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.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Faces Substantiate Emotions Too

Faces Substantiate Emotions Too

As Watsuji Tetsuro (2011) argues, it is faces and not phonemes (or "ideas," phaf) that substantiate, give a focus or "centre of gravity" to persons, and I would argue and groups, and in doing so, perhaps, give them existence. On Japanese television faces are used to give existence to, and communicate, other ephemerals too, such as emotions. As I have noted elsewhere there are always faces peering out of Japanese television sets telling the audience how to react (see the face of a television personality smiling, top right) in what is referred to as the "wipe" (waipu).

Some people believe that 'the face in the waipu' is there because the Japanese are more conformist, and less original, so they need to be shown how to react. Yes, they are being shown how to react, but no they are not more conformist.

In the West, ephemeral things such as selves, groups, and emotions are given substance by words, phonemes and "vocal gestures". Indeed, George Herbert Mead (1934) argued that it is only the vocal gesture that can be used in this way since it is the only one to bounce back. Mead did not know about mirror neurons but the majority of Japanese, Noh practitioners such as Zeami and martial artists such as those surveyed by Yamamoto (2009), are unaware that they can see themselves too.

On Western TV the audience is told what to think using phonemes, in the form not of words, and especially "canned laughter" and "oohs and ahs." There are some oohs and ahs on Japanese television, but I can't watch British television comedy shows any more for sheer volume of intrusive - "conform or else" - canned laughter. Give me a face in a waipu any day. I can ignore that. The preferences is personal, and cultural. The mechanism is the same. The medium is different.

Mead, George Herbert.(1934) Mind, Self and Society. University of Chicago Press.: Chicago.
Watsuji, Tetsuro. (2011) "Mask and Persona." Trans. Carl M. Johnson. Japan Studies Review. XV: 147-155.
Yamamoto, I. (2009) "Mental Training: Self Image in Kendo." Unpublished Gradutation Thesis, The department of Tourism Studies, Faculty of Economics, Yamaguchi University. (in Japanese) 山本一輝(2009)「メンタルトレーニング~弓道を通じた自己イメージのあり方~」未発表卒論。山口大学経済学部可能政策学科


The important George Herbert Mead quote is as follows
p. 65
The vocal gesture, then, has an importance which no other gesture has. We cannot see ourselves when our face assumes a certain expression. If we hear ourselves speak we are more apt to pay attention. One hears himself when he is irritated using a tone that is of an irritable quality, and so catches himself. But in the facial expression of irritation the stimulus is not one that calls out an expression in the individual which it calls out in the other. One is more apt to catch himself up and control himself in the vocal gesture than in the expression of the countenance.

It is only the actor who uses bodily expressions as a means of looking as he wants others to feel. He gets a response which reveals to him how he looks by continually using a mirror. He registers anger, he registers love, he registers this, that, or the (66) other attitude, and he examines himself in a glass to see how he does so. When he later makes use of the gesture it is present as a mental image. He realizes that that particular expression does call out fright. If we exclude vocal gestures, it is only by the use of the mirror that one could reach the position where he responds to his own gestures as other people respond. But the vocal gesture is one which does give one this capacity for answering to one's own stimulus as another would answer.

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Friday, October 25, 2013


The World Inside Out

The World Inside Out by timtak
The World Inside Out, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Image from Voy et. al 2001, pp 57-58

That the Japanese have very little positive to say about themselves, while Americans do is one of the most robust, and well documented of cultural differences (see the irrefutable work of Steven Heine).

However, as I have demonstrate in a number of studies, when it comes to images the tables are turned. Here above is more proof, that when it comes to images, the positivity of Japanese self imagery blows that of Americans out of the water. Their authors are only seven years old but already, the Japanese are showing the self confidence that they will go on to retain throughout their lives, though they will never express it in words (rikutsu, phah, humbug).

Not only are the Japanese self-drawings more detailed, but also they are twice the size! And this despite the fact that self-image drawing size has been shown to correlate with self esteem. This has been shown in self-drawings, but also in drawings of other things. As demonstrate by Bruner and Goodman's work on the size of drawings of coins by rich children (who draw coins small) and poor children who value them and draw them big, people draw things that they think are big, and unimportant small .

Looking at their linguistic self representations, such as responses to the self-esteem scale, US respondents are about 1605 more self confident, self-valuing, than Japanese. Looking at response to this self-drawing test, the Japanese are about 160% more self-valuing as US respondents (Japanese average drawing size 18.4cm, US average drawing size 11.87).

The problem with this is that, as Derrida explains, we Westerners (and perhaps the Japanese too) are keen to believe that our own form of selfing is the only way to form a self. McAdams, Dennet, Pinker are keen to reassure us that self-narrative selves are hard-wired, that humans, where-ever they are are "homonarans" "The story-telling animal." But alas, the Japanese don't give a flying futon for narratives. They are not ego involved in their narratives.

The problem with the Japanese is that they force us to become aware that there are other ways of 'selfing', that self-narrating is contingent, that we do not have to do it. We nail ourselves to our narratives, but the Japanese are living proof that we did not have to.

Bruner, J. S., & Goodman, C. C. (1947). Value and need as organizing factors in perception. The journal of abnormal and social psychology, 42(1), 33. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/42/1/33/
La Voy, S. K., Pederson, W.C., Reitz, J.M., Brauch, A.A., Luxenburg, T.M., & Nofsinger, C.C. (2001). Children’s drawings: A cross-cultural analysis from Japan and the United States. School Psychology International, 22, 53-63.

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Japanese Style Toilet

Japanese Style Toilet by timtak
Japanese Style Toilet, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

I like some aspects of Japanese toilet culture.

Japanese toilets are free, clean and plentiful. As well as being a relief in times of need, these restroom-facts tell us some thing about Japanese culture. While the Japanese lavatory has changed dramatically, there is still something fundamentally more practical about it. Take, for example, the mixed sex toilets that one still finds in small bars and restaurants. The use of one toilet for both sexes seems so mature, space saving and liberal, but often rather disconcerting. Again, the absence of a seat may be very hygienic but I find it difficult to keep my balance when made to squat. And while, for instance, the French too used to squat, the Japanese do not insert their stool into a small round hole but leave it to lie in a trench between their knees for some kind of inspection. "Very sensible", the colour is very indicative of the state of ones health, apparently. Which brings us to ask: why are "amenities" so rude in the West? Is it not perhaps to do with their connection with sex? Perhaps for the French, the briefly dangling stool was a phallus: deft but dark and fleeting. By contrast, the Japanese have a more tolerant, maternal toilet culture. The stool, resplendent in its narrow china cot - thoughtfully padded with toilet paper - represents a pseudo-baby? In a traditional Japanese toilet, the flush must follow breathless awe in the face of mother nature's proud creation and even the direction of the squat is reversed: Westerners, face the door, as if ready to fight back other would be occupants; the more community spirited, trusting Japanese face the interior toilet wall, their buttocks bare, absorbed in meditation.

In the past ten years however, the Japanese toilet has been "advancing". Corrupted and alienated by the impact of the West, they have developed scatophobia. They too do it sitting down but with even greater hygiene and self abstention. The toilet seat, itself sometimes decadently pre-heated, can be covered with a specially provided, toroidal paper napkin. And, to the horror of unsuspecting observers, the toilets in more wealthy homes may be fitted with an electronically controlled, contractible antennae. "Foul torture! Fearsome syringe!" I thought as I wiped warm water from my eye, but, yes, it was merely a form of space saving bidet. At the touch of a button, the antenna extends and, automatically adjusted to the size of the user, fires a jet upwards into the orifice. Fiendishly clean. "Washlettes" (sic) may not have caused actual bodily harm but they might just represent a neurotic obsession with technology. (Mark my words; in years to come someone will produce a "Wipeman".)

If there is one thing that I regret, it is the complete absence of graffiti. It would be in the interests of free speech if bar owners provided a pen, attached to a string, inside the cubicles. But one might find that the customers did not know what to do with it.

I wrote the above back in 1996
A "wipeman" or portable version of the washlett has in fact been invented (and may have been back in 1996)

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Thursday, October 10, 2013


Two for the Price of Four

Two for the Price of Four by timtak
Two for the Price of Four, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The Japanese word mottainai meaning "it's a shame when you waste something," (Mollman, 2001) was made famous by the late Kenyan Environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner. At first I was sceptical since the meaning of mottainai seemed almost identical to that of the common English word, "wasteful." But upon reflection, it seems to me that Japanese do have a greater sense of waste, or a greater, perhaps animistic sense of involvement with the things that they might otherwise waste. Mollman (2001) argues that mottainai fuels the Japanese obsession with converged electrical gimmicks e.g. where a radio is merged with a dynamo, solar panel and torch, or a television with a radio cassette player, since to do otherwise would be a waste of space.

I think that Japanese people feel a sort of sympathy for things themselves, and reuse paper since to do otherwise would be a very mild form of homicide. This animistic origin to the heightened sense of wastefulness, may explain the emphasis upon recycling rather than reusing in Japan. The Japanese do not believe in reincarnation or heaven but that the soul merges with the gods and is born again as other people. Pieces of paper merge with the pulp and are repressed into other pages.

As previously mentioned the grief of mottainai may also explain the relative absence of BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) marketing in Japanese stores. It may also be a factor in the pricing in of the batteries in the above photo. This one hundred yen store's products are all 100 yen, and include packs of both 4 AA batteries, and 2 AA batteries at the same price. Admittedly, the 2 pack of batteries carry the name of a Japanese manufacturer (Hitachi), whereas the 4 pack batteries are generic "Premium Cell", but it seems to me unlikely that consumers believe that the Japanese branded batteries last twice as long as their OEM counterparts. I suggest rather than Japanese consumers purchase two batteries when they need to batteries, since to purchase four would feel mottainai. They might not use the other two. They would go to waste.

Bearing this in mind it is surprising that Westerners, even as they roll through their malls on buggies since they can no longer support their own weight, do not feel mottainai when offered a BOGOF deal. Where did our sense of "shame when you waste something" disappear? What is it about the corporeal - things, the body - that does not deserve our respect?

The 'Nacalian' theory provided by this blog provides only part of the answer. It is here argued that while verbal and visual self-representations are essential for the genesis of self, Westerners identify with the former, and Japanese with the latter. Identifying as they do with the visual, they are more sensitive to the destruction of little pieces of 'extensia' - things. But I don't think that this theory goes far enough.

It seems to me that the BOGOF buyer almost has it in for the extras pieces of corporealism that he purchases. There is a potlach of free pizza, puddings and pints of milk, and at time an almost gratuitous disrespect of the body. Take that, pizza, into the bin you go! Take that, body, another pizza for you!

This disrespect is alas I fear mirrored in the Japanese feeling towards narratives, theories and reason. They rise and fall in oblivion's host, items of fashion, soon forgotten, unlike a synthetic face. Hello Kitty is forty years old. Abenomics will be lucky if it is remembered in four years time. No-one reads Shinto mythology and comparatively very Japanese people read (non-comic) books.

There is even a word to decry reason "rikutsu." The closest English translation is perhaps humbug. Rikustu, or the phrase "Rikutsu iu na" (don't say any more humbug) is use to silence those that attempt to be too rational, or wordy than is felt necessary. Words are extraneous, faddish, and abbreviated everywhere from haiku to pasokon and sefure. Indeed, English words are often used on T-shirts, in mottos and names for products, even though or because most Japanese can not understand English. English, and still more so English, allows the Japanese to reduce words to their beloved phenomenon: sounds and above all images.

But this still isn't answering the question. What is it that we logocentrist word-lovers have against corporeality, and what is that corpo-animistic thing-loving Japanese, have against the opposite side?

What is in that word-lovers have against "narcissism" which originates and rotates about a loving self-phenomena? What is it that the Japanese hate about verbal arrogance, or even self-expression, even as they prune themselves so perfectly? I have plausible answer to this, related to my recent post on Pokemon, but I have written too much, to myself. Queasy.

You know you are crazy when you think you are trying to prevent Armageddon with your blog:-)

Mollman, S. (2001). Japanese Design Sense becomes more evident in hight tech products. J@pan Inc Magazine - The J@pan Inc Newsletter, 134. Retrieved from www.japaninc.com/jin134

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Capsule Hotel: Groupist or Individualist?

Capsule Hotel: Groupist or Individualist? by timtak
Capsule Hotel: Groupist or Individualist?, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The thought of Japanese salaried employees getting into the their capsules and sleeping in air-conditioned pods like larvae in a hive may give the impression of the psychology of the herd, mindless groupism. On the other hand it may be an example of social atomism (Allison, 2006), and even individualism since, in a Western country, this scene -- like that of the ubiquitous Japanese student accommodation, "one room mansions" -- might be replaced by a that of a more friendly, communal dorm. Or the capsule hotel may be an example of social estrangement and collectivism since, like the prevalence of social withdrawal (hikikomori) and social phobia (taijinkyoufusho), it may be the result of as a result of greater social dependence (amae: See Doi, 2002), a concomitant inability to leave immediate family, (Kato et al., 2012) and as therefore demonstrating the lack of a developed, independent self.

My own feeling is that neither categorisation is particularly useful and that each are mutually dependent - the self is social - (Markus & Kitayama, 1991) but that Westerners tend to use this dichotomy due to the influence of Christianity, the main text of which is a series of vignettes where the hero ignores social and follows his conscience. The possibility that "conscience" is also social is generally refuted or ignored.

Allison, A. (2006). New-Age Fetishes, Monsters, and Friends: Pokêmon Capitalism at the Millennium. Ed. Tomiko Yoda and Harry D. Harootunian. Japan after Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present. Durham & London: Duke UP, 331–57.
Doi, T. (2002). The Anatomy of Dependence. Kodansha USA.
Kato, T. A., Tateno, M., Shinfuku, N., Fujisawa, D., Teo, A. R., Sartorius, N., … Kanba, S. (2012). Does the ‘hikikomori’ syndrome of social withdrawal exist outside Japan? A preliminary international investigation. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(7), 1061–1075. doi:10.1007/s00127-011-0411-7
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.

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