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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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Hanya as First Person Face

Hanya as First Person Face
There is apparently absolutely no connection whatsoever between the character of Hanya, a devil woman, that appears in Noh drama and Shinto mythical plays (pictured above), and the Japanese name for The Heart Sutra which distils the pith of the wisdom of Buddhism into a text of one page. In Buddhist terminology, Hannya refers to knowledge of enlightenment.

The story goes that a Buddhist priest who was adept at making Hanya masks was called "Hanya-monk" (般若坊) due to his predilection for the Heart Sutra, and in any event a purely random connection between the sutra and the mask was made. I will here argue otherwise.

The Heart Sutra (Hanya- Shin-Kyo or Hanya Heart Sutra in Japanese) proclaims that" colour is emptiness" and "emptiness is colour". I can appreciate that assertion. Nishida using the language of phenomenology, asserts the same thing: in the purity of experience, when one has bracketed off all that which can be denied, then this big orb of colour has absolutely no qualities, not even those of subject, nor object which, like our initial certainty of colour (that is "red" isn't it?) dissolve into a purity, about which one can say nothing.

At the same time, I do find it impossible to merge myself with this wall of impossible colours. Intellectually, I agree with Nishida, experientially however, something prevents my dissolution.

Nishida (1965) also claims that the self is is supported by a 'devil hidden in the depths of seeing'. What does he mean?

Going off at what might seem a tangent, Dr. Leroy McDermott (1979), a professor of psychology formerly of the University of Central Missouri, argues that the shape of paleolithic figurines, which tend to be of a plump, lozenge shape, and are found the world over, is not due to the fact that people back then were fat, nor due to some emphasis upon feminine fecundity, but due to the fact that they were of self-person body views.

The first thing that struck me about McDermott's brilliant insight is that I had not even realised that my first person view of my body is any different from the third person view such I am shown in photos or as is reflected in a mirror. It takes however, moment of self inspection to realise that, yes, my hands and feet do of course taper off to spidery extremities, and my chest shoulders and stomach are very large. Even though I am a man, my first person view of myself has full bosom.

My initial interest in Dr. McDermott's research was merely to note that his thesis largely applies to Japanese snow goggle dogu figurines from a similar palaeolithic period. I contacted him with this observation. He responded politely. I wondered whether the famous snow goggled faces of Japanese Venus figurines might also represent a first person view of someone squinting through almost shut eyes.

It was only much later that I became interested in the question as to *why* palaeolithic people made such representations. Here I must respectfully part company with the brilliant Dr. McDermott. He argues that their construction was motivated by a desire for self-representation coupled with the lack of mirrors or reflective technology. But as a McDermott-detractor mentioned to me privately, and as one of the commentators to his paper asserts, even if looking glasses were particularly dark in those days, surfaces of water did exist and, more to the point, sculptors were regularly and universally presented with images of their peers. Even the most primitive person should and would have been able to add two and two, or people and puddle, together. So, there must have been some other reason for the worldwide propensity to reproduce such, to our way of thinking, distorted body views.

This detraction, while tempting, misses a step. It succeeds for me in disconfirming Dr. McDermott's 'lack of mirror technology thesis'. Even palaeolithic sculptors, if motivated solely by the desire to self-represent, would also have been able to extrapolate from puddles and peers. But at the same time, bearing in mind the strong resemblance between palaeolithic figurines and the first person form, as clearly demonstrated by Dr. McDermott's papers, to reject this resemblance as original/causal -- replacing it with some supposed universal woman-shape-worshipping fertility rite -- would be to chuck the baby out with the bath water. The supposed lack of mirrors is bath water, in one way or another. The humongous baby is the amazing and persuasive realisation that the universality of the shape of palaeolithic Venus figurines is due to the fact that they really do represent first person body views. This is the insight that brings science and sensibility to that which was previously considered to be some sort of misguided, magical hocus-pocus.

We are still left with the question as to why did so many peoples all over the globe at a similar stage of human development, find themselves so interested in the form of the first person body view, that they should create sculptures representing first-person-body views over and over again, almost to the exclusion of all other sculptural self-representations? Why were they so obsessed?

I can suggest two reasons from developmental psychology, both of which seem to be overlooked.

The first is that developmental psychologists, from, for example, observation of infants playing the mobiles that are typically left to hang above cribs, reach the conclusion that the first, most primitive, initial, and original recognition and representation of self, occurring many months before we narrate or recognise ourselves in mirrors, is the first person view of self.

Lewis and Brooks-Gunn (1979) for example argue, persuasively to my ears, in the following way.

"Gregory is also about 3 months old. Lately he has begun to coo loudly during those moments between waking and calling his mother by crying. One morning, Gregory's mother walks quietly into his bedroom and finds him awake, on his back, with his right hand extended above him and to the right; his head is turned towards his hand and he is watching his fingers move with considerable interest.

The proprioceptive feedback from the two events and actions (looking and moving one's hands and fingers) are both located in the same nervous system. This example differs markedly from the first since the child can operate on both events, rather than just one event, being external to the organism. The infant, having control of both actions can turn to look at the object or have the object move into the field of vision. This duality of subject and object must represent the beginning of the self as distinct from other." (Lewis & Brooks-Gunn, 1979, p.3.)

Despite the persuasiveness of such developmental psychological theories of the self as originating in self-views, 'this great leap for mankind' is all but ignored in non-developmental psychological theories of the self, such as those of Smith, Mead, Freud, Bakhtin, Vygotsky and the numerous 'narrative self' psychologists. Where did the first person view self disappear to?

And this brings me to my second and more important reason why palaeolithic people the world over may have been interested in representing their first person view of self, which is because she was then, and is now, still here. That deserves capitalisation, and then some. SHE IS STILL HERE!

My sudden use of the feminine pronoun "she" to refer to "the first person view self," runs ahead of its explanation.

In the same aforementioned, fairly mainstream scholarship of the self -- Smith, Mead, Freud, Bakhtin, Vygotsky and others -- there is also mention of the need for an intra-psychic other: some one else in our mind (!). This very peculiar "other" is argued to be essential, but at the same time it is given short shrift. Very little explanation is given of what, where, and how, this most proximal of others might be.

Re-enter the first person self-view, which is closer than the veins in our neck.

Upon inspection of the features of my my own face from my first person view point, it seems to me that it has considerable similarity with the features of the classic, devil woman Hanya mask of Japanese dramatic art.

Note first that Hanya does not look anything like real Japanese ladies, who tend to have small noses, flat cheekbones, and small round chins.

My first person view of my face, and the first person view that Japanese ladies and men have of their faces, however has quite a lot in common the features represented by the Hanya mask. While, unlike Dr. McDermott, I find myself unable to take a first person perspective photo of my face from my the perspective of my own eyes, I hope readers will be persuaded that (numbers correspond to those on the insert bottom left)
1) The nose in both is extremely large at least for a Japanese woman (the Western version of Hanya would be even more grotesque)
2) Our brow impinges upon our view such as is suggested by Hanya's overhung brow
3) The cheeks in my first person view and Hanya's face, protrude absurdly
4) Nothing is visible of my lower face except, with effort my lower lip which may explain the protrusion of Hanya's chin. In other words, my first person face view is all squeezed up around my eyes, with a glimpse of bottom lip like this representation.
5) Unless I or any woman, were to have a long fringe ony that would be visible. My forehead, upper head and hair (if I had any) is invisible. The small forehead of the hanya mask is more appropriate than the my mock-up in the insert.
6) Our mouths are invisible. I am not sure why they are large. The related Shinja ("true snake") mask is portrayed with a tongue which I can see if I stick it out.
7) Our eyes about which our first-person view of our face form but glimpse of a frame, contain the whole world of "colour" or light. As such they may be said to be "metallic" like the tain of mirror, or as in the case of the larger mask, on fire.

This hypothesis does not explain the fangs or horns but if my first person view is really the place where the "demon" (Nishida) is lurking, then their addition may help to that Hanya's countenance is so terrible, that I am generally unable to become aware of her.

And by this means, it is with Hanya's help, I think, that I believe that I am my third person self-representations, and that my representations of others, these little people that walk across my visual field are not empty, but real. I propose therefore that when one sees the truth of the Heart Sutra, one meets Hanya, and vice versa.

The naming of the Heart Sutra is initially quite fortuitous, but turns out to be, in retrospect, no coincidence. That monk knew what he was going on about.

Hanya and my heart are two sides of the same emptiness. Or rather, at the edge of that emptiness, Hanya stands guard.

In other cultural contexts Hanya may be referred to as "the whore." I prefer Hanya since it implies respect.

The main image top centre is a picture of an excellent handcrafted Hanya Craft Mask available for purchase from The Japan Store.

Lewis, M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1979). Social Cognition and the Acquisition of Self. Boston, MA: Springer US. Retrieved from link.springer.com/10.1007/978-1-4684-3566-5
McDermott, L. R. (1996). Self-representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current Anthropology, 37(2), 227–275. websites.rcc.edu/herrera/files/2011/04/PREHISTORIC-Self-R...

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