Monday, November 12, 2012
Sound Truck Armageddon
The Japanese do not identify with linguistic meaning -- which is just mere fluff (rikutsu, 理屈, herikutsu, 屁理屈 or "fart spiel") -- but with that which they can hear, see or imagine.
The people in this video are doing just that. A politician is driving through the streets of a Japanese town, blaring out his "message" beseeching the local inhabitants to vote for him. But he has no message. All he is saying is, "I am trying hard". "Thank you!" "Thank you!" And even though he is sound-polluting the air, even though he has nothing to say, in a very loud way, his supporter thanks him and expresses her support.
This politicians words are phatic; they mean almost nothing at all.
The politician has no policies, no message, nothing linguistic that might differentiate him from his competitors. The important thing, to his Japanese supporters is that he is out there on the streets, that he can be seen, heard, experienced there giving his all, till his voice runs horse. What kind of politician is this man? His supporters and detractors, his constituents, are not provided with anything, in words, that might help them choose this man over any other.
But the punters do not object (as I once objected, quite vehemently) to his sound pollution because the important thing is this, his act. He is demonstrating his concern. He is there for everyone to see and hear (but not linguistically understand). He demonstrates that his able and willing to shout till his voice is horse. He is thus a man who tries. Like pachinko players, this politician makes no choices, but he perseveres in spades. And it is the demonstrable fact that he perseveres that encourages his constituents vote for him.
Perseverance can been seen and imagined. Choices (or words that one says to oneself) can not.
And so we are invisible to each other. I say my spiel to my Japanese significant others but they do not hear. They are looking at my enthusiasm, posture, bushy tailed health-iness (genkiness). My theories are invisible and thus, to them, do not exist. I might as well be saying "Thank you, thank you, I will try hard," in the manner of this politician.
This attitude is identical to the way in which Westerners fail to see the self expression of Japanese. Generally in my experience Westerners commentators, and many Westernised Japanese, see Japanese politicians as "primitive".
There may come a time however that the Japanese come to think that, as I believe, this is just the way that Japanese politics is, due to a different view of the central message mode, and a different view of self. Where we Westerners feel the existence of self - in language, in politician speeches, and even in closed loop tape recordings - the Japanese see mere language. Where the Japanese see self, in people wearing head-bands proclaiming their gratitude, we see something "primitive" or nothing of significance at all. In this way, we are zombies to each other. This politician is fatuous, vacant, mindless to a Westerner. Western politicians with all their rhetoric can seem mindless, vacant to the Japanese. And this can lead to great misunderstanding and even war, to end all wars.
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.