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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.

Friday, August 02, 2013


Radio Excercises and the Eye in the Sky

Radio Excercises and the Eye in the Sky by timtak
Radio Excercises and the Eye in the Sky, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Almost all Japanese have practised "radio exercises" starting at a young age, to the dictates of a voice from a radio, or these days, a image on a television screen (image top, copyright NHK).

The noh theatre actor Zeami (Yusa, 1987; Zeami, 1984) claimed in the 15th century that the practice of noh theatre - which, like radio exercises, is performed as a sequence of kata or set forms/poses - enables the aficionado to see himself from the position of their audience.

The ability of Japanese to see themselves as if they have a mirror in their head (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008), even in their memories (Cohen & Gunz, 2002), and also their dreams (Masuda et al, in preparation), is found displayed most strikingly in Japanese artworks which were traditionally taken from the position of an eye in the sky (E.g. Edo artwork, image bottom). If you give a Japanese school child or university student a piece of paper and pencil and ask them to draw their sports day, or a house and a stream, then they will often draw a picture from a comparatively elevated, birds eye view perspective (Masuda, Wang, Ito, & Senzaki, 2012). Where do they get that perspective from? How is it inculcated?

Your average Japanese person does not practice noh. Some do, and some practice other martial arts that also consist in a sequence of self forms. However, all Japanese are encouraged to learn how to do radio exercises. My son has started in his first summer holiday of primary school. I am practising with him, and it is trippy.

Notice that the line of sight that the NHK chooses to present the first shots of the radio exercises is once again from the that ghostly 'land of light'. Practice radio exercises, or noh or karate or taichi, and you will learn to see yourself from the eye in the sky -- the eye of the Other -- too.

Till now these fix poses or kata have generally been argued to be opposed to creativity. I think that the are on the contrary an important set in the generation of the Japanese creative mind. They are the equivalent or reading an learning sections of the classics, or sections of the Bible, elements in the Western education designed to produce a mind which can reason, equipped with an ear of the Other, which Jefferson (Dawkins, 2008, p64) calls "reason" -- "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion" -- but is known by a variety of other names.

Cohen, D., & Gunz, A. (2002). As seen by the other...: perspectives on the self in the memories and emotional perceptions of Easterners and Westerners. Psychological Science, 13(1), 55–59. Retrieved from web.missouri.edu/~ajgbp7/personal/Cohen_Gunz_2002.pdf
Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Heine, S. J., Takemoto, T., Moskalenko, S., Lasaleta, J., & Henrich, J. (2008). Mirrors in the head: Cultural variation in objective self-awareness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(7), 879–887. Retrieved from www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/2008Mirrors.pdf
Masuda, T., Wang, H., Ito, K., & Senzaki, S. (2012). Culture and the Mind: Implications for Art, Design, and Advertisement. Handbook of Research on International Advertising, 109.
Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331–345. Retrieved from myweb.facstaff.wwu.edu/yusa/docs/riken.pdf
Zeami. (1984). On the art of the nō drama: the major treatises of Zeami ; translated by J. Thomas Rimer, Yamazaki Masakazu. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

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Smells an awful lot like militarism
Yes, perhaps. Encouraging people to believe that there is "a total surveillance every waking minute of your life," a "celestial North Korea" is how Hitchen's describes the Christian conscience, or any post-Christian conscience that includes the notion of an ear, or eye, of another in the mind.
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.