Thursday, November 29, 2012
The GAL in the Mirror and The Soul of Japan
The above image is from the cover of Koakuma Ageha (Little Devil Ageha), a fashion magazine for young Japanese women. It shows a certain style of Japanese woman ,or GAL, taking off a mask which is wearing blue contact lenses, white foundation, and red lipstick, to reveal an even more beautiful (so it is suggested) winking GAL.
Adjacent is the caption "This is how everyone creates fake faces," the title of an article on how to avoid being fake.
I have a brief documentary video on Youtube which talks despairingly about the Japanese practice of using glue on their eyes to create "double eyelids" (I call it a "crease") as a result in part of Western influence. Many viewers respond that they do not double their eye lids to look Western. I have gradually become more and more in agreement with my critics.
At the very least, the Japanese GAL has surpassed fakery and Western immitation. The GAL has been influenced by the West, but in true Japanese cultural style, GAL beauty has taken in Western facial aesthetics, mixed this with Japanese sense of facial beauty to create something - to the Japanese at least - better, more beautiful.
This story regarding the creative power of Japanese culture to take in the influence of others cultures, to mix it up and harmonise it with the Japanese sense of taste is to be found in a great many commentaries regarding Japanese culture. And it is not (just) hard cheese. Sure it does have to be admitted that the Japanese Culture owes a very great deal to Chinese culture, and more recently to Western culture. The Japanese are acutely aware of this. But they are right to point out that they are great at improving on things, to create something new, something that themselves at least like better. The GAL has done it again.
How do the Japanese achieve this assimilation-and-improvement ability? One of the best renditions of this theory is to be found in Watsuji's Climaticity (Fuudo) theory, which holds that the Japanese environment and climate was such that it did not create a division between humans and the environment but encouraged their unity. Further, this theory of the unity of the environment the human, of the world and self, finds it is best expression in Kitarou Nishida.
Nishda argues that if you perform phenomenological bracketing, that is to say if you remove all interpretation of your environment, if you silence your (annoying) inner voice, then you reach pure experience, and experience which is contradictorily, both self and the world. Nishida generally used visual metaphor and drew pictures of circles on his blackboard at Kyoto University.
I find it explanatory to consider Ernst Mach's "visual field". The visual field is generally considered to be view (a bounded opening onto something bigger), or at best a viel, but Mach, and Nishida, considered it to be the very stuff of the world and self.
The ability to identify with this mirror itself rather than any characteristic reflected in it, or abstract explanation of it, allows the Japanese to be almost infinitely malleable, almost infinitely good at assimilating. This does not mean that want to become Westerners. They taken in Western looks because they are also Western looks. And they stop taking in when they like what they see, because what they see, is themselves.
Video which may represent a Japanese GAL performing the above described process: Notes in lieu of a Bibliography
室瀬和美(2002)『漆の文化: 受け継がれる日本の美』角川選書. p207-208
鎌田東二(2000)『神道とは何か 自然の霊性を感じて生きる: 自然の霊性を感じて生きる』PHP研究所
高坂 節三(2000)『昭和の宿命を見つめた眼: 父・高坂正顕と兄・高坂正堯』PHP研究所
---日本文化は、主体即環境、人間即自然として、自己同一的に発展したものということができ、東西文化の結合を日本に求めることができる (and we know where he got that from, down the corridoor in Kyoto University).
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.