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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.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Parents are Brought Up

Parents are Brought Up by timtak
Parents are Brought Up, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
This advert for "Miki House," a Japanese children's clothing manufacturer, contains the catch copy "As we bring you up, we are brought up by you" (君を育ちながら、君に育てられている) refering to the sentiments of us, the would-be parents of the girl in the photo.

This catch copy expresses a very Japanese sentiment, philosophy, or I would say central realisation of Japanese culture.

I am not sure of the full standard version of the proverb (will someone tell me?) but it is often said that "parents too are reared", "brought up", or "become adults" (「親も育つ」), since it is believed that is through bringing up children that people learn about the upbringing that they have received, the trials, tribulations, and sentiment of their own parents, and learn what it is to be, and become, an adult.

This sentiment is central to Japanese culture in many ways.

It is often said that Japanese "Buddhism," (or I would say Shinto under the guise of Buddhism), involves "ancestor worship". "Ancestor worship" sounded, to my Western ears, rather grotesque; like as if the Japanese think their ancestors are god almighty. But Japanese worship, and Japanese "gods" are much more down to earth, un all-powerful entities. They are respected, even revered, but they are far removed from the pain-in-in-the-brain (to atheists at least) omniscient, super-good, perfect beings of the likes of Allah and Yaweh. Japanese ancestors and Japanese gods are respectable. They are as holy or cool as saints. The Japanese view their own ancestors as saints. Even that may sound too far fetchededly arrogant to Western ears, but.... to justify the sentiment I would need to digress too much. This was meant to be a post about a children's clothing advert, but it has so many implications. Let it be said that Japanese ancestors, and therefore to an extent Japanese parents, are deemed to be cool, like Elivis and other heroes and saints are cool, so it takes a while to get there. Being a parent is not easy. It takes being brought up to. There is a long and hard progression to becoming a hero. Heroes don't get there on their own. They need help.

Japanese parents get to their exalted position as parents thanks to their children. Japanese ancestors get to their exalted position as ancestors because they have descendants. Japanese deities get to be sacred because people worship them.

Thus far a Japanese person might agree. The following is more controversial.

Japanese culture is "womb-centric" in a similar way to which Western culture is phallocentric. The model of Western culture is the man. "Mankind," we Westerners say, as Simone De Beauviour pointed out. In Japan it is the reverse. The Japanese human is "woman kind". There is no Japanese word (afaik), that like the English "man" or French "homme" that means, in reverse, both woman and human, but the Japanese word for "I" in its many variations is female in its most general form. "I," in elementary Japanese language textbooks "Watashi," is a word for women, and for everyone. Speaking from a reverse Simone DeBeavoir perspective therefore, it is not surprising that it takes upbringing, and effort, for men at least, to become a "watashi." Men at least do not become their first person singular overnight. They learn to become homo-parentis, thanks to the love of their children.

Imagine yourself to be a full on, normal, testosteroned male. Are you, in that guise, a parent? I'd argue not; not at least you have become a father. Fathers only become fathers as a result of their culture, their experience of bringing up children.

I meant to write much more in the above post, but even if I had I would not have gone so far as to connect this 'sentiment' with the Japanese attitude towards time, which as a commenter pointed out is connected, or likewise central, to Japanese culture, including Japanese tourism to places where time can be felt, such to cherry blossom and red leave viewing sites, and "relics," such as Hiraiizumi (夏草や兵達が夢のあと) where there is little more than grass to be seen but, time can be felt, and vividly imagined.

Going even further into the abstract, Nishida the great Japanese philosopher and his acolyte Watsuji, went to Germany to study philosophy and came back astounded at the extent to which Western philosophy emphasised time as being.

So who emphasises time more? Westerners or Japanese? It seems to me that the world is turned inside out.

To Descartes, the founder of Western philosophy, the cogito or self-narrative is the self, whereas "res extensa," the extended or space, the visual world, is out there and dubitable, ephemeral, 'mere image'. Heidegger went so far as to claim that "the meaning of being (as 'discovered' by Western philosophers in the cogito) is time." Derrida argues that the reason for this adulation of time as being, human being, is due to the Western worship of language, in specie, internal self-narrative. Our (Western) words inside our heads, are felt to be ourselves, and occur in time. Time is that which Westerners believe ourselves to be-in*. Space, on the other hand, is 'out there'.

It is perhaps for this reason that Western tourism is largely about going to places where something can be seen. Westerners go to gaze, or gawp, at anything beautiful. Time does not have to be involved. In this sense, Ippei + Janine's photo-travelogue of beaches in Japan, is unusually Western in that it introduces beautiful Japanese places that are largely ignored by many Japanese relic-seeking, time-travelling tourists.

To most Japanese conversely, the self exists in and as the mirror of the mind, while time is out there. I venture to suggest that Janine looks at and loves the image of their travels as Ippei lives or is them.

How can I bring this back to self-rearing-parenthood? I know there is a way :-)

*"be-in." Ha! A philosophical joke.

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