valentine's Chocolate at the End of the World

Valentine's Chocolate at the End of the World by timtak
Valentine's Chocolate at the End of the World, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Izanami, the primal female at the beginning of the Japanese creation myth, said to Izanagi, her future spouse, "you are an attractive guy" before they mated and this caused her to give birth to a spineless individual, and required that they repeat their courtship. It was only when dude Izanagi made the first move did creation -- their birthing of the islands of Japan -- go as to plan.

Even today in Japan, women are not meant to make the first move, or express desire of any sort, except on one day of the year, the topsy turvey liminal festival of Valentines Day, when it is traditoinal that women give chocolates to the men they like, and the those they want to get things from.

If the Japanese creation myth is to be believed, one must worry about the fruit of such unions, especially in the face of increasing numbers of "herbivourous," Japanese males. Japan may have fallen into a negative feedback spiral where there are not enough red-blooded males to approach the ladies, and approaches in opposite direction (gyaku-nan, reverse chat-up) have "spineless" result. Creation is unravelling.

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Conflicted Attitudes towards "Violent Groups"

Conflicted Attitudes towards "Violent Groups", a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The seperation between honne (what people really think) and tatemae (the front that one shows others) is something that I find very difficult to cope with, or even to know which is which. Do the Japanese really want to get rid of violent groups, or do they just want to make a show of doings so?

"Violent Groups" are legal and registered in Japan. And yet their members are portrayed as animals in the rather shocking poster above. Perhaps the police feel that they can get away with this portrayal because they have represented themselves as the Puffer Fish bottom right? In any event, the police legally register violent gang members and then berate them as being like pigs and baboons. Call me old fashioned, or English, but this does not seem fair.

The poster says No! to violent groups, reporting the fact that there are now laws against doing business with them. Now the public must be scared of the groups and the law.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012


The Spirit of Poverty 貧乏神

The Spirit of Poverty 貧乏神 by timtak
The Spirit of Poverty 貧乏神, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Spirit of Poverty is a Japanese diety that, though she tries to help, brings poverty upon those around her. She is generally represented as an old woman but, people may be called a "spirit of poverty" if they are thought to bring bad luck to those around them.

The fall of the Nikkei Stock Index almost conicides with my arrival in Japan. I came just before the bubble burst, when Japan was the land of milk and honey. Twenty some years later people are still wondering what went wrong.

My own theory is that the Japanese lost their way due to their incessant importantion of things Western; they became too Westernized for their own good. If I were clever, or a ponce - I try - I'd say they went the way of the Subaltern.

Put simply the trouble is, it seems to me, that they did not only import Western technology, but also Western ways of thinking which weaken their own. I think that they need to throw the Western, logo-centric, individualistic, moralistic, feel-good, idealism out of their houses, and shake the dust off their feet, but then I may be a bimbogami.

What appears to be sure is that something is ailing the Japanese economic spirit and something needs to be done about it.

Image copyright Yahoo Finance.

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Martial and Manga Artists

C Martial Arts by timtak
C Martial Arts, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The image is the partner page to the previous Anime and Manga page, which together form an information gap activity.

They are both rather too highbrow for an English conversation class but the course is on "Tourism English" and my part of the course is on explaining Japanese culture.

The explanation is my theory of Japanese culture - that both manga artists, martial artists and all Japanese have 'mirrors in their heads,' a theory which originates in the teaching of the Kurozumi church, my analysis of Japanese mythology, and Japanese common sense. Can you see yourself? Can you draw the room in which now sit from a perspective in the top corner of the room? If you got into a fight would you be able to see yourself from the point of view of your opponent?

The text reads as follows:

Japanese martial arts are famous, and popular all over the world with practitioners numbering in the millions. As well as being methods of self-defence, many Japanese martial arts are sports. Judo is one of the few non-Western sports to be included in the Olympics. Karate, kendo, aikido all have world championships. The first kyudo world cup was held in 2010.
Japanese martial arts stress psychological self-improvement,, a characteristic which is absent in western sports and martial arts. Few people play soccer, or take up boxing to improve their mind - a notion which is alien to Westerners who see the mind and body as being separate.
Japanese martial arts usually involve the repeated practice of poses, which are also not found in the West. The repeated practice of these poses is said to give the practitioner the ability to see himself from the perspective of his opponent, and to perform the martial art without thinking. Westerners generally believe that it is good to think, so Japanese martial arts are thought to be rather mysterious.
Japanese martial arts share an ethos with flower arrangement, the tea ceremony, and traditional Japanese drama, which are collectively called "ways" or "paths." They are all connected with Buddhism which also encourages the cessation of thought, and even the annihilation of self.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Japanese Tourism as Being seen in front of places with a Name

Japanese Tourism as Being seen in front of places with a Name by timtak
Japanese Tourism as Being seen in front of places with a Name, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Urry's epic "The Tourist Gaze" has just been republished in this third edition. He is right to point out that there is a strong connection between tourism and the gaze but (at least in the first edition) he largely assumes that the gaze is directed outward, that tourism resource providers are in the business of proving sights for people to gaze upon. And this may be so in the West.

Lacan argues that the self is the crossroads between language and the imaginary, the image and word and that Westerners are healthy when they are more strongly identified with their words. I turn this on its head and argue that the Japanese are permanently in the mirror stage (or that conversely they pass through a linguistic/symbolic stage).

For someone with ego as self-narrative the image is the other, the not-self, mere image, the uncertain, a distraction. The Western tourists gazes upon the sights and allows himself respite from self narration.

To the Japanese however, the image is the self and it is rather symhbols, lanuage, names, and narratives that are titilatly other. Hence, as Hudson points out in "The Ruins of Identity" since Matso Basho and well before Matsuo Basho, Japanese peopel like to go to famous places, places with a story and direct their gaze, and the gaze of others, at themselves, at their feelings in the place. Matuso Basho travelled up to the North of Japan to be beside a rock commemorating the ruins of a castle, and wrote a poem recording his overwhelming sense of history and his tears.

At that time, a haiku was as near as capturing an image as could be achieved, but had Basho had a camera, then perhaps he would have taken a photo, as Japanese tourists are known to do, like that in the bottom right hand side of the photo. This is of a Japanese gentleman visiting one of the "Three Great Disappontments" among Japanese sightseeing spots: Harimaya Bridge. There are many places with a name (meisho) and many "Three great XYZ," spots, including the three best places to visit Cherry Blossom, and even the three places that most disappoint. Hirune, the gentleman in the picture has had himself pictured looking disappointed. The point is not view, nor the viewing, but to be viewed in famous place with a name. Japanese Tourism is about being seen in front of places with a name.

Western tourists like to be named in front of a sight but I will leave a discussion of the differences between postcards and Haiku for another occosion.

Bottom right: Being disappointed in front of the most disappointing of the three great disappointments of Japanese sights by Hirune.Book covers copyright their respective publishers. Taga Castle commemorative stone photo from Wikipedia.

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Western Style Groupism in Japan

Western Style Groupism in Japan by timtak
Western Style Groupism in Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

It is very rare to find a Japanese student with a sweatshirt like this.
Americans have a lot of these, where as Japanese university students generally have hardly any University sweats and if they do they are more likely to have a sweat shirt advertising another (often American) university rather than their own. Americans on the other hand have on average about 6 sweatshirts proclaiming the name of their own university and are not ashamed to wear them around campus and especially to varsity (am I using this word correctly) 'football' matches where the crowd appears to be full of clones, all in the same coloured sweat shirts. Despite this fact, there is still a common misperception that it is the Japanese that are conformists. Yuuki Masaki (2003)

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