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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.

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