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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.

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