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.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Why so Little Air in Japanese University Student Bicycle Tyres?

I was waiting for the lights to change at the main entrance to my university, when I noticed that almost all of the rear bicycles tyres of the students waiting at the lights were very low on air. They are in danger of having "pinch flats."

It was only the rear tyres that were almost flat. Could it be that rear tyres are out of sight and therefore out of the Japanese mind? Or is that bicycles in general -- almost always of the step through, shopper or in Japanese parlance "mama" variety -- are given short thrift in Japanese culture, and to take care of ones bike is a rather nerdy thing to do? Or was it just a coincidence, and in general Japanese students' bicycle tyres are no less inflated than those of any other nation?

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Saturday, September 20, 2014


Dark Vegetables

These bitter gourds grew all of their own accord from the seeds that fell from the vine last year. There were only 4 edible bitter gourds but I love them, and they are less bitter when they are fresh. But at the same time, I wonder if they are "challenge food" or "dark food" (as in the sense of dark tourism) or benign masochism (Rozin, Guillot, Fincher, Rozin, & Tsukayama, 2013) that I eat less because they are delicious but because, like live fish, snakes blood, bludgeoned dogs, and very hot curry, there is an excitement in the very unpleasantness of the thing. I do not eat bludgeoned dog, but some people do, and I can only explain that behaviour in this way.

For the western visitor at least, Japan has a lot of dark, challenging foods but unable to grasp that tourism is also dark (the word for tourism in Japan suggests only light, nice activities) the Japanese insist upon serving the visitor only things that they will like. Worse still they will even attempt to serve cuisine as similar as possible to that which the visitor eats a home such as (in my case) roast beef, and fish tempura (deep fried fish in batter - all I need is the chips).

Rozin, P., Guillot, L., Fincher, K., Rozin, A., & Tsukayama, E. (2013). Glad to be sad, and other examples of benign masochism. Judgment and Decision Making, 8(4), 439–447. Retrieved from journal.sjdm.org/12/12502a/jdm12502a.html>

Friday, September 12, 2014


Fushino River Wasteland: Nature as abject/subject

So great is the Japanese aversion towards nature, that the areas around even urban rivers are generally deserted wastelands. Despite the fact that the Japanese detest nature, all the Japanese, and most but not all (Knight, 2004) of the the books about Japan will tell you that the Japanese love nature. I do not tire of attempting to correct this misconception.

The Japanese love symbols taken from nature. Japanese surnames are mainly taken from nature (Tanaka middle-field, Honda original-field, Fuji wisteria, Yamamoto foot-of-the-mountain) as are their family crests, pictorial art, letter greetings, fabric designs, religious events, poetic theme, sociological theories, and, of course, arts that deal directly with nature such as bonsai, flower arrangement and garden design.

However when it comes to nature itself, that is to say tauto-pleonastically, natural nature, the muddy stuff with wasps, weeds and waste matter, the Japanese can't stand it. They'd far rather be in a shopping mall or pachinko parlour or the comfort of their hermetically sealed homes. They hate natural nature so much they don't want to look at it, and nature being so abject and horrific to their minds, they are even utterly unaware that they abhor it, believing, to a woman, that nature is absolutely wonderful stuff.

I can see why Japanese might detest nature so much that they think that they love it. Freud calls this reaction formation. Sometimes those that appear the most chaste and demure do so to conceal their lasciviousness. Sadists may hate their cruelty so much that they present themselves as pacifists. But that external commentators should buy into this reaction formation when Japanese mountains, rivers and seas are deserted, or covered with concrete, surprises me.

Perhaps the real surprise is rather that Westerners should want to get down and dirty with nature. As Saito (Saito, 1985) and I have argued, the Japanese the Japanese interest in a "tamed" or "miniaturised" nature is related to their identification with nature. They do not see any separation between themselves and nature. They are natural. Nature is alive. They don't want to live on the edge of a muddy river estuary, much less swim in it (as I do) any more than they want to smell their own sweat. They dislike bugs as much as bodily fluids.

That Westerners, on the other hand, should enjoy swimming in murky water (as I do often), or using a machete to cut a path through a mountain forest to reach its summit (as I did with a visiting Scottish friend), relates conversely to Western alienation from nature. We think, we feel we are not natural, so we immerse ourselves in the wildest most inconvenient aspects of nature both as as a sort of "exposure extinction" behavioural therapy, to conquer nature and our antipathy towards it, and also, conversely, as a sort of aversion therapy, so that we may continue to persuade ourselves that wild, wet, and nasty nature is out there whereas we ourselves are narratives. As I swim through the murky water in Fushino River estuary, blissfully unaware that I am swimming through myself, and my own waste, I indulge in that most Western of pleasures: I listen to myself speak.

Further it is not true to say that the Japanese avoid natural nature, but rather when they brave they are even more extreme. The Japanese practice of "misogi" (禊ぎ) involving swimming in coldest mid-winter or sitting directly under waterfalls with the water pummelling their head, and other spiritual exercises in the most extreme natural environments, are aimed at purification. What is it that they are trying to expunge? At least one of the poems (626, see below) in the 7th century book of ten thousand leaves (Manyoushu) shows that Japanese leaped into rivers in order to purify themselves of linguistic thought, and become one with the water**, "their absolutely contradictory self" (Nishida, see Kozyra, 2013).

君により、言の繁(しげ)きを、故郷(ふるさと)の、明日香(あすか)の川に、みそぎしに行く 八代女王 626
With all those bloomin' words about you my lord, I went to purify myself in my home town's Asuka River. Yashiro no Ookimi Poem number 626 (recent commentators suggest that the blooming words were rumours about the writers relationship with her lord the emperor).

Another early, this time Heian poem, presumably also about purification in water (misogi禊)
The sinful words that piled on my body were washed away and my heart cleared in gentle Mikasane waterfall. (Saigyou, Sangashuu)

In any event, the good news is that nature loving gaijin (foreigners) can come to Japan and enjoy the unspoilt nature shunned by the Japanese, or even purchase property on the side of rivers, mountains or the sea for a song, which will probably be about nature in Japan. And I will now go and swim in that estuary, and try and let my I become me (mi 身・水) won-with-the-water, wwww.

Knight, C. (2004). Veneration or Destruction. Japanese Ambivalence Towards Nature, with Special Reference to Nature Conservation, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ.
Kozyra, A. (2013). The Logic of Absolutely Contradictory Self-identity and Aesthetic Values in Zen Art. Retrieved 2014/9/12 from dspace.uni.lodz.pl:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11089/3415...
Saito, Y. (1985). The Japanese appreciation of nature. The British Journal of Aesthetics, 25(3), 239-251. Retrieved 2014/9/12 from bjaesthetics.oxfordjournals.org/content/25/3/239.short

*All the ancient poems about purification (harai and misogi)
**The Kokugakuin University entry on misgo explains that while it is clear that the "sogi" means steep or rinse, the "mi" of misogi has been interpretted to mean both body and water. Too right.

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Monday, September 01, 2014


The Only Symbolic Self Assertion in Japan

The Only Symbolic Self Assertion in Japan
(Cleaning Volunteer Chart)

In general the Japanese do not tend to assert themselves linguistically, being in general very self-effacing. There is one exception to this. Japanese people, and pocket monsters, take great pride in their names, and will put their names to themselves and their positive acts. Despite being so self-effacing, when it comes to their names, they are very in your face.

For example individual names appear on houses (where Britons have only numbers), stating the name of the patriarch who provided for it, at Shinto shrines the names of companies and individuals that donate lanterns and other stonework will be carved into the same, Japanese sometimes stick labels with their names onto temples and shrines in the "senja fuda" tradition, Japanese school-rooms are often bristling with student names, they take great pride in their business cards, and in this photo, they and I write their name in a chart detailing who has cleaned what part of the changing room when. I have left only my name showing. "Take Take, Takemoto (said in the style of Pikachuu)!"

I think that the Japanese name may be the equivalent of the Western smile. In general Westerners do not assert ourselves visually, with our bodies, poses and posture. To do so would be considered vain. On the other hand we are allowed to smile. The smile -- being the shape of the mouth and source of language - the most linguistic of visual expressions, the written name is the most visual mark in language, the point of intersection between the worlds of language and vision, the tip of the brush pen.

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