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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Japanese Interiors: Japanese Art and Artifice

Japanese Interiors: Japanese Art and Artifice by timtak
Japanese Interiors: Japanese Art and Artifice, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Photo by 田中十洋. First of all please look at his excellent set of photos of traditional Japanese interiors.

Through the use of a lot of rectangular spaces, such as the rice mats (tatami), and the squares in the sliding doors (shouji), traditional Japanese interiors at once emphasise perspective and depth but at the same time, due to the fact that these rectangles are of difference sizes, and additionally due to the inclusion of gaps in walls (ranma) and partitions, one is never sure whether one is seeing depth (through a gap for instance) or seeing something miniaturised.

(See for example the area of in the outer corridor see through the window in the wall, highlighted with a note on the photo page).

Hence Japanese interiors encourage their viewers to make incorrect spatial interpretation and so confuse - like walking into an Escher - that their viewers cease spatial interpretation altogether. This cessation leads us to see the interior as the primal space (Mochizuki, 2006), visual field (Mach, 1894), or mental mirror (Heisig, 2004) that is the purity of its experience (Nishida, 1979).

Japanese gardens also produce a similar Zen experience by confounding the viewers sense of scale, not using by using perspective lines and rectangles, but by using rocks and gravel that can and are interpreted as islands or an ocean respectively.

Japanese poetry – particularly haiku – achieves the same effect by encouraging the viewer to make an interpretation before returning them to the purity of the experience shared with the poet. E.g. most famously in Basho's poem: “An old lake” (we imagine it), “Frogs jump in” (we imagine them), “The sound of the water” (wham!), we are told that the poet did not see any frogs, perhaps not even the ripples; the sound of the water was all there ever was: "frogs jump in" was only an interpretation. Pound (1914) recognises that Japanese poetry layers images in a "vortex" but he does not mention that both"hokku" example he cites, and even, though Pound may not have realised it, the poem he wrote himself ("In the Station of a Metro", see the paper online, p4), contain a misinterpretation in the vortex of images.

In all three cases (interiors, gardens, poems) the artist encourages the viewer or reader to make a interpretation, or draw to mind an image, that is not based in the pure experience, and by confounding it, leads the viewer back to the purity of experience, to the 'ecstatic' ‘thou art that’ (Lacan, 2002)

Does Japanese architecture, gardening and poetry lead to a sort of enlightenment? I think that it may at once be a sort of enlightenment, and at the same time furthest from it. The experience of traditional Japanese house interiors for Japanese returns their consciousness to that state of transcendental meditation which corresponds to (and is directly opposite from) Husserl's phenomenological state (Husserl, 1960) in which Western consciousness removes itself from phenomena and attends only to an interior narrative. Husserl's transcendental meditation is a return to the self, to the purity of self narrative, to that "Ravine" (Ace Of Base, 1995) where there is only self and 'Other', or 'super-addressee'. The Japanese architectural interior likewise returns the Japanese mind to the purity of the mental mirror (Heisig, 2004) ’where to abide with their creator god’ (see Claire, 1986), the looking together (Kitayama, 2005), eye-in-the-sky (see Masuda, Wang, Ito, & Senzaki, 2012; Cohen & Gunz, 2002; Takemoto, T., 2002).

Ace Of Base. (1995). Ravine. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgBBFlvRdRc&feature=youtube_g...
Clare, J., Williams, M., & Williams, R. (1986). John Clare: selected poetry and prose. Routledge. Retrieved from books.google.co.jp/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Hebg8BrvCP4...
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
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%...
Husserl, E. (1960). Cartesian meditations: An introduction to phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. M. Nijhoff.
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.
Lacan, J. (2002). 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.
Mach, E. (1897). Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations. (C. M. Williams, Trans.). The Open court publishing company. Retrieved from www.archive.org/details/contributionsto00machgoog
Masuda, T., Wang, H., Ito, K., & Senzaki, S. (2012). Culture and the Mind: Implications for Art, Design, and Advertisement. Handbook of Research on International Advertising, 109.
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
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1979). 善の研究 (Vol. 33). 岩波書店.Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1979). 善の研究 (Vol. 33). 岩波書店.
Pound, E. (1914). Vorticism. Fortnightly Review, 1, 461. Retrieved from matthuculak.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/POUND%20Vortic...
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. 

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Points and Places, and Lines and Concepts

Points and Places, and Lines and Concepts by timtak
Points and Places, and Lines and Concepts, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
While the Japanese do not name their streets, other than the main routes with numbers, the Japanese do name the points on the map, the intersections, with signs that hang next to the traffic lights. Very few intersections are named in the UK (Hyde Park Corner, Clapham Junction being exceptions). If one wants to refer to an intersection one has to refer to it as the the intersection between two named streets.

Westerners name the streets or lines on maps give the doors on the streets numbers, but do not name the points nor plots of Land. Japanese name the spaces and places but rarely name the lines on the map, giving only a few of the roads numbers.

Points and places are given numbers, secondary to named lines in the West, lines are given numbers in Japan secondary to points and areas in space.

Attempting to summarize....

Japanese society is organized according to spaces
1) There are many geo-climatic theories that are thought to explain Japanese behavior
2) Japanese groups are organized according to spaces and those that are members of those spaces.
3) Shrines are the geo-locational model for the home and other spatial groups.
4) Lines are probably not felt to exist.
5) If there are signs on lines (streets/ boundaries between floors) then it is not to name the non-existent line or boundary but to refer to the surrounding spaces. Sometimes these signs are indexical (in the case of floor signs) and sometimes they are iconic (in the case of plot maps banchizu). Japan is no more "indexical" than it is iconic. The biggest difference is perhaps in whether the sign is thought to signify something visual (space, the place), or something conceptual. Western signs are thought to represent concepts. Japanese and Chinese signs are thought to represent things, and places that one can see (Hansen).

In Western society, space is thought to be empty. It is not used as an organization tool or structuring function, but needs to be organized by named lines. Space exists, is cognizable in so far as it is bounded by lines, and given coordinates, or a street number. The lines are themselves named. The lines are the ideas represented by the names, rather than spatial entities.

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Look at these Faces to Turn Japanese

Look at these Faces to Turn Japanese by timtak
Look at these Faces to Turn Japanese, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
As previously mentioned, Ishii's (Ishii, Reyes, & Kitayama, 2003) research has demonstrated that Japanese pay more attention to tone of voice rather than verbal, linguistic message than Americans. Ishii and colleagues played conflicted verbal / vocal-tone words to US and Japanese and found that Americans reacted faster to the verbal message, whereas Japanese reacted faster to the tones.

Hence, if you tell a Japanese person that you are "happy", in a sad tone of voice, they are more likely to think you are in fact sad, whereas an American is more likely to believe that you are "happy". The Japanese use empathy or "sasshi" (Doi, 2002) to read people's faces and tone of voice and often ignore language as social pleasantry, or phatic communication.

More recently, Ishii (2011) has found that looking at schematic faces, like those pictured above encourages both Japanese and American's to focus more on tone of voice and less upon linguistic content. Faces bring us out of the world of language, into the world of sight and hearing. It is in this facial world where the Japanese usually live.

This contrasts with Oyserman's priming research (e.g. Kühnen & Oyserman, 2002) which finds that the most effective way of encouraging people to see the world in a more Western way is have them circle the pronoun "I".

As previously argued, "I" is to Westerners what face is to Japan.

Doi, T. (2002). The Anatomy of Dependence. Kodansha USA.
Ishii, K., Reyes, J. A., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Spontaneous Attention to Word Content Versus Emotional Tone. Psychological Science, 39–46. Retrieved from php.scripts.psu.edu/users/n/x/nxy906/COMPS/indivdualisman...
Keiko, I. (2011). Mere Exposure to Faces Increases Attention to Vocal Affect : A Cross-Cultural Investigation. 認知科学 = Cognitive studies : bulletin of the Japanese Cognitive Science Society, 18(3), 453–461. Retrieved from ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/10029590461
Kühnen, U., & Oyserman, D. (2002). Thinking about the self influences thinking in general: Cognitive consequences of salient self-concept. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38(5), 492–499.

Do the faces look a little like their author?

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Monday, June 25, 2012


Entities as Ideas and Spaces

Things as ideas and spaces by timtak
Things as ideas and spaces, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Chomsky argues, convincingly to me, that to an alien from outer space, human language would appear to be dialects of the same single Earth language such is the similarity between the various national languages of the world.

While the word order of Japanese and English are so different, often back to front, the two languages have many similarities. The difficult part about learning Japanese was mostly to do with learning to think in a different word order, rather than to learn to think in a different way. The word order changes are difficult enough.

However, at the same time, there are also some areas, or some expressions, that required a different way of thinking. One of these was the translation of the English above, or in general:

What is ADJECTIVE about NOUN

The Japanese for this expression is (as given in the image above) is, transliterating:

What is the NOUN's ADJECTIVE place?

E.g. (transliterating) What is this blog's interesting place?

I found this expression in Japanese to be very difficult to use. It required not merely a word order shift but a change in conception of things and their attributes. What is a thing? What is an entity?

My Japanese learners of English find the English expression difficult to learn too. Fortunately similar expressions exist in English:

What are the NOUN's ADJECTIVE point?

What are the ADJECTIVE parts of this NOUN?

But these are rather unnatura, e.g.

What is this blog's interesting point?

What are the interesting parts of this blog?

My students of English use, or attempt to use, the above forms a lot. Perhaps I should encourage them to do so.

Nacalianly speaking, I think that these expressions reflect differences in what it is to be an entity.

The pronoun "about," such as in, "I am thinking about X" or "This is a story/book about Y" introduces a narrative. The question "What is ADJECTIVE about NOUN," assumes that NOUN is a narratival entity. Things or entities, (e.g. this blog, or a person) are concepts, or narratives. But the Japanese expression, "What is the NOUN's ADJECTIVE place?" suggests to me that Japanese speakers conceive of entities spatio-visually, as a collection of images. The Japanese question is asking for the image, out of the collection of images that forms that entity, that corresponds to the adjective. The English question is asking for the part of that narratival entity (the part of the narrative) that conforms to the adjective.

Japanese conceive of entities (including themselves) as mental scrapbooks of connected images or places, spaces. Westerners conceive of entities (including themselves) as stories, or narratives.

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The Only House Numbers in Town?

The Only House Numbers in Town? by timtak
The Only House Numbers in Town?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Rather than put my name, or our family name on our house, we chose to mimic the western street number system and put the plot number (banchi 番地) on our house. My wife felt that having a family or (worse) householder name on our house would result in our house being more difficult to visit. My wife feels, rightly I think, that proclaiming ownership through the use of a householder name plate (hyousatsu 表札), makes the house more private, more requiring of the named owner's permission to visit, and thus more difficult to enter ("with a higher floor level" shiki-i ga takai 敷居が高い). This relates to the fact that traditionally in Japan house visitation (house parties, dinner parties, having people drop in) is less popular.

Japanese houses are more private. I used to feel that the fact that people slept on the floor, on the tatami mats in Japanese houses, made me feel that entering someone's house was a bit more like entering their bed. Or rather, since houses are the space, place or field ("ba," Nakane, 1972; Bachnik & Quinn, 1994) that defines the family group, entering a house is a bit like suggesting that one is a member of the family.

Our house is in an area called "Itoyone", plot number 1-6-7 hence the numbers shown in the above image. My mother kindly sent us house numbers from France, where house numbers are commonplace, due to their lack of availability in Japan. Alas, since house numbers in France are street numbers, we were unable to purchase the hyphens required for a proper rendition of "1-6-7."

Added to the fact that Japanese streets lack names, making houses difficult to find, most Japanese do not even put their plot number on their house, making houses even more difficult to find. It is fairly often the case that people of the same family name live in the same vicinity so even if one has the family name of the householder, or if there is a delivery to someone other than the household patriarch, it must make it difficult for delivery staff to know which house is the one to deliver to. There are detailed maps showing which plot is which number, but why make things so difficult for delivery people?

Calling all Japanese people, why don't you put your house plot number on your house? Do you want to make your house difficult to find? 日本の方へ、なぜご自宅の番地を表札に、あるいは表札代わりに示してくださらないでしょうか?

Japan is however covered (see Nakashima, 1999) in signs, relating to business, apartment buildings (with a considerable amount of Western influence), and temple/shrine names.

Bachnik, J. M., & Quinn, C. J. (Eds.). (1994). Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton University Press.
Nakane, C. (1972). Japanese Society (1st pb ed.). University of California Press.
Nakashima, Y. 中島, 義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私. 新潮社.

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Householder Name Plates

Householder Name Plates by timtak
Householder Name Plates, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In the UK homeowners are unlike to put their name on their home. UK houses bear the street humber or more rarerly the name of the house. The Japanese generally and traditionally put at least the family name and more traditionally the full name of the oldest male of the household, on a name plate for all to see. In this photo there are two name plates. The one at roadside shows the family name in ideograms, the one above the door shows the name of the patriarch in full. Putting ones name on ones house seems to me to be comparatively ostentascious, and to demonstrate one aspect - and one of the few verbal aspects - of Japanese individualism.

Another example here.

Unlike UK name plates which name the house itself, these name plates are not naming the house but the householder. It is rare even for Japanese houses to have the plot number (banchi 番地) displayed on the house.

In the case of both house names, and floor signs, it seems that Japanese may be less inclined to add the name of something to that thing itself, but rather, as Bachnik predicts (?), the signs point off, to something that is not present.


Bachnik, J. M., & Quinn, C. J. (Eds.). (1994). Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton University Press.

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Indexical Floor Signs in Japan

Indexical Floor Signs in Japan by timtak
Indexical Floor Signs in Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Japanese floor signs are typically on staircase landings pointing (indexically; Bachnik & Quinn, 1994) to the floors above and below.

As my wife points out there is something a little strange about having signs on floors because people on the floors should, and generally do, know what floor they are on. It is only people who are moving between floors, using stairs (or elevators), who need to see the floor signs.

In buildings with elevators there is more need for on Western style floor signs on floors, since one can arrive at the floor by mistake when elevator doors open unexpectedly. But is my contention that even in bulidings with stairwells, we put our floor signs on the floor levels rather than pointing up or down on the landing between them.

Displaying signs on floors even though the information therein displayed is known to most who see the sign, reminds me of the particularly Western tendency to talk to oneself (Kim, 2002), an activity which, as Derrida (1977, p49) points out, is strange in that surely there is nothing that one can communicate to oneself that one does not already know. Nonetheless, Westerners seem to like to use words even in the absence of a need for communication as in the case of floor signs on floors. Perhaps (as Derrida argues in the case of self-speech) we find floor signs on floors reasuring.

Returning to Nacalianism, it seems to me that these Japanese floor signs are pointing to the visual aspect of the floors which are designated 3 below and 4 above. I.e. when one gets to the floor, and sees it, that is the 4th floor. These floor signs really are pointers from one place in the visual world to another.

But does a Western floor sign designate that which one can see, or a notion of being the 4th storey from the ground? Like the superflous words in our mind, perhaps Western floor signs are supposed to designate or refer to ideas, and in that sense Western floor signs may be symbols (Peirce, 1894) rather than pointers (indexes).

Bachnik, J. M., & Quinn, C. J. (Eds.). (1994). Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton University Press.
Derrida, J. (1977). Limited Inc. Northwestern University Press.
Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828.
Peirce, C. S. (1894). What is a sign? Theorizing communication: readings across traditions, 177. Retrieved from www.semioticadelprogetto.it/download/CSP%20-%20What%20is%...

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Signs and Indexes

Signs and Indexes by timtak
Signs and Indexes, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Top left: A Western floor sign that is positioned on the floor, telling those that are there what floor they are on! (A bit like hearing oneself talking?)
Top Right: A Japanese floor sign that is positioned on landings pointing (indexing) to the floors above and below. These floor signs are indexes.
Middle Left: A Western street map superimposed with a street sign. The streets are named but spaces not. (Does space even exist? Do lines?)
Middle Right: A Japanese street map which doubles as a street sign (there are no signs on Japanese streets) with the spaces named, but the streets (mainly) not. Both the Japanese floor signs and streets signs in the form of neighbourhood maps are positioned away from that which they name, but while the former is indexical, a map is iconic (being isomorphic which that to which it refers)
Bottom left: A Western floor plan, with the distance between the walls marked or named. The lines matter, the space does not.
Bottom Right: A Japanese floor plan with the spaces named, sized, marked and named not merely as square metres, but as rice mats, as spaces, spaces spaces. These last two are not signs, but maps, but like in the case of the street maps, the Western maps emphasise the lines (walls, streets) and name them or the distance between them, whereas the Japanes maps name or give the size of the space itself.

Jane Bachnik (J. M Bachnik, 1998; Jane M. Bachnik & Quinn, 1994) is so clever one can smell it. But, I don't quite buy Pierce(1894).

Building upon Nakane's observation (Nakane, 1972) that place (or frield originally Nishida's "ba") is plays an important part in structuring Japanese society (Japanese people feel that they belong to places, e.g. houses) Bachnik argues that this corresponds to a difference in type of signifiers that people use to represent themselves. Focussing on the inside-outside (uchi-soto) distinction, Bachnik argues that Japanese signs are "indexical," one of Pierce's three types of sign.

Pierce (1894) argues that there are three types of sign: icons that resemble that which they refer to, indexes (or pointers) which have a physical connection to that which they refer to, and symbols (think language) which is connected to that which it refers only through usage (i.e. the connection is "arbitrary").

The thing I object to is the relativity, or subjectivity of the index but not of the symbol. According to pierce. The symbol we are told is not a "cline",or gradient, a somewhere to somewhere else. The symbol does not, we are told, require a point of view or context (because there is Yahweh?). Hence only the Japanese are relative, inter-subjective. Space we are told is relative. Pointing requires (as Bachnik quotes Doi), "a point of view".

But what of our self referential signs, such as "I"? I think therefore I am? Benveniste (1971) is right to say that "I" is only meaningful reference to you. But then as Mori says, Westerners assume that there is a third person, a thou, an Other, a super addressee that prevents the I from being at all indexical. If such magic is possible for linguistic first person pronouns, then it is possible for "pointers". Doi was a Christian. He believed in the third person of language, but he did not believe in the eye in the sky, even though he was Japanese.

Bachnik is right but there is something wrong with Pierce's definition of signs and indexes. The latter imply relativity no more than the former.

This is like shame and guilt. Benedict would have it that guilt is objective while shame is inter-subjective. If shame is also objective, or felt when completely alone, what is the difference? What is the difference between the sign and index?

My take, as always, Nacalianly, the difference depends upon whether one simulates a generalized ear or eye but I don't think that I have managed to explain the differences observed in the images above. Are there any other systematic differences between Japanese and Western signs? I am going to add house door signs.

Street sign image is Millfields Rd NE street sign , E5 by O, F.

Bachnik, J. M., & Quinn, C. J. (Eds.). (1994). Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton University Press.
Benedict, R. (2006). The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1st ed.). Mariner Books.
Benveniste, E. (1971). Problems in General Linguistics. (M. E. Meek, Trans.) (Vol. 3). University of Miami Press Coral Gables, FL.
Nakane, C. (1972). Japanese Society (1st pb ed.). University of California Press.
O, F. (2010). Millfields Rd NE street sign , E5. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sludgeulper/4882259125/
Peirce, C. S. (1894). What is a sign? Theorizing communication: readings across traditions, 177. Retrieved from http://www.semioticadelprogetto.it/download/CSP%20-%20What%20is%20a%20sign.pdf

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Saturday, June 23, 2012


Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens

Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens by timtak
Nominal Individuation in Japanese Kindergatens, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Maybe because I have been looking at traditional Japanese sightseeing maps (名所図会 Named-place-collection-Pictures, shown top right; Imao, 2005 ) which show views with names popping up out of them, at this mornings' open day, my son's kindergarten classroom looked rather the same: a space covered in the names, of the children.

Allison (2000) points out that Japanese children have to take a lot of kit to school, of a certain type, and she sees this as an example of the extent to which Japanese kindergarten's (over) exercise control of their charges and even their mothers. At the same time however she may not have mentioned that this kit is displayed around the classroom labelled with the child's name.  In my son's class there were
1) Named, individual registers of attendance, into which the children themselves affix a sticker (like a stamp) into a calendar on the days they attend.
2) A birthday poster showing who has a birthday on what day of which month.
3) Individually named shoe rack to store out-door shoes and slippers.
4) Individually named smock hook rack.
5) Individually named "lockers" without doors for the obligatory satchel. The satchel is the only uniform part of the children's attire.
6) A chart showing four class subgroups showing the insect themed groups, their members colour coded according the sex.
7) Named Children's artwork on the walls. This of course is common to UK classrooms.
8) A individually named change of clothes rack.
9) Individually named towel hook rack.
10) Individually named swimwear bag hook rack.
11) A rack containing the named individual drink flasks of all the children (I could imagine that all things that UK children bring to school are named, but then perhaps we might share the same source of drink. I have omitted this one from the collage.)

I can not remember my kindergarten classroom too well but I think that of these the artworks would have had names on them, lockers might have been numbered. I am not sure that my name would have been anywhere else on the walls or furniture of my kindergarten class. It seems Japanese children are encouraged to individuate themselves, their property, their hook, their lockers, using their name.

Names are very important in Japan (Plutschow, 1995), unlike words in general (have quotes), and are commonly included in self-descriptive Twenty Statements Test responses often near the top.  Lacan (2007) argues that we (Westerners at least) should attempt to have as far as possible a symbolic, narrative awareness of self, but also argues that identification with body-image is a minimal essential, the lack of which leads to psychosis. I get the feeling that names are equivalent in an Nacalian culture to the image of a body in Lacanian culture: that minimal self-representation in the other channel required for completing the 'Möbius strip' -- a feedback loop which is twisted in the sense that self-perception is not quite possible within either channel -- of self-identity.

Allison, A. (2000). Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan (1st ed.). University of California Press.
Lacan, J. (2002). 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.
Lacan, Jacques. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Plutschow, H. (1995). Japan’s name culture: the significance of names in a religious, political and social context. Japan Library Kent, CT. Retrieved from www.getcited.org/pub/100168851
Imao, K. 恵介今尾. (2005). 日本地図のたのしみ. 角川学芸出版.

I have blurred all the names in the pictures other than those of my son. 息子以外に名前は全てぼこしています。

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Friday, June 22, 2012


Virtual Tourism, Reality and Wrapping

Varieties of [Virtual] Tourism, Reality and Hymen by timtak
Varieties of [Virtual] Tourism, Reality and Hymen, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Amida Temple Aio Futajima Temple (top left) provides one example of the Japanese virtual tour. Here at Amida Temple, the enterprising owner has brought earth from the sites of 88 other temples in the local village (Aio Futajima) pilgrimage route, which itself is a copy of the famous 88 temple pilgrimage route: the Shikoku Henro (Reader, 2005). Those who do not have the weeks required to walk around Shikoku Island can walk around Aio in a day or two. Those who do not have a couple of days to walk around Aio Futajima can come to this one temple. These temples, such as Lakan Temple in Tokyo, were the first foreign village tourist attractions (Gaikoku Mura) (Hendry, 2000) such as Nagasaki's Huis Ten Bosch or Parque Espana, that allowed the convenience loving Japanese to experience the far away and foreign in one place near to home.

Those that can do not have the time to come to this one temple can enjoy a virtual tour via a map, especially a traditional Japanese map which provides a bird's eye view, and those that do not have the mental age to figure their way around a real map (Imao, 2005; see image right), even a Japanese birds eye view map (see image right), can play a game of "Sugoroku" (image bottom left), which is a Japanese board game, a little like snakes and ladders, played on a simplified map: virtual tourism for all the family.

When you are as good at imagining things as the Japanese, when you see a world that is visual, when you see the light, where perhaps the "Madness of the Day" (Blanchot, 1995) is rather a normal frame of mind, then you do not travel to *see* things at all. You can visit copies, watch pictures, imagine them and dream of them even with other people (Nenzi, 2008, p189) . When the Japanese travel, it is for the authenticity of the icons that they can receive there. Conversely believing them to be perfectly copied in human and minds (and the omnipresent mind of the logo-god) Westerners would never travel for signs. Does anyone reading this description of Japanese culture feel like they are travelling? While western tourists go to Gaze (Urry, 2002), the Japanese co to have signs indicated to them. Conversely if the gaze is important to the Japanese tourist at all it is autoscopically, via photography taken of themselves (kine shashin) and if signs are important to Western tourists it is primarily there ability to narrate themselves at the site, auto-semiotically, self narratival in the post-cards (Derrida, 1987) and or, which is, their self-narrative.

This difference in tourism preference, for Western gazing and Japanese icon (or 'stamp,' or fuda) collecting reflects a different world view. For Westerners the world is a dark, "The-Matrix" like world of the things-in-themselves, Konigsbergian (Nietzche, 2007), and robotic (Beaton, 2005). For Japanese the real world is the visual world, the tain of the mental mirror (Nishida 1988; Heisig, 2010).

The difference in tourism also reflects a different view of the stuff, the fluff, that, spreads out the real world, allows for the private other distinction, and moves about, the stuff that needs to be exchanged and brought back.

For Westerners it is the image that stands between ourselves and the world as word. The image is but a boundary, "hymen," or wrapping. On the one hand, the image is a wispy neurological effervescence - qualia -, on the other it is like coat of ever so thin paint. By covering the real world the image promises that the real world is out there. It is a reflection of the real world that we must travel to see. The image is the pseudo-event (Boorstin, 1992) that promises us that there is something called reality (Baudrillard, 1995).

But Baudrillard (1995) is wrong to think that this separating function -- Derrida's grapheme, pharmakon, or hymen (Derrida, 1998), wrapping (Hendry) -- is universally enacted by the image.

In Japan it is the symbol that provides the same division. It is the symbol that separates and allows a view of the world to be, at the same time private belonging to a certain person with a certain name, and at the same time the world itself. It is the symbol that Japanese travel to receive, to allow us to conceive the images that are the world, including images that at 'ruins of identity' (Hudson, 1999) have long since become invisible.

The Western "world" is like a steel framed building covered in reflective glass. The Japanese world is a tapestry pinned down and out by name-places (meisho).

The beautiful Amadia Temple is behind Yoshimatsu Store, which is opposite Futajima Primary School, Yamaguchi City. There are so many stone Buddhas that the temple feels crowed and that one is being watched. I recommend going in the early evening when the setting sun makes the statues glow. You may see the light!

Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.
Beaton, M. (2005). What RoboDennett still doesn’t know. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12(12), 3–25.
Blanchot, M. (1995). The Madness of the Day. Station Hill Pr.
Boorstin, D. J., & Will, G. F. (1992). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. Vintage Books New York.
Derrida, J. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. (A. Bass, Trans.) (First ed.). University Of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Heisig, J. W. (2010). Nishida’s Deodorized Basho and the Scent of Zeami’s Flower. Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy 7: Classical Japanese Philosophy (p. 247–73). Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture. Retrieved from nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20and%20Zea...
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, Joy. (2012). Understanding Japanese Society (4th ed.). Routledge.
Hudson, M. (1999). Ruins of identity: ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. University of Hawaii Press.
Imao, K. 今尾恵介. (2005). 日本地図のたのしみ. 角川学芸出版.
Nenzi, L. N. D. (2008). Excursions in identity: travel and the intersection of place, gender, and status in Edo Japan. University of Hawaii Press.
Nietzsche, F. (2007). Twilight of the Idols. Wordsworth Classics.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1988). 西田幾多郎哲学論集〈2〉論理と生命 他4篇. 岩波書店.
Reader, I. (2005). Making pilgrimages: Meaning and practice in Shikoku. University of Hawaii Press.
Urry, J. (2002). The Tourist Gaze. SAGE.

The idea behind this post was...I have mumbled a lot about how tourism practices suggest that Westerners and Japanese have different views of reality, but (after reading some Baudrillard) here I wanted to focus on the areality, the accursed share, the ghostly, sacrificial, supplemental, 'wrapping' of each culture. Philosophers East and West, Nishida and Dennet, can go on and on about their views of the reality of the world (as idea, or as place/space) but Frenchies like Derrida and Lacan, talk about the remainder, the other (in each case, the centre of the other) which is far more interesting, playful, sexier. The Frenchies  teach us us that the other in their culture is in fact pivotal, necessary, transforming  (henshin). I wish I were French!

Though they don't believe in Kant (great pun there) the Japanese love to collect signs. Though they don't believe in images, Westerners love to go and see them.The other of each culture is fun.

I think that deep down I would like people like Hendry to read my blog in awe:-) Of course my blog is almost definitely  rhubarb and even if it were not, the chances of Prof Hendry happening this way are next to zero but, I feel that I would like her to read the above and realise that her wrapping, her use of the word "wrapping" (what?!) betrays incalcitrant Englishness. Professional, famed anthropologist that she is, living in Japan as she did, she failed to notice (save for a jibe at Barthes) that the Japanese world is inside out. How could you fail to notice Joy? Ha! Gosh I am such a loser:-) Or I wish that someone would be impressed. Or perhaps I want to practice my English? I only speak English on this blog.

Overtly, I am hoping that, when I have written 400 blog posts, that I translate them into Japanese, and sell my blog as a Japanese language book. 

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Japanese Individualism: Japanese Agriculture

Japanese Individualism: Japanese Agriculture by timtak
Japanese Individualism: Japanese Agriculture, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

If you go into the Japanese countryside you will note that much of it is dotted with small lakes or ponds like the one in the foreground of this photograph.

It is sometimes claimed that the irrigation required for wet field rice farming is the origin or cause of Japanese collectivism (Nisbett, 2003) since it is argued to require that farmers cooperate with each other in the construction of irrigation rivers and canals.Tamaki (1979) points out, however, that irrigation rivers and canals are only used in some parts of Japan (such as Saga Prefecture, whose habitants are indeed described as being collectivist by other Japanese) but in much of Japan farmers use private irrigation ponds enabling their farm to be independent of those around it.

Furthermore, according to Bray's excellent book "The Rice Economies" (1994) UK farmers were required to practice crop rotation, planting wheat, leaving a year fallow, and then grazing cattle so that the cow dung fertilised their fields and made the planting of wheat the next season possible again. This mean that cattle and wheat farmers had to cooperate and since cattle are to large to be eaten by one family, families and farms had to cooperate with each other. The integration of two forms of farming to form the UK agricultural system encouraged higher degrees of cooperation, diversification and specialisation in the workforce (dairy specialists, harvesters, butchers, ploughmen), each becoming a cog in the overall agricultural system, which lead to economies of scale and eventually to the formation of the giant social industrial machine that was the industrial revolution. It was not that the British were great individualistic inventors that the industrial revolution started in that small island (the steam engine had been around for centuries) but rather because the British were more cooperative, and in that sense collectivist.

The fertility of the Japanese climate, combined with the use of the fermentation process that takes place wet field rice paddies, means that no cattle dung is required. Household waste was sufficient fertilizer. Human protein requirements can be supplied by rice protein, when mixed with proteins from other grains. Rice farmers, with their own irrigation ponds at least, were not required to cooperate, nor specialise. They were the master craftsman of their own paddy field. Thus able to farm their fields on their own with only the help from their own family members, rice farmers remained blissfully, and ruggedly, independent for far longer.

The Japanese do have an strong overt ethos of "lets get on well together," and "harmony" (Yamagishi, 2002) partly to balance their self-love and individualism, so even the Japanese think that they are collectivists. Since they are also Nacalian imago-centrists they attempt to explain their culture by reference to their environment, even the Japanese think that it is rice farming that has encouraged them to be so "harmonious."

Since the Japanese are not into linguistic self expression (that strange bent of Westerners) their visual individualism, self-esteem,and visual creativity goes unnoticed.

Bray, Francesca (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.
Tamaki, T. 玉城 哲 (1979)『水の思想』
Yamagishi, T. 山岸俊男. (2002). 心でっかちな日本人―集団主義文化という幻想. 日本経済新聞社.


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Individualistic Japanese: Demon Kogure

Individualistic Japanese: Demon Kogure by timtak
Individualistic Japanese: Demon Kogure, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Demon Kogure, also known as Demon Kakka (His excellency Demon) is a Japanese heavy metal singer, Sumo commentator and all round talento, or television personality. He regularly appears on news programs as a commentator. He always appears in full make up and costume, even in serious programmes such as the one in the image above, commenting on the situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant after the 11th March 2011 earthquake and tsunami (often referred to as 3/11 with reference to the 9/11 tragedy).

This degree of eccentricity is not seen in the UK or the USA, where, for instance, while the singers of KISS who likewise wear make up, can do so on stage or perhaps on the street, they would not be allowed to wear make up while being asked for their opinion regarding an American tragedy such as 9/11.

Demon Kogure is always like this when he appears in the media. This is his persona. No one thinks even to take notice, let alone deride him for his eccentricity. He is allowed to be who he wants to be, only in Japan.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012


Takano Youtaro's Proverbs

Takano Youtaro's Proverbs by timtak
Takano Youtaro's Proverbs, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Takano Yohtaro is one of the few social psychologists that I know of (the other being Toshio Yamagishi) that argues that the Japanese are not collectivists.

I think that Professor Youtaro goes far too far, to argue that further there are no cultural differences, other than those caused by fleeting historical socio-economic influences. It seems to me quite clear that there are some cultural psychological differences. I also think that his almost polemical rejection of Japanese collectivism, even has he introduces its many supporters, needs to be tempered with the compromise provided by Yamagishi (2002). Toshio Yamagishi argues that "collectivism" exists as a maxim, a "lets be friends" ethos, but this maxim has not translated into pyschological phenomenon: people lacking in individuality.

Professor Yohtarou is however, good at pointing out evidence for the existence of individualism in Japan. His most compelling evidence is his research (Takano & Sogon, 2008) on conformance, which shows that Japanese conform (to peer pressure) no more than Americans.

I was also very impressed by the proverbs introduced in this slide above (Takano, 2011, re-uploaded with out permission. The full set of slides are on the net. See bibliography below).

Takano points out what might be called selective attention in the work of Markus and Kitayama (1991).

Markus and Kitayama (1991) seminal marked a paradigm shift in cross-cultural psychology, and the birth of the new cultural psychology, which denied the univesality of the independent self. Markus and Kitayama's paper does not need me to extoll its virtues, it has been cited 8853 times, and counting as of 2012. However, like everything else, this work is is not perfect.

Markus and Kitayama (1991) draw attention to two proverbs, the Western, "The squeaky wheel gets the greese." and the Japanese proverb, "the nail that sticks out gets banged down," to argue that being squeaky and individualist is recommend to North Americans so that they get "greased" (a good thing), whereas not standing out is recommended in Japan, lest one gets "bashed" (clearly not so good).

In the above slide Yohtaro Takano points out that there are other proverbs that encourage the reverse tendency in each nation. In Anglophone cultures, "When in Rome do as the Romans," and "Don't rock the boat" encourages Anglophones to be harmonious, and "Tall trees catch the wind" might almost be a translation of "The nail that sticks out gets banged ("down" is, arguably, not in the original Japanese)."

Takano also points to two proverbs that encourage the Japanese to be individualist. The first means literally "Going first beats others" similar to "He who dares wins," and the the third "hated children thrive," suggests tha the unharmonious do not fair so badly in Japanese society.

The second means literally "There are green mountains all over the world,” which is sometimes translated as "where ever I lay my hat, that is my home," (in the sense that green fields are not on the other side of the fence but where you now are). However, bearing in mind the poem of which it is the last line, the "green mountains" refer to good places to be buried. The Japanese often make graves in mountains. So in that sense ithe proverb means "Every where is a good place to die," or echoing Crazy Horse, "Every day is a good day to die." In other words, this proverb is a momemto mori, reminding the Japanese to live dangerously, and not wait before taking radical action in the world.

Professor Takano also sent me a copy of his excellent book on mirror reversal (Takano, 1997) for which I also I reman grateful.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Takano, Y. (2011, September 3). 「文化差」 を考え直そう. Presented at the 日本感情心理学会第19回・日本パーソナリティ心理学会第20回合同大会, 京都光華女子大学. Retrieved from www.koka.ac.jp/jsre19_jspp20/takano.pdf
Takano, Y., & Osaka, E. (1999). An unsupported common view: Comparing Japan and the US on individualism/collectivism. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2(3), 311–341.
Takano, Y., & Sogon, S. (2008). Are Japanese More Collectivistic Than Americans?: Examining Conformity in In-Groups and the Reference-Group Effect. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 39(3), 237–250. doi:10.1177/0022022107313902
Takano, Y. 高野陽太郎. (1997). 鏡の中のミステリー. 岩波書店.
Takano, Y. 高野陽太郎. (2008). 「集団主義」という錯覚―日本人論の思い違いとその由来. 新曜社.
Yamagishi, T.山岸俊男. (2002). 心でっかちな日本人―集団主義文化という幻想. 日本経済新聞社.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The Dark Side of Japanese Recycling: The Lack of Reuse

The Dark Side of Japanese Recycling: The Lack of Reuse by timtak
The Dark Side of Japanese Recycling: The Lack of Reuse, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Japanese recycling is thorough. We have to separate our garbage into several types: cans, bottles, plastic, paper, burnable, poisonous, large etc.

But when someone throws away a bicycle, it is against the law to take that bicycle from the garbage dump and ride it away and keep it. The bicycles are not reused, but recycled into steel.

The Japanese are avid recyclers. Reuse is very much more environmentally friendly than recycling the raw materials but the Japanese are not nearly so keen on reuse. I can think of two reasons for this.

Japanese people have a bit of a phobia about second-hand. Things are seen as becoming imbued with some psychological or spiritual aspect of their own, and of their owner. This Shinto related, animistic phobia is dwindling and the use of second hand things is becoming more popular.

Secondly the Japanese have a tendency to see the world as being made up of material rather than items. When Japanese look at things, from bicycles to pieces of plumbing (which of these are identical to you?), they see the material rather than the item itself. They are influenced in part by the Japanese language (M. Imai & Masuda, in press; M. Imai & Mazuka, 2007; Mutsumi Imai & Gentner, 1997; Mutsumi Imai, Gentner, & Uchida, 1994) in which nouns are almost all akin to English uncountable nouns, like "sugar," "flour," and "water," that is to say designating materials.

But still the powers that be in my university consider it expedient to recycle rather than reuse not only bicycles but vast quantities of reusable rubbish

Imai, M., & Masuda, T. in press). 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

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Japanese Tea Flavoured Ice Cream

Japanese Tea Flavoured Ice Cream by timtak
Japanese Tea Flavoured Ice Cream, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

A set of model plastic Japanese ice cream in buckwheat (soba) and green tea (maccha) flavours. Japanese like to see the food their are ordering before ordering it. The brown things stuck into the ice cream are not chocolate flake but traditional Japanese biscuits.

That the Japanese eat buckwheat and green tea flavoured ice-cream is less surprising than the fact that they are so good at copying things. I take the liberty of writing about Japanese "authenticopies" again since the above is my most popular photograph.

The culture of copying things in Japan is sufficiently widespread and revered as to have received academic attention (Cox, 2007). The Japanese copy everything from mirrors, horses, and cars, to foreign villages and especially food. While no one will attempt to eat these plastic ice cream cornets, they are seen as being delicious: sufficiently identical to the real thing as to arouse desire. Copies of things are given as offerings to Japanese deities at shrines where they are seen as sufficiently identical to sate desire.

I think that the practice can be understood by reference to the way in which Westerners believe in the copying power of the sign (Derrida, 2011). Words are thought to create a copy in the mind of their recipients of the meaning of the their sender. I have an idea and translate it into the "signified" the word "sender" for instance, and you read it and recreate an identical copy of the idea that I had in my mind. If I did not believe in this identical copies - these words that arise in my mind and yours - then I would be faced with an identity crisis since one of the ideas, the one corresponding to the phoneme "I" spoken to myself, is myself (Benveniste, 1971).

But how is it that you, dear reader, can understand my words in the same way as I do? The ability for humans to believe in the transference of meaning in this way, for meanings to be objective is due to their belief in God, or a simulation of the same. Gods too can be simulated (Baudrillard, 1995). Words "exist in", or are pegged to their understanding - a sort of gold standard - in the mind of an intra-psychic third party: someone that is always listening. As we speak to real others, we believe that we also speak to an impartial spectator (Adam Smith, 1812), a generalised other (Mead, 1967), an Other (Lacan, 2007), superego (Freud, 1913) or superaddressee (Bakhtin, 1986): all these are either words for a sort of imaginary friend or a deity (see Marková, 2006, for a downloadable review). By this device, since words are always public, as well as being in our heads we believe in their identical copy-ability.

In Japan the gods look rather than listen. The visual world is always shared. The visual world in Japan, which relegated to the nether land, a "mere image" or "veil" in the West, has the same properties as the Western sign: it is both in the world and in the head. The world and mind meet at the plane of the mirror that is seen with Japanese deities, especially the sun-goddess, who is that mirror itself.

We think nothing of copying signs. The Japanese think nothing of copying food.

Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.
Benveniste, E. (1971). Problems in General Linguistics. (M. E. Meek, Trans.) (Vol. 3). University of Miami Press Coral Gables, FL.
Cox, R. (2007). The Culture of Copying in Japan: Critical and Historical Perspectives. Routledge.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Freud, S. (1913). Totem and taboo. (A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. Retrieved from en.wikisource.org/wiki/Totem_and_Taboo
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Marková, I. (2006). On the inner alter in dialogue. International Journal for Dialogical Science, 1(1), 125–147.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.

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Originally uploaded by timtak.
Yosakoi - disco style festival dance.

Too bad they don't let people participate.

In Britain singing is a sacred act - that people do in church for instance - that people do not readily take part in unless they have practised or they are doing it with many other people in a very similar way as they do in a choir or UK-style Karaoke.

In Japan dancing is a sacred act - that the Japanese do at shrines and temples - that Japanese people do not participate in unless they have practised and are doing it with other people in a very similar way.

Lacan (2007) argued that humans need to have visual and verbal representations of self, and that the self exists as a result of the presumed intersection of these self representations. Lacan also argued that humans move from having a predominantly visual self(Lacan, 2002), to having a predominantly verbal, or narrative self(McAdams, 2006). The visual self is therefore for Westerners the inferior of the two representing the external aspect of self, whereas language is thought to be the private self itself. This is of course very strange. Vision is no more private than language, a most public, learnt, and communicative of media. To most Westerners vision is inextricably linked with 'mere appearance', surface, and "wrapping," (Hendry, 1995) whereas language is linked with mind. I argue that Japan is permanently "in the mirror stage" or "Nacalian," in that these Lacanian hierarchies are reversed. In Japan, vision is closely associated with, and thought (see next post) to be mind (Nishida, 1988; Heisig, 2010). Language, even the language of science with the ephemeral world of hypothesis (Takeuchi, 2006), and language in general with public communication(Nakashima, 1999,1997).

Heisig, J. W. (2010). Nishida’s Deodorized Basho and the Scent of Zeami’s Flower. Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy 7: Classical Japanese Philosophy (p. 247–73). Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture. Retrieved from http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20and%20Zeami.pdf Hendry, J. (1995). Wrapping Culture: Politeness, Presentation, and Power in Japan and Other Societies. Oxford University Press, USA. Lacan, J. (2002). 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.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Takeuchi, K. 竹内薫. (2006). 99・9%は仮説 思いこみで判断しないための考え方. 光文社.
McAdams, D. P. (2006). The role of narrative in personality psychology today. Narrative Inquiry, 16(1), 11–18.
Nakashima, Y. 中島, 義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私. 新潮社.
Nakashima, 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.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1988). 西田幾多郎哲学論集〈2〉論理と生命 他4篇. 岩波書店.

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Omou, the Japanese Word for Think, is Predominately Visual

Omou, the Japanese word for think, is Predominately Visual by timtak
Omou, the Japanese word for think, is Predominately Visual, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The Japanese words for "think" (omou) and thought (omoi) are represented above in mixed logographic and phonetic script. The question as to whether Japanese and Chinese script does in fact transmit meaning directly from the visual "graph" is hotly debated (Hansen, 1993).

I strongly agree with Hansen. Characters do mean. Like Derrida's word "differance," (Derrida, 1998), designed I think to draw attention to the trace, or graph, there is a gap between the sound and the meaning in Japanese words. Derrida's word "differance" (to defer) is pronounced the same as difference (to be not the same), but means something else, as a graphic neologism on the page. Japanese words can mean different things depending upon the graph used, such as foot 足 and leg 脚, both pronounced "ashi,". Japanese is even more obviously logographic than Chinese, because in Japanese each characters can be pronounced many ways. For this and other reasons, even native speakers may be able to read the meaning of a character without being able to pronounce it. .

What is not debatable in my mind is that the act of thinking in Japan is extremely or predominantly visual. The Japanese words for thought shown above, as those in English, describe the calling to mind of both language and vision. However in Japanese one can think someone, e.g. "think her" (kanojo wo omou taking a direct object) and this means at least to call an image of her to ones mind. In so many other compounds of the Japanese word to think, such as "omoi-ukaberu" (float a thought), "omoi wo haseru"(direct ones thoughts) it seems clear to me that this act entails predominately the calling to mind of images.

Western thought as everyone since Plato tell us, is predominantly "the soul's discourse with itself" (Miller, 1981, see Kim, 2002).

Derrida, J. (1998). Of Grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373–399. doi:10.2307/2059652
Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828.

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Talisman/Omamori/Good Luck Charm

Talisman/Omamori/Good Luck Charm by timtak
Talisman/Omamori/Good Luck Charm, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The following is my explanation of the philosophy behind the good luck charms, or "Omamori" received from shrines and temples in Japan.

In Japan the lucky charms called "Omamori," (literally "venerated protectors") are said to work by being a decoy-self ("migawari) that attracts bad luck.

Hence any "impurity" or bad luck is collected in the charm instead of in the person. The charm is thrown away once a year, together with the bad luck.

There is quite a lot of theory behind this.

Omamori are basically very similar to the larger tablets bearing the name of the deity "ofuda" that one receives from a Shinto shrine. Both are termed "Shinpu" or deity tablets. These larger tablets are enshrined within the home on the Spirit Shelf (Kamidana). Omamori are also basically pieces of paper stamped with the name of the god.

Why should a piece of paper stamped with the name of the god be a decoy-self?

The easiest way to answer this question is by referring to Japanese "Buddhism". Japanese Buddhism concentrates on rituals for the dead. The dead are enshrined in the household inside a "Buddhist" altar or "butsudan" or (literally Buddha cupboard). Inside the Buddha cupboard there is an effigy of the Buddha, but perhaps more importantly there are a lot of little tablets (called ihai) which represent dead relatives. People open the butsudan and say "hello grandpa, hello grandma" to their grandfather, and grandmother (if deceased) in the form of their little tablets.

According to the Japanese ethnologist Yanagita Kunio, the Budda cupboard (Butsudan) and the Spirit Shelf (Kamidana) originate in the same practice. The spirit shelf was for the living and the "Bhuddist altar" was for the dead but basically in both there was a deity (Shinto Kami or spirit, or Buddhist Buddha) and in both there was representations of members of the household, living or dead. Before the introduction of Buddhism, people would receive spirit containing tags or earlier still branches and stones from their shrine. These would be periodically renewed, and eventually returned to the shrine after the death of its holder. With the separation of Shinto and Buddhism this cycle of spirit has been obscured.

Today in Japan there are few personal tablets for the living (other than omamori) but there are traditions of sticking the names of the living onto the shrine shelf in some parts of Japan. In the past, people received a part of the spirit of their local shrine and this in a sense gave them life. In other words a ticket or tag from the shrine represented a person, it was or is, another me.

This is why perhaps a "omamori" is a bit like a spare ID card. If you have some bad luck, like being caught doing a minor misdemeanour's then you charge it, or put it down to the spare ID, which you throw away at the end of the year.

The new year is said to be a rebirth, everyone gets a new identity. Everyone starts afresh with a clean slate.

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Monday, June 18, 2012


Spot the Odd One Out

Which of the three (view larger), the rabbit, the fish, or the butterfly is the odd one out?

There is no right answer. I am hoping that Anglophones will have a stronger tendency to feel that the butterfly is the odd one out, for one if many reasons such as: the fish and the rabbit are edible where as the butterfly is not, the fish and the rabbit were in black and white so the colourful butterfly is the odd one out, the fish and rabbit both have eyeballs, hearts, and tails; they are closer on the evolutionary tree.

The clue to the cultural difference is in the animation, or rather the movement. In Japanese there is only one word for both "jump" and "fly," tobu. So both the rabbit and the butterfly are from a Japanophone perspective, 'tobu-ing' (tonndeiru) across the screen, so Japanese may see a greater connection between the rabbit and the butterfly. As mentioned on a previous post, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is making a resurgence thanks to recent cross cultural research on the affect of language upon thought(Boroditsky, 2001; Imai & Masuda, in press). If the "tobu" factor that which links the rabbit and butterfly together, then one would predict that less similarity would be perceived in static photography rather than an animation like that above.

Additionally as is well documented (Yomota, 1006), the Japanese have a passion for cute things, and consider fish consummately un-cute (so much so that they are happy to eat them alive and wriggling). Since the butterfly and the rabbit are both fairly cute, that may be another reason why Japanese may see the fish as the odd one out. Please ask your Japanese friends.

Fish image From from the 1881 book A Voyage in the Sunbeam, by Annie Allnut Brassey scanned by zorger.com public domain images.
Rabbit image is Rabbit Conejo (original) by Marcos Telias.
Butterfly image is in the public domain and isolated and provided as a Bug image with transparent backgrounds by gif-favicon.com.

Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought?: Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive psychology, 43(1), 1–22.
Imai, M., & Masuda, T. (in press). The Role of Language and Culture in Universality and Diversity of Human Concepts. Retrieved from http://www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/ImaMasudaAdvancesCulturePsychology2012FINAL.pdf
Yomota, I. 四方田犬彦. (2006). 「かわいい」論. 筑摩書房.

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"If you want to live a long time: Look in the Mirror"

"If you want to live a long time: Look in the Mirror" by timtak
Images copyright Dr. Nagumo and the publishers
Dr. NAGUMO Yoshinori is a medical practioner and popular author of several books (e.g. Nagumo, 2009, 2012a, 2012b) on how to be healthy and youthful. Many of the books show the 56 year old doctor Dr. Nagumo looking, in his own words in the title of the book above left "20 years younger". These books recommended a healthy diet, remaining hungry, excercise and drinking burdock tea.

The Japanese nation as a whole are one of the healthiest on the planet, with the highest life expentancy in the world (Wikipedia, 2012). Is it the burdock tea?

I think that Dr. Nagumo provides the answer in this latest book, entitled "If you want to live a long time: Look in the mirror." As argued repeatedly on this blog (see Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008) the Japanese are as if always in front of a mirror since they simulate an autoscopic view of themselves. Humans in general have this capability to see themselves from the outside in (Blanke & Metzinger, 2009). Somehow Westerners manage to forget how they look, which is why in some states of the US, one in three are obese (Witters, 2011).

In recommending autoscopy (looking at yourself) and burdock tea, Dr. Nagumo is recommening a Japanese way of keeping healthy to the Japanese. Someone should translate Dr. Nagumo's book into English. Additionally someone might also write a book in Japanese recommending Anglophone health-ways to the Japanese. Despite the fact that the Japanese look 20 years younger than Americans, they only live 4 years longer (82 vs 78: Wikipedia, 2010).

How can this be? The Japanese have a strong tendency to health ignore information that they can not see in the mirror, which is why approximately twice as many Japanese than Americans smoke cigarettes. My health advice to the Japanese woudl be to either (1) read health statistics and believe them, or better (2) think of ways of making invisible health risks visible, e.g. by the use of pulmonary endoscopy to take and show photographs of Japanese smokers blackend lungs to their owners. That would encourage them to quit smoking.

Blanke, O., & Metzinger, T. (2009). Full-body illusions and minimal phenomenal selfhood. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(1), 7–13. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.10.003
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 www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/Website/Papers/Mirrors-pspb4%5...
Wikipedia contributors. (2012). List of countries by life expectancy. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_countries_by_l...
Nagumo, Y. 南雲吉則. (2009). 錆びない生き方. PHP研究所.
Nagumo, Y. 南雲吉則. (2012). 長生きしたい人は「鏡」を見なさい. 朝日新聞出版.
Nagumo, Y. 南雲吉則. (2012). 20歳若く見えるために私が実践している100の習慣. 中経出版.
Witters, D. (2011). One in Three Adults Obese in America’s Most Obese States. In A. Gallup (Ed.), The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2010 (pp. 262 263). Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/141734/one-three-adults-obese-america-three-obese-states.aspx

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Language and Gesture Revisited

Professor Kita's research does not lie well with the general "Naclanian" theory promoted by this blog: that the Japanaese are imago-centric. If they were, one would expect them to gesture the movements of objects as those objects appear, rather than be influenced by their language.

It is important to remember, however, that: while these gestures were made while speaking the majority of Japanese speakers (e.g. almost two thirds in the swing experiment) were indeed unaffected by their lack of a verb to swing, and that both of Professor Sota's experiments used movements for which the Japanese lacks a suitable movement verb, which is present in English.

What would happen in the reverse situation, where English lacks an appropriate movement verb? The animation above shows one such situation. In English the verb usually used for downwards motion under the effect of gravity, whether straight down or to the side, is "fall down". Japanese distinguishes these verbs, where "ochiru" is to fall straight down, and "taoreru" is to fall down sidewise like the man in the above animation (right click for menu to replay, or refresh screen).

I hypothesise that more than one third of English speakers would gesture these two events in the same way (if they were not shown side by side), since English speakers are even more influenced by the impact of their language (as was also indicated in Professor Sota's research, 2009).

As an aside, I also predict, in line with the Sapir-Worph hypothesis and recent research (Boroditski, 2001; Imai and Masuda, in Press) and others that that English speakers would see more similarity in the the movement of the bottle and the man that Japanese speakers.

Kita, S. (2009). Cross-cultural variation of speech-accompanying gesture: A review. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 145–167. doi:10.1080/01690960802586188 Imai, M., & Masuda, T. (in Press). The Role of Language and Culture in Universality and Diversity of Human Concepts. Retrieved from http://www.ualberta.ca/~tmasuda/ImaMasudaAdvancesCulturePsychology2012FINAL.pdf Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought?: Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive psychology, 43(1), 1–22.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012


Language and Gesture

How do you express the movement of the ball in the above animation using words and a gesture? Kita(2009) a leading researcher in gesture, found that language influences the way we gesture. Japanese, lacking a verb for swing were more likely to move their fingers down to the right in a straight line (below top) whereas English speakers, who do have a verb to swing, were more likely to use an arc (below, bottom).
Roll over to see Japanese and Englislh Gestures
Similarly, when linguistically describing and gesturing the movement of the ball in the image below (right click for menu to rewind and then replay the animation),

Japanese speakers, lacking a compound verb "roll down" are more likely to say "while rolling goes down" (korogarinagara ochiru 転がながら落ちる) and when gesturing likewise, more likely to making a rotating movement first (korogari), followed by a downward movement (ochiru) of their finger afterwards (image below top) than Britons who were more likely to move their finger in a rotating movement while moving their finger downwards (gesture below bottom).
Roll over to see Japanese and English gestures

It is important that the Japanese speaker is speaking Japanese at the time of making the gesture otherwise the above effect will not be seen. Please see Professor Kita's research.
Kita, S. (2009). Cross-cultural variation of speech-accompanying gesture: A review. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 145–167. doi:10.1080/01690960802586188

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Thursday, June 14, 2012


Wait! The absence of verbal directions in Japanese supermarkets

Wait! The absence of verbal directions in Japanese supermarkets by timtak
Wait! The absence of verbal directions in Japanese supermarkets, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Have you ever asked a Japanese shop assistant where something is?

If you are in the UK and lucky, the shop assistant will grunt or otherwise convey the isle number like this "far end of isle 16, love,".

In Japan however, even though the isles have numbers, the assistants will not give you verbal directions to the isle, but rather rash off off expecting (presumably) that you sprint after them. This is a photograph taken by me of the back of a shop assistant taking to me to where I can find coarse grained mustard, in a supermarket in Japan.

Not merely being told, but being escorted to the destination one seeks is in some ways an increase in the standard of service, but in others it is a pain in the neck, or legs. The shop assistants run too fast (hey, I am carrying a shopping basket remember!) and I would rather go to the correct isle in my own time in the proper order as dictated by my itinerary. I snake my way through supermarkets, going through each of the isles. I don't want to be escourted to the far side only to have to find my way back to my snaking path. If they told me the ilse number, I could find the mustard when I get to the relevant isle in my own time.

I believe that Japanese shop assistants find it difficult to put an isle number to the place. They store the information about where products are shelved spatially, and spatially is the only way that they feel confident in retrieving it. Sometimes I have physically held them down, and insisted that they tell me the isle number. The unhappy response in this situtation is that without out going to the place where they think the required item is, they can not be sure that it is in fact there.

If you can speak Japanese, try it next time you are in Japan.

Masuta-do wa nanbanme no retsu deshou ka?

And get ready to run.

Typically verbal directions are not given when visiting houses and business but rather one relies on maps. This is partly due to the Nacalian imago-centrism of the Japanese and as a knock on effect to the way that plots of land are given numbers in little obvious progressing, rather than street numbers as in the West. In the West it is possible to find a house or business establishment armed with a street number and street name (and a few directions from the nearest station) whereas in Japan having a land plot number in a certain area will still leave you guessing as to where within the area the number corresponds. Usually therefore people give others maps if they want them to find their house or business location. I think that perhaps we even enjoy telling people how to get to places by taking the third right, fourth left, and so on, just as the Japanese rather seem to enjoy drawing and using maps sometimes as a hobby and form of virtual tourism (see, Hori, 1972; 2010, Imao 2012). Takahiko Masuda (Masuda, Gonzalez, Kwan, & Nisbett, 2008) has found that East Asians are good at and tend to draw the birds eye view diagrams typical of Edo period guidbooks called "named-place-picture-collections" (mesihouzue) . We like to give directions in signs, Japanese in the form of indexes (pointing) and images.

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.
今尾恵介. (2012). 地図の遊び方. 筑摩書房.
堀淳一. (1972). 地図のたのしみ. 河出書房新社.
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.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Japanese Moderation: Rare Japanese Health Food Shop

Japanese Moderation: Rare Japanese Health Food Shop by timtak
Japanese Moderation: Rare Japanese Health Food Shop, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
There are fewer health food shops. The "natural food store" above is a rarity.

The Japanese eat less meat but there are very few vegetarians, nature is never far away but there are fewer nature enthusiasts, religious artefacts and rituals are everywhere but there are few Japanese that are really into a religion, Japanese food is generally healthier but there are fewer health food freaks. The same Japanese culture of moderation could be said to pertain in the fields of fitness, dieting, and even economic wealth. Perhaps this originates in Buddhism, which calls itself "The Middle Path." It might also be ascribed to collectivism and the Japanese love of being "normal" (futsuu) which is a compliment (Oohashi & Yamaguchi, 2005).

However, at the same time, it would be untrue to say there are no "freaks" or otaku in Japan. Otaku are many and varied. The Japanese practice moderation in all things, including moderation.

Oohashi, M & Yamaguchi, S 大橋恵 and 山口勧 (2005) 「ふつうさ」 の固有文化心理学的研究: 人を形容する語としての 「ふつう」 の望ましさについて,実験社会心理学研究, 44(1), p 71--81. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jjesp/44/1/44_1_71/_pdf (Japanese with English Abstract at the end)

Monday, June 04, 2012


How to Make a Japanese God

How to Make a God by timtak
How to Make a God, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Top image copyright Olaf and Metzinger (2009) conscience.risc.cnrs.fr/articles_pdf/Blanke_2009.pdf

A minimal interpretation of a God surely includes the requirement that God is an entity who is connected with us intra-psychically as well as, or even more so than, externally. That is to say that God is in our minds as well as in the world. God observes us, even in the privacy of our mind, and we address ourselves to him or her in that we are concerned about our behaviour from God's point of view.

Several Western theorists (Adam Smith, Bakhtin, Mead, Lacan, and Freud) argue that we have or model an objective view of ourselves intra-psychically, that is to say, inside our heads. Most Western theorists argue that this "point of view" is a point of "view" only metaphorically. The Western God is associated with language, listening, and understanding.

Adam Smith argues that we all see ourselves from a "impartial spectator." While Adam Smith redacted references to God from his work, after the death of his mother, it seems clear that his impartial spectator is related to his notion of a Christian God and that being above all "reasonable," "impartial spectator" 'spectates' in a "reasonable" (I read linguistic) rather than visual way.

Bakhtin does not explain the origin of his super addressee. He just says that we always presume the presence of another addressee of our language (in addition to the person we are speaking to or writing to). Bakhtin does not state that this super-addressee is a requirement for self, but, in a rare moment of religiosity Bakhtin associates this Super-addressee with God, and its absence with hell.

Mead presents one of the best, most sober, renditions of the need for an objective perspective upon self. Mead argues that in order to have a self we need to see ourselves from an objective point of view. In order to see oneself from an objective point of view, one needs to internalise the viewpoints of others (plural). In order to have a self, an independent self perhaps, one needs to create within oneself a "Generalised other," the perspective of oneself as it were, from nowhere. Mead's sober, Anglo Saxon explanation is almost mathematical or at least logical. The more views that one has of oneself the more one understands oneself. And by combining these views one can achieve objective self-hood, from the viewpoint of *not* one's mother, *not* ones father, but from a sort of mathematically, logically, systematically amalgamated general view point. How is this possible? Mead does not say. It sounds reasonable. But Mead's generalised other is while easy to follow as a theory, not so easy to understand phenomenologically. Where is the generalised in my mental experience? (This question may be a no-brainer for Christians.)

Lacan wavers. On the one had his "Other" seems to personified, sometimes (contra Freud) as a (m)Other, at other times the Other seems to be be language itself, a sort of neo Kantian (these days championed by Chomsky and Pinker) static, systematic, non-persona-ised version of the "generalised other". By non-persona-ized, I mean that the other from which we see the self is non personalised account; something that is not a simulated human. The Other of our self speech, is rather a system, a structure, something that is not seen as a persons. I think that his view is probably very popular among many theorists, or anyone with a scientific outlook. This generalised-other-as-system view does not require anything grotesque. If we understand ourselves from a generalised point of view then it is because we understand language. Language is our other, not a person at all. How nice, how clean and un-queasy that would be if it were the case.

Freud is surprisingly vague, almost mythic in his explanation of the origins of the Super-Ego. The "super ego" is a form of generalised other based on ones father. Freud has written a lot and I do not pretend to have read everything he has written but in one rendition of the origin of the super ego (though he does not use that phrase in the paper in question) he suggest a historical event: that an alpha-male, woman monopolising primal father was killed and eaten by brothers who internalised (not only in that they ate him, but psychologically) the father figure that they had killed, and felt so guilty about that murder that they repressed it. In this rendition there is the horror, the shame or guilt, but towards a concrete act. That slaying of the primal father seems unlikely but Freud's myth mentions *The Horror* that I suggest is essential for "making a god."

We all simulate others all the time. We imagine that we are talking to friends and understand our words from their simulated perspective. We cringe when we feel the gaze of others because we imagine what they have seen, and what we simulate they have felt about what they have seen. But these others that we simulate are others in the plural, others in the particular. How could it be that we might create a perspective, a view from nowhere?

Olaf and Metzinger (2009) propose that our ability to see ourselves from other perspectives is essential to the creation of self (which they argue to be a sort of illusion). In the paper quoted they give a typology of self views. In a "Autoscopic Hallucination" we see ourselves as another, a doppelgänger who is not ourselves and remain aware of the self from which we see the doppelgänger. In "Heautoscopy" we see a doppelgänger and our self, but we are not sure which of the two is our self. In an "Out of Body experience" (perhaps the most godly of the three) we see ourself from an external perspective but still with a "SL" (Subjective Location) floating somewhere above us near the ceiling.

It seems to me that they miss a type of self view: the view from nowhere. We see this view from nowhere represented in many Japanese works of art (Edo period pictures of the floating world, Manga, video games) in self-memories (Cohen) and Japanese behaviour in front of mirrors (Heine, et al.). How is it that the Japanese can have a view from nowhere, up from high in the sky and not feel that they are located in that elvated position?

I suggest that the ability to have a self-view from an external position and at the same time not see that position as a subjective location, nor as another particular viewpoint (of a friend, of family member) requires repression, as Freud argued.

This brings me to the horror. There is a a trope in Japanese horror where (generally female) monsters emerge from images. Traditionally they emerged from lanterns (Oiwasan) scrolls (bottom left), more recently they emerge from mirrors (Juuon, Mirrors), photo developer (Juuon), and most famously a television set (Sadako).

I suggest that perhaps the ability to see oneself from an external, non-particular, generalised perspective, relies less on our ability to generalise a perspective as to find one of them so frightening that we repress it. This explanation suggests that God is some sort of Bogeyman, but that is not my perception. Rather that the total absence of a belief in a generalised view (God), results in a situation which is, as Bakhtin says, hell: well and truly horrifying.

Bibliography to follow

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