Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Bean-Bread-Man as Self
Bean-Bread-Man as "Egg", Jesus, Breast, Persona, and Face, a photo by timtak on 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." (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!
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.