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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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Shinto Prayer and the First Person Self

Shinto Prayer and the First Person Self
Japanese people traditionally prayed at Shinto shrines without words, but by bowing deeply twice, clapping twice, and bowing once again.

The bow before a shrine, and the spirit within it, is the most formal of bows otherwise reserved only for extremely respected persons, where the torso is brought to within 90 degrees of the legs. This is not quite as radical, perhaps, as a Tibetan Buddhist and Muslim prostration in which one brings ones forehead into contact with the ground but, first of all, it encourages those at prayer to feel humility which, at least in Japan, is generally thought to be a good thing.

The clapping part of the Shinto prayer struck me as a reminder of the fact that not only can I whisper (think) and speak but I can make noises with my body, so thus draws me away towards an active awareness of the autonomy of my embodiment: look, your body, your hands too speak.

But now it occurs to me that Shinto prayer may be a way of encouraging an awareness of the first person self: the self which sees itself.

As I often point out, there are a large number of scholars that emphasise the need for an intra-psychic other in order to be aware of self. In the words of many social scientific researchers we take in the perspective of another (Haidt, 2001; Hermans & Kempen, 1993; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Mead, 1934/1967) such as when we address our thoughts to absent friends. This phraseology emphasising the interiorisation or internalisation of something sounds natural and persuasive.

Rochat (2009) however points out that the adult self, as represented by the pronoun "I" or as seen as reflected in the mirror, is a self for others: a "third-person self". The me in the mirror is not anything that I will ever see on this side of the glass, but only something that others can see. And though we use a different pronoun for "I" as opposed to "me," as Mori points out unless there is a "third person" the "I" is a "you for you," an explanation of me, for others. Though both are only representations, we get used to thinking that we are one or the other. Usually in the West we tend to identify with the hero of our self narrative as many scholars (e.g. Dennet, 1992) attest despite the fact that it is becoming plain that our self-narrative, this whispering that we listen to, is not "will" but an excuse after the event (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977).

Rochat (2009) takes a different view. He reminds us that children have a first person self prior to their third person representations of themselves. That is to say that we can hear, see, and touch ourselves, and in all cases become aware of our movements and distinguish between self originating movement - the double touch, sound variations that we have created, closed circuit videos - and other generated movement -- the single touch by another object, sounds created randomly, delayed movements on video tape. Rochat argues that our adult sense of self arises out of a "negotiation" between these two self positions. That is to say that the first person self remains, and it is from this perspective from which our third person self-representions are seen and heard.

In other words it less that we take the perspective of others into our heads as it were, or internalise, introject, internalise a mode of others in our minds, but really that we extroject a model of ourselves (as narrative and image) and forget the first person self that is watching.

How might we become aware of this first person self (assuming we want to)? I have suggested wearing spectacles, looking at ones nose, and touching ones face.

It also seems to me now that Shinto prayer encourages the worshipper to become aware of their first person self. Bowing deeply we see our own legs. Clapping we see our hands, their movement, their "double touch" as palms meet, and their self-created clapping sound. By so doing perhaps we remember just a little, the giant that we have forgotten is staring out of our eyes.

Perhaps I could use bowing and clapping as independent variables, or take up Shinto again.

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Thoughtful stuff. I like it.
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.