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.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Japanese High School Girls and the Real Visual

Japanese High School Girls and the Real Visual by timtak
Japanese High School Girls and the Real Visual, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Max Weber would have us believe that the upper echelons of society create the fads and fashions which the hoi polio blindly follow. Unless Japanese high school girls are the upper echelons of Japanese society (that remains a distinct possibility) Weber's theory, and other "trickle down theories" do not apply to Japan. It is commonly said that Japanese fads and fashions start with Japanese high school girls. This common sense is believed to the extent that research institutes regularly survey Japanese high school girls' opinions to keep their finger on the pulse of the latest Japanese booms and crazes.

Risa Risa research institute has just published a list of the top 8 most popular things among Japanese high school girls. Get your pens ready! The top eight are as follows

1 Line (Skype for Smart Phones?)
2 Funasshi- (a cuddly character representing Funahashi City)
3 Twitter
4 Pretending to be "Attack Giant" in trick photography (above bottom)
5. TwitCasting (Twitter for Android?)
6. Makankou Sappou (Hadouken-ing, or Vadering) pretending to use the power of the force to move people in group versions of fast exposure "Yowayowa Kamera" style flying photography (above top).
7. Daisy Patterned Fabric
8. "Director Wrapped" jumpers (wrapping ones sweater or jumper around ones neck, with its arms used as a scarf).

All the above are important in informing investment decisions, and new product ideas. I would like to draw attention to the inclusion of two forms of trick photography (illustrated in the above photo), that emulate scale and motion through trick photography. Why should this be popular in Japan? I think that images have always been very popular in Japan, so much so that the Japanese identify them. Westerners tend to think of the real, scientific world being a linguistic construction, or mapping one to one with language, and images as merely the cover or "wrapping." In Japan however, words are the fluff, and reality is the in the image. If it looks real, then to most intents and purposes it is. Hence the popularity of Japanese idols, foreign villages, robots, look-good-but-tasteless-cakes, sweet curry-looking-custard, smiles, characters, manga, anime and as above, trick photography. The real is visual, the visual is real in Japan.

Images copyright their respective owners from the google image search for マカンコウサッポウ and 進撃の巨人ごっこ.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Like a Snow Goggle Doguu: The Origin of Purikura Volume Eyes?

Like a Snow Goggle Doguu: The Origin of Purikura Volume Eyes? by timtak
I am very much persuaded that the wide distribution of palaeolithic "figurines" with large hips, and small feet are as Dr. Leroy McDermott (1996) argues, a portrayal of the first person view of ones own body, rather than emphasizing feminine features as is argued elsewhere. While sometimes these ancient clay figures may be of women, such as in the example shown bottom left in one of Dr. McDermott's photographs (duplicated here without permission - I will cease and desist immediately if requested) which shows an self person view of a pregnant woman, and that of a figurine if it could see itself and presumably the self-person, "autogenus" view of its sculptor. Anyone male or female looking down at the own body will see their chest, hips and shoulders enlarged relative to their hands and feet.

This characteristic, enlarged shoulders, chest and hips, and small hands and feet is shared by Japanese Snow Goggle Doguu figurines from the Joumon period. However what of their massive slit eyes? Some have suggested that they represent the snow goggles worn by Inuit (e.g. Kraus, 1953). Others that they represent the masks of visitors from outer space.

I suggest however that the large size of the eyes in these figurines is explained by the one of the commentators (Elkins, a detractor) on Dr. McDermott's paper who wrote, that if palaeolithic figurines were indeed of autogenus (first person) views then there should be examples resembling the famous first person view by Ernst Mach (1893) above bottom right, which show an enlarged eye and nose. Snow goggles do not especially enlarge the eyes but this figurines eyes are several times larger than anatomical eyes.

My wife tells me that such is the size of a typical Japanese nose it does not impinge upon the the visual field nearly as much as my or Max Ernst's Germanic nose. Likewise being less deep set, it is far more difficult for Japanese to see their eyes. However, if one happens to allow ones eyes to close a little, or even a lot, then one becomes aware of the enormous size of ones eyes that expand to be larger than the breadth of the horizon. Ones visual field, which can itself be considered a self view, may be bigger than mount Fuji if you happen to be looking in that mountain's direction.

These snow goggle figurines may be men. I see myself in the shape of the dogu. And while I am normally unaware of seeing my eyes, I can become aware of them, my self person view, and the visual field itself, that one sided disk that Max Ernst claimed to be the basic stuff of the world. Normally I have lost my disk (Borges, 1975), but looking through the slits of my eyes, helps me to find it.

I think it is clear that we are only dimly aware of our view of the orbits of our eyes and noses, since even in the work of artist that paint or draw first person views the humongous nose and eyes are very rarely represented as can be seen in this gallery. We in fact see our nose twice, semi transparent, pointing in towards, in my close to the centre of our visual field (as seen in this gallery). That fact that one sees two noses, one from each eye, may explain the reason why the figurine above has a cleft nose. You can see the vast orbit your eyes if you narrow your eyes like a snow goggle dougu.

Moving away from artistic representations of self, an awareness of first person views of self is promoted in meditation, most notably that of "The Headless Way," but also, traditionally in Zen. In the Pictures of the Ten Bulls, where the bull represents the experience of the true self, it is "his big nostrils [that] cannot failt to expose his presence.". The promotion of the awareness of the orbits of our eyes, and edgeless darkness surrounding our visual field, may be the reason why Zen meditation is carried out with the eyes half open (e.g. Austin, 1999), and why Zen philosopher Kitarō Nishida drew his "pure experience" (junsui taiken) as concentric circles (see Heisig, 2004, p.8) the outer most of which has no boundary.

The awareness of the large size of ones eyes from a first person perspective may also encourage Japanese women, wishing to present themselves as pure, to enhance the size of their eyes in gal make up, and purikura auto-photography. The eyes are nearly the window frames of the soul.

Austin, J. H. (1999). Zen and the brain: Toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. The MIT Press.
Borges, J.L. JL (1975). The Book of Sand. Emecé, Buenos Aires
Kraus, B. S. (1953). An outline of Japan's prehistoric cultures. Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology, (9), 12-16.
Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida's medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55-72.
Mach, E. (1897). Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations. (C. M. Williams, Trans.). The Open court publishing company. Retrieved from www.archive.org/details/contributionsto00machgoog
McDermott, L. R. (1996). Self-representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current Anthropology, 37(2), 227–275. Retrieved from www.ucmo.edu/art/facstaff/documents/Self-Representationin...
Reprinted from CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY published by the University of Chicago Press. Used with permission.
© 1996 by Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.
Portions of this text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of US and international copyright laws and agreements, and may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires the prior written consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Saturday, December 07, 2013


Get a Third Person to Stare back at You

Get a Third Person to Stare back at You by timtak
Get a Third Person to Stare back at You, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The cover of "An introduction to the Psychology of Martial Arts" by Takashi Ozawa could not have been more appropriate to support the theory espoused by this blog: that the Japanese Other observes visually rather than taking a linguistic perspective, and the creation of this other is achieved in part through practice of Japanese martial arts.

From a distance wordy, logocentric Western culture can look rule bound, "A society based upon manuals." However, even in the case of McDonalds, the genuine objective of the manual is to go beyond the manual - the manual is only a stepping stone - to "TLC" or Tender Loving Care.

Like wise, from a distance, Japanese society can appear to be "stuck in the mould," formulaic, in so far as so many Japanese praxes emphasize the learning of set forms or "kata." But the objective in so doing, is to go beyond the forms.

So, if in both cases, both Americans with their manuals and Japanese with their forms intend to go beyond them, why do they have them at all?

My answer is that the real reason behind the Western fascination with books and language, is that language provides a generalized other, the ability to take an objective third person perspective upon self.

And the real reason by the Japanese fascination with kata is, as the red "belt" of this book (written by the editor at BAB Japan, as a summary of the contents) claims, that through the practice of a martial art one obtains a third person perspective that stares back at you, a gaze apart (Riken no Ken Zeami), a Mirror in your Head (Heine et al.)

Archimedes said, "Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world." I say, give me a third person perspective, and I will create a self. It is about time I started learning Karate.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Be as Mount Fuji, with a Silent, Attentive, Mirror Mind

Be as Mount Fuji, with a Silent, Attentive,  Mirror Mind
This picture bears the words
"When facing up to your opponent before a fight, be attentive (lit distribute your "ki" mind/attention) with a silent mind, and be as Mount Fuji (make the shape of Mount Fuji your own form)."

This picture stands in the entrance hall to the gym where my son learns karate. The caption translated above, expresses the essence of Japanese martial arts and thought. First of all there is the emphasis on the importance of facing off. The fight is won and lost - or better still avoided - in this period before it commences which is typically far longer than the fight itself which it is often over in seconds. I would like to draw attention to several aspects of this pre-fight period.

The pre-fight "tachi ai" period involves both intimidation and analysis. There is no better result than the ability to stand with such bearing as to encourage your opponent to admit defeat, or loose confidence to the extent that the fight is a foregone conclusion. Further that this period of mutual analysis and intimidation involve standing facing the opponent. The significance of this will be considered below.

Mental activity within the pre-fight 'tachi-ai' period should be conducted in silence. I believe that this injunction is specifically directed towards the cessation of all self-narrative, hearing oneself speak, asking oneself questions and replying to them (自問自答), dialectical thought and all other types of linguistic thought.

The next injunction is to be attentive or literally to spread out ones "ki" (attention, mental energy, focus, consciousness) The use of ones "ki" in this way is the core of martial arts and Japanese thought. There are numerous expressions involving "ki" including to be careful (ki wo tsukeru, "attach ki"), be keen on (enter ones ki, ki ni iru), loose consciousness  (ki wo ushinau, loose ki).

I suggest that the use of ki is the direct counterpart to Western narratival-self and that it is used for similar things, specifically for helping us to gain a theory of mind, and in this particular instance, read our opponents mind. Westerners use reason to ascertain how other people are thinking. By thinking we put ideas up in the courtroom of the mind for inspection by another, Reason, a super addressee, a generalised other, and in so doing understand how others feel about our predictions.

The Japanese on the other gage how others will behave more directly, by using their ki. There have been books written about ki and I have read one one of them. Since the use of ki is clearly a non linguistic activity, the use of further words to describe it may be in vain. I and others who wish to understand the use of ki, need above all do it. But, counter productively perhaps, I would like to add one more exposition and suggest that using ones "ki" is using ones mirror neurons. Mirror neurons allow us to model seeing, ourselves, are activated when we look at a mirror, and are activated when we look at other people, telling us, by activation of the same neurological states in us as in the object of our vision, what we would be thinking and intending to do if we appeared as the person we are facing. 

Finally, there is the injunction to make of our own form the form of Mount Fuji. This echoes the advice of a Buddhist priest to a sumo wrestler, and numerous other philosophies of martial arts (such as Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five) rings which encourage the practitioner to become as some natural object, animal, element, or in this case the biggest mountain in Japan.

Going for the bulls-eye and concentrating first upon the apparent mismatch in size between our warrior and the tallest mountain in Japan, I think that this draws attention to East Asian Spiritualism in the literal sense: (唯心論) the assertion that there is only mind or spirit. Similar assertions appear in the psychologism of Ernst Mach (1902), or the immaterialism of Bishop Berkeley. At base all things can only be experienced, are only present to humans or other sentient beings, song long as they partake in that sentience, become a part of that consciousness. Thus, the apparent mismatch between the size of mount Fuji and the warrior is only apparent. When warrior realises his true nature as consciousness, then he will be aware that Mount Fuji, the largest thing that he can imagine, is only a part of himself. This realisation, and the falling away of bodily identifications that accompanies it, can give the warrior tremendous courage and strength.

Finally, but less importantly than the realisation I attempt to express in the previous paragraph, the visual identification with the mountain has the dual effect of positive self-speech. Identifications with natural phenomena allows the warrior to tap into and identify with all the meaning and affect associated with the symbol. And at the same time, through his bearing thus effected, strengthen, calmed, drawn to full height, convey the same, wordlessly to the opponent who is also using their ki, or mirror neurons, to see what is on
their opponents mind.

I can not read the artists name. It looks like  Shinya Suzuhiromatsu 鈴廣松臣也 but I am not sure, and would like to be corrected. The picture is dedicated to Hajime Matsumura the head of the Yamaguchi Kendo association and 'other comrades in arms', who are the main users of the same gym, or doujou 山口隣保館別館・和光剣心塾道場).

Mach, E. (1902) The Analysis of Sensations, "Not the things, the bodies, but colours, sounds, pressures, times (what we usually call sensations) are the true elements of the world."    p. 23, as quoted in Lenin as Philosopher: A Critical Examination of the Philosophical Basis of Leninism (1948) by Anton Pannekoek, p. 454

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, December 02, 2013


Dialectic my Drum (日本人は「日と」)

Dialectic my Drum 
Mr. Ishiba, a Japanese politician, wrote on his blog that all the shouting by demonstrators against the new official secrets act was similar to terrorism. While he has come under widespread criticism, I thought that he had a point at least in so far as sound is sometimes used to strike terror into people, such as is claimed to be the caused by some "sound trucks", that blare out military tunes. My Japanese wife pointed out, on the other hand, sometimes the Japanese like things that are loud just because they are loud.

Taiko for example, are some of the biggest drums in the world, played in groups with the most gusto of any traditional instrument and are so loud that they seemed to be drumming inside my head. The fireworks that signal the start of Japanese festivals likewise are just plain loud. Likewise the shouts of Japanese cheer leaders who bend over backwards to get as much sound  as possible out of their throats. The shouts of people carrying festival palanquin floats (お神輿) and those of Japanese baseball players in training, or during their matches too, are not designed to convey any meaning.

All these loud noises are appreciated because they are loud and they are loud, so as to obliterate the logos, that impurity or "auto-affection" in the mind, so that the mind is left, like the face of the drum, on fire, a mirror, a circle of light.

Some (e.g. Hamamura, Heine, & Paulhus, 2008) claim that Japanese are tolerant of contradictory beliefs because they are "dialectical." I don't think that this is an apt description. Boom. There are no dialectics going on here! Boom!  This man's mind burns like the sun! Boom, boom, boom!

Image: An amalgam of Taiko by John Nakamura Remy and Taiko by Takashi Toyooka. Thanks to the former for the "mind on fire" also.

The "Hito" "日と" with the sun, pun belongs to Kurozumi Munetada the founder of the Kurozumi Sect of Shinto.
Hamamura, T., Heine, S. J., & Paulhus, D. L. (2008). Cultural differences in response styles: The role of dialectical thinking. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(4), 932–942.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, December 01, 2013


Westerners are Homonarans (欧米人は人言)

Thought Dialectical or Visual

The Western Mind is Structured Like Language

Lacan famously said that the unconscious is structured like a language. I have not the foggiest what he meant but he may have meant the way in which, as demonstrated by Asch(1946) and Rosenberg et al. (1968: in Okuda 1997), Westerners understand the world, and make evaulations based upon, how language understands the world.

The above shows a two dimentional model of personality from Rosenberg 1968, showing that some character traits are considered close to eatch other in four groupings (1 skillful, industrious, important, practical, trustworthy, honest, serious, decisive, scrupulous, 2 Fun, popular, sociable, warm, good natured, humourous, 3. frivolous, insignificant, untrustworthy, dishonest, not fun, 4. Irritable, Humourless, unpopular, cold, unsociable). These are groupings of the meanings of words, but Westerners tend to make evaluations based apon such groupings. Hence, as demonstrated by Asch (1946), if someone is described as being A.intelligent skilful industrious warm determined practical cautious, as opposed to B. intelligent skilful industrious cold determined practical cautious with only the central warm changed to cold - then they are far more likely to be judged to be good natured with the ratio of people judging them to be so dropping from 94% to 17%.

Doing this in Japan however, we find that people are far less likely to change their opinion based on the change of only one adjective.

East Asians are far more tolerant of linguistic contradiction (see Heine, 2001 for a review). E.g. in a famous study, Peng and Nisbett (1999) analysed for instance evaluations of contradictory Yiddish proverbs (which are common in both China and Japan) and found that Chinese are far more likely to positively evaluate contradictory proverbs. Peng and Nisbett, call this tendency of Asians not to require that evaluations conform to the dictionary dialectical thinking. In my own view it is rather more just that Chinese and Japanese are far less likely to be thinking in language (as demonstrated by Kim, 2002) and are probably imagining the situation. If you do imagine the situation then the platitudes that Westerners are fond of such as "cold people are not good natured" "Warm people are good natured" do not always play out. If you imagine people you know, you will find there are people who are cold in the presentation of their emotions, but who are also good natured in their acts.

Some examples of Japanese (and possibly Chinese) proverbs with contradiction include : Free is the most expensive(ただが一番高い). Friendship ends when the money runs out(金の切れ目が縁の切れ目). Mercy/Compassion does no-one any good (情けは人の為ならず). You should know that suffering is the seed of happiness, happiness is the seed of suffering. (苦は楽の種、楽は苦の種と知るべし,徳川光圀). Suffering and happiness are like an endless ring (禍福は糾える縄の如し. Yes! God I hate positive psychology!).

As Japanese are Westernised, they are encouraged to bring their thinking more in line with language, and not to think in "illogical" contradictory ways. And since language always thinks in the same way, the Japanese are also being encouraged to think like sheep (Leuers & Sonoda, 1999).

Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41(3), 258. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/41/3/258/
Heine, S. J. (2001). Self as cultural product: An examination of East Asian and North American selves. Journal of personality, 69(6), 881–905. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-6494.696168/full
Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Leuers, T. R., & Sonoda, N. (1999). Independent self bias. Progress in asian social psychology, 3, 87-104. Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. E. (1999). Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54(9), 741. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/54/9/741/
Rosenberg, S., Nelson, C., & Vivekananthan, P. S. (1968). A multidimensional approach to the structure of personality impressions. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(4), 283. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/9/4/283/
奥田秀字. (1997). 人をひきつける心: 対人魅力の社会心理学. 東京: サイエンス社.

Labels: , , ,

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