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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.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Space and Time: Heidegger, Derrida, Nishida and the Tardis

Space and Time: Heidegger, Derrida, Nishida and the Tardis by timtak
Space and Time: Heidegger, Derrida, Nishida and the Tardis, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
When I was young I was a fan of Dr. Who, a BBC children's' program about a man who could travel through time. The Doctor (played by a variety of actors) was a "Time Lord," someone who could travel through time, using a Tardis (time machine), pictured above.

Like many young British children, and as fans often do, I wanted to be Dr. Who. I wanted to travel through time. And at the same time, I had a notion that I did and do (quick time travel there) travel through time, that my identity was (is!) temporal. I kidded myself, that I was a "Tim(e) Lord!"

I was concerned about the identity of myself across time. Am I the same person today as I was yesterday or a moment ago? Am I the same person across time? Can I wait and still be myself?

If I were Japanese, could I also have been concerned about questions such as am I the same person here as I am in my living room? Am I the same person across space? Can I turn and spin to see myself?

Lately thinking about the Japanese, and their concept of tourism, I am reminded of time and space.

Nishida (1987) and all the best Japanese philosophers and Japanologists (Watsuji, 1979; Hamaguchi, 1982; Nakane, 1972; Bachnik, 1998; Pilgrim 1986; Kimura, 1972) have a tendency to equate human being, or Japanese conceptions of human, or Japanese society, with space.

Nishida even said that humans are,"beings as space" (Dilworth, 1970). In an attempt to describe (Japanese) people Hamaguchi (1982) used the ideograms for human backwards (間人) to create a neologism which transliterates as "spacemen."

The official translation of Hamaguchi's term is, however, "relatum" (Hamaguchi, 1997). This gives gives the theory a very conceptual air, and for a long time I attempted to understand such theories in a theoretical way, as "interdependent selves" (Markus and Kitayama, 1991), for instance.

Notwithstanding my aforementioned "Dr. Who-y" feeling that I exist in time, I have of late come to appreciate Nishida's assertion from a more phenomenological perspective. Put more simply, I may perhaps have become aware of what it feels like to be a "relatum" or 'spaceman,' I kid you not.

In a Japanese version of the cogito, Nishida argues that space, or place, is primordial, that the ultimate indubitable is not that "I am," but that there is a space of pure experience.

Would-be-philosophical waffle.
If I meditate on my existence, I can, like Descartes, think that all the things in this spacey stuff, "res-extensa," are just a dream. But hold on, the words that form my 'I think therefore I am' take place, have a place, in the space of consciousness. I can doubt my words (they may be meaningless) but there is a place, a field, a "pure experience" in which the words take place.

This goldfish bowl, my consciousness, this sound box, the place where the 'dubitable' 'res-extensa' occur, is itself indubitable. I may not know that "I" exist. Something exists, I do know that something is going on somewhere, that there is an experience. It seems to me fairer to say that place pre-dates, is more "primordial" than time.

Derrida (1998) says that the phoneme that we Westerners are so keen on, or the cogito that we westerners hold most dear, occurs in time. The phonetic medium, where my thoughts about my existence unfold, is a 'deferred,' temporal one. Derrida says, I think, that any sign must be itterable, repeatable and this again requires time.

If we stop our words and all symbolic activity, and just observe, then as soon as one wants to get away from its pure chaotic becoming nature, one needs to combat Heraclitus' river (which can be crossed only once) and demand that 'it', whatever being is, repeats or persists in time. Pure experience is and is not.

Phenomenologically, the space of our experience is essential. But phenomenon are so fleeting as to not-exist. Nishida was okay with that. His primordial space was space only, and nothing-ness. As soon as one want to point, say, assert, that something exists one needs time, repetition, to assert that anything might be. Heidegger asked what the meaning of being was and asserted that it is time (note 1). Without time one can not have any being. Nishida asserts that without place space, there is nowhere for being to be.
End of waffle

Returning to Japanology, it was Watsuji's frustration with Heidiggers emphasis on time, that encouraged him to write his opus on Japanese culture (Fudoron, "Climate and Culture") based upon Nishida's philosophy of space (Mochizuki, 2006, p45-46: recommended & linked below).

Indeed, as mentioned above, there are lots of academics asserting the importance of place in Japan. The climate, the seasons, the "air," "time place and occasion," Uchi and Soto, outside and in. I agree with them. There is something spatial about the organisation, and representations of Japanese society.

Admittedly similar things could also be said that in English too we say "we are close to someone," or that "He is distant," we have an "inner circle" and call others "outsiders," we have "backstage experiences" and we "put on a front." So is the Japan-Anglophone distinction naff? I don't think so. In a recent post I wrote about attributional and locational self definitions. It seems clear to me that Japanese are always using locational self-definitions: locational membership of a house (ie) being perhaps the most basic (Nakane, 1972).

I think that the "attributional" self-definitions of Westerners are often teleological, that is to say concerned with our goals and objectives in time. If I say that I am a of a certain village or say where my company is I am speak locationally, geographically. But if I say I am a teacher, or window maker, or accountant I am speaking about my objectives in time. The Japanese do not concern themselves with teleological objectives, or define their goals, nearly so much.

Japanese go on about spaces, about their insides and outsides. Westerners go on about time, about their end points and their start points. If a Japanese anthropologist came to the UK she would write about how these strange Britons bring time even into their discussions social relations, classifying others as "old friends" and forming social bonds based upon shared "goals and objectives."

Note 1 from Johnson, 2000:

"Heidegger concludes that temporality is the condition for the possibility that things will be meaningful to human beings (iethe meaning of being is time) (Heidegger, 1927/ 1962, p. 38)"

Bibliography created with Zotero
Bachnik, J. M. (1998). Time, space and person in Japanese relationships. Interpreting Japanese Society. Anthropological Approaches. London: Routledge, 91–116.
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. JHU Press.
Dilworth, D. A. (1970). Nishida’s Final Essay: the Logic of Place and a Religious World-View. Philosophy East and West, 20(4), 355–. Retrieved from html://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/ew27020.htm
Hamaguchi, E. 浜口恵俊. (1982). 間人主義の社会日本. 東洋経済新報社.
Hamaguchi, E. (1997). A methodological Basis for Japanese Studies: With Regard to ‘Relatum’ as its foundation. Japan Review, 9, 41–63. Retrieved from
Johnson, M. E. (2000). Heidegger and meaning: Implications for phenomenological research. Nursing Philosophy, 1(2), 134–146.
Kimura, B. 木村敏. (1972). 人と人との間―精神病理学的日本論. 弘文堂.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from http://www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Mochizuki, T. (2006). Climate and Ethics: Ethical Implications of Watsuji Tetsuro’s Concepts:‘ Climate’ and‘ Climaticity’. Philosophia Osaka, 1, 43–55. Retrieved from http://ir.library.osaka-u.ac.jp/metadb/up/LIBPHILOO/po_01_043.pdf
Nakane, C. (1972). Japanese Society (1st pb ed.). University of California Press.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎, & 上田閑照. (1987). 場所. 西田幾多郎哲学論集〈1〉場所・私と汝 他六篇. 岩波書店.
Pilgrim, R. B. (1986). Intervals (‘ Ma’) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan. History of Religions, 25(3), 255–277.
Watsuji, T. 和辻哲郎. (1979). 風土―人間学的考察. 岩波書店.

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