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, January 31, 2013


Cute Vampires and Fake Crooked Teeth

Cute Vampire by timtak

Cute Vampire, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Recently Japanese ladies have been having fake crooked incisors ("yaeba") inserted by clinics in Tokyo. These teeth look a little like fangs, though not so prominent as those sported by the fashion poster girl in the above photo.

What is the attraction of crooked teeth and fangs? The attraction of crooked teeth is in part a gesture at natural rustic charm, such as gypsy look cosmetics, or stone washed, pre-ripped jeans. By their imperfection they give the impression of honesty. But why incisors? Why women? And why fangs?

I think that the logic goes something like this.

Subconsciously the Japanese know that their women are at base, from time immemorial (think Izanami), just plain scary. They are taught, or preprogrammed to believe that babies are their prime objective and to rear them they'll turn you into a "salary man," or basically eat you alive.

Japanese women are required therefore, to go to great lengths to hide their 'true nature'. If they are to be perceived as attractive they must never grow up. Above all they are required to be cute, or rather wallow in cute. But they'd be even scarier if they hid their desires completely. So, when their scariness is showing a little bit, then they are even more cute.

Cute Japanese women with fangs are like Western gentlemen with a bit of chest hair or stubble showing (or like a handsome werewolf with a thick beard, inset bottom right) in all cases they hint that in fact they do still have bite.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013


Japanese Cakes

Japanese cakes are characterised by the sweet bean paste that they generally contain (or in rare cases that they are covered in). The bean paste is dark brown and of similar consistency to overcooked baked beans. It is quite sweet, sweet enough to be disgusting to those that are used to eating beans as a main meal, but not nearly as sweet as Western confectionery. This means that if you can get over your qualms about eating sweet, as opposed to tomato flavoured, beans then Japanese cakes are considerably more healthy being higher in protein and fibre and lower in calories.

The bean paste is generally covered in flour based sponge cake such as in the round sweet bean sponge-cake sandwich (dorayaki) favoured by the iconic robotic cat, Doraemon, and the maple leaf shaped baked bean fritter (momiji manjuu) made on Itsukushima Island near the famous sea gate. More traditionallly, the bean paste is encased in a slightly gooey layer of rice such as in "great prosperity" (daifuku) rice cakes and this rice may also be wrapped in leaf, of an oak tree (kashiwa mochi) or of a cherry tree (sakura mochi). The outer layer of pink stained rice in the latter (sakura mochi) has been salted, to produce from an untrained Western point of view, something truly grotesque.  The salting of the outer layer of rice creates a contrast with the slightly sweet bean paste, to make it seem almost as sweet as chocolate. 

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Transforming Symbols and Totemism: In the beginning was the Kanji

In this video my son Ray demonstrates the use of a Japanese toy called a "Mojibake" which means a transforming or morphing letter. The toy transforms from being a Sino-Japanese ideograph (kanji) meaning tiger into a little plastic model of a tiger.

Japanese toys and superheroes are always transforming by means of a symbol. Masked riders put symbols to their belts, inject USB drives into their blood stream, or are bitten by cosmic bats. Power ranges manipulate symbols, including Kanji (Shinkenja-) that also allow them to transform in to super beings.

This use of symbols to produce living entities is similar to the way in which people in totemistic societies (such as Native Americans) received totem badges containing ancestral spirit to become their own soul.

While there are some that claim that Kanji only mean things via phonemes - that they need to be pronounced in order to have meaning, Chad Hansen (1993) a scholar of Chinese philosophy claims that Kanji not only mean but that they mean things not ideas. The Western signification system is triparite: words mean ideas which mean things. The Chinese system is dual: characters mean things.

If this is the case, then from a radical social constructivist or Sapir-Warphian perspective, the existence of the character provides a symbolic tool for the cognition, and perhaps existence of the lion. In the far East, in the beginning was the kanji.

Since Ray was about three years old he has spent countless hours symbolically transforming things into other things. I think that he has managed to become Japanese without my help.

Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373–399. doi:10.2307/2059652

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Friday, January 25, 2013


Communal Fantasy

Communal Fantasy by timtak

Communal Fantasy, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Takaaki Yoshimoto's famous book (pictured above) "Theory of Communal Fantasy" (1969) was very disappointing to me when I picked it up about 20 years ago, because I had not the foggiest what he was on about.

The Wikipedia page on the book claims that it is not only a difficult book but also that it is like a Rorschach inkblot test in that different people read into it different things.

Yesterday I read it again and found it in a way of describing that which replace Oedipal, sexual fantasies in Japan.

In the preface Yoshimoto introduces "communal fantasy" (共同幻想) as fantasies or psychological constructs shared by a society. He later uses the example of mythology. Under this interpretation "communal fantasy" is close to Jungs' collective unconscious and the culture of cultural psychology: "shared understandings."

However in the first chapter "communal fantasy" emerges from a discussion of taboo in Freud, as an alternative class of taboo.

Yoshimoto notes that taboo is associated with ambivalence. Those things that taboo are not only rejected and hated but also loved and wanted at the same time. Then as an alternative to the "pair fantasies" manifest in incest taboos - the fantasy of incestual sex - "Communal fantasies" are introduced to describe initially the ambivalence towards kings and chiefs. (Yoshimoto does not need, or can not, mention the emperor since certainly the emperor of Japan is taboo subject in Japan).

Thus, the word "fantasy" (幻想) is used not only to describe psychological contents but also aspiration: fantasy in the sense of what people fantasise about, what they want, what they desire (even if they hate it as the same time).

Secondly, when he talks of sexual fantasies as "pair fantasies," (対なる幻想) the meaning of "pair" is transformed from a subject to an object or objective. Incestual sexual fantasies as "pair-fantasies" are not, necessarily at least, fantasies held by pairs, but fantasies about pairing. I don't think that Freud argues anywhere that Oedipal fantasies are necessarily, or even often, held equally on the part of mothers and fathers - the fantasies are held largely or exclusively on the part of children. Equally, , as a parallel concept, "communal fantasies" are not simply or even necessarily fantasies held by communities so much as fantasies of communing, of merging, melding, being one. And this fantasy may also be taboo, as there may also be taboos associated with the commity represented in the person of a king, or emperor*, for example.

As previously discussed, bearing in mind the bedroom arrangements in Japanese homes, the way that nakedness, communal bathing, touching and sleeping together are all everyday events that are not the subject of taboo, it seems clear that sexual incest taboos are not a prime mover in Japanese development. Children already get to sleep with their mothers. Their fathers do not step in with their paternal prohibition, but rather on the far side of their children, sandwiching their children closer to their mother. So how could the Japanese bow be tightened? How could, how do the Japanese ever grow up?

Cynics might say that the Japanese do not grow up, but it seems to me, with all the studying and almost religious ascetic practising of sports, and martial arts, that the Japanese child's trajectory into Japanese adulthood is no less motivated, the Japanese bow is no less taught. So, to coin a war poem, what made fatuous Japanese toil to break out of mummies bed at all?

My answer is that rather than incestual "pairing fantasies", the Japanese are propelled into the world by "communal fantasies", they desire communitas, they want to merge (合体), with mother, with father, with the community of parents, progenitors, ancestors and even eventually the gods.

Considerations such as the above may also related to the previously discussed way in which images and mothers in the West, and fathers and symbols in Japan, are to blame for, or catalytic in propelling the infant in a quest for something else something more.

The father in Japan, even as he says, go on sleep next to your mother is living symbolic proof - "father" - that the child is not a parent. A child of my acquaintance fantasised that a sibling was that child's own child. But the presence of the father and mother, the fact that they come as a set, presents a different type of prohibition, a parental prohibition that says to the child "No! You are not one of us. You are not a parent too!" And so all that toil, and study, and waiting and sweating and longing begins.

天皇は、日本國の象徴であり、日本国民の総合の象徴であって、その地位は日本国民の至高の総意に基づく。The emperor is the symbol of Japan and the symbol of the will of the Japanese people, and this status is based in the highest will of the Japanese people.

吉本隆明. (1982). 共同幻想論 (1982年) (改訂新.). 角川書店.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013


Bring back Dansonjohi: Be Suorlavihc to the Second Japanese Sex

Bring back Dansonjohi: The Second Japanese Sex by timtak
Over the past 20 years or so there has been a lot of talk about how Japan needs to bring more sexual equality --in the Western sense of giving women more power -- in order to increase the birth rate, reduce divorce, and increase or lower the age of marriage. It has not worked.

It seems to me however that conversely if the Japanese want to invigorate the family the Japanese would need to bring back "Dansonjouhi." Dansonjohi (男尊女卑) means, literally "respect men, abase women", which makes it sound very nasty. Nasty or not Dansonjouhi is a "benevolent sexism" (Glick and Fiske, 1996) like chivalry or  "ladies first" except in the opposite direction. In Japan, traditionally, the women put "men first". To espouse Dansonjohi is thus, to be suorlavihc, chivalrous in reverse. 

The traditional Japanese benevolent sexism was "men first," as opposed to "ladies first" because in Japan women hold the structurally dominant position. In the West "Man" means "human," and women are "the second sex" (De Beauvoir, 2010). The reverse is true in Japan. "Watashi" (in red letters in the image above) is a female first person pronoun used by everyone. When Japanese men want to refer to themselves in formal situations, they have to refer to themselves as a woman. If they use a male first person pronoun (ore, boku) they sound uncouth or infantile.

The centre and building block of Japanese society is the family (Nakane's "ba", 1967). The pre-eminent Japanese interpersonal emotion (Doi's "amae," 2001) springs from mother-child relationships. The Japanese super ego is an internalisation of the mother not the father (Kozawa, 1932; Okonogi's "Ajase complex", 1991, 2001).  The best Western theory of the Japanese self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991) was originally a theory that Hazel Markus and Susan Cross had about their own female selves (Markus & Cross, 1990). Japan's most famous psychologists, argued that the archetypal Japanese is Mother (Kawaii's bosei genri, 1989).

At the very least, at a concrete level, the sleeping arrangements (Caudill & Plath, 1966; Shweder, Jensen, & Goldstein, 2006) are designed to facilitate mothering more than the satisfaction of male desire, and Japanese women control family finances.

In return for this structural control, or cultural power, Japanese women (and Western men) used to put their partners first, in a rather matronising (patronising) way*, by carrying their bags, letting them sit down on trains, putting their clothes on for them, giving them freedom, and not nagging them.

Now however Japanese women (influenced by Western culture) want to keep their cake and eat it. They want to keep all the structural power, their centrality within the home, the power over their children, their financial control and at the same time be treated like a Western wife. This is a bit like a British guy refusing to be a gentleman (e.g. going to snacks or worse). As Stan Lee says, "With great power comes great responsibility."

* It has been shown that Western male espousal of the "Ladies First" doctrinaire correlates with a dim view of the state and abilities of women: women are put first because they are thought to be the weaker, second sex, in Western society (Glick & Fiske, 1996). This does not prove that Chivalry or Ladies First are nice, or nasty, but they refer to attitudes and behaviours that compensate for the underlying structural imbalances of power. One can argue that the structural imbalances should be taken to task and the compensatory "benevolent sexism" be reviled but, that may require a greater restructuring, or even abandonment, of the family. It has also been shown the benevolent sexism correlates with life satisfaction (Connelly & Heesacker, 2012).

Beauvoir, S. de. (2010). The Second Sex. (C. Borde & S. Malovany-Chevallier, Trans.) (1ST ed.). Knopf.
Caudill, W., & Plath, D. W. (1966). Who Sleeps by Whom? Parent-Child Involvement in Urban Japanese Families. Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes.
Connelly, K., & Heesacker, M. (2012). Why Is Benevolent Sexism Appealing? Associations With System Justification and Life Satisfaction. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Retrieved from http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/08/17/0361684312456369.abstract
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of personality and social psychology, 70(3), 491. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/70/3/491/
Markus, H., & Cross, S. (1990). The interpersonal self.
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from http://www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Shweder, R. A., Jensen, L. A., & Goldstein, W. M. (2006). Who sleeps by whom revisited: A method for extracting the moral goods implicit in practice. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1995(67), 21–39. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cd.23219956705/abstract
Kawai, H. 河合隼雄. (1989). 父性原理と母性原理. 第三文明社.
Kozawa, H. 古沢平作. (2001). 罪悪感の二種類. In 小此木啓吾 & 北山修 (Eds.), 阿闍世コンプレックス. 創元社.
Okonogi, K. 小此木啓吾. (1991). エディプスと阿闍世. 青土社.
Okonogi, K.小此木啓吾, & 北山修. (2001). 阿闍世コンプレックス. 創元社.
Nakane, C. 中根千枝. (1967). タテ社会の人間関係. 講談社.
Doi, T. 土居健郎. (2001). 「甘え」の構造 [新装版] (新装.). 弘文堂.
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.

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Friday, January 18, 2013


Useless Japanese Services

What Japanese services may be of no service to Westerners? While in general I love Japanese service, and find it easy to avoid the services that I do not need, the following 60 services may be of little use to Western customers, except as examples of Japanese cultural alterity, which tourists tend to enjoy.
  1. Sales staff talking one octave higher than they would otherwise.
    I don't want people to demean themselves to the extent of talking in a falsetto voice.
  2. Petrol Station (Gas stand) attendants. Fortunately these are now seen less and less, due to changes in the law which now allow drivers to fill their own tanks. Having someone do it for you, while you wait in the car watching them do it, adds unnecessarily to the cost of petrol. Like the people waving flags on each approach of roadworks compulsory gas station attendants may have been a way of ensuring full employment.
  3. Sales staff putting out their hand to allow you to deposit refuse into it (pass me a bin please)
  4. The cries of "someone has ordered XYZ" (XYZ icchou), or "someone wants an extra serving ("okaidama") in Japanese restaurants and otherwise announcing what you have ordered to the rest of the restaurant),
  5. Snack hostesses and other providers of conversation that one must pay for.
  6. Photo-me machine booths (purikura) everywhere with the ability to add annotations and to make ones eyes bigger (more Caucasian?).
  7. Surgery to add a crease to upper eyelids or make ones nose longer. 
  8. Traditional Japanese hotel (ryokan) waitresses (nakaisan) that tell me how, and in what order, and which sauce to eat my food, and even when to go to bed.
  9. Supermarket workers that escort you to produce you ask the whereabouts of rather than tell you what isle the produce is sold in, because I usually want to weave my way through the store rather than be escorted to the far side of the shop.
  10. All the till receipts even when your hands are full of shopping and change (which is generally used as a paper weight)
  11. Wrapping and more wrapping (some convenience store workers seem to find it difficult to put a niku-man on my hand, perhaps they fear I will be burned),
  12. The attempts at English even when I am speaking in Japanese,
  13. Offers of disposable chopsticks (which are supposed to be easier to use than regular ones)
  14. The instance upon providing (and requiring me to bring) a card particular to each hospital or clinic
  15. New years cards from various service industries
  16. Taxi doors (I have to remember not to annoy drivers by shutting my door and hitting them with their handle)
  17. Tiny indoor slippers that I can't get my feet into
  18. A little bit of food, called tsukedashi, that I have to eat and pay for to drink a beer
  19. Phones that don't accept or allow me to change SIM Cards
  20. Banks and post offices that insist upon providing receipts (if you try to do a runner, they run after you)
  21. All the advertisements inside my newspaper
  22. The wrapping for the newspaper on rainy days though our postbox is a box and under our porch
  23. Book covers and book "belts"
  24. Toothpicks
  25. Being thanked by vending machines,
  26. Ice in bar urinals,
  27. Purposefully adding extra froth on my beer,
  28. Bits of plastic fairing around the windows of cars,
  29. Mammoth exhaust pipes on cars, the whole car "meiku" (in the sense of make up, or cosmetics) after-parts industry,
  30. Umbrella condoms when an umbrella rack would do fine since umbrellas are so cheap they are almost free and the Japanese do not steal things anyway
  31. Surprise packs of things I do not need sold on New Years Day by department stores,
  32. Department stores or shops that are able to sell things at inflated prices due to the fact that they are prestigious shoppers and can provide wrapping that indicates their prestigiousness.
  33. Being greeted with a bow if I am one of the first customers arriving in the morning.
  34. The ceaseless announcements of things that are utterly obvious ("do not bring dangerous things onto the train"),
  35. Car park attendants that wave me in directions that I already knew I wanted to go in,
  36. Public service sirens to call me home to lunch and dinner,
  37. Cardboard toilet paper tubes with printing thanking me for having finished the toilet paper,
  38. Toilet seats that blow dry my posterior,
  39. Free muck brown tea in canteens that tastes like it was produced by a goat,
  40. Politicians with no policy just a loud Tannoys.
  41. Individually wrapped fruit,
  42. Square water melon,
  43. The opportunity to taste sausages in supermarkets (unless this is an opportunity for free food, which it is not. It is an attempt to make customers to feel obligation or giri to return the favour).
  44. Horrible looping background music in shops such Yamada Denki and Mr Max
  45. Sales staff that ask me to sit down.  I would often rather stand and when I want to sit down, since I am not a dog, I do not need to be asked to sit down.
  46. Noise producing devices to hide the sound of my excrement falling into toilet bowls. Admittedly these are only generally provided only to women.
  47. Supermarket cash register staff that repack shopping into baskets as opposed to into bags to take home as in the UK. They carefully position the heaviest items at the bottom of the basket making putting the same items at the bottom of ones bag difficult.
  48. Being asked to confirm the brand of cigarettes that I order from behind the counter in convenience stores two or three times.
  49. The little piece of plastic grass in bento lunch boxes.
  50. Theme parks replicating areas of foreign countries such as Huis Ten Bosch, Parke Espana, and Shakespeare Country Park.
  51. Restaurants and hotels which could easily provide a view but do not, such as Sea Mart in Hagi, which is almost beside the sea but provides a view of the back of some warehouses obscuring the sea front.
  52. Tourist attractions which are places where something once happened, but are now only an empty field with a commemorative stone to mark the spot.
  53. Being able to see the car or person I am controlling in Japanese video games such as MarioKart.
  54. Female staff who clean the gents while I am using them.
  55. Sales staff,  such as at DVD rental stores that pass things to me in their scripted order, rather than putting them on the counter requiring me to keep standing their proffering a bag of DVDs or to accept all the things the are passing before I have put the other things away.
  56. Telephone service staff that use all sorts of polite padding and take ages to get to the point.
  57. Telephone service staff that insist upon putting me through to the appropriate staff member when my question is so simple as to be answerable by anyone and therefore forcing me to ask my question again.
  58. In spite of, or as exemplified by performing various demeaning services that I do not ask for, the general patronising superciliousness of service staff who stick to their scripts and praxes rather than submitting to being my willing servant.
  59. The general tendency of service staff to attempt to provide what is required as indicated by non-verbal communication rather than listening to my commands, which I find myself repeating, like the brand of my cigarettes, two or three times.  
  60. Elevator girls that press the buttons of elevators in departments stores and announce what is available on each floor. Now largely a service of the past.
Bearing the fact that tourists of all nationalities travel in part for the sake of cultural alterity, there is a case to be made on the contrary for Japanese services providers to ham up all the above services providing them in lavish extravagance (e.g. even more wrapping, even higher sales voices), so as to provide a stimulating, weird cultural experience to visiting Westerners.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013


The Mask and the Pose

The Mask and the Pose by timtak
The Mask and the Pose, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

As Watsuji argues the Japanese self "persona" (originally meaning "mask" in Greek) centres upon the face or mask.

To each of these costume masks there is attached in the top corner a a pose, similar to those poses performed by power rangers and masked rangers when they transform (henshin) into their super form.

As I have argued before, you, or the Japanese, don't get to have a mask, or even a face, unless you can strike poses.

Westerners can't perform poses (Kata) and as Duval and Wicklund pointed out, they can not see their faces unless they are in front of mirrors. They do not identify with that which can be seen, nor point at their noses to indicate themselves.

Western psychologists and philosophers claim that is only through language that one can see oneself from the point of view of a generalised other, as opposed to the other which one faces, and that a generalised other is a precondition of having an individual self (Professor Cohen rather misunderstands Mead on this point I fear:-).

However, at the same time, Judith Bulter, using Derrida points out that repetitive "iterate-able" actions turn the body into a sign. One need not go as far as post modernism however. The father of social psychology George Herbert Mead argues that signs, including gestures, are understood from the point of view of others.

This is not to suggest that Japanese are always signing with their bodies, but the act of signing with their bodies acts as a catalyst or transitional "stage" in the assumption of an "imaginary" identity. The mirror stage, and the Western super heroes suit, allows him to transform into his super identity - his ego, his words, his signs. Conversely, the poses or signs that Japanese superheroes perform allow them to transform into their suits, into their masks.

Hence, all this posing (and Kata) that Japanese perform allows them to *see themselves* have an autoscopic gaze and in so doing have, and identify with their face.

[I am just repeating myself now. It is finished! I need to move on to my next project :-) I am pretty old so perhaps i can retire now that I have written this blog. I am interested in why exactly it is that these two types of self concept my be antagonistic towards each other. ]

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013


LoliCon (Finding Young Girls Attractive) in Japan

suitable_for_children? by timtak
suitable_for_children?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

There are many phenomena demonstrating the prevalence attraction towards young girls in Japan, such as the following: AK48 and all the other idol bands and their average professional longevity, the nature of the dances that these idols are made to do such as almost showing their underwear, plastic "figures" - sold to both children and adults - depicting minors in various stages of undress, the provision of high school uniforms for "cos-play" in Japanese "love" (sex) hotels, the age of pornography actresses and the type of passive and naive role that they are required to perform, the depictions of minors (now to an extent self-regulated or illegal) in Japanese pornographic comics, the existence, prevalence and acceptability of the word and trait "Loli-con," the notion that a daughter may be her father's "last girlfriend," the perceived equivalence between cuteness and female attractiveness, the way in which adult Japanese women are encouraged to behave (even more so than elsewhere) and appear younger than their years, negative perceptions of older women, the fascination with and sales of high school girl's uniforms, sportswear and their used underwear (including online), the theft of the same, the prevalence and existence of the word of "upskirt" peeping and photography often towards, the saying that even devils look good at 18 (鬼も十八番茶も出花), the suggestion that young women are attractive in pop lyrics ("Sweet, Sweet 19 blues," "Watashi can Obasan ni Nattara" containing the lyric "女盛りは19 "a woman's prime is at 19"), the use of the word "daughter" to refer to an attractive women (Morning- / kanban-), the division of the lifetime into stages or eras, the requirement that sales staff use high pitched voices, the lolicon boom in the early 1980's, and conversely the fear and taboo surrounding adult female desire which is forbidden even in the Japanese creation myth."

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