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, February 20, 2015


Linguistic Self-Consistency

If asked to describe themselves in a group, to their peers, on their own, or to a teacher, Americans give three times as many positive as negative statements. Americans are boastful in almost all situations. Japanese on the other hand are generally humble even with peers. They are only a little self aggrandizing when they are on their own.

The American self-consistent bragging is a sort of self-addressed love song. They look like they are describing themselves to other people, but really they are talking to someone hidden within themselves. By this device, they make themselves feel their imaginary friend's love. On the other hand since it is well known that people the world over like humility, the Japanese are merely representing themselves in a perfectly natural, pleasant way.

Hand the subjects a camera, however, and suddenly the ghost that haunts the Japanese psyche becomes apparent, from their utra-cute selfie behaviour. It is through this comparison, I hope, we shall have her out into the light of day. Got it!

Image adapted from Table 6, p99 in Kanagawa, Cross, & Markus, (2001). Kanagawa, C., Cross, S. E., & Markus, H. R. (2001). ‘Who am I?’ The cultural psychology of the conceptual self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(1), 90–103. http://flic.kr/p/rgNvAX

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Monday, February 16, 2015



Japanese do not use the same towel twice whereas westerners do. This is due to the fact that the Japanese have an autoscopic rather than narratival self, so blemishes upon the person and all forms uncleanliness are more ego-involoved, and the fact that Japan is more humid, so that jock-itch and athletes foot are more of a problem, so daily-un-washed bath towels are a bad idea. Japanese "bath towels" are about the size of two face flannels however, to avoid the mountains of laundry. image copyright baby centre http://flic.kr/p/rd33hv

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Thursday, February 12, 2015


No Other of the Japanese Self? Mori, Arimasa, Kawai and Nishida

Mori Arimasa (1911 - 1976), was the grandson of Meiji period statesman Mori Arinori. His father was a Christian priest. A Christian himself, he relocated to France in 1950 where he remained until his death. He was an accomplished organ player and fluent in French and Latin. It seems to me that he understood European's better than they they themselves.

Mori was quite critical of his own country being one of several commentators (Kawai, 1977; Kishida, 1993) who believe that the Japanese self lacks an intra-psychic (in ones head) other that might provide it with a "pivot" to leverage itself out of face to face, first-second person, social relationships.

Mori believed this "pivot" (p.230) was provided in France by the French language. Mori saw a commonality or nexus, an inter-linkage, between reality, science, language and 'the unknowable existence' by which he referred to his own, Christian, God (to whom, presumably, he addressed himself linguistically).

The connection between God and science is particularly interesting and one which I have been persuaded by some research by Ma-Kellams (2013), to be introduced further down.

Mori living in Paris in the 1960s I feel was influenced by Lacanian psychology as well as by his own religion. Expressed in Kawai's diagram above lower half (Kawai, 1977, p153), Mori felt that Westerners had constructed an other, within their culture, society and themselves, to which their ego had achieved independence from out of binary experience. This other for Mori was God, Science and above all language. He felt that the French language provided a pivot, structure, or framework within which the ego or, first person, of the francophone attains independence as a third person. As Lacan says, the unconscious in the West, is structured like a language. It is language, made flesh.

Mori contrasts this with the Japanese case in which he claimed that the Japanese first person, expressing itself in various levels of polite, humble, honorific language was always embedded in the lived experience which defined a hierarchical binary pair. When Japanese meet face to face and speak one of them will adopted the dominant, the other subservient position, and their self be defined by that relationships such that their "I" ego is no more, no less than a "you" for the "you" that they are speaking to. His most famous theory has it that the Japanese "I" is "You for you" (汝の汝). Francophone's however are not trapped within immediate experiences in this way. This allows them, he claims, to address broader social issues rather than that which is in front of their noses. Lacking a self, the Japanese also lack, Mori claims, a sense or concern for society, a collection of selves.

Kawai likewise, in the diagram above (1977, p153), believed that while Europeans had carved out of the morass of their unconscious an area of rationality occupied by the ego, the Japanese, or East Asian, self was still more at one with the unconscious. The lack of a developed self, however, no doubt appealed to the Buddhist element within Kawaii's readership who believed in their Buddha nature, the Eastern conception of God. Under this conception, Westerners have an independent self in relation to Yahweh. Easterners are like children, lacking a self but being closer to the 'purity of their experience' which they regard as divine.

Kishida (1993) likewise argues that the equivalent term that anchors the Japanese self is not God, or some intra-psychic other, but other people. Pointing out that social phobia (対人恐怖症) is particularly prevalent among the Japanese, he denies that it has no equivalent in the West. The equivalent term among Westerners is he says, "fear of God" (対神恐怖) or guilt since it is in relationship with their internalised other - God - that Westerners create themselves and maintain their sense of self-esteem, whereas it is in relation to real others that the Japanese self is created. I suggest that the Western equivalent of social phobia (which Westerners now seem to suffer from) is, rather than the fear of gazes, blushing, and sweating and all the other visual symptoms that typify Japanese psycho-pathology but paranoid personality disorder typified by conspiracy theories, and belief that others are saying and thinking (in words) bad things about oneself. Both disorders may be related to a break down in intra-psychic self-other (ego to super-ego, self to impartial spectator, self to generalised other, face to mirror-in-the-head) relationships, accompanied by excessive reliance on, and subsequent dissatisfaction with social relationships for the maintenance of verbal and visual self-esteem and self.

Mori's theory of the "You for you" may also owe a lot to Nishida Kitarou's philosophy and particularly the short essay on "I and You" in which he discusses the social construction of self as acting agent. Like Mori, NIshida argues that Westerners have always privileged the self as knowledge or knower and sense as at best a object of the knowing subject. He claimed that the acting experiencing subject is however possible and lived in Japan by the Japanese whose self is constructed through their acts, which are observed by others. The Japanese self achieves its existence as an I for the community.

It would seem (at least in the Nishida that I have read thus far) that he did not posit the same sort of unity to Japanese community that Mori felt was embodied by the language- science-God nexus that haunts the West. In Nishida's Zen Buddhist philosophy, acting (visual) self sees itself and others see it too, but there is no Other, no Japanese god, that saves the Japanese self from the you, society, the community. And this despite the fact that Japan is teeming with Gods.

This is where I disagree. The diagram on the right describes the Japanese self as much as it does the the Western. There may be many countries in the space between Japan and France in which the diagram on the left applies. But the Japanese have as much ego as French men, or perhaps even Americans.

In order to make a distinction it is important to note that the pivot, or other by which the ego is created is in fact, neither "impartial" nor "generalised." The former is a misconception that can be demonstrated experimentally through the fact that people in both American and Japan have tremendously inflated views of themselves. The founder of the Panasonic corporation claimed that the reason why putting things to a vote was unpopular in Japan, and the emphasis on consensus, is not because the Japanese are sheep but there are always so many big egos that would be offended if their faction lost the vote. Thus Japanese, and Americans, are not seeing themselves from the point of view of society, if they were they would evaluate themselves fairly and realistically, but from the point of view of someone within themselves who loves them. There is research in the West correlating religiosity with positive self-illusion. God, or one of the aspects of God, loves us.

I claim that the creation of an other for self, is as simple as having one imaginary friend that one has hidden and forgotten. One person who is not you, but within you. That other perspective provides enough socius, enough otherness, enough objectivity, to provide a perspective on oneself and make an object of oneself to oneself. But, further than that can be, and is a sole (not generalised) perspective and the very opposite of "impartial." As Derrida argues on the contrary, our "alter ego" to whom Westerners speak for instance, sending messages into their minds and waiting for the warm cranial kiss of approval, loves us terribly. The emphasis is perhaps on terribly. We have him or her trapped within us. There is something terrible, and taboo about our relationship with him or her, since if we able to see her we our selves, dependent as they are upon her, would be destroyed. But the other is nevertheless loving. Once the "other" of the self as understood in this way, as a sole, partial, autoscopic, visual perspective, on self it can be as effective a pivot. It is only important that she is hidden. I am thinking of Japanese horror such as Ringu and all the other Japanese horror that comes out of images, and the metaphorical words of Exodus 33:20 "you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live."

The fact that the Japanese can see themselves has already been proven. The Japanese have a mirror in their heads and they have the visual positivity that always accompanies one of these internalised other self-comforting, self-creating, genesis relationships (Takemoto, forthcoming).

Finally, some recent research by Ma-Kellams (Ma-Kellams, Blascovich, 2013) knocked my socks off. I have for many years been trying to find the Japanese equivalent of the mirror to Westerners. Mirrors make Westerners Japanese. How does one make the Japanese conceive of themselves narratively, and see themselves in the mirror of language? I have tried getting Japanese subjects to record their voice and listen to it. I have tried testing their self-ideal discrepancy before and after getting them to narrate themselves in answer to twenty questions tests, and other manipulations, all to no avail.

Ma-Kellams found that getting one group of Californian subjects to make sentences from jumbled words (mat, tabby, sat, the) and the other group to make sentences about science (be, proved, to, experiment, true, hypothesis) from jumbled words, she found that the latter, the subjects that had been made to think about science became more moral. In other words, I claim, thinking about science activated the mirror of language, the strict world of scientific and generally verbal, descriptions (Bloor, 1999) that is Mori claims at the centre of Western religion, science, and language. The important thing is not to get Asians to think in language, but to get them to think in haunted language, language that has an opinion, that says yes or no: language that bites back. Science makes us aware of that language: reason personified.

I hypothesise further that there were a large number of East Asian Americans in Ma-Kellams' Californian student psychology major subject pool, but this remains to be seen. I am going to try the manipulation on Japanese. It should do something because the Japanese are generally so unscientific with language it is untrue, and in Japan, true at the same time (Peng & Nisbett, 1999).

But all this above is not to suggest that the Japanese self is not more social that that of the West. In one sense both the Japanese and Westerners have modelled society, in the form of another, 'spectator' (metaphorical or not) in their breasts, but to the Japanese that their self is interdependent, social, is always immediately apparent because the 'acting self' is seen from the outside. The perspective of the other is always notably necessary, the Japanese self, as face like "stigma"(Yang et al., 2007) is "sociosomatic", its intersubjectivity cannot be ignored. But what the Japanese appear to have forgotten is that the self can be and is manufactured both in inter-human social relationships, and in relation with their intra-psychic others: the mirrors in their hearts. This mirror can save them from other Japanese people, and pontificating Westerners like myself, both.

Speaking of mirrors, I aspire to be the mirror of Mori. Mori told the West that their God, their intra-psychic other is language. I am trying to tell the Japanese that theirs is their mirror.

Here are some Mori Arimasa quotes.

This is the diary entry where Mori states the equivalence between his pivot, language and science. "Diary entry for December 14th 1971 (Tues) Shining Day, Cold [like today in Yamaguchi]" original in French. (Mori, 1988, p479 )
フランス語は新聞の見出しのような場合でもきちんとした命題の形をとることを確認した(Japanese newspaper titles often contain sentence fragments). その意味は、命題がフランス語の本質的な形であるということだ。叙述を構成する凡ての要素が、その命題性と関連付けられて(Now I know why I hate ellipses)。鍛え上げられている。 命題は、単に、総論あるいは言語の一形態ではない。それは、人間存在の極めて厳密に限定された一様態、物事を観ずるに際しての様態なのである....(He used the wrong word there? Felt the presence of another type of 観ずる?)。主語は、関心の主語である。それに動詞の補語がある。一つの命題において、同士は肯定か否定かであり、またな何らかの相(アスペクト)と帯びる。いずれにしても、動詞は様態の作用を受けるのであり、話者としての主題がどのような態度で物事に対処しているか、すなわち、私hが進展して行きうる空間というものを示す。......(空間!space. He pauses when he mentions things Japanese, forges on again into the Western world of language. It hots up now.)。換言すれば、動詞はそれに対して下すべき判断を限定することができる。と言うことは、一言語というのは単に言語ではなく、人間の存在形態でもあるということだ。それは考察を通して限定される行動である。そしてこの考察は出来事自体のうちに入っている。日本語の場合、考察は事が起こってから後に付け加わる(And Japanese people often change the meaning of their statements, even to the opposite of what their were originally going to say, by changing the verb at the end according to the reaction of their hearer)のだが、フランス語の場合、それは出来事の一部分をなすのである。時もまた出来事の一構成要素である(in the form of tense?)。これが"Science"="scetntia" (知ること)という表現の深い意味である。ここにおいて人間は問題の最後の一点に触れる。世界は既に言語活動によって支配されているのだ。あるいは、世界は、思考の対象になった瞬間に《既にして》観念化されているのである。In principio erat Verbum(初めに言葉ありき)。そうなのだ。言葉は現実である。しかし、日本語の場合、現実は《生ま(なまI think)》のままである。ところが西洋の場合、現実は現実でありながら、既に《観念》なのだ。本体論敵証明の秘密も恐らくそこになるのであはあるまいか。しかも言語が極めて徹底的に凡てを《網羅する》もので、現実には言語以外のいかなる場も残されていない。

場, the place of experience, is completely buried under language in France.

And this is the bit where he explains his You for You theory.
I bet he had one scary mother.

Here are a few things that Nishida says about the self as actor (visual self I would say)

私には哲学はいまだがつか一度も真に行為的自己の立場にたって考えられたことがないのではないかと思われる。従って我々が行為することの現実の世界が如何なるものであるかが、その根拠から考えられていない。(In other-words we have not yet realised that the world is us, since we always turn away from the senses). ギリシア哲学はいうに及ばず、経験的実在を中心として近代哲学といえども、その主知主義たるに変わりはない。理性に代えるに感官を以てしても、感官的なるものも知的自己の対象たるを免れない。(マルクス主義でも 中略)。無論私はノエマ(thought content)的ななるものなくしてノエシス(Thought action, words pretending to be rarefied, I'd say)的ななるものがあるというのではなく、しかし従来のノエマとノエシスとの可名乗ってください。ネイというのものは、唯知的自己の立場から考えられたものである。(中略)行為的自己と考えられるものはいつも社会的でなければならない、唯一人の自己というものではない。而してノエマ的と考えられるものはいつも自己において自己を見るという意味において、行為的自己の自覚的内容の意義を有ったものではねればならない。(Nishida, 1988, p7-8)

Image top copyright Mori Arimasa, Philosophie et Litterature (1950) Par Laurent Rauber.
S'il vous voulez je le effacer pouvez vous m'envoyer un e-mail a' l'address a' nihonbunka.com

Bloor, D. (1999). Anti-latour. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 30(1), 81–112.
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 www2.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/2008Mirrors.pdf
Kawai, h. 河合隼雄. (1977). 無意識の構造. 東京: 中央公論新社.
Kishida, S. 岸田秀. (1993). 幻想の未来. 青土社.
Ma-Kellams, C., & Blascovich, J. (2013). Does ‘Science’ Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior. PLoS ONE, 8(3), e57989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057989
Mori, A. 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1988). 西田幾多郎哲学論集〈2〉論理と生命 他4篇. 岩波書店.
Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. E. (1999). Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54(9), 741. Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/54/9/741/
Yang, L. H., Kleinman, A., Link, B. G., Phelan, J. C., Lee, S., & Good, B. (2007). Culture and stigma: Adding moral experience to stigma theory. Social Science & Medicine, 64(7), 1524–1535. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953606005958

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