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.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Flying Legs Japanese Postmen

Koerier / Messenger by Nationaal Archief
Koerier / Messenger, a photo by Nationaal Archief on Flickr.
These postmen were called "hikyaku" (飛脚 or literally "flying legs") in Japanese.

It is said that they ran the Tokyo Osaka route in 6 days or 90km a day, and in 4 and a half days when carrying especially urgent mail. That is 120Km a day.

It is also said that they ran in a special way to conserve energy but the wikipedia site says that it is not clear what this special way is though it is rumoured to be the "Nanba Running/Walking" form in which runners and walkers swing their right hand forward at the same time as their right leg, and vice versa, rather than in time with the opposite leg. There appears to be photographic proof of this theory here. And indeed the position of the postman pictured above is consistent with this theory.

There is a saying in Japanese "Satsuma's Postman," which refers to the Satsuma (current day Kumamoto prefecture) region of Japan and postmen that arrived there were proverbially at least killed, or not allowed to return to whence they came, since the region was planning a revolution (with the Choushu region, current day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and did not wish its secret preparations to become known. So a "Satsuma's Postman" means someone who does not return.

A famous Japanese courier company has a "Hikyaku" postal service which uses its trucks combined with the Japanese postal service' post workers. The company sorts and transports, the postal workers deliver, and they claim faster times than leaving the whole delivery to the postal workers.

I wonder the reason for the pole. At times the pole seems to have served as a kind of rucksack for allowing heavy items to be carried using the muscles in the back, similar to the way in which the English migrant "Dick Wittington" is often portrayed carrying his possessions in a cloth hung from a pole over his shoulder.

This does not explain why these Japanese postmen would carry light items such as that shown in this photo in the same way. The only mention I can see of the pole on the Japanese wikipedia page is the tradition of "Town postmen" to trail a small bell from their pole" so that people would hear them coming (and presumably deposit letters with them). But this man has no bell. Could the pole also have been a letter passer, to allow letters to be received and delivered at a distance, and thus a precursor of the ubiquitous Japanese mask, to prevent the transmission of infectious disease (which was rife in Edo period Japanese cities)?

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Sunday, May 05, 2013


Japanese Shame: No place to hide

Many Japanese commentators have objected to Ruth Benedict's opus on Japanese culture "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" either because they deny the existence of the morality based upon a non-social moral standard, or because they believe that the Japanese have a non-social moral standard too. One of the latter is Sakuta Keiichi who wrote that there are two types of shame: public shame (公恥) caused by the censure of others and private caused by the self's censure of the self. What he failed to do however is explain how "private shame" (私恥) differs from guilt. Readers of the blog will be aware that I claim that private shame is visual - resulting from the internalisation of a mirror or generalised other, whereas guilt results from the silent approbation felt towards the voice of conscience when we attempt to justify that which we feel guilty about. Those that have internalised a generalised other can not hide from guilt.

This difference can be seen in the way in which Westerners express both shame and guilt as something from which one can hide, whereas Japanese hide when they are embarrassed but since Japanese shame is always private shame, they have no place to hide when they feel it.

Pictures of Westerners Feeling Embarrassment
I embarrass youAl MartinoBag on me 'edEmbarrassedEmbarrassing Joke11/365 so embarrassed
Embarrassed ChimpEmbarrassed Two Year OldembarrassedEmbarrassed86/365: Embarrassed52: 25: Hanging My Head in Shame
206/365: "I saw it, it was a run by fruiting!"Embarrassed much?day69: new appointmentsembarrassed
Hiding in Embarrasment, a gallery on Flickr.

Pictures of Westerners Hiding in Shame
ShameShame (The Empire Portrait)no shameBeyond Shamethe Shame of BeingMarten - Shame on me
bath 3Wall of shame.Day 40 of 365

Hiding in Shame, a gallery on Flickr.

Pictures of Japanese Feeling Embarrassment
恥ずかしい恥ずかしい - Shy恥ずかしいから・・・恥ずかしいの猫です...0612250026 重本ことり  恥ずかしい。 #dream5
初めでだから、恥ずかしいね!アリサ: は…恥ずかしいです。 ; A ;あはっ。そんな、恥ずかしい・・・。←裸んぼshinsaibashi03

恥ずかしくて身を隠している方, a gallery on Flickr.

Pictures of Japanese Feeling Shame on Google.Very few are hiding, but there is some self touching.

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Gateball: Tougher, Timed, Team Techno-Croquet

Gateball is a variation of croquet developed in Japan. It started after WWII as a sport for young people when rubber for making balls was in short supply, but soon became the quintessential sport for old people, such that "salary men", and women, are thought to morph into gateball players upon retirement.

The major differences appear to be that gateball is played with a smaller number of hoops, only three instead of 6 or nine in croquet, to facilitate the use of a smaller playing field. The smaller field means that reaching the goal pole can be achieved too easily for that to be the final object of the game, so games are timed, with the winning team being that which scores the most points in 30 minutes. While croquet is played individually or typically in pairs, gateball is more often played in teams of up to five. Perhaps due to the limited playing area again, one can hold ones own ball fixed in position when playing the bash-your-opponent's-ball-off-the-field gateball ball equivalent of the croquet shot. This can make the gateball croquet shot or "spark," even more ruthless but it is played with typical oriental equanimity. (But, click here for a photo and demonstration, with laughter, in Japanese).

Gateball Sparking
Gateball Sparking, copyright World Gateball Association

The timed nature of the game, and the Japanese love of technology, results in the use of score watches, the computers that these players are wearing on their forearms, showing the number of points achieved by each of the five balls in each of the two teams. Gateball Watch
Gateball mallets are made of carbon fibre and aluminium or titanium.

These differences make gateball a more ruthless, high-tech, high-speed, mini-croquet played by thinner players in larger teams. Like croquet, gateball is played by men and women on an equal footing.

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Loud Wordless Baseball: Heejun Kim meets the Japanese Little League

When Japanese play sports they make meaningless noises, most famously the kiai shout of karate. Various meaningless shouts and calls are used by Japanese sports persons of all types, from tennis to (in this video) little league baseball. Sports persons are taught to throw out their voice (koe wo dasu) in order that they concentrate. Why?

Heejun Kim (2005) has demonstrated that while Westerners perform marginally better at task when they are required to vocalise their thoughts, when East Asians are required to "vocalise their thoughts" they perform significantly worse because Japanese thoughts are not in language. Conversely, when Westerners are required to make meaningless vocalisations they become significantly worse at a task since it prevents their thoughts, whereas it negatively impacts upon East Asians very little.

It seems clear that making meaningless vocalisations can in fact improve performance among Japanese, such as those playing baseball in this video, since (I argue) these meaningless vocalisations clear the mind of linguistic thought and allows the players to concentrate upon their Japanese-style-thoughts, which I argue are visual.

The throwing out of the voice or destruction of the logos is a common theme in Japanese culture especially Buddhism where people chant the name of the Buddha, count breathes, or simply and directly attempt to silence the mind. I argue that the central ritual act performed at Japanese Shinto Shrines, that of "harai" literally sweeping away, or purification by waving zigzag strips of pure white paper overy people's heads, is also intended to exorcise the mind of the dreaded logos.

Kim, H. S. (2005). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Social Cognition: Key Readings, 63.http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/labs/kim/kim_2002.pdf

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