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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Dramaturgical Self Reconstruction

The notion of a "Dramaturgical self" originates in the social anthropology of Goffman (1959), in the Shetland Ilses off Scotland, where he argued that the Scottish villagers seemed to act, and define themselves, as if on stage. The notion of the dramaturgical self was subsequently used by McVeigh (2000) to explain the Japanese tendency to wear uniforms. McVeigh is right, in their use of uniforms, and in many other ways, the Japanese behave at times, from Western eyes, as if on stage.

This notion of the dramaturgical self nears the mark and veers away from it. These anthropologists are aware of the increased extent to which their subjects take care (Foucault, 1984) over visual self presentation *as if on stage* and in this awareness they are spot on. What they do not seem to realise is that such visual self presentations are self-consumed. Goffman was an acolyte of Mead who firmly insists that dramaturgical self representations are not self consumed, not for self but for others. Mead writes, in "Mind Self and Society, "(1967)

"Is is only the actor who uses bodily expressions as a means of looking as he wants others to feel. He gets a response which revaleas to him how he looks by continually using a mirror. He registers anger, he registers love, he registers this that or the other attitude and he examines himself in a glass to see how he does so." p66-67

"If we exclude vocal gestures, it is only by the use of the mirror that one could reach the position where he responds to his own gestures as other people respond." p66

In other words, self views require mirrors whereas "vocal gestures" (linguistic gestures, self narration) do not. Westerners seem to find it very difficult to conceive of visual self presentation as anything but a presentation for an other, even though linguistic self-presentation is seen as purely self-expressive, not requiring any mirror, any audience. This assumption strikes me as being massively, Judeo-Christianly biased. In fact, language is radically external, for others, communicative, taking place in game (Mead,1959; Wittgenstein, 1973), and never entirely private (Wittgenstein, 1973, ¶243). Sure, one can do away with the particular other if one internalises the generalised other (Mead, 1959), the Other (Lacan, 2007, p.53), the superaddressee (Bakhtin, 1986, p.126) or one has a relationship with Yaweh.

I insist that the Japanese self is seen from the eye of an internalised Other, Amaterasu, a mirror in their heads (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Laseta, Henrich, 2008). However, in order to change the Japanese self it is therefore necessary to change ones self view, and integrate views of self from the eyes new others for example via drama practice (see "riken no ken", Yusa, 1987) and this motivates the tendency for Japanese to practice where they can be seen rather than in the privacy of their drama room.

We Westerners, however, like to practice our narratives in front of a presumed linguistically understanding public, as I am doing here, and as US students do in their debate clubs.

The process of restructuring of the self (as shown in the video) is akin to psychotherapy, which in the West is about narrating oneself or talking (Freud,1977) to a benign (Spotnitz, 2004) listener (Phillips), while in Japan it helps to get the client (those that want to restructure, and change their self) to express themselves visually e.g. using sand play (Kawai, 1969), collage (Imamura, 2006), movement (Tsuru, 207), potted images (Tashima, 1987), imaginative reflection on the past (Yoshimoto, I, 2007) and photography (Mukoyama, 2010 - referencing my research, under my birth name"Leuers") in front of a benign therapist-client shared co-gaze (Kitayama, 2005).

Video by generous permission of Gekindan Fue (Drama Club Whistle), Yamaguchi University.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Freud, S. (1977). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. WW Norton & Company.
Foucault, M. (1984). On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress. The Foucault Reader, 340–72.
Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books.
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. Retrieved from http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Website/Papers/Mirrors-pspb4%5B1%5D.pdf
Imamura, Y. 今村友木子. (2006). コラージュ表現-統合失調症者の特徴を探る. 創元社.
Kawai, H. 河合隼雄. (1969). 箱庭療法入門. 誠信書房.
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
McVeigh, B. J. (2000). Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling and Self-Presentation in Japan (First ed.). Berg Publishers.
Mukoyama, Y. 向山泰代. (2010). 自叙写真法による自己認知の測定に関する研究. ナカニシヤ出版.
Spotnitz, H. M. (2004). Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient: Theory of the Technique. YBK Publishers, Inc.
Tashima, S. 田嶌誠一. (1987). 壷イメージ療法―その生いたちと事例研究. 創元社.
Tsuru, M. 鶴光代. (2007). 臨床動作法への招待. 金剛出版.
Wittgenstein, L. (1973). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed.). Prentice Hall.
Yoshimoto, I. 吉本伊信. (2007). 内観法 (新.). 春秋社.
Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331–345.

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The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot,

The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot, by timtak
The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot,, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The reference to Japanese culture is not till towards the end.

According to Lacan the real, imaginary and symbolic are related in like manner to the rings of a borromean knot (see this page) in which no one of the the three rings passes through the others, but the three rings are held together. Cutting any of the rings causes the knot to fall apart.

I have interpreted this to mean that we experience, or believe in ourselves (and the world) at the presumed intersection between the imaginary (that which we can see and imagine) and the symbolic (that which we can say). The borromean knot illustrates this "presumption" in the fact that the rings do not in fact intersect.

I have also related this presumption, and the failure to maintain it, to the anguish of characters in two scenes in David Lynch's movies: the scene in "Blue Velvet" (1986) were Ben (played by Dean Stockwell) mimes "In dreams" and the "Club Silencio" scene in "Mulholland Dr." (2001) where, Frank in the former, and Diane and Camilla in the later become visibly distraught to realise that the performer they are watching is lip-synching. I also read that Australia has outlawed lip-synching at "live concerts" (specifically those of Britney Spears) unless the tickets come with a disclaimer. Why should lip-synching be so distressing?

At the phenomenological level however, it can be claimed that (I have a reference for this claim somewhere, thanks to one of my seminar students) that sound can not come from vision and that experientially we are always, as it were, aligning an audio track with a visual track, and in a sense all performers are lip-synchers or ventriloquists, though in some situations we deem their voices and their images to be coming from the same place.

At the level of the "symbolic" and the "imaginary", however, I did not have any clear understanding of what Lacan was referring to.

Rather than being a "card holding Lacanian," I just find the most basic level interpretation of theories useful for interpreting Japanese culture, and rightly or wrongly, I tend to think that he the man, Lacan himself, was a ranting obscurantist! Even worse than me perhaps.

But I have been thinking about this knot a little more, while reading the Edgar Allen Poe short story that Lacan so recommends (The Purloined Letter). While I find Lacan's interpretation of this detective story almost impossibly opaque, the detective story itself is very instructive. Notably there are persona in the story who appear to be able to see and not be seen, and others to manipulate signs but not see, and an independence and interaction among these persona, which leads me to the following vague hypothesis, which may well have been what Lacan was saying all along.

Perhaps the faculties of speaking and imagining can only appreciate themselves in their opposite? Like an invisible ghost that can see a blind man that can only speak of ghosts? This reminds me of "The Sixth Sense" and all those imaginary friends I wrote about on an earlier post.

I am not sure how to make this any more clear but perhaps it can be unpacked in to the following 4 assertions
A) Imagination can not imagine itself (c.f. Nietzsche's remarks on eyes not being able to see themselves)
B) Imagine only reaches a self perception via language (those trasformatory symbols that Jpanese collect)
C) Speech can not say itself c.f. Emile Benveniste's papers on the subject of utterance and the subject of enunciation. One of the two crucial papers by Benveniste can be found online.
D) The speaking subject of "utterance" can only represent itself by taking a detour via the image (as body visible)

I am not sure how to make the these four claims more persuasive but I find myself rather taken by the idea. The above would suggest a more divided self.

Random thoughts

1) People who have had their inter-hemispheric neural highway, the corpus callosum, cut cease to dream, and their right and left arms sometimes even fight each other. As per the last photo, Poe has considerable hemispherical asymmetry

2) Images in my dreams seem often to be rebuses as if my dream images are trying desperately to speak.

Finally relating this to Japanese culture

3) Proposition (A) above might be more unacceptable to Japanese who feel that they can imagine themselves without loss of fidelity, and proposition (C) more unacceptable to Westerners who, according to many (Bruner, Benveniste, MacAdams etc) narrate themselves into existence.

4) Lacan argued (see the aforemented page) the Western ego exists at the intersection between the symbolic and the real. Transposing Nacalianly, the Japanese self exists at the intersection between the (visio) imaginary and the real, as Nishida (see Heisig, 2004) argues.

[The above borromean knot is probably drawn from a Western perspective with the symbolic rather than the imaginary above the real].

Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida’s medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55–72. Retrieved from nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20Medieval%...

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Monday, May 28, 2012


Robo Cat: Cute, Uncanny or Horrible

This robo-cat moves, it makes noises when you stroke it, but does it have feelings? The Japanese do not seem to care so much(J. Robertson, 2001; Jennifer Robertson, 2007; Schodt, 1988).

This cat looks to me that it is right bang in the middle of the "Uncanny Valley" (Mori, 1970) but the Japanese store goers seemed to like it and think it "cute". Strange, amusing, uncanny, yes, but "cute" was one thing it was not from my viewpoint. But then I grew up in a culture where people tend to think that they are not their body but their mind. I argue that The Japanese do not believe that they are their bodies, the Japanese also firmly believe in the heart, but heart (kokoro) is also at least in part visual, a space of imagination.

The absense of heart (kokoro) absence from the body, as it is often in sleep, makes less of a difference.

And as mentioned in recent blog posts, generally speaking, in the realms of shrines, rebuilt shrines, miniature shrines, horses sculpted and pictorial, copied pilgrimages, and foreign villages, sports stadia, and perhaps even cats, if it looks the same then it is the same: an authenticopy, a subcategory of simulacra (Baudrilliard, 1995) in the the presumed mirror mind of Japanese gods.

To have a "mirror" mind, both god and human, to see the mind and world meet at a "tain-less mirror" I think that all you need is to have a presumed co-gaze (kyoushi) (Kitayama, 2005). Internalising a gaze is no weirder than presuming that an intra-psychic other is listening to and understand our self-speech, which is what we, Westerners, are argued to be doing (Bakhtin, 1986; Hermans, 2001; Hermans & Kempen, 1993; Mead, 1967).

The ability to imbed someone else's perspective inside oneself is not difficult. We are always wondering 'how this would sound to', 'how this would look to' various otehrs others. But the ability to create another persons perspective inside oneseld and then forget it is that of *an other* but believe instead that it is the perspect of the Other, a generalised other, a super addressee, a super ego, depends, as Freud points out, on taboo (Freud, 1913): on the horror and guilt associated with the deed. I do not see Freud's explanation, that we feel guilt towards a historical act of killing the primal father, as being anything other than alegorical. The explanation that the internalisation of another may be associated with guilt and horror is, however, a valid explanation as to how one might wish to forget that internalisation: thus generating a general internalised view, a view as it were from nowhere.

The robo cat is cute, but he makes me feel a horror, which will be the subject of a subsequent post.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr. Freud, S. (1913). Totem and taboo. (A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. Retrieved from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Totem_and_Taboo
Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The Dialogical Self: Toward a Theory of Personal and Cultural Positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7(3), 243–281. doi:10.1177/1354067X0173001
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Kitayama, 北山修. (2005). 共視論 (Co-Gaze Theory, my trans). 講談社.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Mori, M. (1970). The Uncanny Valley. Energy, 7(4), 33–35. Retrieved from http://www.movingimages.info/mit/readings/MorUnc.pdf
Robertson, J. (2001). Japan’s first cyborg? Miss Nippon, eugenics and wartime technologies of beauty, body and blood. Body & Society, 7(1), 1–34.
Robertson, Jennifer. (2007). Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Humanoid Robots and the Posthuman Family. Critical Asian Studies, 39(3), 369–398. doi:10.1080/14672710701527378
Schodt, F. L. (1988). Inside the robot kingdom. Kodansha International.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012


Bakugan Transformation

The notion that heroes "transform" (change their form or body, henshin) using a symbol is a very common trope in Japanese superhero fiction from Mitokoumon (who changes when he gets out his seal) through mirror man (thanks JE), who changes when he gets out his omamori (amulet) in front of a mirror, super sentai, masked riders, and here bakugan, a sort of poket monster.

This tranformation provided by the use of a symbol here with Bakugan parallels that provided by named ancestors watching from hills. The ancestors in the hills spread the world of vision out into a landscape. This Bakugan toy however, transforming from a sphere into a hero of sorts by use of a symbol illustrates the way in which the imaginary, that circle or sphere (Heisig, Nishida) of "pure experience" spreads itself out to form the body of the person as "wrapping" (Hendry).

While I admire Hendry enourmously, I think that her use of the "wrapping" conceptualisation plays to prejudices of her Western readers and, perhaps, her own Western cultural preconsceptions. Though she avows otherwise (in reference to her critique of Barthes), the use of the word "wrapping" is bound to suggest to her readers that there is something, something else, something important but ignored, that is being wrapped.

Something is being "wrapped," but that something is more wrapping. The surface, the res-extensia, the plain-of-the-qualia, the tain of the mirror, wraps another mirror. The super suit of Japanese superheros, the masked riders super suit, bakugan body, contains another... (from a western perspective) "wrapping," another "surface." Inside the wrapping is only more wrapping. So the "wrapping" which suggests a duality of wrapping and content is fraught.

The image in Mary's world, ie the world of Western philosophers is, exists, only as a sort of boundary, a veil of perception. The interior world of Mary, herself as narrative, and the world as narrative also, as words, are seperated by a viel, a plane, of the 'qualia.' Words "wrap" words. The interior and the exterior are words. But in between there is an unspeakable, un-wordable, "viel" (of perception). This strange, abject, unspeakable viel seperates the two worlds of words. It is also a catalyst for their separation.

In Japan the word or name is similarly, a viel or boundary. Inside there is only image. Outside there is only image, but in between, that which spreads the interior out into a world is the word, made particular, the name, which has a place, the named place, the meisho, of which there are many.

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Where Ancestors Watch and Protect

Where Ancestors Watch and Protect by timtak
Where Ancestors Watch and Protect, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The Japanese say that ancestors, their grandparents for instance, watch and protect (mi-mamoru) them after their death. Cycling through this landscape with, as it where, ghosts in the hills, I feel like I am riding through a Meisho Zue, one of those map-like showing where all the "named places" (meisho) are. The combined effect of (1) feeling like one is being watched, and (2) that there are names in them there hills, pins out "the mirror" onto the landscape and makes me feel like a super mario of sorts, am riding inside the floating world, or a video game.

The names in the hills (like those signs that popup out of the landscape in video games) and the 'watching and protecting' eyes in the hills, have the same effect; they cast (as one casts a net), spread (as one spreads a sheet), or wrap (Hendry) the "mental mirror" out into a into a visual world.

The way in which located names function like a self-directed gaze relates also to the way in which Japanese tourists collect two different things at tourism destinations. Either they collect an auto-scopic, self-directed gaze in the from of a "Kinen shashin" or they collect a 'concrete name' in the form of a stamp at a stamp rally, stamped-sacred card (Shinpu, ofuda, omamori,) at a shrine, stamped scroll in a pilgrimage, or a souvenir "named-thing" (meibutsu), in the form of a represtative food or product of that region. Ideally they collect both.

The duality of name and self directed gaze is the same as that just mentioned with respect to the post card. The post card provides its purchaser, Mary (Jackson), with a self directed ear (the recipient of the postcard and the senders "super-adressee," Other, "generalised other") and with a sight that she find there. "Ah, so this is the red, or Frenchiness that I have heard about it." This expands the world of science, the words, out of books and spreads them out into the world.

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The Duality of the Postcard and Kinenshashin

The Duality of the Postcard and Kinenshashin by timtak
The Duality of the Postcard and Kinenshashin, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Wherever there is a tourism destination for Westerners, postcards are on sale. This destination (photo above) in Guam is no exception. Postcards are not for sale in Japan because the Japanese take photographs of themselves, a kinen-shashin, at tourism destinations instead of sending postcards.

The difference is not between those who, embeded in their social groups, wish to have proof of their tourism experience and those that do not. This is the way that Nelson Graburn interprets the Japanese tendency to take "kinen shashin." Westerners are just as keen to have proof, in the form of a post card. We all want our bragging material, and in so far as we do want to tell others about our tourism experiences, we are all embedded in our groups. Postcards are almost always (Derrida's book "The Postcard" being an exception) sent to others, unlike "kinenshashin" which may or may not be shown to other peopole, so if anything it is Westerners who are embedded in their social structures.

But these "bragging materials" or "proofs" are also self-consumed. The postcard and the kinenshashin are also self-confirmations. We all want to increase our self esteeem by integrating the exotic tousmism experience with the self-phenomenon (Metzinger) with which we identify. Those that identify with their self narrative have a desire to narrate themselves into the the real world on the back of a postcard which has an image like that shown on the front. Those that have a specular self "in the imaginary," want to have their photo taken in front of an image, a place, which has a name (meisho). Both have a dual use, and structure.

The dual use and structure of the postcard and autophotography, reflects the dual motivation for the creation of self in the first place. We do it because we are narcissists - we want to love ourselves - and because we are lonely. The auto identiciation creates both a self and a shared world, the "real world." "The sage," mentioned in Nietzsches "History of an Error," Plato, did not just want to brag or pose and look sagely. He was also just plain lonely, he wanted to believe in a shared world of ideas, of "understanding." The Japanese sage, Nishida, (like Nenzi's floating world artist) also wants to believe in a shared world, of vision.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Whale Bun Tasting

Here I am tasting a PETA approved whale bun.

I think that killing animals is tragic. I have had relationships with cows and pigs (as I have with my dog) and find them to be as intelligent as dogs, which means pretty intelligent, and personable. We kill them at the rate of millions a day. Importantly, many of the cows, pigs and other animas that we kill live all their lives in boxes, in situations of immeasurable cruelty. It is for this reason especially that I dislike hunting of wild animals, that have enjoyed a life of freedom, far far less than that of the slaughter of "factory" farmed animals.

Another factor to be considered is, as the PETA page linked above points out, that cows and pigs have a body weight far less than that whales. For the number of buns or burgers that can be made from a whale is far greater than that can be made from a cow. No one in their right mind (though I have heard it said by anti-whalers) can think that big means more worthy of protection. Humans typically weigh less than cows and pigs. The suffering is in the mind and fewer minds that are made to suffer the better.

I also disapprove of making species extinct, for a variety of reasons, but the Japanese are careful to ensure that they are not making the whales that they hunt extinct by their policy of scientific whaling.

I would prefer it the Japanese stated that they whaled to measure the whale population (which they do, with a view to reinstating whaling) and also to eat them, which they, and I, clearly do.

Generally speaking I like Western culture as much as I like that of Japan where I live. One of the areas however in which I am ashamed to be a Westerner is that pertaining to the Western portrayal of whaling as something cruel. It is cruel. But it is nice compared to the slaughter of battery farmed animals, a practice that Westerners do with abandon.

To all those vegans that disapprove of whaling - I appreciate your point. Killing animals is horrifying, tragic and ideally, to be avoided.

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Field of Responsibility, Zenpouchuui, and "I am only Looking"

Field of Responsibility, Zenpouchuui, and "I am only Looking" by timtak
Field of Responsibility, Zenpouchuui, and "I am only Looking", a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The Japanese feel responsible, and are especially legally responsible, for that which they can see, that which is in their field of vision, but imho feel far less responsible for that which is not in their field of vision, even if they can rationally predict it, sometimes with unexpected and even disastrous consequences in their interaction with Westerners like me.

In the UK there are laws which stipulate that one pay attention to that which one can "reasonably" predict. E.g. in British contract law one may enter into a contract even if one does not sign on the line which is dotted, when one can reasonably expect to have entered into a contract. E.g. If you go into a posh restaurant and drink the water on the table, even though you may not have been told that the water costs money, if you can reasonably expect, that water to cost money, for it to have come from a bottle and not the tap, then one will be held responsible for paying for it. British people are required to be reasonable, to exercise their reason, to engage perhaps in an internal dialogue with themselves, and act in accordance with the results of that "discussion."

In Japan however, (performing a Nacalian transformation) one is required far more to exercise care over that which one can see. This especially applies in road traffic laws, and road behaviour, where one is expected to "zenpouchuui," (前方注意) sometimes translated as "proceed with caution" but literally, "Pay attention to that which is in front of you." This means that in Japan more than in the West, if you see someone standing at the side of the road in front of you, then as you proceed towards them, to make sure you see them, and make sure that you imagine that they may walk out in front of you, even if it is not "reasonable" for them to do so.

I sometimes find that Japanese people come out in front of me, when I am on my bicycle for instance, especially if they are travelling at an oblique angle (just greater than 90 degrees and slightly in the same direction as the road as travelled by the possibly oncoming traffic). In this situation, from the visual perspective of the person crossing the road at a slightly oblique angle, there is nothing in their line of vision. Their field of vision and their field of responsibility is clear. Twisted Westerner that I am, I sometimes feel that Japanese people deliberately cross roads at oblique angles (in the above photo, imagine that the carpet is the road) deliberately not looking anywhere but in front of them so as to give themselves right of way. This can, and has, resulted in disastrous consequences when the Westerner proceeding forwards expects those in front to use their reason to anticipate things that are not in their field of vision.

This formula: that one is responsible for that which one can see and imagine from that visual data, rather than that which one can reasonably predict from the facts of the situation, may have implications in other areas of cultural behaviour.

I wonder if the way in which, for instance, Japanese family law privileges the rights, and responsibilities of the parent with whom the children are living (that can see the child) is partly motivated by the above consideration.

The cultural psychologist Takahiko Masuda (light years above me research wise, highly perceptive of cultural differences, and a nice guy) argues that the Japanese are more aware of context , whereas Westerners are more analytical thus focal, concentrating only one the "important" data. This is demonstrated for instance in his superb experiments on change blindness (Masuda & Nisbett, 2006) where Westerners only notice changes in foreground, focal objects whereas Japanese notice changes in the background. I am not sure how this could be operationalized (made verifiable, the subject of an experiment) but I predict that in situations where one can rationally predict events based upon present data, it may be Westerners, not Japanese, that are paying more attention to the (rational, linguistically predictable) context. In other words, perhaps everyone is paying attention to context, but the context to which Japanese and Westerners are paying attention to is Nacalianly transposed.

The way in which Japanese feel able to ignore that which they can not see is perhaps illustrated in this television commercial (called, poignantly "I am only looking") in which a group of Japanese ladies feel able to ignore sales staff partly by moving obliquely in front of them, keeping the sales staff out of their field of vision. In my interactions with Japanese road users I sometimes feel like the I would expect the shop attendants to feel, if they were British.

Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. E. (2006). Culture and change blindness. Cognitive Science, 30(2), 381–399.

Thanks to my wife Yasuko for posing for this photo. Thanks to Lacan for his theory the human self. Since I have started using his name (reversed) for my take on Japanese culture, I feel much better about using it.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012


The Japanese Love of Vehicles and Time-Travel

The Japanese of Love Vehicles and Time-Travel by timtak
The Japanese of Love Vehicles and Time-Travel © 成山堂書店
"The months and days are the travellers of eternity," Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Professor Kishiro Sawa, one of the academics on my corridor, is an expert on transport and has written several books on the varieties and systems of transportation in Japan.

In his latest book (Sawa, 2010) he points out that transportation tends to be viewed as a means to get from point A to point B, but that in Japan there are a vast variety of transportation services, cable cars, private railways, jets "wrapped" in the designs of anime characters, bullet trains, miniature trains, vehicles both animal and human powered, and other means of transportation in weird and wonderful variety, that are seen, ,wholly or in part, as an end, the objective, the destination of travel.

There are narrow gauge railways in the UK, and of course roller coasters in theme parks, and in many countries 'the pleasure cruise'. But looking at the number of examples of 'transport destinations' (a deliberate oxymoron) that Professor Sawa is able to give, it seems fair to say that the Japanese often travel to travel.

Professor Sawa interprets this behaviour as being a product of the extra-sensitive and caring Japanese service industry - from the pull perspective. In an attempt to make their customers happy, transportation service providers have been so successful as to make their services attractive as tourism products, tourism destinations, in an of themselves.

What other things might motivate the Japanese love of vehicles?

The animism that is argued to motivate the Japanese love of robots (Robertson, 2007; Schodt, 1988) many also encourage them to be fond of, friendly or almost familial towards vehicles.

Alternatively, vehicles, in the form of palanquin (mikoshi) take prominent place in Shinto festivities. As located-ness is an important feature of the sacred in Shinto (Bachnik & Quinn, 1994; Pilgrim, 1986; 1993) then the movement of the deity in a mikoshi may help to create a "liminal" (Turner, 1964), chaotic, merged, ecstatic state among festival-goers. Elsewhere I have suggested that boarding trains - which are capable of moving not just people but spaces - may also created this unchained, unrestrained festival feeling among the "Lococentric" (Lebra, 1992; Lebra, 2004) Japanese. It was perhaps this freely floating feeling that that Nenzi writes was the objective of Edo period travel, "As the juxtaposition of movement and immobility in this image suggests, motion is, in a sense, the antithesis of order: it displaces what ought to stay put; it frees what ought to be contained." (Nenzi, 2008, p188). In the image that Nenzi is describing (ibid, p. 189) it is not (only) people so much as space itself that has been set free.

Another theme to note is that Japanese travel (tabi) often emphasises roads, particularly historical roads (Hori, 2010; Shirahata, 1995; Guichard-Anguis, 2009, p 2. ) following in the footsteps of others such as Takasugi (Ichisaka & Yoshioka, 2002), or Basho (Sekiya, 2009) which is what Basho himself was doing, and circular pilgrimages where again, the act of travel itself seems to be the purpose of travel, rather than the destination (Reader, 2005). The attention placed on roads and the act of travelling has been associated (Creighton, 2009) with the practical and spiritual "paths" (dou, michi) such as Japanese martial arts, calligraphy, tea-ceremony and flower arrangement. Similar to the Japanese love of travel for travels sake, in each of these praxes, accorded the highest veneration in Japanese society, the ends are seen as of secondary importance to the means: the process, the concentration and asceticism required to get there.

Finally, as usual, on this blog I have taken a Nacalian look at travel. If the Western self is seen as narratival, symbolic, and while infected by the image always eschewing of it, I have suggested that perhaps Westerns go to see sights for the same reason that Western Philosophers have conjured up thought experiments about an imprisoned women coming out of achromatic rooms: to assure themselves of the duality, exteriority of vision, and the existence of a transcendent self. In my reading of Derrida (1998), Western philosophers, and perhaps Western Tourists, are always trying to purify language as thought from anything visual (res-extensa, writing, the act, qualia etc).

If on the other hand the Japanese self is predominantly imaginary, seen from the eye of the other, then perhaps the Japanese travel in search of signs and symbols - as they do appear to do, to named, literary historical places, for stamps, and icons - in order to externalise the sign, as I argue they also do in Shinto purification rituals. Travel to the Japanese may be a sort of symbolic purification, in the sense that they may be attempting to rid themselves of the sign.

Taking this analogy one step further, if as has been suggested by philosophers of the Japanese self (Nishida, 1987; Heisig, 2006; Mochizuki, 2006) the Japanese self is a place ("basho"), and as suggested by Western philosophers (Heidigger see Watsuji's Fudo introduction, Derrida, 1998)  the Western logo-phono-centric narratival self is linked with time, itterability and deferral. So, at at deeper level rather than travel destination as 'images vs signs', perhaps Westerners go to see and externalise space, whereas Japanese travel to experience and externalise time.

Certainly an awareness of time figures prominently Japanese travel. The tremendous emphasis on history and nostalgia (Rea, 2000; Reader, 1987; Robertson, 1988, 1997; Routledge et al., 2011; Tran, 2005; C. N Vaporis, 1996; Constantine Nomikos Vaporis, 1995; Watkins, 2008) and witnessing changes in nature, the flow of the seasons, the impermanence of things. Till now I have understood this desire of Japanese to witness time as a desire for a self-extinguishing enlightenment. But if the Japanese self is a primordial space (Mochizuki, 2006, Nishida, 1987) the externalisation of time through time travel, may in fact be much more like Robo, logo Mary going to see the sights: protective and creative of self, and the self other boundary.

So perhaps the Japanese have a thing about vehicles because they like to go to experience time, and by doing so in the framework of tourism, externalise it. Perhaps they are attempting to return to a primordial space before the word, and leave time, 'the months and days', to travel on their own.

Bachnik, J. M., & Quinn, C. J. (Eds.). (1994). Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton University Press.
Creighton, M. (2009). The Heroic Edo-ic: Travelling the History Highway in Today’s Tokugawa Japan. In A. Guichard-Anguis, O. Moon, & M. R. del Alisal (Eds.), Japanese Tourism and Travel Culture (1st ed., pp. 37–75). Routledge.
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Guichard-Anguis, S. (2009). The Culture of Travel (tabi no bunka) and Japanese Tourism. In A. Guichard-Anguis, O. Moon, & M. R. del Alisal (Eds.), Japanese Tourism and Travel Culture (1st ed., pp. 1–18). Routledge.
Hori, ?. 堀淳一. (2010). にっぽん地図歩きの旅ー古道、旧道、旧街道ー. 講談社.
Ichisaka, T & Yoshioka, I. 一坂太郎, & 吉岡一生. (2002). 高杉晋作を歩く. 山と溪谷社.
Lebra, T. S. (1992). Self in Japanese culture. Japanese sense of self, 105–120.
Lebra, Takie Sugiyama. (2004). The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic. University of Hawaii Press.
Mochizuki, T. (2006). Climate and Ethics: Ethical Implications of Watsuji Tetsuro’s Concepts:‘ Climate’ and‘ Climaticity’. Philosophia Osaka, 1, 43–55. Retrieved from ir.library.osaka-u.ac.jp/metadb/up/LIBPHILOO/po_01_043.pdf
Nenzi, L. N. D. (2008). Excursions in identity: travel and the intersection of place, gender, and status in Edo Japan. University of Hawaii Press.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1987). 西田幾多郎哲学論集〈1〉場所・私と汝 他六篇. 岩波書店.
Reader, I. (2005). Making pilgrimages: Meaning and practice in Shikoku. University of Hawaii Press.
Robertson, J. (2007). Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Humanoid Robots and the Posthuman Family. Critical Asian Studies, 39(3), 369–398. doi:10.1080/14672710701527378
Sawa, K 澤 喜司郎. (2010). 交通論おもしろゼミナール5 観光旅行と楽しい乗り物. 成山堂書店.
Schodt, F. L. (1988). Inside the robot kingdom. Kodansha International.
Sekiya, A. 関屋敦子. (2009). 奥の細道を歩く. 文学史. Tokyo: JTBパブリッシング.
Shirahata, Y. (1995). Information Studies of Tourist Resources. Senri Ethnological Studies, 38, 51–63.
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.
Pilgrim, R. B. (1993). Buddhism and the Arts of Japan (2 Rep Sub.). Columbia University Press.
Rea, M. H. (2000). A Furusato Away from Home. Annals of tourism research, 27(3), 638–660.
Reader, I. (1987). Back to the future: Images of nostalgia and renewal in a Japanese religious context. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 14(4), 287–303.
Robertson, J. (1988). Furusato Japan: the culture and politics of nostalgia. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 1(4), 494–518.
Robertson, J. (1997). Empire of nostalgia: Rethinking’internationalization’in Japan today. Theory, culture & society, 14(4), 97–122.
Routledge, C., Arndt, J., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Hart, C. M., Juhl, J., Vingerhoets, A. J. J. M., et al. (2011). The past makes the present meaningful: Nostalgia as an existential resource. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(3), 638–652. doi:10.1037/a0024292
Tran, J. (2005). From Yokohama to Manchuria: a photography-based investigation of nostalgia in the construction of Japanese landscape. University of the Arts London.
Vaporis, C. N. (1996). A Tour of Duty: Kurume hanshi Edo kinban nagaya emaki. Monumenta Nipponica, 51(3), 279–307.
Vaporis, Constantine Nomikos. (1995). Hegemonic Nostallgia, Tourism, and Nation-Making in Japan. Senri ethnological studies, 38, 89–103. Retrieved from http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110004448792
Watkins, L. (2008). Japanese Travel Culture: An Investigation of the Links between Early Japanese Pilgrimage and Modern Japanese Travel Behaviour. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 10(2), 93–110.

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Inviting Cat Fawns Cutely and Promises in Silence

Inviting Cat Fawns Cutely by timtak
Inviting Cat Fawns Cutely, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The existence of these cats and their cute (schmaltzy?) gesture even in the late Edo suggests to me that the now famous Japanese cult of the cute (e.g. Akita, 2005; Kinsella, 1995) is not a recent media phenomena as the most famous Japanese critic points out (Yomota, 2006). These big eyed, almost mouth-less cute cats may have been one of the inspirations of Sanrio's "Hello Kitty" character. In any event cats are very popular in Japan.

On reason for this may be that overt expressions of desire are only tolerated if they are accompanied by profession of weakness in the form of amae (fawning, behaving like a hungry kitten) which Doi (1971) argued is especially prevalent in Japan.

Amae is above all a non-verbal expression, Doi argues, a "love-me, read my desire," beam, that the Japanese use to avoid individuation, overt requests and taking responsibility for them. I suggest that this cat may be amaeru-ing as it invites. It seems to me that the cat sends a message to potential customers that the proprietors want custom and financial reward, in a cute, feline, silent, subservient, and ingratiating way. But hold on! What off all the linguistic welcoming ("Irrashaimase")? I think that these linguistic communications are required to be stripped of desire. Irrashaimase means more like "thank you for entering our shop." This cat is saying "Oh, please, we so want you to come into our shop," and this is acceptable as long as it is not said in words.

I think that this has less to do with the Japanese wishing to avoid individuation and responsibility than being a product of the usual Nacalian transformation espoused on this "burogu." As Watsuji (1937) argues, in Japan the person is associated with the face (or mask) where as language is public not private (Nakashima, 1999; 1997). Doi was a Christian and probably went to church and read a book and tried to identify with its hero: he had a narrative self. To him verbal expressions were overt and entailed a promise, that with making requests come obligations. From a Nacalian point of view however, this cat's face and gesture is making an overt request, and a silent promise.

The rest of this text was largely adapted from the Japanese Wikipedia page but I see that the English Wikipedia page is even more detailed.

This cat is doing the downwards wave to invite with its left hand (while holding a traditional Japanese gold coin for the inflated amount of ten million "ryo") is inviting financial luck into a business establishment. Cats that are waving with their right hand (and not holding a coin) are inviting in customers.

It should be noted that the common Japanese gesture to invite others is to wave downwards in this way. In the UK the downward motion of the hand in this gesture seems to suggest that the invitee is below the inviter and would normally only be used towards young children or dogs.

There are a number of theories as to the origin of these (luck) "Inviting Cats" (Maneki Neko).

One theory has it that a poor old lady living in the vicinity of Tokyo's Imado Shrine was forced to let her cat go. The cat appeared to the old lady in a dream saying that she should make a model of the cat which the old lady did. Her increase in fortunes encouraged others to do the same. There is a style of pottery called Imado ware, created in the vicinity of Imado shrine and these potters made many inviting cats.

A feudal lord was passing a Tokyo temple (Goutokuji) in the rain when he saw a cat making the above gesture. The feudal lord sought shelter at the temple just before a thunderstorm and lightening took place. Grateful to the temple the feudal lord paid for its renovation. The temple for its part made a statue of the cat when it died. The good fortune of the temple became associated with the statue of the cat. In a variant of this story, the feudal lord was standing under the cover a tree that was subsequently hit by lightening when he saw the cat. Many inviting cats are offered at this temple to this day, but only of the non-financial right-hand-inviting variety.

Another similar story concerns a cat inviting a Shogun into Jishouin Temple when said Shogun had lost a battle and had lost his way. The Shogun's subsequent good luck became associated with the inviting cat.

It is probable that the pose originates in the natural facial grooming movement of a cat being mistaken for invitation. Somehow I can imagine a cat performing this gesture more emphatically in the rain so I am tempted by the Goutokuji theory but there is no way to tell.

There are other origin stories associating these cats with other temples and shrines. Cats were associated with good luck in times past when the silk industry was still a major source of revenue due to their ability to eat the mice that ate silk-worms.

Inviting cats are used as piggy-banks so their use encourages their owners to save and prosper. They usually found standing in business entrances. Coming from a country were no one would leave a piggy bank in an entrance hall for fear of theft, I wondered if they were somehow a theft deterrent that allowed thieves to take a small amount of loose change, which wrapped up in this cute facade, would make the robber feel guilty and discourage further theft. But now in retrospect I think that his was my biased interpretation.

Akita. (2005). Cuteness: The Sexual Commodification of Women in the Japanese Media. In T. Carilli & J. Campbell (Eds.), Women And The Media: Diverse Perspectives (pp. 44–57). University Press of America.
Doi, T. (2002). The Anatomy of Dependence. Kodansha USA.
Kinsella, S. (1995). Cuties in Japan. In B. Moeran & L. Scov (Eds.), Media and Consumption in Japan. Curson and Hawaii University Press. Retrieved from www.kinsellaresearch.com/new/Cuties in Japan.pdf
Nakashima, Y. 中島, 義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私. 新潮社.
Nkashima, 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. PHP研究所.
Watsuji, T. 和辻哲郎. (1937). 面とぺルソナ. 岩波書店.
Yomota, I. 四方田犬彦. (2006). 「かわいい」論. 筑摩書房.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The Loss of the Body in the Eye of the Other

The Eye of the Other and the Loss of the Body by timtak
The Eye of the Other and the Loss of the Body, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Recently, Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall, (2012) have demonstrated that East Asians are less in touch with their bodies, less aware of their bodies, than Americans. What of the vaunted embodiment (Kasulis & Ames, 1992) of the Asian Self?

There is something about Hiroko, and other Japanese girls, that shows they can see very well (contra Mary, see Jackson, 1986). Hiroko above can see so well she can even see herself.

Japanese ladies looks doll-like (Gerbert, 2001), perfect, presented, visio-dramatologically, because, I claim, they are continually presenting themselves to the Eye-of-the-Other: the generalised visual other than they simulate, that looks with them (Kitayama, 2005) in their minds.

You can always spot Japanese people, even abroad in Asian, especially Japanese ladies due to this oh 'so perfect' self-presentation.

While the Japanese could not care a hoot about how their self-narrative is heard (Heine, Lehman, Markus, & Kitayama, 1999), they care oh so much about how they appear. The above photo was one kindly taken in the research my auto-photography (Takememo ne Leuers & Sonoda, 1999) which demonstrated that Japanese auto-photography is as positive as the self-narratives and self-descriptions of Americans. Permanently in a height state of objective self awareness, this subject is always presenting her self, as if she is on strings. (This subject's name is not really "Hiroko" and I have blurred her face).

Back to the research of Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall (2012). They found that Japanese were more easily deceived as to bodily information; when misinformed that their heart rate had changed (raced) they changed their perceptions of stimuli whereas Americans did not. Japanese were more likely to mis-attribute arousal and think a confederate sexy in a virtual version of the classic scary "rope bridge" (Dutton & Aron, 1974) type situation. Japanese were also less accurate at estimating their own heart rate.

Furthermore this insensitivity to the body of correlated with the "contextual" (read visual?) ability found among Asians summarised in my last blog post.

In other words, the better Asians are at judging the relative lengths of rods in frames, the worse they are at being aware of the inside of their own body. Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall (2012) claim that East Asians are being distracted by contextual information that they are processing.

I believe however, that they are aware of their bodies in their self-directed, autoscopic gaze and it is this that interferes with their "visceral perception" of internal bodily events. This explanation contradicts research that suggests that increased objective self awareness in front of mirrors reduces the placebo effect (Gibbons, Carver, Scheier, & Hormuth, 1979; Gibbons & Gaeddert, 1984), but this may be due to an excesss of OSA, or depending on the supposed effect of the placebo.

I think that there may be exceptions to the findings in that the Japanese may be hyper sensitive to bodily changes that present themselves visually, such as blushing, sweating and appearing overweight.

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of personality and social psychology, 30(4), 510.
Gibbons, F. X., & Gaeddert, W. P. (1984). Focus of attention and placebo utility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20(2), 159–176. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(84)90018-0
Gibbons, F. X., Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Hormuth, S. E. (1979). Self-focused attention and the placebo effect: Fooling some of the people some of the time. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15(3), 263–274. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(79)90037-4
Gerbert, E. (2001). Dolls in Japan. The Journal of Popular Culture, 35(3), 59–89. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2001.3503_59.x
Jackson, F. (1986). What Mary didn’t know. The Journal of Philosophy, 83(5), 291–295. Retrieved from http://www.philosophicalturn.net/intro/Consciousness/Jackson_Mary_Know.pdf
Kasulis, T. P., & Ames, R. T. (1992). Self As Body in Asian Theory and Practice. (W. Dissanayake, Ed.). State Univ of New York Pr.
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.
Leuers, T., & Sonoda, N. (1999). The eye of the other and the independent self of the Japanese. Symposium presentation at the 3rd Conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology, Taipei, Taiwan.
Ma-Kellams, C., Blascovich, J., & McCall, C. (2012). Culture and the body: East–West differences in visceral perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(4), 718–728. doi:10.1037/a0027010

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Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual?

Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual? by timtak
Absolute and Relative: Contextual or Visual?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In Kitayama, Duffy, Kawamura, & Larsen, (2003, p202), excellent research on a theme now made famous by the even more extensive and exciting research by Nisbett and Masuda (e.g. 2007), Americans and Japanese were shown the stimulus on the left and asked (in the "absolute task") to draw a line of the same length in a smaller frame in the "absolute task" and to draw a line of the same length in the "relative task." The squares on the right show the correct answers.

It was found that in terms of the percentage errors of each group, the Japanese made a greater percentage error in absolute, whereas Americans made greater errors in the relative condition.

This result is interpreted to suggest that Japanese are better at incorporating contextual information (the size of the surrounding frame) whereas Americans are better at ignoring it. Masuda and Nisbett argue that the greater contextual ability of Japanese is associated with collectivism and using a geo-climatic (see here) explanation: agricultural style of Asian, wet field rice farming.

While Nisbett and Masuda may well be right, as per the Naclanian theory proposed on this blog, I think that that it may also be that the Americans are thinking in words ("30mm,") whereas the Japanese are thinking in images and remembering the stimulus image. As noted in recent posts, absolute size is not represented in visual information. The shrunk image on bottom the right "looks" the same (is the same?) as the original stimulus image.

One way to test this would be to give distractor verbal and visual tasks to see how that interfered with each cultures ability to process the stimulus information. I introduce this research also because I would like to talk about very recent research by Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall (2012).

Kitayama, S., Duffy, S., Kawamura, T., & Larsen, J. T. (2003). Perceiving an object and its context in different cultures A cultural look at new look. Psychological Science, 14(3), 201–206. www.crab.rutgers.edu/~seduffy/KitDuffKawLar.pdf
Ma-Kellams, C., Blascovich, J., & McCall, C. (2012). Culture and the body: East–West differences in visceral perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(4), 718–728. doi:10.1037/a0027010
Nisbett, R. E., & Masuda, T. (2007). Culture and point of view. Intellectica, (46-47), 153–172. www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/index.files/NisbettMasuda2007.pdf

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Authenticopy of Ise Shrine

Authenticopy of Ise Shrine by timtak
Authenticopy of Ise Shrine, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The above photo shows a copy of the most important shrine in Japan, that of Ise to the Sun-Goddess or her mirror, recreated 500 years ago in Yamaguchi City. People worship at this shrine as if worshipping at Ise. People worshipping here will not feel that this is just a copy but that it is authentic: an authenticopy.

The sacred mirror enshrined at Ise was used to trick the Sun-Goddess out of a cave, with the words, "See there is someone as beautiful as you outside" and was latter passed, by the Sun Goddess to emperor of Japan with the words "See this as if it were my soul and worship it as if it were me." Description of the Sun Goddess as a mirror in Shinto Mythology may have preceded these two occurrences - The Sun Goddess was always a mirror. The mirror of the sun-goddess is believed by some to be in, or to be the heart of every Japanese (Kurozumi, 2000). In more literal terms, it is found that even today, the Japanese are able to simulate the presence of a mirror in their minds (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008).

Some people believe that words mean ideas and that these ideas are somehow both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of god). They believe furthermore that the meanings of words are not copies, but always authentic or (co)present (Derrida, 1011) with the authentic in each and every instantiation.

The Japanese may believe that the world they see is both in the mind and in the world, or in the mind of a different type of seeing God. In that case perhaps "copies", such as copied horses or copied shrines, are not copies at all but authenticopies, and like Simulacra (Baudrillard, 1995) as close as one gets to the real thing.

The real thing after all is a river (Heraclitus), so if there is anything it has to be a simulacra or authenticopy.

Baudrillard did not differentiate between imaginary and symbolic copies but referred to both. However when he talks about the "mind of God" as that which insures the authenticity of these copies, presumably he is talking about his culture's logocentric God. In any event, I am using Authenticopy to refer to a subset of Simulacra, an authentic copy in the omnipresent (at least in Japan) mirror of the other.

Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.
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.
Heraclitus (n.d) "Everything changes and nothing remains still... and... you cannot step twice into the same stream"
Kurozumi, M. (2000). The Living Way: Stories of Kurozumi Munetada, a Shinto Founder. (W. Stoesz & S. Kamiya, Trans.). Altamira Pr.

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The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light?

The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light? by timtak
The Fabric of the Universe: Made of the Logos or Made of the Light?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Japanese feel they can copy shrines, horses, food, and foreign countries in form of the popular foreign villages (gaikoku mura. See Graburn, Ertl, & Tierney, 2010; Hendry, 2000, 2005). Perhaps all this 'copying' started with a special mirror. With regard to shrines at least the Japanese claim it is not copying, but like "dividing a fire" (Norinaga see Herbert, 2010, p99) .

At least, when the Japanese see these "copies" they feel they are experiencing the same thing an authenticopy, or Simulacra (Baudrillard, 1995). I argue that they are the same thing to the Japanese because the world is the light. To borrow Heisig's words, the Japanese (or at least Nishida) believe the world meets the self at the plane of that "tainless mirror"(Heisig, 2004).

One can tell that the "copying" is visual because, for instance, the Japanese often like to change the size (Lee, 1984) or taste (Graburn, Ertl, & Tierney, 2010, p. 231) of the "copies". This matters not one bit in the plane of the mirror, where there is no size; get up close to a Bonsai and it could be a massive tree.

Westerners feel that the meanings behind their words are replicated in the minds of others (Nietzshe, 1888; Derrida, 2011) because the world, for Mary (Jackson, 1986), Dennet (2007) and I at least, is made of Logos: our dream of language made real. Occasionally some of us get out of our room and see the light, which makes us shiver.

So who are the copyists now, the word copiers or the light copiers?

Imai & Gentner (1997; see Imai & Masuda, in press or Genter & Boroditsky, 2001) showed Japanese and American children and adults, an image like the above. My version shows a half-moon shape made of plasticine and red playdough, and some lumps of plasticine. In the original experiment the subjects were told that the thing at the top was a "dax" and to bring the experimenter another dax. The Japanese were more likely than Americans to bring the pieces of plasticine. This is not surprising in view of the fact that Japanese nouns do not have plurals and need counters to refer to number, as English does for materials. The Japanese seem to be seeing the world as materials.

But then later Imai and her associates performed the same experimenters tried getting Americans (Imai & Gentner, 1997) and then Japanese (Imai & Mazuka, 2007) to "bring the same as this," again pointing to the green shape at the top, without giving that thatness a name.

Without a name, both the Americans and the Japanese were more likely to behave like the Japanese choosing more green plasticine rather than the red shape or entity, because they have got the words out of their heads to an extent. Imai interprets the data in a different way specifically rejecting the "perceptual" hypothesis. But I claim that deprived of words for a novel experience, both Americans and Japanese had started to see the light - or the colours that we anticipate Mary will enjoy so much - a little more clearly - hence the choice of plasticine rather than the half moon shape.

The floating world, the one that the Japanese believe in at the same time know (or are told) does not really exist is often referred to as "colour" (shiki) in Japanese Buddhism.

Being presented with these novel shapes is perhaps like a little journey, a minor tourism experience where the Japanese tourist wants to be given the name first, whereas the Western tourists wants to go and see the sights and give it a name afterwards.

Bibliography (thanks Zotero)
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.
Dennett, D. (2007). What RoboMary Knows. Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism, 15–31.
Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Genter, D., & Boroditsky, L. (2001). Individuation, relativity and early word learning. In M. Bowerman & S. C. Levinson (Eds.), Language Acquisition and Conceptual Development (pp. 215–256). Cambridge University Press.
Lee 李御寧. (1984). 「縮み」志向の日本人. 講談社.
Graburn, N., Ertl, J., & Tierney, R. K. (2010). Multiculturalism in the New Japan: Crossing the Boundaries Within. Berghahn Books.
Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida’s medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55–72. Retrieved from nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20Medieval%...
Hendry, J. (2000). Foreign Country Theme Parks: A New Theme or an Old Japanese Pattern? Social Science Japan Journal, 3(2), 207–220. doi:10.1093/ssjj/3.2.207
Hendry, J. (2005). Japan’s Global Village: A View from the World of Leisure. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, 231–243.
Herbert, J. (2010). Shinto: At the Fountainhead of Japan. Taylor & Francis.
Imai, M., & Masuda, T. (n.d.). The Role of Language and Culture in Universality and Diversity of Human Concepts. Retrieved from www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/ImaMasudaAdvancesCulturePsycholo...
Imai, M., & Mazuka, R. (2007). Language-Relative Construal of Individuation Constrained by Universal Ontology: Revisiting Language Universals and Linguistic Relativity. Cognitive science, 31(3), 385–413.
Imai, Mutsumi, & Gentner, D. (1997). A cross-linguistic study of early word meaning: universal ontology and linguistic influence. Cognition, 62(2), 169–200. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(96)00784-6
Imai, Mutsumi, Gentner, D., & Uchida, N. (1994). Children’s theories of word meaning: The role of shape similarity in early acquisition. Cognitive Development, 9(1), 45–75. doi:10.1016/0885-2014(94)90019-1
Jackson, F. (1986). What Mary didn’t know. The Journal of Philosophy, 83(5), 291–295.
Nietzsche, F. (1888)“Reason in Philosophy.” Twilight of the Idols. transl. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Retreived from http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html#sect3

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Breadshop or Cake Shop?

Breadshop or Cake Shop? by timtak
Bread Shop or Cake Shop?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Yasuko is in a Japanese "breadshop" about to purchase the last "baguette". To me most Japanese bread tastes like cake even though it looks deceptively the same as its European counterpart. As my French professor used to say, "soft" (read texture-less) Japanese bread can be quite a disappointment (Louyot, 1999) for Europeans.

In Japan the important thing is that copies or things look the same. I think that the Japanese may even delight in having things look the same but taste different, or not taste of anything at all - such as in the case of plastic food. Certainly they like to copy things at different sizes, particularly in miniature (Lee, 1984), but sometimes as giants. This is because in the visual world in which Japanese live, there is no taste, nor size, nor even body (Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, & McCall, 2012).

Louyot, M (c. 1999) Personal Communication.
Lee 李御寧. (1984). 「縮み」志向の日本人. 講談社.
Ma-Kellams, C., Blascovich, J., & McCall, C. (2012). Culture and the body: East–West differences in visceral perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(4), 718–728. doi:10.1037/a0027010

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Purification: Out out damn Words

Purification: Out out damn Words by timtak
Purification: Out out damn Words, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Since the wands are pieces of paper, and the pieces of paper are sometimes used (I believe) to write words, and sometimes one writes one desires and leaves at shrines I think that the purpose of the sweeping purification may be to wipe the words, or symbols out of ones mind.

If you are able to get the words out of your head, then Shrines and the world looks more like the mirror. When words are reduced to the externalities that they are, used for communication, for transmission between one place and another, as they are in Shinto, such as when one moves the spirit of a deity from a shrine to a home, vectored by a "Shinpu" or sacred stamped piece of paper, then science becomes the mass of hypotheses that it is, and the "real world" as obscure and irrelevant as Nietzsche believed. On the other hand, if the mirror is sacred, and you are taught to believe that there is always someone, a neighbour, an ancestor, something looking, then unlike Nietzsche, you will not have abolished the "apparent world" too.

Nietzsche, F. (2007). Twilight of the Idols. Wordsworth Classics.

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Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished by timtak
Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

In front of many Shinto shrines there are many stone lanterns. They have the shape of lanterns. They have windows in them representing the sun and the moon. But perhaps it is more appropriate to say that they are copies of lanterns because, in the vast majority of cases the simulated lanterns are never lit. They may appear to be fake lanterns, containing nether candle, nor any sort of lamp. So what are they doing there?

It seems to me that these lamps draw attention the visual or qualia field of consciousness, or in other terms, "the mirror of the sun goddess".
It was this mirror that became the first copy-that-was-not-a-copy, in Shinto mythology. Amaterasu, the Sun-Godess appeared to have been fooled by it, tricked out of her cave, but was she? Was she perhaps not a mirror all along? Certainly when the first imperial ancestor left her company for Japan he was given, as a senbestu of sorts or keepsake, a mirror, which the first emperor was told to worship as if it were the original.

This mirror or field always extended, and in a sense alight, while we are awake, and can not be turned off other than globally by death, unconsciousness and sleep. The lanterns in front of Shinto shrines are thus never extinguished and in a way shiny brightly, even or especially in daylight. So bearing that in mind, are these lanterns copies of lanterns, or really lanterns after all?

Some people believe that words mean ideas and that these ideas are somehow both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of god). They believe furthermore that the meanings of words are not copies, but always authentic in each and every instantiation. The Japanese may believe that the world they see is both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of a different type of God). In that case perhaps "copies", such as copied horses or copied shrines, are not copies at all but the real thing.

Further Reading

Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.

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Monday, May 21, 2012


Self Esteem in the Autoscopic Land of Manga: Jimanga

Self Esteem in the Autoscopic Land of Manga: Jimanga by timtak
Self Esteem in the Autoscopic Land of Manga: Jimanga, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
First of all I am a Yoshinori Kobayashi fan. I often agree with his opinions and when I don't I am glad that he has expressed them. Secondly I do not hold copyright for any of the three images above, found by searching for the manga artists name on google images (here and here) and I am more than happy to cease and desist. 取り下げご希望でありましたら、下記のコメント欄かnihonbunka.comからご連絡ください。

Another reason why I like Kobayashi is because he presents a theory of self not unlike that found in Social psychology and Lacan: Having a self is not innate. One has a self by virtue of internalising self views of others, so self or individual is dependent upon other or "public" in his words.

It is a shame however that the takes the usual logocentrist position of the self being primarily structured by language. This enables him to take a more nationalist view of the self since he believes the self is formed in language, specifically the Japanese language, so the "public" upon which his self is dependent is the community of Japanophones, including some Taiwanese (who he admires).

I wish he would be more Naclanian and to an extent at least universalising since it seems to me he has a autoscopic, specular self: a self created in the gaze rather than the ear, or rather linguistic recognition, of the other.

Not only is he clearly an excellent manga artists with command of images, and viewpoints, and can draw himself, looking at himself in a mirror from a viewpoint behind his own head but also he shows the most give away sign of having a self-in-the-visio imaginary; he draws his own representation in a very postive way. Please compare the two images on the left. The one above in the bottom corner of the manga on the left is Kobayashi's representation of Kobayashi. As you can see the graphic representation looks rather younger, perhaps even more handsome, than the eloquent reality.

This tendency of manga artists to represent themselves in a postive way is far from unique to Kobayashi. In all the self representations or jimanga (a painful pun on "self-manga" 自漫画, and "picture of which one is pround" 自慢画) that I have seen, all appear to be positive. And there is no reason why not.

These jimanga are just one of the many ways that Japanese express that which in language is called "self-enhancement" (Heine, 1999). We westerners have a far stronger tendency to self-enhance when we talk about yourselves. Confined to linguistic self-representations, the Japanese seem to have entirely realistic self-appraisals and comparatively low self-esteem. As my research on autophotography and numerous photographs here of Japanese visual self-representations, Kobayashi as other Japnaese have healthy visual self esteem.

Let is be noted that the Japanese have an autoscopic (Metzinger, 2009) self view, they can see themselves (as Koyahashi's manga on the right shows and see Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008) so their postive self-representations in the visual domain are for self-consumption, as is all healthy self esteem.

Kobayashi, Y. 小林よしのり. (2000). 新・ゴーマニズム宣言SPECIAL 台湾論. 小学館.
Kobayashi, Y. 小林よしのり(n.d.)「愛子さまが皇太子になれるよう皇室典範改正を」 .Infoseek ニュース. Retrieved from http://news.infoseek.co.jp/article/postseven_9592 (I can't find the reference to the manga)
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
Metzinger, T. (2009). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (1st ed.). Basic Books.

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Double Dreams in the Floating World

Double Dreams in the Floating World by timtak
Double Dreams in the Floating World, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Laura Nenzi (2008, p189) uses the above image by way of conclusion to her excellent book on travel in Japan. She writes "But dreams and aspirations (collective and individual alike) are slippery subjects that more often than not hide between lines or amid icons alread dense with meaning. Difficult to verbalize, difficult to grasp, they are impossible tricky for the historian to recover with any sense of certainty. Leave it then to Isoda Koryuusai (1735-1790) to come to the rescue of the text-bound historian with a mesmerizing image that, in the limited space of one woodblock print (19.1cm x 25.4com), concisely summarizes what countless travelers (as well as the historian in question) have spilled rivers of ink attempting to articulate (Figure 14). Dreaming of Walking near Fuji (1770-1773) captures and freezes in time the hopes and desires of two characters from the floating world...What the dream of movement meant to these two is clear: liberation from the everyday. Out of the house, away from all that is predictable and commonplace, they have finally achieved that state of complete disengagement that is the prerequisite for re-creation.
As the juxtaposition of movement and immobility in this image suggests, motion is, in a sense, the antithesis of order: it displaces what ought to stay put; it frees what ought to be contained." (p 187-188. Image on page 189, emphasis mine.)

Bearing in mind her subject matter - Japanese travellers who go to see sights where there is nothing to see - this is a fabulous choice of image to close with. Prof Nenzi is on the money, but I wish she had spilt a little more ink, at least in the interrogative. Do "collective" dreams exist? Can we share our dreams like these dreamers, in some way, in any way? Why are these Japanese dreamers dreaming autoscopically (Masuda,Gonzalez, Kwan, Nisbett, 2008; Cohen and Gunz, 2002) each seeing the image of themselves in their own dream - the dream is doubly double? From whose perspective is the dream seen? Perhaps the most important question for a theory of travel is, have the dreamers seen mount Fuji? And the million dollar question, bearing in mind the genre of the artwork, when they wake up will the erstwhile dreamers then share the same picture of the floating world.?

To be honest I can't answer these questions for myself let alone the Japanese. But at least, I think that there is considerable cultural difference at least in degree, and that these differences help explain cultural differences in travel behaviour.

The position of these (as Nenzi notes) sexually ambiguous lovers, reminds me of the cover of "The Postcard." (Derrida, 1987) which I consider to have been self, or intra-psychologically addressed. It is also reminiscent of the many pictures of the floating world that Kitayama (2005) uses to illustrate the, he argues, psychologically important trope of "looking together." Furthermore, if the Japanese are capable of autoscopy even when awake ( as my research, Heine, et al., 2008, shows), the picture may be illustrative not only of Japanese travel behaviour, but also of the Japanese self".

Image credits: Isoda Koryuusai, Dreaming of Walking near Fuji, 1770-1773. Woodblock print, ink and color on paper, 19.1 b 25.4cm. M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (The Anne van Biema Collection, S2004.3.23)

Bibliography Created by Zotero
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. Retrieved from web.missouri.edu/~ajgbp7/personal/Cohen_Gunz_2002.pdf
Derrida, J. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. (A. Bass, Trans.) (First ed.). University Of Chicago Press.
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
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.
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.
Metzinger, T. (2009). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (1st ed.). Basic Books. (I have not read this but it sounded like Nishida and uses the word "autoscopy" so it is on my reading list)
Nenzi, L. N. D. (2008). Excursions in identity: travel and the intersection of place, gender, and status in Edo Japan. University of Hawaii Press.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012


Nacalian Transformations

Nacalian Transformations by timtak
Nacalian Transformations, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In order to understand Japanese culture, without having to read my blog, all you have to do, when you see something that is striking in Western or Japanese culture, is to apply a Nacalian transformation, transposing symbol for image, or vice versa.

I call these "Nacalian transformations" because Jacques Lacan ("Nacal") backwards famously claimed that infants identify first with their mirror images and secondly and more effectively with the first person of their self narrative. I don't think that the temporal relationship is important (indeed Lacan denied it himself) but the power relationship and cultural preference appears to be reversed. Japanese grow up to identify with their images rather than their words. The reason for this is in both cases the same. In each culture one or other of these types of self representation are scattered among binary relationships (first person pronouns in Japan, and visual images in Japan), whereas the other type of self-representation are felt to be consolidated and objective by virtue of the presence of an all powerful, insuring, caring and horrific, intra-psychic Other.

Before giving some examples I should admit that the understanding achieved by applying a Nacalian transformation will not satisfy those wishing to find a philosophers' stone. It will not answer the question "So why are they different?" in a way which will satisfy either Westerners or Japanese. We would all like to find explanations that root themselves in our core beliefs, of the individualism of Westerners, or the geo-climatic environmental dependency of Japanese. In order to gain anything from a Nacalian transformation, one must first put explanations of the form "It is because they are collectivists" and "It is because we are an island nation" in abeyance.

Now for some examples, of (1) theories that have a Western and Japanese component, or better (2) theories that have a Western or Japanese component but not both or better still (3) phenomenon that look weird in one or the other culture.

(1) Theories that have a Japanese and Western component such as that of Benedict (1946) the most famous theory of Japanese and Western culture, and Yuki () one of my favourites.

Benedict alleged that Japan has a shame culture and that the West has a guilt culture. She was right. However being a Westerner she founded this theory upon the usual individualism vs collectivism stereotype. Unsatisfying as maybe, applying a Nacalian transformation we get guilt is to shame as language is to image, and vice versa. In other words, shame is felt when we see our behaviour and do not like what we see, and guilt is that feeling we get when we can not narrate our behaviour in anything but an unpalatable way. Lots more could be said but please refer to the excellent book by Gabriele Taylor(1985) for an explication of guilt and shame in these terms.

Yuki points out that Westerners join groups that share conceptual similarities whereas Japanese join networks of one to one relations. A Nacalian transformation would show that Western groups are conceived linguistically in terms of the concepts shared by the members, whereas Japanese groups are conceived "in the imaginary" which Lacan says, are always in one to one relations. (I need to find the quote but Lacan's imaginary field is bedevilled by one to one realtionships). This transformation, however, requires that one goes beyond the framework provided by Lacan since he was not able to conceive of a imaginary universal, a third person *view* (in literal terms). Nacalian transformation demand that one transform even assymetrical terms withinn Lacan who affords only the "Other" of language a capital letter. Bachnik (who may be even brainier than Yuki and certainly far brainier than me) provides, via Nishida perhaps, the geo-visual place or field, that is shared by Japanese group members (Bachnik & Quinn, 1994) that implies, for my money, the eye of the Other.

(2) Theories that are about only one culture. Two good theories of this type are that of Heine () regarding Western Self-Enhancement, and that of Nakashima Yoshimichi (1999) (perhaps the best theory of the Japanese not to be translated into English.

Heine points out that the Japanese do not "self-enhance" a technical term which means "brag, even to themselves." He is right, the Japanese do not brag even to themselves. They are even self-deprecating. Applying a Nacalian transformation however, reveals parallel behaviour of Japanese in the visio-imaginary plane. When the Japanese take photos of themselves (my research) or when they draw manga of themselves (e.g. Kobayashi Yoshinori's self representations), or in general in their visual self-representations, they make sure that they look very genki, cool, young, slim, and visually excellent.

Nakajima's superb observations regarding the way in which Japan has so many personless voices and announcements, or allows public but not private speech. Yes, Japan is really weird in that way to any Westerner, or a Westernized Japanese (like Professor Nakajima). We westerners find personless voices disconcerting. I used to stop in Japanese supermarkets in front of the endless tapes of people advertising the shops wares. I used to find buses that announced the that they are reversing ("bakku shimasu, bakkus shimasu"), or bullet trains that asked their boarders not to bring on board bombs, etc. very disconcerting. To me the voice and language should be (co-) present with a living idea. And what is the problem with speaking out individually, in class, in a train? In Japan students are silent, and people that talk on their phones are pariah. Performing a Nacalian transformation, provides a sort of understanding. Japanese when they come to the UK find the statues that adorn our streets, pretty peculiar (bukimi). A visual human form should be accompanied by person-hood, even if it is only an playful one. Japanese do not put photos of their family on their desk at work, because (like a disembodied voice) they would feel that they that person is present. And just as public speech is, as public (speech is seen as out there, public, other) repressed in Japan so is visual self representation in the West, where clothing, architecture is so repressed as to be clone.

(3) Phenomena.
Everyone can do Japanology. Everyone can provide explanation of the weirdness of the West and the Japanese. Just perform a Nacalian Transformation, and you will find an equivalent behaviour in the other culture.

Off the cuff.
The Japanese are so vague - Westerners are lacking in visual style.
The Japanese do not care about invisible health riskt such as that of smoking - Westerners get incredibly fat.
Westerners like to create theories (like this blog) - Japanese like to create visual corporeal things.
And the topic of a forthcoming blog post: Japanese copy things visually assuming they are authentic (from gaikoku mura = foreign villages, to the Ise shrine) whereas Westerners copy signs assuming each one to be authentic, the same.

So the cat is out of the bag?

I wish Mary would come out of her room.

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Friday, May 18, 2012


Watsuji's Full Persona and Roland Barthes' Empty Signs

Watsuji's Full Persona and Roland Barthes' Empty Signs

I re-read Watsuji's brief essay called "Mask and Persona" today. The essay, with its emphasis on image of self, is one of the reasons why I have a Nacalian view of the Japanese. The essay is brief, and perhaps because it is brief, rife with potential meanings. Barthes would have liked it. Or would he?

Roland Barthes, a giant among Western thinkers, is famous for many things. One of the many things that he is famous for is his appreciation of texts, stories, novels, movies, that allow a plenty of space for reader interpretation. Barthes liked 'texts' that are rife with potential meanings.

Sometimes, I watch a movie and think, "er, what was that"? What did it mean? I am not saying that Barthes liked every bad B movie, but he liked movies (etc.) that are not obvious, that do not force their meanings down the throat of the audience, that allow the reader to interpret, that allow for a variety of different readings.

Another thing that Roland Barthes is famous for, in my own mind, is his belief that only the linguistic (phonemes?) can really mean.

Is he for real? Can be really be serious? Yes... as far as I am aware, he really thought that only language (again phonemes I think) can mean, much any way.

Barthes was great at looking at things and unpacking their meaning, interpreting them, giving images words. He felt, as the great Western tradition feels, that visual signs have meaning only in so far as they translate to linguistic meanings.

I confess that I am not sure why, or how, Barthes justified his belief that only language (phoneme) can mean. Here is my take on how he could think such a thing.

Before I attempt to explain Barthes' view, I should say also that he came to Japan and wrote one of the most famous, and one of my very favorite, books about Japan, and claiming that Japan is an "empire of signs," by this he meant that he could not provide words for the {visual} signs that he found in Japan, and thus he presumed that these Japanese signs are empty centered, meaningless signs for the sake of signs.

So, how could Barthes have presumed such a thing? And what is "meaning" anyway?

Generally in my blog I just report or permute, as in reverse, or otherwise shift the thoughts of clever people (Lacan, Nishida, Bakhtin, Heine, Kim etc) to fit Japanese culture as I see it, and do not attempt to say anything new, other than my permutations. But meaning (what is meaning?) has been getting my goat, so I would like to have a try.

Watsuji's essay "Mask and Persona" exposes the importance of face, and therefore mask, as a core, nexus of our appreciation of people, personality, or persona.

Watsuji points out that we are at ease with facial portraits (such as any one in the image above) of people, feeling them to be people, and do not feel these facial portraits to to be limbless. If on the other hand we see a picture of a torso or of a hand, we see that picture as lacking a face, as just a picture of a torso or of a hand and not of a person. It is only when we see a picture of a face that we see it as being a picture of the person.

This quantum break, between images of hands and of faces, is Watsuji argues, like the life or personality-imbued-ness, of masks used in Japanese drama such as Noh and Kagura. A Noh mask, like a face (unlike a fake hand or glove) can represent a personality, a person. In a way parallel to the separation of mask and actor therefore, the face like the mask has a life of its own.

Watsuji also argues that we always put a face to our perceptions of people. He uses the example of people with whom we have only had a linguistic relationship, such as by letter. He might also have used the example or reading a novel. He points out that even though we have only had linguistic commune with that person (or persona in a novel) we form a facial impression so strong such that we are surprised if the reality (or the film of the book) does not conform to our expectations.

If we read a book, and then seeing the film of the book, and we can often be surprised, jarred disappointed that the actor playing the lead character does not look how we expected them to be. Not only do we give faces to the persona in books that we read, Watsuji argues that we can't think of people that we do know and have me without calling to mind their face.

Now here is a thought exercise. If one reads a letter, email, or other linguistic missive from a friend, then does one, do you understand the linguistic meaning without recourse to any imagination, or more, do we rely on imagining the face or that person as they "say" their 'letteral'-linguistic meanings in order to give meaning to what they have said?

Both scenarios are possible, depending on many things, including the senders, with a continuum between the two. Some readers, may think only of the words expressed in the linguistic message. Some readers may read the words and then understand them by calling to mind the face of the person that said them. As argued by Watsuji since we create faces even for novel protagonists, everyone reads meaning straight from the words, and also from the images they create both, to varying degrees.

It seems to me that the degree to which we rely on our images of faces to understand the meanings of others words, and the degree to which we put faces to the words we read in novels, will depend on the extent to which we identify with our face or our words.

This I think provides an interpretation of Barthes assertion that only the linguistic has meaning. The reason why, for Barthes, only the linguistic has meaning is because Barthes (as most Westerners) predominantly identified with his narrative self. Barthes was for Barthes a narrative. Watsuji for Watsuji was however, predominantly a face.

One of the conditions for meaning is the integration of that which we are trying to understand with that which we think we are. To Barthes, Japanese visual signs were empty because Barthes did not understand, conceive of himself visually. To Japanese people however, the signs that Barthes failed to interpret were as they were, as visual signs, and like faces, replete with meaning.

This has three implications.

In that way, perhaps the sushi, the imperial palace, and the visual other signs that Barthes felt to be empty may be perceived as face. The imperial palace may be one of the 'faces of Tokyo.' A tuna sushi may be perceived as a face. I think that this can be tested experimentally.

The Japanese identifying as they may do with their faces may be especially motivated to maintain facial consistency across the life span, and or to see themselves as different people (young me, old me, ojisan me) at different stages of their lives. I think that the facial consistency can be observed in Japan, both in the flesh and in self characterisations, self-manga (jimanga is my pun) such as that of Kobayashi Yoshinori which always present the author as if he were a young man.

Japanese can and do identify with other faces, such as that of their emperor or the mascots that represent them (such as Kumano) as demonstrated in forthcoming research by Okida and Takemoto(2017).

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