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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.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


What am I? Western Propaganda

What am I? Western Propaganda by timtak
What am I? Western Propaganda, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

This picture book, ”What am I" (Brenifer, 2007) written by Western authors translated into Japanese, says that while mirrors are useful for showing you how you appear to other people, the difference between humans and animals is that they can think in words, and that they can speak. Humans are "animals with reason. reason", or the ability to speak to have a dialogue with oneself, is supposed to provide us with an internal mirror, whereas all literal mirrors are external. Japanese children are being taught this in their morality classes. My son has a textbook called "note of the heart" which he is encouraged to name. Both books encourage Japanese infants to think of themselves, as their defining "hidden" characteristic as that which is refereed to by their self narrative.

How could narrative, which takes places in that most social of media, language provide anything but a view of self from the point of view of society? The earliest proponents of the narrative self (Adam Smith) and George Mead made this perfectly plain. Ah but, even if language does provide us with a social representation of self, it is a "impartial" "generalised" self-representation. Research on human decision making shows that we have anything but a generalised impartial view of ourselves. And even if language should provide a view from no-where, from a depersonalised point of view, this is exactly what those that practice karate, noh, or any Japanese art are taught to achieve, and which we all have by virtue of our mirror neurons.

The Japanese have a long tradition of attempting to emulate Westerners, and it has been suggested that they encourage their children to have a narrative self identity for many years (象徴天皇). The trouble is that one needs the internalised other to be mirrored in society. In the West language is upheld, presented as "logic" de-temporalised, by a conspiracy of white patriarchs. Linguistic consistency is upheld in upbringing. The court of language is pervasive in movies from courtroom dramas, of course, and even to the obligatory confession of love before a crowd obligatory in Western romance films. In Japan the super-ego as ear (耳殻) there is instead, the gaze of the world, a conspiracy of mothers. Instead of the court of language, encouraging us to feel guilty, there is an ever-present gaze that encourages shame. Woody Allen may have been half Japanese in that his superego was feminine (see his 'mother as blimp' . The Japanese super-I looks on silently as portrayed to perfection by the figures outside the window in "Pon Pon Pon by Kyari Pamyu Pamyu."

Japanese are humans with mirrors, for the time being.

Brenifier, O., 西宮かおり, & 重松清. (2007). 自分って、なに? 東京: 朝日出版社.

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