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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


From What Perspective do The Japanese see Themselves: Why I don't want to be Dov Cohen

Dov Cohen

Numerous reports have argued that the Japanese have the ability to see, or simulate seeing, themselves. But from whose perspective are the Japanese able to see themselves from?

It was with rapt interest that I read another of Dov Cohen’s excellent papers (Cohen & Gunz, 2002, which was submitted in 2000) where he mentions the generalized other in connection with the Japanese internalized external-self-gaze. Dr. Cohen argues that the generalized other is internalized more in collectivist societies. Fortunately I think that this, Dov Cohen's postition, is the reverse of the truth: the generalised other frees us from the gaze, and judgement, of the real others that we face.

That is not to say that I am arguing that the Japanese are more individualist. Perhaps even their generalised others are somewhat less generalised, more of a eyes of the we, the community, or "seken no me" (see Satou, 2001). In any event, as a point of theory, the generalised other should therefore be more prevalent - more commonly simulated and internalised - in individualist societies.

Bakhtin (1986, p.126), the Russian Literary critic used as a basis for Hermans and Kempen’s “Dialogical Self” (which is very similar, or predicts the results found in those who have dialectical thought), argues that communication always presumes an other, is always at least dialogical. However, Bakhtin aslo claims that the communicators meaning is not leftentirely at the mercy of otherS, but rather communicators presume that what they have to say has meaning even if the immediate other (the you) does not understand them, because Bakhit argues they have (he mentions God), presume, or simulate a generalized other or “Super Addressee.”

Mori Arimasa (Mori, 1999) claimed that the Japanese Language and hence Japanese have no linguistic “third person perspective,” and consisisted in only first and second person communication forms, thus “I” is an “you for you.” I agree. The Japanese see language as something with which one communicates; and there is nothing strange in this.

Mead (1967) makes no suggestion that internalization of his famous generalized other is associated with collectivism. Indeed, similar to the logic employed by Bakhtin (ibid), the "generalized other" frees the individual from taking the perspectives of real, second-person others.

Jacques Lacan (2007) argues that the self has to be formed through the use oflinguistic symbols because it is only in language that people can see themselves from the perspective a generalized Other (Lacan) without the existence of real others or mirrors. Similar to Bakhit, Lacan argues that a person that attempts to cognise themselves visually is always at the mercy of others or the presence of mirrors a situation which Lacan portrays in a very negative way.

Mead (1967) goes further to suggest that without a mirror one can not even see oneself from the viewpoint of others.

1) As mentioned above there are theoretical (Mori,1999) and experimental evidence (Leuers and Sonoda, 1999; Kanagawa et al., 2001) to suggest that Japanese speech, even self-narrative, is dialogical, always addressed to an other, not addressed to a generalised other or "third person."

2) On the other hand, there is theoretical and experimental evidence that Japanese can see themselves (Zeami in Yusa, 1987; Cohen et. al. 2007, Masuda et al., 2008), including from the perspecitive of a mirror (Heine et al. 2008). The mirror it should be noted promotes *private* self awareness, not public self awareness (see Fejfar and Hoyle, 2000 for a review), that is to say an objective view of self from the position of self, rather than from real others - which is called public self-awareness.

Private self-awareness is the objective self-awareness which can be achieved through the internalisation of an other with whom one identifies (see Vaz & Bruno, 2003 for a discussion of internalised but non-identified others).

It is probable that people in Japan have far less of a problem with identifying with others. "Hell is other people," is far more true for a Westerner like Satre (1989) than for many East Asians. However, in the case of Japanese, as it is in the West, people only really want to identify with a generalised other, a transcending other, an other who is other but not AN other, thou and not you, other and yet also self.

Or, put another way, in answer to my title, my desire to be Dov Cohen is ambivalent. I want to be Dov Cohen, but at the same time I don't, because he is not me. Though I am not even one of Dr. Cohen's psychological fingernails, I am greedy, I want to to have a general, objective perspective and be right!

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.). University of Texas Press.

Cohen, D., & Gunz, A. (2002). As seen by the other...: perspectives on the self in the memories and emotional perceptions of Easterners and Westerners. Psychological Science, 13(1), 55-59. http://web.missouri.edu/~ajgbp7/personal/Cohen_Gunz_2002.pdf

Cohen, D., Hoshino-Browne, E., & Leung, A. K. (2007). Culture and the structure of personal experience: Insider and outsider phenomenologies of the self and social world. Advances in experimental social psychology, 39, 1- 67.

Fejfar, M. C., & Hoyle, R. H. (2000). Effect of Private Self-Awareness on Negative Affect and Self-Referent Attribution: A Quantitative Review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(2), 132-142. doi:10.1207/S15327957PSPR0402_02

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(7), 879-887.

Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.

Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The Dialogical Self: Toward a Theory of Personal and Cultural Positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7(3), p 243- 281. doi:10.1177/1354067X0173001

Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.

Leuers, T. R. S., & Sonoda, N. (1999). Independent self bias. Progress in Asian social psychology, 3, 87-104. (Leuers is Takemoto)

Kanagawa, C., Cross, S. E., & Markus, H. R. (2001). ‘Who am I?’ The cultural psychology of the conceptual self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(1), 90-103.

Masuda, T., Gonzalez, R., Kwan, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (2008). Culture and aesthetic preference: comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(9), 1260-1275.

Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.

Mori 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.

Sartre, J.-P. (1989). No Exit and Three Other Plays. Vintage.

Satou 佐藤直樹. (2001). 「世間」の現象学. 青弓社.

Vaz, P., & Bruno, F. (2003). Types of self-surveillance: From abnormality to individuals ‘at risk’. Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 272-291.

Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331-345.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Things that foreigners find annoying about life in Japan

The Japan Today article, Things that foreigners find annoying about life in Japan ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion has received a lot of comments which reflect Western, Anglophone attitude towards language. Westerners identify with their self narrative and the monologue they have with themselves, hence,
1) Loud noises (Nakashima, 1999), especially linguistic noises (announcements, "welcome" etc) are very difficult for Westerners to cope with since it disturbs their self speech, or"selfing" (McAdams, 2006). Japanese do not think in language (Kim, 2002).
2) Not giving reasons (, i.e. some words) for things, or doing or not doing things without a (linguistic) reason pisses Westerners off since they live by their reasons. God forbid that anyone should attempt to point out the obvious fact that something is done simply because a tradition because this does not give a reason for the merit of something, even though so many things (such as driving on the right) are justifiable only only the basis of tradition. Demanding reasons is also fundamentalism.
3) Non semantic utterances ("eee," "nnn" high pitched voices) and facial expressions (e.g. the boxes showing the faces on TV) upset Westerners who can't or don't want to read these communications because they want meaning to be in a linguistic form.
4) Lack of a certain linguistic focused attitude towards individual problem solving (aka "critical thinking"), group problem solving (i.e. debate see Nakashima, 1997), politics (speeches are politics), and wit (god forbid that anything but repartee be funny). 5) Lies, are of course beyond the Cretan pale. How could lies be good? It would be paradoxical!

Western annoyance with second hand smoke is also not independent of a different attitude towards language. Humans are aware of the harm of smoking from statistical, linguistic facts since the harm is largely unseen. On the other hand, smoking keeps people thin, and Japanese people reflect upon their lives visually judging their health by appearances, which is something that obese Westerners often fail to do.

Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/labs/kim/Site/Publicationsfiles/Kim2002.pdf
McAdams, D. P. (2006). The role of narrative in personality psychology today. Narrative Inquiry, 16(1), 11–18. Retrieved from http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/docs/publications/1049432884490a09930cdc3.pdf
Nakashima, Y. 中島義道. (1997). 「対話」のない社会―思いやりと優しさが圧殺するもの [A society without dialogue: The things that sensitivity and kindness obliterate. my trans]. PHP研究所.
Nakashima, Y. 中島義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私[Urusai Nihon no Watashi, Loud Japanese that I am]. 新潮社.

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Monday, March 12, 2012


Big headed Bug-Eyed Figures and the S'Entendre Parler

Big headed Bug-Eyed Figures and the S'Entendre Parler by timtak
Big headed Bug-Eyed Figures and the S'Entendre Parler, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The standard interpretation of these big-headed figures which appear in manga, anime, and toys such as this, is that they are made to look cute (and the Japanese are well into cute) by mimicking the proportions of infants who have a larger head to body size than adult humans.

I also get the feeling that this big head, or rather big face and big eyes, with no mouth, form is rather like the structure of "s'entendre parler."

Skip this next bit if you know what "S'entendre Parler" refers to.

"S'entendre Parler" is French for the experience of hearing and understanding oneself speak which Derrida argues, and I agree, is the "auto-erotic," cogito experience which gives rise to the belief in the Western self. Put another way, "Hearing oneself speak" is the cogito, that bastion of all things logical and white, derided, queered, made pathological. In the silent fish bowl of my mind I can presume to be communicating with myself, that I can thus say myself, frame myself, that I take a point of reference upon myself, that I can speak myself to myself and by this self-distance-requiring, mental Ina Bauer, I can exist. As Derrida points out however, there never was any distance, I can never say anything to myselsf. I can try. "I am hot?" "I am writing?" I say, but did any communication take place? For communication to have taken place I would have had to have transferred something. But what can I say that I don't already know before I have said it? The best I can hope for is a memo, or shopping list. I can write myself memos. But this self speech that I keep on doing is a strange sort of obsession indeed bearing in mind self proximity, the presumed "presence," unity of the enunciator and the enunciated. But by this constant stream of memorandums, this "differance," putting myself off for later, I succeed in something. Talking to oneself in the first person does have real effects. It does create in me the illusion of identity which, since it has real effects, might even be argued to be real.

End of Aside.

And back to this figure, above. Is it like the Western self-narrative?
It reminds me of the "sounded existence" existence that logocentrists like to think they are: completely absent in some ways, and completely present in others. As Derrida points out, logocentrism bound up with phonocentrism because the phoneme always disappears. If were were to write ourselves postcards (Derrida, 1987) then the sicko-silliness of the project would be become apparent. But because we speak to ourselves in phonemes, which disappear, almost without a trace, as soon as they are sounded, we can believe in presence, that we are experiencing thought and meaning itself, un-mediated.

As I am always saying, the Japanese are permanently in the Mirror Stage except for them it is the destination. In order for the same kind of auto-erotic self presence that can be achieved with the self-saying phoneme the Japanese must imagine themeseles to be, rather like this figure: completely unsaid and un-sayable (hence the absence of mouth, the plethora of mime) but only seeing and seen, hence the massive face and massive eyes. So I think this figure may be the cogito, the "S'entendre Parler," my self, reflected in a modality morphin' mirror.

Derrida, J. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. (A. Bass, Trans.) (First ed.). University Of Chicago Press.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


Engrish and Self

There willl be love there by timtak
There willl be love there, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
What is the cultural significance, meaning of Engrish?

Part of the importance of Engrish for Japanese people is due to the Westernisation of Japan, and idolatry of the West. Relatedly, part of the attractiveness of Engrish is simply that it is not Japanese and thus represents a release from traditional constraints. Things expressed in the English language are thus escapist, cool, modern, free, individual and desirable.

However there is also cultural difference in the attitudes towards language. To the Japanese Engrish "language" is often seen as merely a pattern. Language is image for Japanese people. To Westerners, language is important, animate, self, and meaning itself, but to Japanese it is as Japanese "characters" are to Westerners, merely a form, a plaything, something for children.

"Hello Kitty" and all all the other "characters" or Noh masks, or other disembodied faces that populate the Japanese media are seen or felt as people, animate, important, protectors, (and protected by copyright).

Is the self a narrative, made up of, and constituted by phrases and a name, or is it a collection of images, a picture book, a picture tree, a network of images? Is language (is image) central, and important, or is it external, decoration? In Japan language is a decoration, an other  and ignorable (Nakashima, 1999) pleasantry.

Nkakashima, Y. 中島義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私. 新潮社.


Bean-Bread-Man as Self

Bean-Bread-Man as "Egg", Jesus, Breast, Persona, and Face by timtak
Bean-Bread-Man as "Egg", Jesus, Breast, Persona, and Face, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Bean-Bread-Man (Anpanman, e.g. Yanase, 1975) is, according to repeated surveys by myself and Bandai (see Nishikawa, 2010), the most popular Japanese hero, and has a detachable, replaceable, edible face. Both my children show an almost religious reverence for this flying, edible hero.

While the creator claims that he chose name and composition of the titular character from his experience of dreaming of eating a sweat bean filled bun or bean-bread (anpan) while facing starvation during the Second World War, I propose a variety of alternative subconscious significance for his use of bean bread.

The combination of the traditional Japanese sweet bean filling and the Western "bread" face, suggests to me that he may be (in somewhat offensive race terminology, Urban Dictionary def. 3.) akin to an "egg," in being of mixed racial origin. Bean-Bread-Man is white, or rather made of a Western food on the outside, and yellow, or rather made of a traditional Japanese food, on the inside.

The use of bread to symbolise Westerners is perhaps evident from the character of Sliced-Bread-Man in the same series, who is idolised by Bean-Bread-Man's enemy's wife (Dokin-chan), and always looks a bit too gentlemanly for his own good. And the Rice-Ball-Man (Omusubi man, who has a series of his own) and Tempura-Bowl-Man (Tendon man) both animate Japanese foods, are given Japanese style clothing and arguably a Japanese style character.

Bean-Bread Man started as a cartoon in 1973 and was first broadcast as a TV series, in 1988 when the Westernisation of Japan had long been in full swing. Furthermore, Bean-Bread-Man shares certain characteristics with Jesus: he is extremely concerned with justice, while he has tree friends and a family he is a bit of an individualist (compared to the groups of Super Sentai/Power Rangers) and he is edible, being eaten by those in need of sustenance. Jesus sustains his followers by being eaten in body, or symbolically, in Christian places of worship.

Eating, and by eating internalising, deities is far from unique to Christianity; it is shared by Shinto. In the most important Shinto festival, that of the New Year, Japanese enshrine "mirror rice cakes" (see later) in the home and eat them early in the new year, thus symbolically imbuing the spirit of the rice, the mirror and the Sun Goddess. This yearly Shinto mass is considered to be a rebirth and the spirit therein imbibed to be constitutive of self. According to the Shinto Sect-Kurozumi-Kyo, the self of the Japanese is that part of the Sun Goddess mirror that they have taken inside them. Thus not only the purity of the mirror but also as pointed out by Ohnuki-Tierney in "Rice as Self" (1993, p8), the purity of the white rice itself is seen to symbolise the purity of the Japanese self. Having a mind made of food, like Bean-Bread-Man, is thus nothing new.

Bean-Bread-Man's face, consisting of three red circles, is in itself appealing to young infants. My daughter was attracted to Bean-Bread-Man on sight. It seems to me that Bean-Bread-Man also resembles as breast, in being edible, and in appearance, he looks like an attempt to focus two breasts as one.

Bean-Bread-Man's face is both central to his character and super-powers. In every episode his face gets dirty or wet causing him to loose his strength, when his adopted mother, Butter-girl, throws a new bean bread face, baked with by his adoptive father, containing magic from a star, onto his shoulders which spins and sets, and enables him to be strong again. His face is thus both external (something made for him) and the centre of his psyche, in line with Lacanian theories of self (Lacan, 2007), and perhaps Watsuji's theory of "persona.&quot (Wasuji, 2007);

Watsuji Testuro, one of the most famous Japanese thinkers, proposed that the Japanese self, or the Japanese version of what in Westerners is a self, is a "persona" which he describes using the metaphor of a noh mask. noh Masks, like Bean-Bread-Man's face, are central to their characters and are thought to be imbued with the power or spirit of that character. Noh actors (like Bean-Bread-Man immediately prior to receiving a new face) are nothing without their masks. The stare at them for a while in order that they become possessed by the character as contained in the spirit of the mask. Again, the character is invested and centred in the detachable, external face, just as Lacan's infant in the mirror stage misconceives himself to be his appearance in the mirror, which though external she takes to be (and in a sense becomes) the centre of her psyche.

In Japan there are a plethora of animate faces, faces which contain the character, the spirit of the individual. They are often oversized, and sometimes detachable. These include Noh, Kagura and Shishi masks, Sanrio and SanX characters such as "Hello Kitty," Masked Riders whose faces are sometimes bought and displayed in lieu of figurines, and the way that the faces of television personalities (tarento) are used to adorn Japanese products (for examples of all of these see slideshow).

I should also be noted that Japanese point to their face when they mean to point to themselves, and like Bean-Bread-Man, metaphorically at least, place a great deal of effort in an on going attempt to prevent (Hamamura & Heine, 2006) their face from being sullied, and "not to loose face," a phrase originating in Chinese (Heine & Lehman, 1999). "Face" in this sense (kao, mentsu) is not merely metaphorical, it is I believe related to the central, defining, focal aspect of the human form and the nexus of the visual representations of the person.

The centrality of mask and face to the Japanese persona, is I argue (Takemoto,2002; Takemoto, 2003) because the Japanese internalised generalised other (Mead, 1967) is, literally, a mirror (Amaterasu), a mirror with the ability to record the whole life of the person, (Enma Daiou) or an entity that watches from on high as do representations of the Buddha in Japanese Art (Low, 2004). Westerners can hear themselves from the point of view of a generalised other, from the point of view of language, from the point of view of a linguistic deity. Japanese can really see themselves, as if they have a mirror in their heads (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta & Henrich, 2008), as if they are flying over their own heads (Masuda, Gonzalez, Kwan & Nisbett, 2008), from the point of view of a visual generalised other, 'the eyes of the world' (seken no me, Satou, 2001), from the point of view of, not a logo-centric, but a a visual, ocular, specular deity.

Bibliography thanks to Zotero!
Low, M. (2004). The Lens within the Heart: The Western Scientific Gaze and Popular Imagery in Later Edo Japan (review). The Journal of Japanese Studies, 30(1), 163–166. doi:10.1353/jjs.2004.0023
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.

Masuda, T., Gonzalez, R., Kwan, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (2008). Culture and aesthetic preference: comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(9), 1260–1275.
Heine, S., Lehman, D., Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1999). Is there a universal need for positive self-regard?. Psychological review.
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(7), 879–887. http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Website/Papers/Mirrors-pspb4%5B1%5D.pdf
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.rel="nofollow">www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=egg
Nishikawa, H. 西川ひろ子. (2010). 乳幼児のキャラクター志向に関する研究. 安田女子大学紀要, 38, 147.
Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (1993). Rice as self: Japanese identities through time. Princeton Univ Pr.
Satou, N. 佐藤直樹. (2001). 「世間」の現象学. 青弓社.
Takemoto, T. (2002). 鏡の前の日本人. ニッポンは面白いか (講談社選書メチエ. 講談社.
Takemoto, T. (2003). 言語の文化心理学―心の中のことばと映像(The Cultural Psychology of Language: Language and Image in the Heart). あなたと私のことばと文化―共生する私たち―. 五絃舎.
Urban Dictionary.(n.d.). "egg." 3. Urban Dictionary. Retrieved March 7, 2012, from <a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=egg"
Watsuji, T. 哲郎和辻. (2007). 偶像再興・面とペルソナ 和辻哲郎感想集. 講談社.
Yanase, T. たかしやなせ. (1975). それいけ!アンパンマン (フレーベルのえほん. フレーベル館.
Hamamura, T., & Heine, S. J. (2006). Self-Regulation Across Cultures: New Perspective on Culture and Cognition Research. International Conference of the Cognitive Science, Vancouver, BC.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Somnambulant Interaction on Japanese Trains

Japan Train Sleepingparents and the sleeping manKid sleeping on train.Sleeping on the trainsleep tightSleeping Keiko and the Asians
Sleeping SalarymenJapan 07 2557Japan 07 2558Japan 07 2559The mighty struggle for seat supremacy #2People Sleeping
Too much overtime, we go leeps now...地下鉄の床で寝る人On the trainLate One NightEarly One MorningNot quite
Somnambulant Interaction on Japanese Trains, a gallery on Flickr. Images published under CC licences. For photographer and licence details please click on a thumbnail above.取り下げご希望の場合は写真ページのコメント欄か、小生のHPにてご連絡

In the 1997 Japanese film Janku Fudo one of the protagonists dies on the Yamanote Line (in UK parlance, The Circle Line) and circles around and round before anyone notices, thinking he is asleep. Japanese subway carriages can be lonely places.

In some excellent observational research (in Japanese), Dr. Harihara Motoko (2010) studied the behaviour of passengers on three subways, in Tokyo, Seol and New York. She and her confederates stood in subway carriages with clipboards counting the number of times that passengers interacted with each other, and found that the Japanese interacted far less than those in Seol and New York. In New York there were about 26 interactions per 100 stops on the subway, whereas in Tokyo there were only 6. Harihara associates these results with those of Yamagishi's research (see Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994 for a review) which show that the Japanese have lower levels of general trust (i.e. they only trust friends and family but not strangers) and this tendency, not to interact with anyone but ones peers, with collectivism.

First of all, as Harihara herself points out, there is research on interpersonal interaction in the field of intercultural communication which finds that country folk are more likely to interact that city dwellers. And at the same time, it is usually argued that City dwellers are more isolated and individualist. In my own experience of travelling from Southern Italy (where passengers on busses talk to each other and even the driver), up through to London (where the passengers are almost as unfriendly as in Japan) and being of the opinion that it was the English, rather than the Southern Italians, that were individualist. As is often the case, the same behaviour - ignoring other passengers - can be interpretted as both individualistic and collectivistic, an indication of the problematic nature of this axis of comparison.

Secondly, and relating to the theory proposed by this author, while I think that Harihara's research is excellent, authentic, and above all very intersting, I wonder if it falls foul of the invisibility of the visible paradigm that I touched on in my recent post about Japanese architecture.

Aside: Invisibility of the Visible Paradigm: To westerners (such as Donald Richie, the author of "The Image Factory, Fads and Fashions in Japan) and perhaps Westernised Japanese, visual images can seem trivial, mere "fads," not worthy of note, and almost invisble. This enables Westerners to come to Asian cities, which are so bristling with individuality that it pokes your eye out, and not even notice! They are blind to all but the linguistic self-representations, and since the Japanese are a quiet lot, that rarely speak, much less express opinions to strangers, the Westerner can go away thinking that 'those Japanese have no individuality.' Since the Japanese are into cooperating with each other and have more individuality than they know what to do with, they are happy for Westerners to mis-represent them in this way. End of Aside.

Of the 21 categories of interaction studied by Harihara Motoko, 14 are either purely linguistic (ask for directions, converse etc) or partly linguistic ('smile or greet someone' as a single category), or a response to what may have been a linguistic request (such as giving money to someone asking for contributions). Dividing the interactions into "possibly-linguistic" and "probably-non-linguistic" we find that the majority of the difference between Japan and New York falls in the former category, with New Yorkers making about 21 and Tokyoites about 3 possibly-linguistic interactions per 100 stops. Regarding the remaining 7 probably-non-linguistic interactions (giving up a seat, moving a seat, letting someone on first, helping in some way, staring, moving seat, negative facial expression) the difference is the number of interactions is drastically reduced, to about 3.5 in Tokyo to about 4.5 in New York. Limiting the interactions again to those which are clearly purely visual (staring/glimpsing and negative facial expressions) we find the situation reversed, with 1.6 interactions in Tokyo to only 0.4 in New York. This is a ratio of 4 to 1 in favour of Tokyo-ites interacting more than people from New York, still not as great as the difference in linguistic interactions (7 to 1 in favour of New Yorkers) but non-linguistic interactions are sometimes very difficult to observe. Or are they....

Thinking back to my experiences in the Tokyo subway, and indeed in a lot of social situations in Japan, it seems to me that a great deal of non-verbal interaction goes on. Leaving aside the glances, expressions, sighs, and postures and moving to the most extreme example, I was surprised to find that on a large number of occasions, the subway travellers fell asleep on each other (please see the photos above). Call me old fashioned but it seemed to me that falling asleep on a stranger seems to be a schockingly brave, and or invasive form of interaction that requires extremely high levels of interpersonal trust. I am quite unable to fall asleep on the shoulder of another traveller, but a young Japanese female has fallen asleep on mine.

Taking another extreme example of non-verbal interaction on Japanese trains, if interpersonal touching could be said to be a form of interaction then Tokyo is way out there in the blue as this next photo illustrates.

Rush Hour Cram
Rush Hour Cram by lyonshen
After getting use to Japanese subways, and returning to the tube in London, I darted onto a (to Japanified-me 'rather empty') departing train and, nestling my way in, touched the boarded British travellers who complained, vocally of course, at my gross interactive impertinance. "Get on the next train they said." I don't think that they would be able to cope with the levels of interaction in Tokyo.

Japanese trains are silent. They remind me a little of Japanese public baths - where Japanese people 'get naked together' - in the the ferocity, the deafening roar of the non-verbal interaction taking place therein.

Harihara M. (2010) "Chikatetsunai ni Okeru Mishiranu Tasha to no Sougosayo no Nichi-Kan-Bei-Bunka-Hikaku." ("A Japan-Korea-US Cross Cultural comparison of Interaction with Strangers on the Subway" my trans). Japanese ociety of Social Psycholgy. 51st annual conference. Hiroshima University. Downloaded on 6th March 2012 from
Yamagishi, T., & Yamagishi, M.(1994). Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan. Motivation and emotion, 18, 129--166.

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Monday, March 05, 2012


Individualistic Second-Hand Japanese Vinyl

Individualistic Second-Hand Japanese Vinyl by timtak
Individualistic Second-Hand Japanese Vinyl, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

An enthusiastic and intelligent overseas student (Ng, 2012) wrote an interesting term paper about Japanese collectivism and Western Individualism as demonstrated by Japanese and American pop.

It is clear that at the moment in Japan, groups are in, whereas Solo artists (leading armies of backing dancers) are the rage in the US. As Ng points out, the number of people on screen in the videos may not differ but the appellation given to the ensemble is in opposition. Two singers and twelve dancers are called a group (Exile) , or "company", in Japan, whereas Nicki Minaj and her entourage of clones performing Super Bass, is referred to as a work by a solo artist in the USA.

At the moment AKB48 and other mass produced girl bands and boy bands (if they can even be called bands, they are more like a brand or football team) are very popular.

A quick look at the Oricon Charts and the Billboard 100 showed me that while 6 out of 10 of the Japanese top ten were bands, 7 out of the top ten US acts were solo artists.

As I have argued before, the existences of collectivist/individualist heroes does not necessarily portray the reality of a society, but rather what it aspires to. And what a society aspires to, may be that which it lacks, the latter being the position I champion at the present time.

As the Japanese in the digital age return to their roots, they become more and more enamored of groups, just as they loose their ability to join them.

Has it always been that way? I happened to be in second hand store in Japan and went through a bin of second hand vinyl, mainly 80's pop. Of the 14 Japanese LP's that I sampled there was one duet (top right), two bands (The Checkers and The Kaiband) and eleven LP's by ten solo artists. Does this mean that the Japanese in the eighties were individualists? Research by Hamamoto and Harihara, on the contrary argues that individualism is on the rise in Japan.

There also happened to be two Western LP's: Dire Straits' Making Movies (including one of my favorite songs of all time) and an LP by the Carpenters.

Pop music is an area of Japanese culture that is tremendously influenced by the West, so even if it were the case that 80's Japanese liked solo artists, it could easily be argued that this is partly due to the Western influence. In any event it would be interesting to do a historical analysis of the Japanese Oricon charts and Billboard to see which has more groups.

Ng, Y.. (2012) "Analysis of the Music industry in Japan and America via cultural psychology," unpublished term paper.

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Japanese Boots: Form over Function

Japanese Boots by timtak
Japanese Boots, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Japanese are good at making some things and not at others.

According to my understanding, the Japanese are ego-involved in the image, the imaginable, res-extensa, space and place. Westerners are ego-involved in language.

So generally speaking Westerners are good at making linguistic things, such as retail systems, financial services, institutions, laws, theories, drug formulas, and above all software, except heavily image-dependent game software.

And generally speaking the Japanese and East Asians are good at making things - pretty much all things, especially those which capture and display images, but also cars, robots, lights, bicycle frames, motor bikes, trains, bridges, dams, architecture and computers other than the logical/linguist microprocessor "architectures".

But there are exceptions, especially relating to cultural taboos.

To the Japanese, nature is something rather special, sacred and to a degree taboo. Nature is beautiful and a little scary; not something that until recently, they felt able to go traipsing around in as a leisure activity, enjoying "outdoors". This is why many "outdoor" (they use the English word) goods, such as tents, rucksacks, raincoats, and climbing gear may be branded, if not made, outside of Japan.

Another thing that the Japanese have not been very good at, and continue to import, is shoes. Britain imports very little to Japan but one product that can be purchased in any town are British shoes, made by Doctor Martens for instance. I presume that this may be due to the taboo associated with leather industry. Due to the Buddhism related prohibitions on the killing of animals (or at least land animals, with hair) the leather industry was traditionally considered impure and those that worked in it it likewise. This may have served to dampen the development of Japanese footwear. Who wants to wear wooden clogs (geta) anyone?

But then again, the Japanese are excellent at making footwear for appearances such as those pictured above. They may not last all long, in terms of comfort, grip and walking speed, they may not compete, but they look...well anyway that the customer wants them to look, with heels, patters, toe extenders, and straps galore.

Japanese footwear brings my attention to another aspect of Japanese products: the sometimes place form over function. When it comes to what they do, other than look really cool, they are not always the best. Japanese cars for instance, may look good but they are often not 'drivers cars' because the qualities such as "responsiveness", or "handling" ar,e in so far as they can be communicated or represented, notional, ideational, arguably linguistic, and at least not something that Japanese designers can see or imagine and become ego-involved in.

What about the car I drive, a Subaru Impreza WRX? It is the epitome of functionality over appearance. I can only surmise that there are exceptions to everything and point out that "Scoobies", as they are known and loved in the UK, are not very popular in Japan, and those that drive them are thought to be rather strange, "Subarists." Sadly, from my British point of view, Subaru seems to be in the process of being taken over by Toyota and seem to have given upon on their function above form philosophy.

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