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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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Nacalianism and Climaticity

Nacalianism and Climaticity by timtak
Nacalianism and Climaticity, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
If I were given a penny for every time a Japanese person explained Japanese behaviour as being a result of the Japanese being an island nation (a geo-climatic explanation) I would be rich. If I recieved a penny every time Westerner explained to me that the Japanese are collectivists (a socio-historical theory), then I would be richer still.

But then, I have a socio-historic theory of my own. It seems to me that Japan is Nacalian. Nacal is Lacan backwards, and Nacalian refers to the theory that Lacan's theory of the human explains Japanese behaviour quite well if it is turned upside down or back to front.

Lacan (2002, [1949]) argued that the human self is created as an external identification with the image, before later, as a result of being unable to demand their mothers affection, they identify with their symbolic parent - their father - and so we go on to narrate ourselves into existance. The advantage of this is is, Western theorist claim, the visual self representation is locked in binary relationships with real external others or mirrors, whereas language provides us with the means to hear ourselves speak, understand ourselves from the point of view of others (plural) and also finally, from the point of view of the Other (Lacan, 2002), the "generalised other," (Mead, 1967) the "superadressee" (Bakhtin, 1986).

Lacan's theory explains the Japanese self too, if topologically reversed. The Japanese self orginiates in an external identification with the symbol, before later, as a result of being unable to demand 'assimilation with their mother'*, Japanese identify with the their visual parent, and imagine, or animate, themselves into existence. The advantage of this is that while self-imagary requires that one visualise oneself from the outside, it is not as external as language which is external in both the spatial and social sense. As Wittenstien (1973) famously argued there can not be a private language, and meaning is realised in "language games" - that is to say communicative encounters that require not only an outside, but also other people**.

Whille there is no linguistic third person perspective (Mori, 1999) or even narrative (Kim, 2002) in the mind of the Japanese, a sort of capitalised/generalised Other, or super-addressee is also present in Japan: the Japanese simulate a mirror in their heads (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008; Takemoto, 2002).

The universality of visio-imaginary self-apprehension may be more fractal, but it is no less objective. In addition to the temporal ephemerality of the linguistic sign (Derrida, 1998), it is the relative ease with which the noiseless ear, compared to the visible eye, can be merged and hidden that conceals the fact that it is no more easy to gain a universalised linguistic aprehension of oneself (through dialetic perhaps) than it is to gain a universalised apprehension of oneself through self imagination. At the very least as communication theorists (Mehrabian, 2007) and common knowledge teach us, a picture speaks... or signifies, at least as well as, words.

Though the best Western philosophers blithely assert that language provides, apriori, a means of perceiving oneself from the point of view of others, in fact to understand oneself from another persons' lnguistic point of view requires a simulation, of comparable complexity to that required by the act of simulating the literal, visual view of an other.

And so it is that Westerners narrate themselves into existance based around their "Je", whereas Japanese have a collage of self ways, a geography of self, not limited to, but centering on their face.

Convinced as I am of the limited power of language, the existence of my own cultural baggage, and the prevalence of contradiction in the world, the fact that Nacalianism is to some extent contradictory is to be expected. And one of the many applications of Nacalianism is as a metatheory that applies to, and to an extent contradicts, itself.

Due to their heighted powers of visual imagination, and their self indentificiation with their own image, the Japanese are inclined to open their eyes and look about them when they want to explain human behaviour. As a result, the Japanese, including Japanese academics, have a great love of theories of climaticity. Here climate refers to the visual environment including the weater and seasons. It is also translated as "environment", and "milleue." The originator of the term and the most famous examplar of which is that of Watsuji Tetsuro who argued that culture can be explained by the geo-climatic conditions of its origin, seperating cultures into desert cultures, monsoon cultures etc (Watsuji, 1961).

Other examples geo-climatic theories of human society include the following.

Tamaki's explanation of regional variations in Japanese culture by the geographically induced varieties of irrigation (Tamaki, 1979), such as collectivism and harmony among flatplain canal irrigationists, to individualism among those in more mountainous regions that use individual lakes to flood their rice fields.

Various scholars -- and the Japanese general public -- use Watsuji's divisions of people's into 'agriculturalists (The japanese) vs hunter gathers (the British!?)', or 'agriculturalists vs. herders.'

These geo-climatic theory of culture too sometimes touch on similarly self-contradictory meta-theories of theory. In the introduction to Tamaki's work in which he describes climatic theories as being Japanese. The geo-climatic theory of Aida (1990) below, also attempts to explain the origin of climaticity (which he refers to as attention to area).

"This tendency of Japanese (to think interms of areas as opposed to points and lines) originates in the Japanese geo-climatic environment and the characteristics of the type of agriculture theirin employed. Compared to Europe, Japanese land is clearly more fertile, and as a result the special Japanese agricultural style gave birth to a belief in the mysterious creative power in the land [the area] itself.
In European agriculture however, herding is always required [for crop rotation]. Europeans hardly ever believe in the mysterious creative power of the land. Herders are always like this. The supremacy of herders gives rise to [a philosophy of] points and lines, and not areas." (Aida, 1990,p 199, my rough translation, with omissions and [additions]).

The hightly influential Laurel Forest Culture theory proposed Sasaki Koumei (佐々木, 2007) and Nakao Sasuke's (Nakao, 2006) proposes that the form of forest found in places like Japan and Taiwan have resulted in considerable cultural similarity.

Yuki's use of the frontier mentality in the USA to explain behaviour in Hokkaidou, and generally to explain social beahviour by social mobility (how much people move around) and by implication I feel, the existance of space in which they are free to do so (e.g. Schug, Yuki, Horikawa, & Takemura, 2009). This theory too (and that of Nisbett below), uses space to explain valuations of space -- spatially defined relationships, or holistic thought patterns -- is as self-applicable and self-contradictory as my own theory, it seems to me.  

Climatic theories are of course not absent in the West. Two of note are those of Richard Nisbett (2004) and Francesa Bray(1994), each coming to the opposite conclusion regarding the effect of rice agriculture upon culture. Nisbett argued that rice agriculture encouraged cooperation, whereas Bray argues that it encouraged independence, lack of cooperation and the late arrival of the industrial revolution in Japan.

To these climatic theories I would like to add my own, only partly toungue in cheek. In geographies which are fairly flat, and the horizon is low, humans can generally only see the sky, ground, and the immediate social environment, and as such tend to interpret the world in terms of sociological tendencies. In geographies where there are steep mountains, such as in the above photo, humans are always able to see nature, the movement of the seasons, and can but be aware of its impact upon their lives. Thus the Japanese are more inclined to interpret human behaviour in terms of geo-climatic theories. I am serious. Living in Japan, and always made forcefully aware of the presence of nature by being surrounded by sheer mountains, does make me more "area," spacially focused.

Westerner that I am, I prefer a social, historical theory -- Nacalianism -- to explain the prevalence of geo-visual theories of human behaviour in Japan, although I recognise the contradiction, and believe in that human behaviour can be explained in more than one way.

*I have struggled for a long time to explain why, in the absense of oedipal conflict, the Japanese bother to grow up at all. It seems to me that the Lacanian emphasis on possesion ones mother misses another, more Western (Schug, Yuki, Horikawa, & Takemura, 2009) aspect of love towards ones primary caregiver: the desire for similarity. Yes, in the Western family children are denied possession of the mother, especially by being ejected from the family bed. In Japan the children often possess, or monopolize the attention of their mother but, they are not able to identify with her, be similar to her. In Japan the apparent lack of conflict between the children and the father, combined with focus of both parents in the Japanese family towards the children, presents to the children the appearance of their having exaclty that two parents (even two mothers). This parentalism heightens the sense of dis-similarity between parents and children, and the generation gap, makes the family more "verticle" (Nakane) even as it makes it more peaceful. If Western children grow up because they want to possess their mothers, Japanese children grow up because they want to be them, become mothers/parents themselves.

**:Come to think of it, the logic here is flawed. Both Language and vision require simulation of other people in order to approach an objective general view of the self. I have engaged in a bit of polemic because I find it so difficult to get anglophones to realise that language is from outside the self.

Aida, Y. (1990). Nihonjin no ishiki. Tokyo: Kodansha.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Bray, F. (1994). The Rice Economies: Technology and Development in Asian Societies. University of California Press.
Nisbett, R. (2004). The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why. Free 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.Lacan, J. (2002 [1949]). The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. In B. Fink (Trans.), Ecrits (pp. 75–81). WW Norton & Company.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Mehrabian, A. (2007). Nonverbal communication. Aldine.
Mori, 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.
Nakao, S. 中尾佐助. (2006). 中尾佐助著作集〈第6巻〉照葉樹林文化論. 北海道大学出版会.
Takemoto, T. (2002). 鏡の前の日本人. ニッポンは面白いか (講談社選書メチエ. 講談社.

Tamaki 玉城哲. (1979). 水の思想(A Philosophy of Water). 論創社.
Watsuji, T. (1961). A climate: a philosophical study. Print. Bureau, Japanese Govt.
Sasaki, K. 佐々木高明. (2007). 照葉樹林文化とは何か―東アジアの森が生み出した文明. 中央公論新社.
Schug, J., Yuki, M., Horikawa, H., & Takemura, K. (2009). Similarity attraction and actually selecting similar others: How cross-societal differences in relational mobility affect interpersonal similarity in Japan and the USA. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 12(2), 95–103.

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