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