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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, August 08, 2017


Japanese Mirror Images not Felt to be Reversed!

Humans have a tendency to feel that people and letters of the alphabet (and other familiar symbols) are reversed left to right when viewed in a mirror. Yohtaro Takano (Takano & Tanaka, 2007) and associates at the University of Tokyo contend that these feelings of reversal are due to different processes partly because, according to their experiments on Japanese university students, only approximately half of students feel their mirror images to be reversed in a thought experiment (Takano & ? paper in Japanese), and only two thirds feel themselves to be reversed when looking at themselves in a mirror (Takano & Tanaka, 2007), whereas all subjects felt that letters of the alphabet are reversed when looking at them in a mirror.

Professor Takano also notes that in all previous literature, presumably from Western subjects, the vast majority of people have felt themselves to be reversed in mirrors. Since this is a Japanese trait, that this is a very important finding and may be useful as an indicator of Nacalian Specular Self-hood (Takemoto & Brinthaupt, 2017): those that have a secular self do not feel themselves to be reversed in mirrors.

But why? Bearing in mind the theory of Judith Butler (1993; thank you Professor Masamune) it is precisely the practice of repetitive poses in Japanese arts (Zeami see Yusa, 1987), archery (Yamamoto, 2009) and rituals that permeate society (Miyanaga, 1987) that allow Japanese to have a view upon themselves and imagine their movements. This would seem to be a making an iterable, repeatable symbol of the body. Hence if Japanese have made a symbol of their bodies, one might expect that it would be precisely Japanese that would experience symbols and bodies reflected in mirrors in the same, reversed, way.

All the same, I think that this is really getting to the crux of the matter. I guess that the Japanese have symbolized their bodies (made symbols of their bodies) but at the same time, as is true of the "I" of the Western self-narrative, to the Japanese the mirror image is a symbol that symbolises the self.

There should presumably be some temporal reversal that Westerners do not feel in the sphere of self narrative as suggested by psychological and neuroscientific research (Nisbett and Wilson, 1977; Haidt, Libet). Japanese on the other hand should be aware that their explanations are post facto add hoc.

I also wonder if Japanese feel selfies are or appear to be reversed since they are opposite to mirror reflections. They too also appear to be very similar to symbols or stamps, as suggested by the above image. The above selfie stamp is special in that the camera is taking a photo in both directions. A normal selfie however is directed towards the object that has been the subject of gaze with the subject walking around to appear in that gaze, and photo.

Butler, J. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex. Routledge.
Takano, Y., & Tanaka, A. (2007). Mirror reversal: Empirical tests of competing accounts. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60(11), 1555–1584. doi.org/10.1080/17470210601137102
Takemoto, T. R., & Brinthaupt, T. M. (2017). We Imagine Therefore We Think: The Modality of Self and Thought in Japan and America. 山口経済学雑誌 (Yamaguchi Journal of Economics, Business Administrations & Laws), 65(7・8), 1–29. retrieved from http://nihonbunka.com/docs/Takemoto_Brinthaupt.pdf
Miyanaga, K. 宮永國子. (1987). 日本のロボットと土着文化. 社会心理学研究, 2(2), 7–13. (Does not mention mirroring explicitly but argues that performing rituals allow japanese to concieve of them as images, which may presupose autoscopy)
Yamamoto, I., 山本一輝. (2009). メンタルトレーニング~弓道を通じた自己イメージのあり方~(Mental Training: The way of self imaging achieved through Japanese Archery) (未発表卒論). 山口大学経済学部観光政策学科.
Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331–345.

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