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.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


Visualness Vs. Continuity

The late great Donald Ritchie wrote an incisive but somewhat disparaging book about Japan in which he claimed that Japan is an "Image Factory," forever churning out fads and fashions. It seemed to that part of this is true. Japan is very good at manufacturing images, in the form of Anime, manga, characters (such as Kumamon or Kitty), architecture, and all the manufactured things from cars to cameras that Japan prides itself in. But on the other hand, I do not believe that they are in the slightest bit faddy or merely a fashion. Since Aristotle Westerners have argued that the voice, narration, ideas are the vector of identity and the soul whereas images are mere images, the stuff of fads and fashions. This is a Western prejudice.

In Japan continuity, identity and soul resides in the visual and my seminar student, Masaki Abe (2014) appears to have proved it. In an initial experiment we asked for social phenomenon that have longevity and continuity and those that do not, those that are faddish. In a second experiment, subject were required to rate these phenomenon according to the extent to which they were visual and had continuity. It was found as predicted that there is a strong positive correlation (r=0.64) between visuality and continuity in Japan.

Jargon included also "modes of speech" such as speaking like a posh person, and was considered, along with diets, and the catch phrases of comedians to be the most faddish phenomenon there are. Maruyama Masao claimed that this faddishness extended to theories too. Perhaps my theory will have its day.

Hello Kitty, a recognisable face and little more, is 40 years old this year.


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Omonenashi: Like the Graceful Swan Flapping its Legs Under Water

In his excellent book "Recommending Hospitality Studies" (2008) Professor Katsuhito Hattori, head of the Japanese Association of Hospitality Management provides a great many interesting distinctions between hospitality, service and Japanese hospitality (omotenashi). However his assertion that the biggest difference between Western hospitality and Japanese omotenashi is that the former is active while the latter is passive, is not a conclusion that I can agree with. Certainly omotenashi has a reserved grace and modesty. Sushi chefs form sushi with an expression of calm. The (female) heads of Japanese traditional hotels welcome their guests with and un-ruffled grace. Banquet hall staff provide Japanese meals silently in such a way as to avoid drawing attention to themselves. These service providers may seem therefore to be more "passive" than the garrulous one-upmanship provided by Western hosts, but this is merely an appearance. Even while obeying the silver rule - one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated - omotenashi professionals are always attempting to put themselves in the position of their guests, use their creative imagination, and empathise. As the famous phrase from the Manga "Star of the Giants" puts it, "the gracefully swimming swan is paddling her legs fiercely beneath the surface of the water". Similarly Japanese hospitality/omotenashi professionals are expected to be equally ardent in their attempts to provide psychological services to their guests while maintaining that typical Japanese grace and poise. 日本ホスピタリティ・マネジメント学会の会長である服部勝人先生は、その良書『ホスピタリティー学のおすすめ』で、ホスピタリティー・サービスやおもてなしについての、そしてそれらの違いについてかずかずの示唆を与えてくれている。しかし、欧米のホスピタリティと日本のおもてなしは最大の違いを、前者が能動的で後者が受動的だとしている。これにはどうしても賛成できない。たしかにおもてなしには、閑雅で奥ゆかしいところがある。板前は動揺のない顔で寿司を握る。旅館のお上は、優雅で騒ぎのない態度でお客を招き入れる。会場の中井はお客に気にさわる話や動作をされずたんたんと静かに会席料理のしたくをする。このように日本のおもてなし専門家は、積極的な話しかけをしたり+αを提供しようとする欧米のホストと比べて、受納的に見えるが実はそうではない。自分がほしくないことを相手にしないというだけでも、もてなす側は常にお客に思いやり、気遣い、《察し》を行っている。漫画『巨人の星』の名セリフ「優雅に泳ぐ白鳥も水面下では激しく足を動かしている」のように、優雅にもてなそうとする側も、思いやり・気遣い・察しのような精神的な奉仕を行っているというのが少なくともおもてなしの理想であると思われる。 Images 板前的野村裕二師傅 by 黑欣爺, on Flickr かわじま白鳥飛来地 2014 #3 by kobaken++, on Flickr http://flic.kr/p/qgzbfw

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Friday, December 26, 2014


Spectre Watch's Bicultural Hero

Yo-kai Watch (妖怪ワォッチ) is big in Japan, with the game, subsequent anime, and recent movie breaking records and making millions of dollars and billions of yen for their respective creators, originally Level 5, to whom the copyright for the above image belongs. (お取り下げご希望でありましたら、コメント欄かnihonbunka.comのメールリンクまでご連絡ください)

The title (like many elements of the oeuvre) is a pun meaning (1) "spectre summoning wrist watch." This device is used by next generation Satoshi, to summon not Pokemon but Youkai - ghouls or spectres - and is not dissimilar to all the transformatory watches and belts used by Masked Riders and Power Rangers. Youkai Watch also means (2) the ability to see the same ghouls or spectres. It may also have the sense of "Neighbourhood Watch" in that Keita looks out for ghouls and spectres haunting his environs, based on the town of Tsukuba, in which I have lived. Importantly Keita Amano "watches" in both senses of the word/neologism: he sees and he plays with time.

I have argued that the dual nature of Japanese super heroes -- either they are possessed by something outside of them, or accompanied by a super friend --- reflects the way in which the Japanese self is visual, autoscopic (日人hito) rather than narrative (人間 ningen, "homonarans").

The Japanese super heroes' suit does not hide his mumbling 'secret identity," in which the Western super hero spends some of the time, but rather the Japanese super hero is spatially separate but often almost equivalent to the suit (Masked Riders, Evangelion, Gundam) and suiting up is done in public sometimes with great aplomb (Mitokoumon, Shinkenja). Traditionally, Words, names and symbols only have importance, as do images Lacanian theory, as transformatory 'stages' or catalysts. These medals, coins, cards with bar codes, etc. transform or summon the super visual form. The Japanese only need names to convince themselves that they are the sum total of their images (henshin! gattai!), their mask, or persona (Watsuji), as we only need images as a covering(Baudrillard), to convince ourselves that we are the hero of this narrative, behind that mask.

But Youkai Watch's Keita Amano is a little different. He is possessed or accompanied by two imaginary friends. The second, Jibanyan, a twin tailed cat, is strikingly similar to all the other cute but strong, round characters that accompany Japanese boys (from Doraemon to Pikachuu). The first friend above right, however, who provided the titular wrist watch, is more rare. This friend, "Whisper," is in name, constant attention to a encyclopaedic spectral i-Pad, very linguistic, garrulous. He is also fairly weak. In these respects he is pre-dated by Masked Rider Double, Philip, another weak, autodidactic wordy possessed or possessing familiar often seen walking around a spectral library or "Gaia Memory." I did not notice at that time, but I think that at least, after about 70 years of trying, the Japanese have succeed inviting the word to become flesh and dwell amongst them. Since originally in Shinto, words were things that one jumped in to rivers to wash out, this may be a bit of a shame.

But to today's bi-cultural Japanese children, raised in a mix of traditional Japanese and Western culture, to be concerned not only about how things look but how things narrate, Keita Amano and his two imaginary friends is a runaway cultural mega-phenomenon. Even more than Satoshi (who is accompanied, but off-stage, by a narrating professor) of Pokemen, Keita with his twin friends in Jibannyan and Whisper, should be successful in uniting children all over the globe.

I went to see the recent movie "Yo-Kai Watch the Movie: The Secret is Created, Nyan!" with my children. It featured the origins of the watch (previously appearing to be a present from Whisper, and at the same time random) in the promise of Keita's grandfather to his unborn grandson. It also featured a trinity of evil, industrial, villains that were always turning time backwards with horrific effect. In order to defeat these devils it was required that Jibanyan and Whisper merge. Bearing in mind that Derrida argues that the Western self is "deferred" in time (as opposed to displaced, seen from the outside) - we are always receiving spoken messages sent to ourselves, by ourselves from the past, the news is not all good. Keita Amano appeared to me to be a sort of Jappo-Western (和魂洋魂?) hybrid to beat nasty, industrial, watch-making Western culture.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014


In my Day it was a Tick: Japanese positivity in the face of Opium War III

In my Day it was a Tick

There is not enough positivity in Japan, we are told. About ten years ago cultural psychologists toyed with the idea that Japanese people replace high-self evaluation with high other evaluation. But when asked to evaulate their peers it is found that Japanese subjects do not evaluate others as highly as North Americans.

North Americans will tell you that they are great, and that their family members are great too. Japanese will only say that they are average and their mothers are a bit better than average (Endo, Heine, Lehman, 2000). So interpretations of Japanese culture moved away from positivity to social embededness. Japanese do not praise themselves, nor each other, as much as Americans, but they feel a part of the socius. The Japanese live, we are told, to help the hive.

This might be enough. Christian even. The Japanese traverse this vale of tears helping each other, finding meaning in their social contributions rather than their personal positivity, their happiness.

But Westerners have gone on the attack. Chillingly similar to perhaps the greatest holocaust in history -- the Opium Wars-- the sale or pushing of drugs to East Asians to make a buck, Western pharmaceutical companies have succeeded in persuading Japanese that they need to be able tell themselves that they are happy. And if they can not then they need to take Western anti-depression drugs. And sales of anti-depression drugs have increased massively. During the same period Japanese suicide levels have increased by 50%. It is sickening.

My take is always the same. I am not sure if it is true. But to me, above all, Japan is beautiful. Positivity abounds in Japan. It is just that Japanese positivity does not take place in words.

The above image is my son's homework having been 'marked' by his teacher. Personally I don't think that my son has done his homework all that well. But the teacher who is quiet, dour and as thin as a Japanese primary school student in this 40's, has drawn a sort of flower by way of evaluation and encouragement. No ticks or linguistic praise for Japanese students, who work like cattle, only red flowers that explode like suns! Japan is harsh linguistically, but when you look at her, Japan is beautiful.

Endo, Y., Heine, S. J., & Lehman, D. R. (2000). Culture and positive illusions in close relationships: How my relationships are better than yours. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1571-1586. http://www.psych.ubc.ca/%7Eheine/docs/2000rsb.pdf

Sunday, December 14, 2014


The Interdependence of the Visual Self

The Interdependence of the Visual Self

I often make out that the Japanese are just as independent as Westerners it is just that they percieve themselves from the point of view of an eye rather than an ear, a visual rather than linguistic intra-psychic Other (super-addressee, super-addressee, super-ego, impartial spectator, generalised other, cranial comforter, Eve).

Having a visual self makes possible very close-knit, "inderdepended," inter human bonds as these Japanese comics illustrate.

The above is a very Japanese two page spread from "Emblem Take 2" (Kiuchi & Watanabe, 1991, pp 22-23) where a group of three Japanese mafiosi (yakuza) reaffirm their unity, and intention to seek revenge for one of their number who has been shot. The comic is read from the top right and I first translate the words, but the very Japanese bit occurs in the frames where nothing is said.

On the top of the right page, one of the two underlings -- who both look older and tougher than their boss -- says "Though we were born seperately we can die at the same time time. That is the oath of "wine bowl" isn't it?

To which the boss replies mid left "Ha...What "Oat"? You have been watching too many Yakuza movies!"

The underlings then reply, shocked "Big brother!" (how can you be so cold, cynical?).

The remaining frames are almost silent, except for a little laughter, and the three mafiosi leave the hospital as one, in a vendetta kind of mood, we presume.

What is going on? First of all it should be explained that the plege of alliegence to the yakuza gang is performed via an oath where one accepts a bowl (sakazuki) of rice wine from the mafia boss. The recipient keeps the bowl, generally close to their heart, as well as the wine and becomes as one with the boss, the group, and at least one of the family - hence the exclamations of "big brother," by the underlings even though they are not conventionally related.

It is my view that in a sense they are married, and that the ritual of the rice bowl is the same as that shared by Japanese couples when they marry under with the two sips and a gulp rice bowl ritual (san san ku dou 三々九度), where the bride ang groom share a similar bowl of rice wine.

From having performed the ritual, the shape of the bowls, the fact that a diety drinks a reflection in the Kojiki Myth, and my uderstanding of the Japanese visio-imaginary self, I think that both the Sakazuki oath performed by yakuza, and the sansankudou oath performed by marrying couples, represent the drinking of other's reflection, in recognition of the fact that each will exist, interdependently, as seen an imagined in the mirror of each other's heart. But that is all talk.

The actual bonding takes place in the remaining frames where the yakuza look at each other, sweat, laugh, and leave together. If you live in the light then you need and have your companions since, to a large extent, without them you would not have a face.

But at the same time to an extent, the Japanese have a god, an imaginary friend (in two ways), their very own view of themselves, and to that extent their autoscopy, and our, Western, "hearing ourselves speak," facilitates an independent self of sorts. But, they way in which the self facilitates bonding and provides for an illusory independence are two sides of the same coin. The self is social. That Yahew made Eve - the original comforter - out of a piece of our chest results in our cleaving to others and institution of marriage (as illustrated in the next image).

Image page 22 and 23 of Kazumasa Kiuchi (story), Jun Watanabe (Artwork) (1991) "代紋TAKE2." ("Emblem Take 2") Koudansha. www.amazon.co.jp/%e4%bb%a3%e7%b4%8bTAKE2-5-%e3%83%a4%e3%8....

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Admonishing Japan Style

Japan is the empire of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are brain cells that have become quite the vogue in brain cell research in the 21st century. Mirror neurons can do various things. In the extreme they allow humans to see themselves from external perspectives. Generally speaking, according to the examples given in the book I have read, they allow people to understand other people's behaviour visually, because they create in oneself the feeling that one is doing that which one is seeing. Before mirror neurons were discovered, Lacan pointed out that children cry when other children are hurt.

Mirror neuron specialists have shown that we activate the muscles, if only slightly, of the actions that we see other's make. Further, the more we are adept and the movements we see the more this reaction is activated. Pianists jiggle their fingers when they see other pianists playing. Go to a jazz club with a musician to see. Mirror neurons allow us to identify with visual representations of bodies. Experiments demonstrate that subjects feel prosthetic limbs to be their own if they watch a prosthetic limb being poked at the same time as have a poke on their own limb. Indeed, perhaps it is only a matter of tradition or culture that we identify with our own bodily visual representation. My face may be my face by virtue of convention. It is not as if our consciousness, our being, has a face. On another planet or another culture, the faces of our family members could be just as much, or more even, "our own".

The 'centre of gravity' of the human psyche is malleable. At the very least it can be the hero of ones self narrative, or ones face, and very possibly the "I" or face of another. Returning to mirror neurons, and Japanese culture there is a saying in Japan that one should, or that one does, look at the behaviour of others and in so doing see oneself. or that one can see oneself by looking at the behaviour of others (人のふり見て我が身を振り返る). This is general Japanese advice.

It is also a method of admonishing others. If you see a friend or colleague doing something that you do not approve of, then you can tell that person so. Another, Japanese, method of changing someone's behaviour is to impersonate If, for example, your colleague puts his feet on a the canteen table and you do not approve, then, assuming that your colleague has mirror neurons, then all you need to do is mimic your colleague's behaviour. It works. Your colleague will suddenly become Japanese and see their own behaviour, modelled by yours, as their own. http://flic.kr/p/q6en8v

Firstly, this "Japanese method of admonishing" is essentially the same as holding up a mirror to the offender, so that the increase in objective self awareness cause a pro-social modification of behaviour. It is probably only necessary to admonish children and foreigners like me, since most Japanese have a mirror in their heads. But this gives me an idea. If it is true that Japanese do not have a generalised linguistic other in their heads, then perhaps they can be provided with one if an interlocutor repeats their linguistic responses back to them. "So, we should hide this air bag defect".

Seconding, what is happening here? It is less that the subject is being provided with a generalised other/impartial spectator but more that the subject is simply being separated from their actions/utterances by the mimicry of another. The "generalised other" comes naturally when one is represented with ones actions and utterances in the person of someone else. In a strange sense then it is the break causes the evaluation, and if it is true that I evaluate myself linguistically and Japanese visually, then that would suggest contradictorily, that there is a break between me and my voice, and a break between the Japanese and their self-images. If my voice were just me then it would be like my breath and I would ignore it. It is because my voice is *another me* that hear, evaluate, and care about it. Presumably it is because their face is not me but "another me" that the Japanese pay attention to, evaluate, and care about it.

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Omotenashi may be Unwelcome and Unwelcoming

The Japanese are proud of their Omotenashi, "service of the heart", where the server not only provides what the customer asks for but provides what the server judges the customer needs may not be as bad as a kick in the teeth, and will often be an interesting cultural experience, but it may not be felt to be entirely welcoming, or welcome to Westerners. Westerners like to fool themselves that they are young, independent, and capable. So when people offer them help without their asking, it is like becing told that they are incabable and they find this to be stressfu than receiving help only when they ask for it (left hand two bars). More grateful, realistic East Asians on the other hand are aware that they need help, and that others will often know when to help them before they know it themselves. They also do not want to be a burned upon others so, they do not like asking for things. Hence East Asians tend to find it less stressful to be helped without having to ask for help (right hand two bars in the above graph). In other words, while East Asians may find "Omotenashi," service of the heart, welcoming, it may be unwelcome to Westerners. Image from p92 of Mojaverian, T., & Kim, H. S. (2013). Interpreting a Helping Hand Cultural Variation in the Effectiveness of Solicited and Unsolicited Social Support. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(1), 88–99. doi:10.1177/0146167212465319 http://flic.kr/p/qnvNqe

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21 Century Fumie

A station in Japan has come up with a way of preventing cyclists from parking their bicycles in the wrong places. They have affixed cute drawings by children on the ground next to the rail that people were using to lock their bicycles to. 0 timtak The Japanese feeling highly identified with the visual world and visual representations of themselves and others. While they can say "I'm stupid," and not take a hit to their self esteem, since they have not internalised a linguistic "generalised other," The Japanese really do not like looking bad, in auto photography, while playing sport, in self-representing Manga. And they do not like visually denigrating things that they like and admire, such as, famously, "stepping stones" (or fumie) used to test whether Japanese were Christians or not during the period of suppresion of Christianity. The Edo period authorities new that if they just asked the Japanese "Are you a Christian" they would prevaricate "No, I have given up on that (and will take it up again tomorrow)," "No (but I am still trying to become one)." But if they were forced to stamp on an effigy of the Holy Virgin, then if they were Christian, they would not be able to do it. A recent researcher has used this method to test Japanese self esttem by getting them to put crosses on words for self and other. Crossing out is the paper and pen version of stamping. And so back to the images above, they may prove effective in preventing cyclists from parking their bicycles next to the railings but they may also prevent passers by from standing on them, causing as much, or more, conjestion that the illegally parked bicycles that they prevent. Image from Japan Today and originally from Rocket News. Mori, K., Uchida, A., & Imada, R. (2008). A paper-format group performance test for measuring the implicit association of target concepts. Behavior research methods, 40(2), 546-555. Mori, K. (2003). The development of the FUMIE Test for measuring the implicit association of target words to negative emotions. In Proceedings of the 44th Annual Convention of the Japanese Society for Social Psychology (pp. 104–105). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/1wARiLF http://flic.kr/p/pqHbRn

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Noh Kata And the Eye Apart

Writing in the 15th century Noh expert Zeami wrote that through his practice of Noh forms, such as that shown above (where a man is playing woman) the Noh practioner is able to gain an eye apart, a sight of himself from a position away from himself (riken no ken 離見の見) as if from the position of his audience. In the 21 first century Kyari Pamyu Pamyu performed a formulaic dance before spewing eyebals that encircle her in the video for Pon Pon Pon. Image: school festival and others 038 by Olivia Blackburn @ Flickr http://flic.kr/p/q5TDoD

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Noh Kata And the Eye Apart

Writing in the 15th century Noh expert Zeami wrote that through his practice of Noh forms, such as that shown above (where a man is playing woman) the Noh practioner is able to gain an eye apart, a sight of himself from a position away from himself (riken no ken 離見の見) as if from the position of his audience. In the 21 first century Kyari Pamyu Pamyu performed a formulaic dance before spewing eyeballs that encircle her in the video for Pon Pon Pon. Image: school festival and others 038 by Olivia Blackburn @ Flickr http://flic.kr/p/q5TDoD

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Interation in Space

Interation in Space by Timtak @ Flickr

In "Bodies that Matter" Judith Butler argues that the repeated creation of bodily forms aids in the identification with a material self since the principal, defining characteristic of signification is iterability (after Derrida, 1978): the possibility, or guarantee, of exact repetition, sameness, at a later time. In order to be or become a "body that matters", that signifies, that has meaning, bodies must also be repeatable "iterable" in time, she argues.

I believe that Japanese achieve identification with their bodies through the awareness of their bodies iterability in space. Forms (kata) are practised by rows of practitioners in emulation of an instructor, and or in front of mirrors, as is the case in Kyuudou (Japanese archery). The practioner is multiplied, iterated, and the form (kata) is felt to be authenticopied in space. The Japanese do not hear themselves in the future, but see themselves from outside. The Japanese Other is not deferred but displaced.

Butler, J. (2013). "Bodies That Matter"
Derrida, J. (1978). Writing and difference. University of Chicago Press.

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Misery Matters Less in Japan: Or its okay to say "I am sad"

Misery is Okay in Japan

Despite attempts by pharmaceuticals companies to persuade the Japanese that when they feel sad they have a "cold of the heart," and should take antidepressants, there is still less of a link between negative effect (feeling sad) and both physical and mental well-being. In Japan it is okay to feel sad, and there is even an aesthetic of enjoying sadness in the form of loneliness and the fleeting nature of things-human.

The above graph shows the relationship between those that report negative affect and those that report negative physical conditions (the first two sets of data) and positive psychological conditions. As one can see, there is less of a positive direct correlation between feeling sad and being ill, and less of a negative inverse correlation between feeling sad and having low self-esteem or psychological well being.

It should also be noted that the whole research paradigm is based upon self reports and may not have a lot of meaning in reality. That people say they are happy, or have psychological well being only proves that they say they are happy, and say that they have psychological well being. In Japan it is okay to say that one is sad, blue or upset.

Image, reproduced without permission, from p3 of Curhan, K. B., Sims, T., Markus, H. R., Kitayama, S., Karasawa, M., Kawakami, N., ... & Ryff, C. D. (2014). Just How Bad Negative Affect Is for Your Health Depends on Culture. Psychological science, 0956797614543802. http://ift.tt/1vI7zML http://flic.kr/p/q4QUZk

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May’s Pink Mirror as Goshintai

This is the god shelf (kamidana) in our beach house. I have yet to purchase a tablet bearing the name of a deity, as a Goshintai (ご神体)the an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine which is believed to contain the spirit of a deity. Instead I am using a small round pink mirror. If you pray in words, you will come to believe that someone is always listening. If you pray to a mirror using bodily movements then you will come to believe that someone is always watching. Shinto prayer is bodily movement, two bows, two claps, one bow. It is the primal form or kata that allows Japanese to transform into beings of light in the tradition of Ultraman, Mirrorman, and generations and generations of Power Rangers and Masked Riders. http://flic.kr/p/q4CYRy

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