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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.

Monday, June 25, 2012


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