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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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When I read that article today it instantly reminded me of the phalic statues and imagery at shrines I've encountered during my travels across Japan. You have a solid point about the people complaining about a replica of a world treasure yet not batting an eye to what's literally in their own back yard.
The question is...
Are the Japanese conflicted?
Or is there a difference between statues and the phalli at shrines.
Probably both. Westernization has encouraged them to feel alienated from their own (shrine) culture and more squeamish about nakedness.
But there is another possibility-- Shrine phalli are detached. The do not look like they might be staring at you or chase you. This statue does, especially if you are an animist.

As a test I made the two David's at the page below
Interesting theory that both assumptions may be true.

It just really confuses me because I've seen plenty of those pissing cherub fountain statuettes. Do boys not have as much shame as a man in the eyes of the public? They're both equipped with the same kit yet one is cute although not in good taste. Toilet humor is kind of childish but both figures are somewhat anatomically correct so the idea of disembodied genitilia is better accepted here id kind of at jeopardy isn't it?

Sorry for going off on a tangent here. I can't seem to focus my ideas into something coherent today. It also doesn't help I'm typing this out from a very touchy smartphone keyboard...
There are also quite a lot of adult men urinating in public (there used to be more), and public urinals that do not have doors
little girls
or female toilet cleaning staff coming into men's toilets while they are in use
or window adjacent to men's urinals, and generally, the men's toilets are the first in the corridor in Japan
but in the UK they are generally at the back.

In the UK, men's bodies are just plain obscene, taboo, and not just for practical reasons.

For my money the Japanese are pretty practical about men's sexuality and sex organs.

A peeing man is a peeing man. He smelly, encouraged to pee elsewhere, and to sit down. But there is nothing particularly obscene about him.

Even male sexuality, even in its worst forms such as rapists, are seen as practical a nuisance, that causes hurt (see Chikan posters)

But added to this practicality towards sexuality, there is also animism: which results in a greater feeling that statues are alive. Hence a statue of a naked man, looks to a Japanese more like there really is a man standing naked in the park. If there really were a man standing naked in the park, then of course it would be a practical problem - he is probably a mad child molester.

Western cities are covered in statues of people. We do not feel them to be people, only memories of people.

We do feel that male sex organs are bad, but by making this particular organ very small (it is about half the length of David's thumb) and making a part of a work of art, and a human form we can avoid finding it offensive. However if we were like the Japanese and felt statues to be alive, then a live naked guy in a park is just not on for purely practical reasons.

I.e. Perhaps
The Japanese are illogical in that they see statues as being alive
Westerners are illogical in that they hate male sex organs.

I agree. Men, especially exposed ones, aren't so great to look at and the statue of David stands to be so realistic that its treated more as a flasher than an inanimate object. So I can sympathise a little with the towns reaction. Just a little...

You struck an interesting point about exposed urinals, public male urination, and pesky female cleaning staff in men's rooms. This aspect of Japan has made me incredibly bladder shy and resentful of cleaning staff. Its also made me overly sensitive to anyone who walks in after me.

I find it incredibly odd for cleaning staff especially of the opposite sex clean in a toilet clearly in use. If they must have ladies clean them why close the room off till their work is complete? I'm glad I'm not the only one a bit bothered by this aspect of Japan.

I wonder what the average Japanese male thinks or if they even notice. Alternately, I wonder what women think of this as well, especially when they happen to be one of the cleaning ladies...
At first I was kind embarrassed and vaguely amused. I may have snickered to myself, but gradually I find it undermining, belittling.

The cleaning woman is just cleaning, knows what I am doing, and is not scared of me.

But in a way I want cleaning ladies to be scared. Or I feel that unless she is scared, she is treating me like a child. I feel I should be giving her a lecture like that given by Tom Cruz in Magnolia. (Beware of bad language)

While cleaning women coming into urinals does bother me, but I think it is me that is being irrational. I come from a culture where men are scary, the leaders, the dual beings that have to have self control.

Here we are just those humans with a protuberance, that make a splash when they pee standing up. My wife wants me to sit down. I still refuse.

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