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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, March 26, 2015


Life, Time and Identity

Life, Time and Identity

I take the liberty of using a Japanese newspaper article announcing the tragedy of Germanwings flight 9525 to illustrate differences in the way that Japanese view time.

First of all with regard to the two lines below the article. There is research to show that when Japanese and Westerners are asked to draw a time line and put their life - a mark for their birth and a mark for their death - upon it, Westerners put the two marks close together whereas Japanese put their marks at either end of the line - 57.9% of Japanese females are classified as having an egocentric time perspective using 90% of the line on their lives, significantly more than among Australians(Shiraishi, 1996). Shiraishi suggests that this is because the Japanese were older than the Australians. Cottle (1976: see Cottle, Howard, & Pleck, 1969) however found that older Western children have a less egocentric time perspective so the fact that the Western adolescents were younger makes this difference even more striking. Speaking for myself, the reason why I would be put the two marks close together is because, compared to the enormity of time itself, my life is but a blip upon it. Why do the Japanese put their marks at either end of the line?

With regard to the Japanese newspaper article announcing the recent tragedy, one characteristic is that it announced from the very first, as a headline the number of Japanese persons presumed to be on the flight. My condolences to their families. While Japanese newspapers are a little more self absorbed, British newspapers also mentioned the number of British passengers.

Another characteristic of Japanese, but not British, newspaper articles is that they always say both the local time, and in the small red rectangle above the equivalent time in Japan. Japanese international newspaper articles and television reports, always do this: give both the time at where the event occurred, and the corresponding Tokyo time.

Taken together with the differences in how Japanese mark their time lines, I suggest that the reason for both the egocentric time perspective, and the incessant reminders of the equivalent local time in Japan, is that the Japanese do not believe time to be something unitary and objective but a subjective quality of experience (a sort of qualia). So there is not one massive march of time but there are many times, their own which began at their birth and ends at their death, and that shared to and extent by people in the Tokyo time zone but not by people in France. For the Japanese, time is not the sort of thing that has an "itself."

This relates to how Westerners conceive of their identities to exist in time or space. The Japanese identity is exists at a place in space and centres on the face (Watsuji). That the Japanese have many "kyara" in each of these places, one for home, another for work does not make them any less self consistent. The Japanese have a spatial (Nishida) geography of the self (Miyamoto, Nisbett & Masuda, 2006; Nisbett, 2010; ), that is no less consistent than the self-narrative.

On the contrary, while I think am the same in all spaces and places, I am "sometimes" something and sometimes something else in any one place ( Cousins, 1980), since for my self is my self-narrative, a history, which exists in Time which is itself which is extended and objective. Thus, for the Japanese their selves in the absence of a spatial situation is merely a "default," (Yamagishi, et. al) for me it is my first and primary self in time: who I am.

Similarly again, conversely, for me space, res extensa, the image is merely a qualia, a quality of subjective experience. For me, space does not have an itself, indeed if empty it is nothing at all.

Cottle, T. J. (1976). Perceiving time: a psychological investigation with men and women. John Wiley & Sons Australia, Limited.
Cottle, T. J., Howard, P., & Pleck, J. (1969). Adolescent perceptions of time: The effect of age, sex, and social class1. Journal of Personality, 37(4), 636–650. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1969.tb01770.x
Cousins, Steven D. "Culture and self-perception in Japan and the United States." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56.1 (1989): 124.
Miyamoto, Y., Nisbett, R. E., & Masuda, T. (2006). Culture and the physical environment holistic versus analytic perceptual affordances. Psychological Science, 17(2), 113-119.
Nisbett, R. (2010). The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and. Simon and Schuster.
Yamagishi, T., Hashimoto, H., Cook, K. S., Kiyonari, T., Shinada, M., Mifune, N., ... & Li, Y. (2012). Modesty in self‐presentation: A comparison between the USA and Japan. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 15(1), 60-68.
Shiraishi, T. 白井利明. (1996). 日本の女子青年の時間知覚における Cottle の仮説の検討―サークル・テストとライン・テストの結果から―. Retrieved from

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