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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, November 26, 2012


Kyari Pamyu Pamyu, Kata and Seeing Yourself

Keep Trying GuysHow is it that the Japanese are able to see themselves? Why does Kyari Pamyu Pamyu have eyeballs on her dress and why does her mental self spew them out. Why do these same eyeballs encircle her her corporeal body? Why is her dance so choreographed? Why does she move from one pose to the next, in a triptych of recognisable poses or kata?

And why do Japanese martial artists, such as Karate and Judo practitioners, or sumo wrestlers, stand in rows and make the same poses, or kata over and over again? Why are all Japanese path (michi or dou) practitioners, from martial artists to tea-ceremony aficionados and Noh actors, so keen on repeating one set forms, kata, over an over again? Are they clones? Are they unable to move freely, fluidly? What is the importance of repeating set actions over and over again, and does this have anything to do with Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's eyeballs?

George Herbert Mead argues that it is impossible to have a visual self unless one is an actor (with an audience to react) or unless one has a mirror. Generally speaking visual self representation are for others. Conversely it is only language, the logos, that allows ourselves to take the perspective of others, and create a generalised --other independent-- perspective of self. Language, mead says, is special in that it provides a mirror, because when transmitting a language, even to oneself, the word as stimulus can be understood from the perspective of others.

Derrida argues that the defining characteristic of language, and indeed any sign, is that it can be repeated. If I write a random squiggle on a page, that is not a sign. As soon as it is recognisable, and I or someone else, even in my my absence, can repeat it then the squiggle becomes a sign. Iterability is defining characteristic of signs.

In "Bodies that Matter" Judith Butler extends Derrida's observation to iterable bodily movements. Iterable bodily movements such as gestures, poses, and presumably the iterated movements - kata- of Japanese practitioners, are signs. Repeating and repeated acts allow the body to make signs. Martial artists perform an embodied narrative.

Returning to Mead, looking carefully he does admit that gestures, are also language. And these allow their performers to understand their acts as if from the perspective of others. Iterated and Iterable bodily movements, allow us to see the same from the perspective of others. The movements of the body become a language, a language that demands the eye of the Other.

Japanese martial art practitioners, all Japanese path practitioners, and Kyari Pamyu Pamyu, repeat set actions, practice their embodied language, and their bodies come to matter. Their bodies speak. They come to be able to see their bodies from the point of view of the other. They become able to have an objective view of self, and thus to have a visual self.

Practising the kata of the martial arts, and all other Japanese ways, the practitioner becomes able to see his body from a view apart (riken no ken), to have eyeballs inside her self that yet surround and are able to view her.

Image on right: adapted from Karate Practice by Robert Couse-Baker. Image on Left, Kyari Pamyu Pamyu singing Pon Pon Pon copyright Kyari Pamyu Pamyu (きゃりーぱみゅぱみゅ) the director Jun Tajima, Masuda Sebastianone, and Warner Music Japan.

Thanks to Ryosuke Matsumoto for emphasising the importance of Kyari Pamyu Pamyu, Professor Masamune for reminding me of Judith Butler, Tatsuya Hara for being a great interlocutor, and to Holy Whopper for encouraging me to keep writing.

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