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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.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Phallic Contradiction Apparent

Phallic Contradiction Apparent by timtak
Phallic Contradiction Apparent, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Recently news agencies all over the world have been carrying the AFP news article regarding the reactions of residents of a town in Shimane Prefucture, in which someone has erected a replica of Michelangelo's David (a naked man). 17 miles away, as the crow flies, there is a Shinto place of worship, Yaegaki Shrine, to the Goddess Princess Iwanaga, at the entrance to which there are two giant phalli (nearly 2m high judging from the photo), at which local residents give votive phalli (large carved wooden erect penises) as an offering in the hope of "safe child-bearing". Such shrines are scattered all over Japan.

This apparent contradiction in attitudes towards male nakedness, may be due to the fact that the replica Michelangelo is in a park as opposed to a place of worship. Or due to the fact that the residents of Shimane have become Westernized in their sensitivities.

I suspect however that the resident's reaction is traditionally Japanese. Shinto is often described as a form of animism. Objects are thought to be imbued with spirit. And traditionally, statues were only made of Gods, and Buddhas, and were felt to come alive.

Hence when, as quoted in the AFP report, "Some people have told the town's legislators that toddlers are afraid of the statues," it is more because they feel that the statue is alive (unlike a disembodied phallus) than that the statue is showing its genitals, that is the problem in this case. Identifying as they do with their self-image rather than their self-narrative (Nacalian), the Japanese find human forms, including statues, or masks -- the important part is the face (Watsuji, 1937) -- much more alive. The idea of putting pants on the statue is nothing new. When a replica was created and displayed the Victoria and Albert museum in London, a plaster caste of a fig leaf half a meter high was made to cover the statue's genitals. Coming from a similar phallocentric, sexophobic culture, reporters from Agence France-Presse made this a sexual issue: a statue-with-a-penis issue. The issue is really an animistic reaction to a statue-with-a-face. Rather than putting pants on the statue, if the local government were to cover the statue's face it would retain its form without appearing animate, and the Japanese toddlers would no longer be scared.

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Japan town demands pants for Michelangelo's David
Picture taken by the Okuizumo town government on August 28, 2012 shows a replica of Michelangelo's David (Okuizumo government/AFP/File, Okuizumo government)
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Seishin Hakubutsukan (Museum of [Japanese] Sex-related Gods), Shimane Prefecture Page 1. Bibliography Watsuji, T. (1937) Johnson, Carl M., trans. “Mask and Persona.” Japan Studies Review (2011): p 147155. (See particularly page 150) http://asian.fiu.edu/projects-and-grants/japan-studies-review/journal-archive/2011.pdf

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