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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Noh, Kyari and Mario playing Call of Duty: Can you see your own back?

Noh, Kyari and Mario playing Call of Duty by timtak
Noh, Kyari and Mario playing Call of Duty, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Zeami's Mirror Held to the Flower (1492), remains, six hundred years later, a classic must-read for students of noh drama and the Japanese arts. In it, Zeami explains how noh practitioners must, through the rigorous practice of kata (precisely choreographed dance forms) learn to see themselves with spiritual eyes. The following section is so important that I am quoting it in its entirety, from the translation by J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu (the original is on order)

As concerns the dance, it is say that "the eyes look ahead and the spirit looks behind." This expression means that the actor looks in front of him with this physical eyes, but his inner concentration must be directed to the appearance of his movements from behind [think Super Mario, rather than Call of Duty (Masuda, 2010)]. This is a crucial element in the creation of what I have referred to above as the movement beyond consciousness. The appearance of the actor, seen from the spectator in the seating area, produces a different image than the actor can have of himself. What the spectators sees is the outer image of the actor. What an actor sees, on the other hand, forms his own internal image of himself. He must make still another effort in order to grasp his own internalized outer image, a step possible only through assiduous training [Kyari's dance routines may look easy but she too has done assiduous training.] Once he obtains this, the actor and the spectator can share the same image. Only then can it actually be said that an actor has truly grasped the nature his appearance. For an actor to grasp his true appearance implies that he has under his control the space to the left and to the right of him, and to the front and to the rear of him. In many cases, however, an average actor looks only to the front and to the side, and so never sees what he actually looks like from behind. If the actor can not somehow come to a sense of how he looks from behind, he will not be able to become conscious of any possible vulgarities in his performance. Therefore, an actor must look at himself using his internalised outer image, come to share the same view as the audience, examine his appearance with his spiritual eyes (see image above), and so maintain a graceful appearance with his entire body. Such an action truly represents "the eyes of the spirit looking behind." (p. 81)

Beautiful stuff! The genius, but more pedestrian, George Herbert Mead (1967), lacking the information that we now have regarding mirror neurons, claims that what Zeami proposes above is impossible (the below quoted from "Mind, Self and Society":

It is only the actor who uses bodily expressions as a means of looking as he wants others to feel. He gets a response which reveals to him how he looks by continually using a mirror. He registers anger, he registers love, he registers this that or the other attitude and he examines himself in a glass to see how he does so. (Mead, 1967, pp. 66-67)
and hence Mead argues that the creation of the self, can only be done in language.
"If we exclude vocal gestures, it is only by the use of the mirror that one could reach the position where he responds to his own gestures as other people respond." (Mead, 1967, p. 66)
"What is peculiar to the latter is that the individual responds to his own stimulus in the same way as the other person responds." p67 "It is only the vocal gesture that is fitted for this fort of communication, because it is only the vocal gesture to which one responds or tends to respond as another person tends to respond to it." p67 "The critical importance of language in the development of human experience lies in this fact, that the stimulus is one that can react upon the speaking individual as it reacts upon the other. " p69

Mead did not know that there are those who have a mirror in their heads (Heine et al. 2008), who are spacemen (間人, Nishida⇒Watsuji; see Hamaguchi, 1982), "res extensa."

Image top A Necessary Man by raichovak, on Flickr
Image centre, 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.
Image bottom, Mario playing Call of Duty (see Masuda, 2010)

Hamaguchi 浜口恵俊. (1982). 間人主義の社会日本. 東洋経済新報社.
Masuda 増田貴彦. (2010). ボスだけを見る欧米人 みんなの顔まで見る日本人. 講談社.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Zeami. (1984). On the art of the nō drama: the major treatises of Zeami ; translated by J. Thomas Rimer, Yamazaki Masakazu. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Labels: , , , , , ,

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