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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Japanese Think with their Fingers

In professor Mitsuyasu Miyazaki's last lecture (Translation as Communication) he performed a translation of a Japanese novel, writing on the blackboard as he did so claiming that his use of the chalk and his hands would extend his powers of comprehension and expression. There is research (Sasaki & Watanabe, 1984) to show that he is right, about Japanese and Chinese at least.

If you observe Japanese in conversation, or even performing some linguistic talks on their own, you may see them making strange movements in the air. They are generally tracing kanji (Sino-Japanese ideograms) in order to clarify a homonym to an interlocutor, or to remember a kanji for themselves. When asked to interpret kanji written in the air, it helps if they write the kanji themselves also in the air.

And in a cross cultural study, twelve English words that are taught at Japanese middle school, with some of their letters missing, were shown to Japanese and non kanji using subjects. It was found that those Japanese that were allowed to write in the air, or think with their fingers, were more successful in interpreting the incomplete words, than those who were forbidden from writing in the air. The reverse effect was found among those from countries that do not use ideographic characters. In other words, the Japanese think visually using their fingers. Furthermore, of relevance to conversations teachers like myself, this research demonstrates that Japanese remember English words morphologically as graphemes. No wonder I have such a tough time teaching them to speak.

Japanese also think with their fingers when performing visual checks such as of bullet trains, as discussed elsewhere. It is found that it is particularly the point of the "finger point and call" tests that decreases reaction times (Shinohara, Morimoto & Kubota, 2009).

Image based upon figure 2 in
佐々木正人, & 渡辺章. (1984). 「空書」 行動の文化的起源. The Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 32(3), 182–190. Retrieved from jlc.jst.go.jp/DN/JST.JSTAGE/jjep1953/32.3_182?from=Google
篠原一光, 森本克彦, & 久保田敏裕. (2009). 指差喚呼が視覚的注意の定位に及ぼす影響. 人間工学, 45(1), 54–57. doi:10.5100/jje.45.54

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Circada do not Speak to the Japanese: The Japanese don't really speak to each other!

Circada do not Speak to the Japanese: The Japanese don't really speak to each other!
Tadanobu Tsunoda (e.g. 1975) using data on the identification of sounds presented monaurally to both ears, claims that the Japanese, unlike speakers of Indo-European languages process natural sounds such as of insects (e.g. cicada) with the left hemisphere that is usually associated with language processing. He claims that this is due to Japanese attentiveness to nature and the characteristics of the vowels in Japanese and other East Asian/Pacific languages.

His research was dismissed as pseudo-science by some (Dale, 1993), but with the recent boom in research into cognitive styles (e.g. Masuda & Nisbett, 2001), and recent research into culture and the brain (e.g. Kitayama & Uskul, 2011), his research may come under reappraisal.

As noted Tsunoda (1975) found that among Japanese, natural sounds such as those of insects and music were processed more effectively by the left brain which is more generally associated with linguistic processing. He concluded that the Japanese were hearing nature speak to them.

However, other research has suggested that the Japanese thought processes are disrupted, as opposed to enhanced, by phonetic speech (Kim, 2002), that the phonetic word content is less important that vocal tone (Ishii, Reyes, & Kitayama, 2003), the Japanese show an amazing ability to ignore phonetic language (Nakajima, 1997) such as all the announcements, that there is a lack of dialogue in Japanese society in general (Nakajima, ibid), and that Japanese thought may be particularly visual in nature (Takemoto and Brinthaupt, in preparation).

So it may be the case that, rather than that insects are speaking to the Japanese, both cacophony of cicada and phonetic speech are not speaking to the Japanese for whom phonemes are sound and fury signifying very little. On the contrary the Japanese, due to the visual nature of the culture and the use of Sino-Japanese characters which (unlike their Chinese counterparts) are not associated with single phonemes (Wydell, Butterworth, & Patterson, 1995; Perfetti, 2002), may do more of their symbolic processing in the visual, right hemisphere. Or again put another way it is not that insect sounds processing have swapped to the language hemisphere but that a greater degree of symbolic processing may take place in the visual hemisphere - as may also be the case with speakers of sign languages. It certainly appears true that Japanese read Kanji at least partly from their shape (Wydell, Patterson, & Humphreys, 1993). This would also explain why Barthes, who did not believe in meaningful visual signs, felt Japan to be "The Empire of the Signs" (Barthes, 1983) which were yet "empty signs," signifying no-phonemes, with no gloss, but to the Japanese replete with meaning.

This view is supported by the fact that cicada create a brain-numbing cacophony, as suggested by the famous Haiku by Matsuo Basho
silence - the screams of cicadas seep into the rocks,
and that traditional Japanese music such as Gagaku and Kagura Uta tends to be less symbolic (compared to Bach at least) more directly emotive or atmospheric nature. As Dale (1993) points out it is rather preposterous to suggest that the Japanese are simply better at deciphering the sounds of nature and music. But it may be the case that nature does not speak to the Japanese, nor in a Western way do the Japanese speak to each other, but that the Japanese hear and understand the tone of nature's -- and each others' -- voices (Ishii, Reyes, & Kitayama, 2003). That is to say, the Japanese cognise their environment in a different way (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001).

Barthes, R. (1983). Empire of Signs. (R. Howard, Trans.). Hill and Wang.
Dale, P. (1993). The Voice of Cicadas: Linguistic Uniqueness, Tsunoda Tananobu’s Theory of the Japanese Brain, and Some Classical Perspectives. Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics, 1(6).
Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Kitayama, S., & Uskul, A. K. (2011). Culture, mind, and the brain: Current evidence and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 419–449. Retrieved from www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-12070...
Ishii, K., Reyes, J. A., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Spontaneous Attention to Word Content Versus Emotional Tone. Psychological Science, 39–46. Retrieved from php.scripts.psu.edu/users/n/x/nxy906/COMPS/indivdualisman...
Masuda, T., & Nisbett, R. E. (2001). Attending holistically versus analytically: comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(5), 922. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/81/5/922/
Nakajima, Y. 中島, 義道. (1997). 「対話」のない社会―思いやりと優しさが圧殺するもの (A society without dialogue: Things wiped out by sympathy gentleness). PHP研究所.
Tsunoda, T. (1975). Functional differences between right-and left-cerebral hemispheres detected by the key-tapping method. Brain and Language, 2, 152–170. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0093934X75800617
Wydell, T. N., Butterworth, B., & Patterson, K. (1995). The inconsistency of consistency effects in reading: The case of Japanese Kanji. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(5), 1155. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-13614-001
Wydell, T. N., Patterson, K. E., & Humphreys, G. W. (1993). Phonologically mediated access to meaning for Kanji: Is a rows still a rose in Japanese Kanji? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 19(3), 491–514. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.19.3.491

Image copyright
Image Copyright: Circada by Michael Lacey, on Flickr

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Monday, January 26, 2015


Look at this Figure Now!

Look at this Figure Now!
"Look at this figure now!" the image above is one of many mother and child joint attention pictures from the floating world of ukiyoe artists which, according to the famed psychologist Osamu Kitayama, express something important about the Japanese mind. It shows a mother showing her rather terrified child a glove puppet.

Osamu Kitayama is right and further, I think that these express the cosmology of the Japanese.

If one has (or has modelled) a linguistic, listening father figure, "super-ego," or "generalised other" in ones mind then concepts or later "matter;" that dark stuff that has properties, can be thought to be the essence of things and the visuals, "res extensa" a fleeting subjective veneer.

But, if one shares ones heart with a vast and joint attentive seeing mother, then the figure, or face, can be the centre of gravity of the self, and of things also.

Words and their meanings are no less subjective. The deciding factor is the nature of ones generalised other: does s/he hear or see.

I don't think that there can be any deciding who is right about the cosmos, but it is interesting to note that scientists are now experimenting to see whether the universe is two dimensional a two dimensional floating world in which three dimensionality is an "emergent" property.

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Friday, January 23, 2015


Japanese Psychotherapy for PTSD

As war continues around the globe more and more veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder characterised by aggressiveness, nightmares, flashbacks, and feeling like one is under a spotlight in crowds (e.g. in this collection of testimonies - one can ignore the politics). One veteran characterised PTSD as generally not being able to get over certain painful images which affect ones perception of the present. If so then perhaps Japanese psychotherapeutic methods might be of some help.

Lacan argues that if we can’t express something to ourselves, because we have mixed emotions about it, or it is too shameful or painful, it returns as a symptom. So, he said, symptoms are expressions or signs. Many psychologists including Lacan tend to emphasize language, so his theory becomes “What we can’t think, i.e. say to ourselves, return as symptoms, and if we say the experiences, talk about the experiences, then we stop producing the symptoms. However, there are lots of therapies that are not about talking, and several of them are popular in Japan.

Morita Therapy
Morita therapy is a bit like becoming a hermit for a while. Morita was a psychotherapist who treated Japanese people with “social phobia”. Such people often become hermits. Rather than going against the flow, he confined his patients to their rooms. Then gradually as the patient got bored, he would give them tasks such as cleaning the corridor outside their room, or weeding the garden outside their window, and encouraged the patients to realize that in fact that want to reintegrate with society. With respect of other symptoms as well, rather than going against the flow, Morita encouraged patients to accept their symptoms -- trying to stop them makes them worse – and generally aim towards ‘a whatever will be will be’ (‘ari no mama’ in Japanese) mentality towards them and life in general.

Dohsa (movement) Therapy
Dohsa just means movement in Japanese. This therapy is defined consciously in opposition to talking cures. While many therapies proceed using words as the medium or vector between the client and the therapist, movement therapy uses movement, massage, and other bodily contact. I have a picture of people massaging the backs of people in crouched position, or getting into a sort of T-shape, with intertwined legs. Since this therapy is so non-verbal it is essentially difficult to describe. Books on Dohsa therapy contain little theory, but lists of positions and movements. I think that it may be difficult to get good Dohsa treatment outside of Japan since the therapist would also have had to have had bodily experience.

Tsubo (Pot or Potted) Image Therapy
Seiichi Tashima, a professor from Kyushu University developed this for his clients due to his in ability to use image therapy with them. Image therapy again uses not words but images, asking patients to visualize various images associated with their symptoms. Prof Tashima found that his patients would become too emotional if they did this, or they were too scared of the rush of emotions to do it. His solution was to create a controlled form of image therapy by the most direct of means. He first encouraged his patients to image a large pot with a lid – the lid being the important part. He would then encourage them to image that the pot contained certain positive images. Then the clients would practice experiencing those positive images by opening and closing the lid of the pot that they imagined in their mind. Once they had mastered this use of an imaginary pot to control images, he encouraged them to imagine another pot containing the problematic images. The clients are at first encouraged to open the lid only a little very briefly, just to take a glimpse, and then shut the imaginary lid firmly, and repeat this until they are sure that they can control the flow of images in this way. And then, alternating between positive and negative images, clients are encouraged to increase the amount of time that they can spend with the negative ones until, eventually, they are able to get into the pot with bad images, and just let them flow, like Morita therapy. Rather than a pot one might use anything with a lid or a door.

Sand Play Therapy
This was imported by perhaps the most famous post-war Japanese psychologist, Hayao Kawaii. He studied Japanese mythology from a Jungian perspective and claimed that Sand Play Therapy is Jungian, having been developed by a Swiss Jungian called Kaff who called it the sand play technique. Kawaii gave it a new name “boxed garden therapy” and it became very popular for treating children in Japan. In a box about 2 feet square children are encouraged to make a mythical world representing their own. Clients use lots of figures, trees, vehicles and the therapist just watches the client make this world. It is found that while at first the children may start by making an island in the garden surrounded by monsters, they one day add a bridge and give the monsters hats, or otherwise gradually create a new more peaceful garden. And all the while even though the therapist just watches, the children eventually express themselves to the extent that their symptoms go away. And of course, it is noted that the primary characteristic of sand play therapy, or boxed garden therapy, is its non-verbal, visual nature. Further, it occurs to me now that the “box” of the boxed garden may have a function similar to that of the pot in Potted Image Therapy – to confine the images within a physical and mental location so that the client can interact with them in controlled way. I can't image Veterans playing with toy monsters,or toy soldiers, but it is not inconceivable.

Osamu Kitayama’s Looking Together
Osamu Kitayama noted that images of women and children were a popular theme in pictures from the floating world, appearing when pornographic pictures were under strict censure. Sometimes the faces of the children resemble those of older men. The viewers of these mother and children pictures may have gained therefore some kind of libidinal pleasure from viewing them. Their prime characteristic is that mother and child are viewing something together. Generally the mother is holding up something, or pointing to something ephemeral, such as bubbles, cherry blossom, or something dangling by a string. In the above images by Harunobu Suzuki, the mother and child are watching a little bird or some fireflies in a cage. These ephemera are the quintessence of Buddhist impermanence - ‘the floating world. The child and mother are looking at this floating phenomena in wonder. As a result of his awareness of this genre of images, Kitayama moved towards attempting, rather than to talk about, to “see together” with his patients. I believe that Kitayama, his students, and their clients face the same direction and while using speech, do not attempt to rationalize but simply use speech it to call to mind images in both client and therapist. Kitayama referenced the cinema of Ozu, such as “Tokyo Story”, where family members have sparse conversations facing the same direction, seeming simply to share the same images, sunsets, and memories.

Naikan Introspective Therapy
Naikan therapy is rather like Freudian psychoanalysis in that it encourages clients to look over their past and restructure
their view of themselves as the world. It was developed from a Buddhist practice of “self-searching” where practitioners
would isolate themselves, and go over their lives, asking themselves whether, if they died now, they would go to heaven or hell.

Ishin Yoshimoto, the founder of Naikan therapy removed the Buddhist and supernatural elements, and gave clients a framework. They are to think about specific relationships (such as themselves and their mother, themselves and their spouse) over specific periods of time, and given three questions:
1)What did that person do for you
2)What did you do in return for that person
3)What aggravation did you cause for that person
Clients find that, especially in their childhood, they were in receipt of a lot of love, affection and hard work on the part of their care givers, and that they have done very little in return, but have rather caused a lot of aggravation. This is almost the complete opposite of Freudian therapy where clients are often encouraged to find trauma caused by care-givers (sometimes purely imagined, false memories). Naikan also differs from Freudian therapy in that all this process is carried out in the clients imagination. Clients confine themselves to a small space the size of a cupboard, and go through their lives from childhood to the present time a year or two at a time and imagine all these instances of kindness in images, reporting to the therapist for only 5 minutes in each hour. These reports are merely to ensure that that the client has not wavered from the task. The therapy itself is carried out by the clients. Clients generally find it difficult to call to mind the images at first, but as they learn to see themselves from the point of view of the people that loved them, the images come in waves. Clients generally cry in the realization of how much they have been loved. So while on the face of it, it can seem that Introspective therapy is very self-negating, it is conversely very positive because it is the realization of how much aggravation that one has caused that one realizes how much one has been loved.
This therapy is particularly useful in treating anti-social problems such as alcoholism (one of very few therapies to have any effect), drug addiction, prevalent among veterans.
Japanese people come out of a week sitting in a cupboard (or behind a Japanese screen) feeling really sunny, refreshed
and with a will to help everyone that has helped them.

Auto-Photographic Method
This therapy was influenced by my early research asking students to take 20 photographs expressing themselves. The Japanese are not good at expressing themselves verbally often mentioning others and their groups, but they are very positive and self-focused in their auto-photography. Japanese pose, stand up straight, and care about how they look. Mukoyama has her clients take photographs representing themselves, of the things that are important to them, and their issues, and looks at these photographs with her clients.

Returning to Lacan's theory, it seems very possible that it is not only “things not said” that return as symptoms, but also things that cannot be seen -- called to mind. And that in order to cure symptoms, both saying and seeing – or calling to the minds eye - are effective ways of preventing or, rather encouraging, the return of the repressed, in a controlled way, with other people’s help. This sort of image therapy may ordinarily be more appropriate to Japanese but perhaps also for those who have been exposed to traumatic images.

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Jimanga Correlate more than verbal Measures

As well as being more positive, jimanga (manga self-esteem scale), in its first iteration, and the manga social support scale, likewise, correlate more than verbal Self Esteem and Perceived Social Support. The verbal and visual self esteem scales do not correlate at all. http://flic.kr/p/qBWCsQ

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Thursday, January 22, 2015


Manga Social Support Scale

The correlation between self-esteem and percieved social support is very strong among American. For example a Pearson correlation coefficient of a massive r= 0.82 was found by Budd, Buschman, & Esch, (2009). People who talk the talk, and are typically positive about themselves, have lots of friends, or say that they have lots of friends. This is all as it should be since self-esteem may be a "sociometer" (Leary & Baumeister, 2000) measuring ones social worth.

Japanese show only a weak correlation between self-esteem and perceived social support. In a recent survey of mine in Japan, the correlation between perceived social support and self-esteem was found to be 0.36. This is assumed to be because as "collectivists," the Japanese are thought to place a greater emphasis on humility and social censure and unpopularity may be heaped upon those who talk themselves up.

All the same, the lack of self-esteem among Japanese, with levels at about 63% of Americans, is thought to be a problem. I think that problemitization of the lack of self esteem among Japanese, as measured by the Rosenberg Self Esteem scale is "Because of the pivotal and often grossly exaggerated role attributed to verbal language"(Furth, 1973) which is as unimportant to the Japanese (Kim, 2002) as it is to the deaf (Furth, ibid).

The correlation between Manga Social Support and the Jimanga Manga Self esteem Scale, was however a more robust 0.52. Not as strong as found linguistically among Americans, but at least those that represent themselves positively in manga, represent their social support positively in manga as well. I hope to be able to have the artist, Ms. M. Fujimura, make a male version of the above scale with a male protagonist and male friends, which should improve the correlation.

Thanks to Ms. Fujimura and Professor Yoshiko Tanno of Tokyo University, whose invitation to present to his seminar students, about 10 years ago, inspired this research.

Budd, A., Buschman, C., & Esch, L. (2009). The correlation of self-esteem and perceived social support. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences, 8(1). Retrieved from http://ift.tt/1yOMVh6
Furth, H. G. (1973). Further thoughts on thinking and language. Psychological Bulletin, 79(3), 215–216. doi:10.1037/h0034011
Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. Retrieved from http://ift.tt/1AQEj4E http://flic.kr/p/qBhJpH

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Friday, January 16, 2015


I am Charlie: Not a mere image

I am Charlie. Not a Mere Image.

With the tragic slaying of French journalists, and caricature artists, most of the world mourns, myself included.

In Japan however, the reaction was tempered. The Asahi Newspaper, normally quite vociferous regarding the protection of freedom of expression, even featured the following satirical poem (which are, I would argue, the linguistic Japanese equivalent of "mere image" satirical cartoons) this morning


Freedom of expression
Includes added

The hatred referred to in the satirical poem may refer also perhaps to the murders, but I am afraid it refers primarily to the "Freedom of expression" in which the Japanese satirical writer felt there was an admixture of hatred.

I am Charlie, not a "mere image"

Joe Sacco, the artist of this second image implied in his cartoon "Joe Sacco: On Satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks" that as a result of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, then even if there was no hatred in Charlie Hebo's expressions, Muslims have geopolitical reasons, and suffering, to be especially sensitive towards being represented in a humiliating way, as blacks and Jews do, or did especially in the past.

It is my view, however, there are additionally enduring cultural reasons why Asians are more sensitive to humiliating images, because unlike Westerners, they do not see them as "mere" images but rather even representations with which they may identify. Images bear meanings, soul, love and even hate.

This difference in the cultural perception of images may be one possible factor in the tragedy. There are laws against "hate speech" in many Western countries, but when it comes to images, they are thought/seen to be "mere" images.

Since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle, Westerners have believed that they and the world are not "mere images", nor any part of this fleeting photostream of sense impressions, but that there is another world of "forms", "concepts", or more recently "physical matter", that underpins the image. In Japan, on the other hand, Tetsuro Watsuji (1937) argued that it is the face, or mask, that provides the "centre of gravity" of the Japanese self, not a concept, nor a self-narrative.

Westerners believe the self to be a product of the self-narrative, the experience of hearing themselves speak. This is related to the nature of the "generalised other" (Mead, 1967) or "superaddressee" (Bakhtin) to whom Westerners, but not Japanese, address themselves in language-as-thought (Kim, 2002).

In other places, where there are more literal "impartial spectators," -- the Japanese have a mirror, or the Sun Goddess, in their heads -- people exist as seen (see Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008). People, groups, and things do not centre upon shared concepts, but are a network of binary relations (Yuki, 2003; Lacan, 2007, see e.g. Pile, 2013 p. 130), usually with a representative "character" such as Kumamon, "persona" or face such as that of his Royal Highness the Emperor and symbol of Japan.

The image above top is not the man but "merely" an image in the West. Here in Japan, however, the deceased are represented as images(iei, 遺影)in which their souls are thought to an extent to inhere.
May the man, his soul, those that loved him and the world, have peace.

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.
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 http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/2008Mirrors.pdf
Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828.
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.
Pile, S. (2013). The Body and the City: Psychoanalysis, Space and Subjectivity. Routledge. https://books.google.co.jp/books?id=X1qN4siP0AcC&lpg=PA130&ots=lrX_8UPWUn&dq=lacan%20%22binary%20relationships%22%20Imaginary&pg=PA130#v=onepage&q=lacan%20%22binary%20relationships%22%20Imaginary&f=false
Yuki, M. (2003). Intergroup comparison versus intragroup relationships: A cross-cultural examination of social identity theory in North American and East Asian cultural contexts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 166–183. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/1519846.pdf
Watsuji, T 和辻哲郎. (1937). 面とぺルソナ. 岩波書店.

See Also
One Japanese article suggests that the leniency towards cartoons has something to do with the Western ego.

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Jimanga Test of Self Esteem 2

Asian social psychologists use linguistic scales and wonder why they are plagued by weak correlations and poor effect sizes. The Japanese do not think in language (Kim, 2002) and are not homonarans (Kerby, 人言). They have instead of a "generalised other," an eye in the sky of their mind, a mirror in their head, and consequently very positive visual self representations, because unlike mere words, images matter. Thanks to eating all hose mirror rice cakes, and practising forms (kata), the Japanese have the Sun-Goddess in their hearts and are people who live in the light (日人).

Manga by Miki Fujimura. There is another set of 14 manga that are the stimuli. This is the response page. Email me for the complete set (as yet untested). Thank you Ms. Fujimura.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Kanji in the Mirror of the Heart

If you can read these, you are Japanese. If you are Japanese it will help to write the Kanji in the air (空書 see Sasaki & Watanabe, 1984), as Japanese people do from the age of about ten. If you are not Japanese (or Kanji culture native) then writing the characters in the air will probably impede your ability to read them. In any event the Japanese are mirroring, using their mirror neurons, and this is the counterpart to the Western ability to understand phonetic language from a third person perspective.

This ability to turn to view things from 180 degrees away from their line of sight, to see apart from sight (離見の見), enables Japanese people to have a visual self, which focussing as it does upon the surface of the body, is at the same time a reminder of the principle of interdependence. This visual self, is in my opinion the interdependent self (Markus and Kitayama, 1991).

Reminding Japanese as it does of the interdependence and externality of self - the Japanese see themselves in their games, dreams and memories - the Japanese visual self also allows the Japanese to change, chameleon-like, and have a set of selves, or characters , appropriate to the social milieu in which they are situated.

I hope that the ability to read these reflected Kanji will correlate with private shame, and interdependent self views but since both measures are linguistic, and the Japanese are not, I do not anticipate a strong correlation.

Sasaki & Watanabe 佐々木正人, & 渡辺章. (1984). 「空書」 行動の文化的起源. The Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 32(3), 182-190.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Tea Ceremony Forms by Pinky Joe

Practicing kata or forms, such as kicks and punches in Karate, or the motions of making tea, allow you see yourself from the outside and provide you with a sight apart from sight (離見の見, Zeami) 茶道 - 0432 by Pinky Joe, on Flickr

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Monday, January 12, 2015


Mythic Islands: The significance of "Big Island"

Annotated Google Map of the the 14 Islands mention have been born in the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) creation myth of Japan. The prevalence of Islands created in the myth, rather than mountains for instance, suggests that the mythographers were a sea or costal people, and that the ama (e.g. of Amaterasu) which has come to mean heaven, derived from the word for sea people also "ama." Bearing the concentration of Islands it seems reasonable to suppose that the mythographer's world centered Western Japan or Kyushu, and probably on the Seto Insland Sea. Further, noting that the 11th Island born was called simply "Big Island" (now Suo-OoShima) though it is not large compared to Shikoku, Kyushu and Honshu, or even Awaji Island it seems linguistically implied to me that it was large in the context of its size and position to the mythographers. Thus Big Island likely to have been the nearest big, but not vast, inland sea island to those that were doing the naming. This suggests to me that the mythographers were to the West of Big Island rather than to the East, where there are several bigger islands, and probably near to Big Island for it to have been named in this generic way. The centre of Mythic Japan thus may have been somewhere in the Suo-Nada Insland Sea, the Western half of the Seto Inland sea. Big Island is in the centre of the 13 island mentioned in the Record of Ancient Matters not including Honshu. I have not put a mark on Honshu, which, somewhere in Western Japan, is likely to have been the centre of the mythographer's world. http://flic.kr/p/qLR2d9

Thursday, January 08, 2015


Writing, and Speaking, in Space in Time

This one is a no-brainer. My eight year old Japanese son is already able to write letters to his Japanese mother in space, in time, using his finger which I am unable to read despite the fact that I am as yet somewhat better than him at Kanji. I just can't seem to be able to maintain the trace in space of the finger moving through time.

This sort of test should be doable using an animation function in Powerpoint. I predict that Japanese who have high private shame will be able to recreate characters written in space and time. Somehow I feel that there would also be a greater ability among those Japanese, like my son, that practice forms or kata (in my son's case, karate kata/forms). Again, this ability, to read characters written in space in time, is greater among the deaf, who do not use phonetic mental imagery.

I may have a greater ability than many Japanese to maintain a phonetic trace in time due to all the time I spend "listening to myself." Derrida writes: To listen to oneself, can that be pleasant? Can one find that pleasant without the nasty taste of a poison, or the foretaste of an illness? I doubt that more and more.

Image from Emmorey, K., Kosslyn, S. M., & Bellugi, U. (1993). Visual imagery and visual-spatial language: Enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers. Cognition, 46(2), 139-181.

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Seeing Sideways Like the Deaf

The Benton Facial Recognition Test tests subjects ability to recognise faces seen from other angles. I predict that Japanese, especially those with high private shame, would be better at this test due to their improved ablity to see an imagine from a simulated perspective.

When Japanese sit in circles in groups they often have a great ability to sense the consensus of the group as judged from the expressions and non verbal communication of other group members. I find myself having to move my head to look at the all the other members in order to be able to mimic the same trick, but Japanese seem to be able to use peripheral vision and oblique facial views. I have also hypothesized that the Japanese should have cognitive skills similar to those of the deaf, since they are less likely to use (and their problem solving skills are even impaired by using) phonetic mental imagery (Kim, 2002).

Deaf children are better at the Benton test as shown in the above graph. Japanese subjects should outperform Western subjects too but direct comparisons would be difficult due to the need to use a different set of faces. I note that an Asian versio of the test exists.

Image from Emmorey, K., Kosslyn, S. M., & Bellugi, U. (1993). Visual imagery and visual-spatial language: Enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers. Cognition, 46(2), 139-181.

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Japanese can See Inside Things

Ball and Torrence (1978) found that east Asians were more able to create visualisations of the internal dynamic working of things. Subjects from ten countries East and West were given the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, where they are asked to make pictures out of lines and circles. These were graded according to a number of criterion, and the ability to create Internal visualization, such as that shown in the slide by Evelien Rogie. In a recent experiment on my students I tested whether they were able to distinguish between rotated and flipped rotated figures. This ability appeared to correlate, weakly, with private shame - the tendency to be ashamed of something because one does not like how it looks to oneself. Internal visualisation, like the ability to spot flipped, mirror image shapes, requires that one takes a perspect from, to use Noh performer Zeami's phrase, an sight apart from sight (riken no ken 離見の見). Zeami claimed that the practice of Noh forms allows their practioners to see themselves fro the point of view of the audience. Many of the tests of visual ability are alas however, verbal report tests (such as the VVIQ) to which traditional, self-effancing Japanese with excellent visualising skills may underplay their performance. http://flic.kr/p/qFAUg5

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Monday, January 05, 2015


The Game of Life

My seminar student, Miki Fujimura, and I have theorised, in accordance with Naclanian theory, that Westerners and Japanese expect rather different things from the games that they play, and analysed computer games accordingly. Japanese computer games have a high level of fantasy in their depiction - their visual aspect is simplified and idealised to the point of heros becoming very look-alike styliszed "characters" (in the Mario/Kitty/Kirby-esque sense of the word) but they offer interesting, branching, story paths, that resemble life (like the Game of Life, or Sugoroku created by my wife pictured above). Sugoroku is a board game like sntakes and ladders, in which one rolls a dice to see which of the paths one follows to reach a destination. It has been created and played since at least the Edo peroid, whith the boards often representing a journey or tourism experience ending at mount fuji for instance. The game above shows routes ending at our houses and the local swimming pool.

Western games on the other hand, such as Call of Duty, aim for highly realistic visual depictions to the point where it almost feels like the game is visually real but simplified idealised stories where basically almost all of them consist in a battle-field where one shoots and kills a lot of enemies, and or drives fast, and that is it. That is to say the Japanese want realism in the linguistic (story) aspect of the game, but idealisation in the visuals, whereas Americans want realism in the visuals, but simplified idealisation in the story. In line with this, the area in which one can choose is also limited by their respective realism. While Japanese games (like the sugoroku above) have realistic stories one often is constrained by them.

In the game above there are different game paths but no choice as to which path one can take, which (like in "The Game of Life") is decided by the roll of a dice. One is however offered a wide in the visual aspect of the variety of characters that one can become. In Call of Duty, I predict that there is a wide variation in the routes one can take through the battlefield but I hypothesise that the number of people - in terms of their visual aspect - one can control is very limited.

Japanese games usually also provide an objective visual perspective on the player, seen from the outside. The Japanese player becomes the "impartial spectator" or "generalised other" of the stylised visual avatar that he controls. Japanese games mirror Japanese life. Similarly the Western player becomes the linguistic impartial spectatory or generalised other of the character that he controls, as we do in life, but I am not sure in what game phenomenon that this consists. I guess it is related to the way in which Western games are often equipped with headsets using which one can talk to other players. Verbally the Western player is - like the Japanese viewpoint on Mario- out of the action, ablel to say "Oh no I have just died," but experience his own visual death with the screen going red and or blank. Japanese can watch mario drop out of the screen, while their viewpoint remains visually immortal.

In addition to tourism, reviewed in the next post, this relates (Mr. Imamura) to the hopes and dreams that Japanese and Westerners have of the afterlife. Westerners (asterror management theory proves) aim for symbolic importality, to keep on talking or being talked about after they die. They want to become the fiction that they have lived. Japanese however, hope to live on in the visuals that they have created - primarily their offsprung- their grave, the picture hanging above the household buddhist altar and imagining themselves visiting and watch and protecting their family once or twice a year, at least at the festival of obon. The Japanese too want to become the fantasy that they have lived upon their death. Fame in the sense of name is far less important.

Come to think of it Ms. Fujimura has pointed to a great way of understanding Japanese and Western culture since each express themslves, their selves, their ideals, so vividly in their games. Thank you Miki Fujimoto.

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Friday, January 02, 2015


Caught in Kawaii: The proprioception of the pretty

Japan is swimming in "Kawaii" cutery. Since the heian period (Nakamiya: Tashiima, 2014), Japanese have divided the world into the cute, and the not cute. These days being cute is perhaps the pinnancle of achievement that even males strive towards. At the same time, like "amae" that other keyword for understanding Japanese culture, kawaii originate in parent children relationships and implies a power relationship between the two. To be cute is to be immature. To judge someone cute is to put oneself in the place of their parent, their superior. The predominence, and privelidging of cuteness in Japan is also demonstrates the way in which the model of the human is the mother, not father. The Japanese are all watashis, definately not "mankind." The sort of authority held by men in the West is held by women in Japan but it has its drawbacks. Evaluations of cute are proprioceptive, they start out as exteroceptive judgements of world, but they bounce back. The more one judges other things to be cute ("kawaii" "kawaii,") the more one is percieved to be cute oneself. The sort of power awarded to women in Japan through this device is thus to the power to trap and be trapped. The very cuteest things in the world, such as inviting cats and Hello Kitty are frozen, caught in the mirror of cuteness. Tashima, E. (2014). "The Root of Cute."Unpublished graduation thesis http://flic.kr/p/qAKob7

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