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.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Manga-esque Mannekins

Manga-esque Mannekins by timtak
Manga-esque Mannekins, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
I think that one of the reasons why there are so many Western featured mannequins is partly due to Westernization, and this explains why the signs, saying "special price down clearance" are in English too.

But the Japanese have Mannequins also partly because the Japanese are sort of animistic, or ego invested in their bodies to the extent that if there were a Japanese looking mannequin it would be so creepy that they would feel oblidged to greet it, or give it a funeral (like dolls) before throwing them away. Other ways of having mannequins that are acceptably non-human is to have headless mannequins or, recently, the manga-esque mannequins like those above. They also have ones with, to Western eyes, have very creepy expressions but in all cases I think it is important that the mannequinns be human enough to model the clothes, but not so realistic as to make the shoppers feel that the mannequins were human. I think that one of the reasons why Western mannequins are now less popular is due to the fact that with increasing numbers of westerners living in Japan, such manequinns, and indeed foreigners themselves, have started to look human.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012


Face and Culture

Face and Culture by timtak
Face and Culture, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
A research team which includes Professor Caldara of Glasgow university had compared recognition of emotions (Jack, Blais, Scheepers, Schyns, & Caldara, 2009), faces (Blais, Jack, Scheepers, Fiset, & Caldara, 2008), and things (Kelly, 2010) to find pervasive cultural differences between Westerners and East Asians.

In line with Yuki's research (Yuki, 2007), East Asians focus more upon the eyes while Westerners focus more upon the mouth while judging emotion. As Yuki (ibid) points out this difference can be seen in the way that Japanese and Westerners write emoticons as :-) or ^-^ for a happy face in the West and Japan respectively.

When it comes to facial recognition (Blais, Jack, Scheepers, Fiset, & Caldara, 2008), however, it is Westerners that focus more on eyes, and mouths, whereas Japanese focus more on noses (above left, where the parts of faces that Westerners concentrate on is shown in red, and the parts of faces that east Asians stare at is shown in blue). What is going on?

Are there parts of the face that are invariant and representative of character and personality and others that are temporallly variable that are used to convey emotion. If so do Japanese identify themselves and others with their noses!? This might explain the way that the traditional Japanese robber wore a scarf that concealed his nose but not his eyes or mouth. This is not the interpretation proposed by this research team.

Using a "spotlight" technique that allows subjects too see only what they are focusing upon however, Caldara, Zhou, & Miellet (2010) show that while East Asians look at people's noses when they can see normally, when they can only see what they are staring at, they look at eyes and mouth in the same way as Americans. In other words, when East Asians look at noses they are probably looking at the same facial parts but they are doing it wholistically (Masuda & Nisbett).

This centrally focused wholistic processing was found to extend to recognition of sheep faces and even of non-facial, or not very facial objects (Kelly, 2010) and these cultural tendencies are found to get stronger over ages 7-12 demonstrating that they are a result of nurture rather than purely nature (Kelly et al., 2011).

Image from Professor Caldara's website
Blais, C., Jack, R. E., Scheepers, C., Fiset, D., & Caldara, R. (2008). Culture Shapes How We Look at Faces. (A. O. Holcombe, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 3(8), e3022. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003022
Caldara, R., Zhou, X., & Miellet, S. (2010). Putting Culture Under the ‘Spotlight’ Reveals Universal Information Use for Face Recognition. (J. Lauwereyns, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 5(3), e9708. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009708
Jack, R. E., Blais, C., Scheepers, C., Schyns, P. G., & Caldara, R. (2009). Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal. Current Biology, 19(18), 1543–1548. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.051
Kelly, D. (2010). Culture shapes eye movements for visually homogeneous objects. Frontiers in Psychology. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00006
Kelly, D. J., Liu, S., Rodger, H., Miellet, S., Ge, L., & Caldara, R. (2011). Developing cultural differences in face processing. Developmental Science, 14(5), 1176–1184. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01067.x

Yuki, M., Maddux, W., & Masuda, T. (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in the East and West? Cultural differences in using the eyes and mouth as cues to recognize emotions in Japan and the United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012


Cyclist Hand Signals in Japan: Their absence

Cycling Hand Signals in Japan by timtak
Cycling Hand Signals in Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
There are two things I notice about Japanese cycling hand signals. The first is that the left turn hand signal is supposed to be made using the right hand, pointing upwards. This signal is unpopular even in theory, with some advocating the use of a left turn signal as used by the Briton in the photo above.

The other thing I note is that I have never seen a Japanese cyclists make a hand signal! At least I have never seen a university students make a hand signal and this despite the fact that most of the students at my university commute by bicycle, and that most Japanese children are taught hand signals at primary school.

On the face of it, this phenomenon or the lack of it, is very bad for my theory that the Japanese interpersonal and intrapersonal communication particularly emphasises vision. Regarding the lattter intra-personal communication or "communicating to oneself", the Japanese do clearly engage in visual self-communication in the form of the finger pointing checks (please see my video) by transportation workers, and by baseball player Ichiro when he comes to the plate. These finger and bat pointings raise the pointers awareness of what he has done or is about to do and correspond, I believe, in large part to, self directed speech among Westerners. Western train drivers are encouraged to "call the road" saying the names of the colours of the signals that they pass for instance, but attempts to introduce finger pointing checks to Australia failed, despite dramatic increases in safety through their use in Japan.

So why don't the Japanese use cycling signals? Some factors include the fact that most Japanese ride on the pavement rather than the road, using low cross bar "shopper" (or "mother") bicycles at lower speeds. The need for singals increases with speed and the use of roads. But even in the busy roads in my university, I have yet to see anyone signal prior to a turn, and many perhaps most cyclists do not even look behind them either.

Another reason for this to my Western eyes, absurd, behaviour is the emphasis on "paying attention to what is in front of you (先方注意)" treated in a seperate post. As long as Japanese pay attention to their field of responsibility, their visual field in front of them, they feel, and Japanese law to a great extent requires, that it is up to others to ensure that they do not hit the cyclist from behind, even if they turn without making a signal or looking around.

Other possibilities include embarassment (but this was stated as a resason for the Australian train drivers dislike of finger pointing), and a need for visual-self-consistency, and visual-control which I think explain the lack of dancing in Japan (unless very practiced) and perhaps for lack of attention to and use of facial emotional expressions at least around the mouth (Yuki, Others).

A further possibility is that visual signals are thought of as being in some way private, intended for oneself, and people to whom they are addressed (second persons) rather than for otherS in general.

This possibility might mirror and reverse the claim (Nakajima) that in Japan spoken language, in the form of public announcements and signs, is encouraged when public but discouraged when private such as when private opinions are not to be made public in Japanese classrooms, or when mobile phones are not to be used on Japanese trains.

It is possible that there is a Nacalian reversal where Western visual signs are to be made only publically and not to second persons or to oneself. Certainly as already pointed out, finger pointing checks (a visual sign to self) is thought comical in the West, as is the practice of pointing at ones nose to indicate oneself.

This lack of a phenomena needs more thought. In the meantime I must be careful when following Japanese cyclists.

Upper image "Left turn by ♔ Georgie R shows a cyclist signalling to turn left in my native UK.
Lower image: Found unattributed on a Japanese blog, please contact me via the comments below to have it removed. 影像取り下げ希望でありましたら、下記のコメント欄かnihonbunka.comのメールリンクからご連絡ください。

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