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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.

Friday, November 02, 2012


Heejung Kim vs Japanese Architects and Designers

Heejung Kim vs Japanese Architects and Designers by timtak
Heejung Kim vs Japanese Architects and Designers, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
I claim that the Japanese self is expressed visually in "the mirror in their head" (Heine et al., 2008) . Thus while Japanese linguistic self-expressions tend to be humble, their visual self-expressions in their autophotoraphy (Leuers & Sonoda, 1999; see Heine, 2007, p.213), archictecture (photo above), clothing both modern and traditional (photo above), and their zany products (photo above, bottom; bottom right copyright Kawakami, 2000).

However, one of my favourite cultural psychologists, Hejung Kim (Kim and Markus, 1999; Kim and Sherman, 2008) had demonstrated that Asians Americans have less of a preference for unque figures than European Americans.

She had Asian and European americans evaluate the 9 parts of each of the digrams in the top of the above photo (Kim and Sherman, 2008, Kim and Markus, 1999) and found that the European Americans were more likely to choose the unique parts (M = 5.36, SD = 2.12) than the Asian Americans (Mean = 4.39, SD = 2.17).

Why is this? Were there in sufficient Japanese in the Asian sample? Or am I am I wrong; Harajuku fashionistas, and product innovators are not-represtentative of Japan.

I think that Japanese self presentation is not only visual, but as such, aesthetic. Just as Americans do not strive to be linguistically unique in naff ways, the Japanese don't choose clothes and products just because they are unique, but also because they look good. Conversely, American visual expressions (think of their bodies!) and Japanese linguistic expressions (think of traditional Japanese politicians) can be....less appealing.

The difference is in which media of self expression is important. Americans believe that appearance is skin deep. Japanese have negative words for language (rikutsu). Both Japanese and Americans admire uniqueness, but it is only in unimportant media of self expresion are people prepared to be naff to achieve uniqueness. The American preference for the sole isoceles triangle among the array of regular triangles in the diagram top left is just not aesthetic. It does not look nice and the Americans know it but they don't care about looks. The American preference for this irregular triangle is comparable to the anti-conformism found in Takano's experiment in Japan but not America. Japanese were prepared to give an incorrect (linguistic) answer in order to be unique, when all the confederates were saying the right answer, whereas Americans were not. The Japanese wanted uniqueness and did not care about being "right." In a medium that mattered to them, the Americans were not prepared to go that far.

I predict that Japanese will prefer the parts that are for instance at the top of the piramid, or centre of a pattern, or which hold an aesthetically privelidged position within the overall form. The Japanese may also demonstrate a preference for figures that are in harmony with the rest of the parts, since in Japan, being unique and yet in harmony are (from the philosophy of interdependence) not contradictory.

Indeed the people that we call unique, such as conductors, fashionistas, designers, and architects of know a lot about and produce a lot of things which demonstrate harmony.

I am going to repeat the experiment in my class and see which parts of the above diagrams the students prefer.

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 http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/2008Mirrors.pdf
Heine, Steven J. (2007). Cultural Psychology (First ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.
Kim, H., & Markus, H. R. (1999). Deviance or uniqueness, harmony or conformity? A cultural analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(4), 785. Retrieved from http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/labs/kim/Site/Publications_files/Kim%26Sherman08.pdf
Kim, H. S., & Sherman, D. K. (2008). What Do We See in a Tilted Square? A Validation of the Figure Independence Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(1), 47–60. doi:10.1177/0146167207309198 Retrieved from http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/labs/kim/Site/Publications_files/Kim%26Sherman08.pdf
Leuers, T., & Sonoda, N. (1999). The eye of the other and the independent self of the Japanese. Symposium presentation at the 3rd Conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology, Taipei, Taiwan. Retrieved from http://nihonbunka.com/docs/aasp99.htm

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