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, February 24, 2014


Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic

Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic by timtak
Japan May Be Somewhat Autistic, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Autism is sometimes defined as "a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication,"(wikipedia).

As testified by Temple Grandin (2006), however, those with autism may develop a superior ability to "think in pictures". Indeed the Autism Spectrum Questionnaire (AQ) contains some items that relate directly to the mental ability to create and manipulate images. From the Nacalian perspective of this blog -- that Japanese have a self in the mirror 'stage' rather than a self as narrative -- one would predict that Japanese would be 'somewhat autistic' or share some commonalities with those that are deemed to have autism.

What does the science say? First of all one finds that, though autism is increasing worldwide especially in the West, the prevalence of autism is argued to be higher in Japan than anywhere else in the world with, 118 cases per 10,000 children (see Hughes, 2011). Secondly comparisons of scores on the above mentioned Autism Spectrum Questionnaire, which gives a score between 1 and 50, finds that average Japanese student score of 22.4* is 6 points above that of British students (16.4) and lies almost in the middle between British students, and British in the Aspergers Syndrome or High Functioning Autism group (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, 2001; Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, 2005).

Some of this difference may be due to the possibility that" the Japanese translation might have changed the meaning of some items to be more agreeable for the Japanese to score 1, although the back translation was satisfactory"(Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, 2005, p495). While translation issues may be responsible for some of the difference, I suggest that an increased tendency in Japan to think in pictures rather than words is likely also to explain some of the difference.

By pointing out this data I in no way mean suggest that the Japanese are in any way "disordered", but rather, as those with autism are themselves sometimes found to claim, the ability to think in pictures as opposed to words - if that is a characteristic difference found in autism - is not a disorder, but a difference, especially perhaps in the land of anime, manga, the zaniest fashion, and making things (monodukuri), not words.

Image top: ‘Flag of Japan made into a Jigsaw’, n.d. Jigsawplanet
Image middle: (Hughes, 2011)
Image Bottom: Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Skinner, Martin, & Clubley, (2001 p.9), with added data from Kurita, Koyama, & Osada, (2005)

*The average for Japan of 22.4 was created by averaging the Japanese male and female averages given in the text.

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., & Clubley, E. (2001). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 5–17.
Flag of Japan made into a Jigsaw. (n.d.). Jigsaw Planet. Retrieved 24 February 2014, from www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=07b457ea244c
Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism. New York: Vintage Books.
Hughes, V. (2011, April 7). Researchers track down autism rates across the globe — SFARI.org - Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Retrieved 24 February 2014, from sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2011/researchers-track-do...
Kurita, H., Koyama, T., & Osada, H. (2005). Autism-Spectrum Quotient–Japanese version and its short forms for screening normally intelligent persons with pervasive developmental disorders. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 59(4), 490–496. Retrieved from onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.0140...

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Monday, February 17, 2014


The One Ring Scam from Hell

The One Ring Scam from Hell by timtak
The One Ring Scam from Hell, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
It is Quiet in Hell (300)

Missed call scams, where criminals ring mobile phones for one ring, then cut off in the hope that the receiver will ring back and be connected to a number that costs them money, have just hit the USA in early 2014 (CNN Money, KLTV, CBNC). They had a very brief life in the UK in 2004(BBC). But as any Japanese mobile phone user (over the age of about 30) is aware, "one ring scams" (Or "wan giri" one (ring and) cut=kiri) have a far longer history. The one ring scam (wangiriワンギリ) originated in Japan at about the turn of the millennium, and were still prevalent at least in 2013 (see mobile phone au carrier's warning, in Japanese, update history).

The Japanese are generally so honest (at least according to OECD crime statistics) and cautious (e.g. with higher "uncertainty avoidance", Hofstede, 1980) than other nations. The Japanese are so bright and bushy tailed, it is strange that a scam of this type should originate in the land of the rising sun.

That these calls started in Japan is I feel because the Japanese are more susceptible. Japanese people are more likely to see that missed call and ring back. Is it because the Japanese are more polite, feeling obliged to respond to missed calls? Or is it that Westerners can rely on genuine callers leaving voice-mail, but the shy, and somewhat tongue-tied Japanese can not. These are probably both part of the motivation, but I think that something else is going on. As a Texas TV station opines.,"They [the scammers] are preying on the victim's curiosity," and the Japanese are that much more curious about missed phone calls. This is because, I believe, Japan is, collectively, missing a phone call, missing a connection.

As often argued on this blog the main difference between the psychology of Japanese and Westerners is in the medium of their "generalised other." Western psychologists argue that humans, or at least all Westerners, have or have simulated an imaginary friend (Wyndham, 1968) in their head. If you are Christian you believe that you have a friend in Jesus, and a psychic hot-line to God. If you are a Western psychologist then you theorise this entity in secular terms as a "super ego" (Freud, 1913) Other (Lacan, 1967 [2007]), alter ego (Derrida, 1978) "generalised other" (Mead, 1967), "impartial spectator" (Smith, 1812; see also Brat, 2005) "super addressee" (Bakhtin, 1986. p126).

Taking the last example, Bakhtin was a Russian literary critic who dabbled in psychology (and inspired a branch of psychology: Hermans and Kempen, 1993), He argues that language is always understood in dialogue. Even when we are on our own we imagine how our statements would be understood by those to whom we will address them. Bakhtin goes on to say, since the self is also understood via self-speech, if we were incapable of understanding who we ourselves are without real others, we would be in hell. We would be continually dependent upon the understanding of whomever we are talking, or plan to talk, to. If we are not understood then we would not understand ourselves. Our meaning, our thoughts, and desires, would be lost in a fog of confusion. Fortunately, Bakhtin says (along with all the other Western commentators) even when we are talking to someone present, and more so when we are on our own, we are always also 'talking off' to a super-addressee. Taking the metaphor of email, Bakhtin argues we are always also sending a "BCC" - by mistake or on purpose - to one of our parents, or God.

As argued by Mori Arimasa (1999) , and myself, in Japan there is no such generalised ear of the Other. Japanese people just talk to other people. They send just email to other people. They do not absent mindedly BCC. Their words are for, and only for, the person that they are sent to. Japan is therefore a Western hell, since the Japanese are not wired up to the ear in the sky. Yahew-san's phone is off the hook. There is nothing but 'Silence,' (Or perhaps white noise. c.f. the phone call that Sanada Hrioyuki's role receives before he he is visited by the Other from the image - Sadako!).

Lacking a psychic hot-line, the Japanese are I argue, that much more curious about missed calls. "One day someone is going to phone", they think. One day they will be connected. And this is why the one ring scam works that much better on Japanese and is (or was, even the Japanese tire of it) that much more prevalent. It is probably also linked to Japanese susceptibility to that other form of Japanese scam "Its me, its me" (ore ore) phone calls. The Japanese are, in the solitude of their silence, always hoping that someone who loves them and needs them, will ring them up.

Fortunately, the Japanese are not in Japanese hell at all because they have another type of more maternal, impartial spectator or super-addressee: Mirrors in their Heads (Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008).

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans., C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Brat, D. (2005). Adam Smith’s God: The End of Economics. Virginia Economic Journal, 59. Retrieved from faculty.rmc.edu/dbrat/researchpapers/2005VAEAdamSmithPape...
Derrida, J. (1978). Edmund Husserl’s origin of geometry: An introduction. U of Nebraska Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.jp/books?hl=en&lr=&id=pW9PQxAOo0sC&oi=fnd&pg=PP9&dq=Origin+of+Geometry&ots=cxr_EUp0d5&sig=8cjF6mBUi60BuZEUBK_0blBL1sUFreud, S. (1913). Totem and taboo. (A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. Retrieved from en.wikisource.org/wiki/Totem_and_Taboo
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
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations (2nd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Smith, A. (1812). The theory of moral sentiments. Retrieved from books.google.co.jp/books?hl=en&lr=&id=d-UUAAAAQAA...
Wyndham, J. (1968). Chocky.
Mori, A. 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Kata as The Japanese Mirror Stage

Keep Trying Guys by timtak
Keep Trying Guys, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Lacan's theory of "Mirror Stage" is famous despite having been at least partially refuted by at least two experimental psychologists whose papers I have read.

No, infants do not first become aware of themselves via mirrors, their mirror self-awareness is concomitant with their linguistic self awareness. Lacan himself prevaricated and or re(?) described the "stage" as a logical stage, not necessarily prior but necessarily implicated in the formation of a narrative self.

Lacan's theory of the mirror stage is useful at least as a metaphor to explain how the narrative self is also an other.

The majority of Western theories of self, at least those trending currently (Dennet), and probably since Plato, certainly in Mead, and probably in Adam Smith, see the self as a product of self narrative. These same, seemingly down-to earth, non-Lacanian, non-French, almost common sense and widely applied theories introduce otherness, the "impartial spectator" or the "generalised other" and have even the most staid economists and psychologists persuaded that our selves, are like others even to ourselves.

Here, Lacan's theory of "the mirror stage" is useful to explain, at least as a metaphor, how our narrative self is also an other. How could it be that the self is an other? Isn't this a grammatical error, a contradiction? Lacan's theorey provides a metaphorical solution. The self as narrative is routed in the self as mirror image, and as a replacement for the mirror image, a self representation. The self as narrative is a replacement for the self as mirror image, but while replacing the mirror image it remains at a distance, a wordy version of oneself in a mirror.

That said, according to Lacan (and implicitly in Mead and others) the self as narrative is superior to the self as image, in that it can be achieved, held, recognised, without the cooperation of real people or real reflecting surfaces outside oneself.

To use an analogy from chemistry, the "mirror stage", for the Western self, is a sort of catalyst. The need for a catalyst demonstrates a hurdle, a gap, but catalytic action does not occur prior, but concomitantly, it gets the ball rolling, but even as it gets the ball rolling it is accompanied by the reaction that it is there to ignite.

Recent work in neuro psychology (mirror neurons) and the philosophy of self (ego tunnel) has shown however that the common sense assumption that you need a mirror (or other people's faces, a reaction, an audience) to see yourself
is just not true. Humans can see themselves from the point of view of others just as clearly as they can hear themselves from the point of view of others.

As an aside, the surprising lesson from this recent mirror neuron related research for me, is not so much that "Wow, we have found that humans have the ability to see ourselves from the point of view of an other!" but rather, "Oh, come to think of it, hearing ourselves, our self-narration, from the point of view of an other is pretty darn amazing. How did we come to be able to do this?" Lacan's answer "Because, we saw ourselves in mirrors" goes only part of the way towards an answer.

Now to the point of this post which is merely a modification of a previous one using the same image, above, Judith Butler argues in "Bodies that Matter," that iterable (repeatable) movements allow for bodily, self representation. Taken on face value, this seems to imply that the (Japanese, I assert) self is a sort of sign language. I groaned inwardly as I contemplated Butler, and wondered if the Japanese are narrating themselves using bodily movements.

The point of this post is to suggest that no, that Japanese autoscopy, the Japanese imaginary, mirror self is not a self represented by Kata, of symbols that are moved rather than spoken. Rather, the Japanese iterable movements, their Kata, are equivalent to the mirror image, catalyst of the narrative self.

In other words, Kata to the Japanese, and mirror images to the Westerner, are a catalyst that kick-starts a fluid, independent (as it gets), self cognition.

Westerners see the mirror image and learn to narrate it, the Japanese say, or sign, their Kata and learn to see them. Or, rather, the mirror image, self as image, is catalyst for the narrative self, the Kata self as signs, a catalyst for the mirror self.

In Sumo, Judo, Karate, there are names for all the moves. But people who have learnt the kata, and know the moves, go beyond them. The kata are a stepping stone, a stage, a catalyst, like the Lacanian "imago" in the mirror.

I have been doing Karate, badly.

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