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March 14, 2011

Earthquakes in Japanese Religion

Earthquakes in Japanese Religion by timtak
Earthquakes in Japanese Religion a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Earthquakes - more horrifying than lightening and typhoons - were thought to be caused by the movements of giant catfish.

While Typhoons and Lightening have patron gods (Fuujin and Raijin respectively) who are respected enough to be appeased, so cataclismic is the history of Japanese earthquake disasters perhaps, that they are not deified, but attributed to the maleficence of a big black fish.

Japanese catfish, or namazu, are or were thought to be, large lazy, bottom-dwelling fish with little culinary value who, for their part feel jealous of the admiration humans have for other fish species. Earthquakes were thought to be caused by the movements, or jealous malisciousness of giant catfish at the bottom of the sea, or beaneath the ground.

These catfish were held in place however by the god Takemikazuchi who is enshrined at two shrines in Ibaraki prefecture, including Kashima Jinguu (Imperial Shrine) in Kamisu City.

The Shinto deity uses an enourmous rock (whose tip can be seen in the shrine grounds - most of the rock is buried), his sword, or a giant gourd to prevent the catfish from moving.

The rock, the most famous means of keeping the catfish in places, is called a Kanameishi or keystone.

However, in moments of lapse, or while on holiday to Izumo in October - which is called the Godless-Month since all Shinto Kami are said to make the trip to Izumo - the giant catfish moves with horrendus consequence.

In the 6th century book of poems, the Manyoshu (book of ten thousand verses) there is a poem which reads

"The keystone may wobble but it will not become unstuck so long as the God of Kashima Shrine is with us."

Reading this poem three times was believed to be a protection from earthquakes by 19th century dwellers in Edo (Tokyo).

The Giant Catfish was depicted in many Ukiyoe (pictures of the floating world). The genre is known as "Catfish-pictures" but only 300 survive since they were banned by the Edo government.

As well as depicting the subjugation of the giant catfish by the God and the Key stone rock, they also showed (as in the picture above) house builders taking a different attitude to the catfish. In the above picture the group of construction workers top left do not participate in subjugating the Catfish. In another picture construction workers are shown worshiping or thanking the catfish for the profits that they earned after an earthquake. In another picture construction workers are seen helping the catfish in a tug of war between the catfish and Takemikazuchi, helped by representatives of the general population. 

After the great Tokyo earthquake of 1855 the catfish is also depicted as being responsible for redistributing wealth from rich to poor, and became regarded as a world repairing deity (Yonaoshi Daimyoujin).

So in the end it is probably true to say that Japanese religion, particularly Shinto, can be trusted to see a positive side to nature, even the most horrific, even in the face of great human loss and tragedy.

The above image is believed to be in the public domain. The above text is my interpretation of internet recsources such as Japanese wikipedia and these two blog posts (in english)
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And the source of the above photo (in Japanese)
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The theme of a natural calamity being held in check by a giant rock is also found in the Shinto creation myth. Izanami, the primal female that gave birth to all of creation, dies when she gives birth to the god of fire. Izanagi, her husband, kills the god of fire, and goes to visit his wife in the underworld where he finds her rotting form terrifying and flees, trapping Izanami in the underworld with a giant rock. Thus trapped, Izanami promises to kill 1000 people a day. Her husband responds that he will allow for 1500 people a day to be born.

The connection between the belief in the catfish and the Shinto creation myth, is reinforced since it is one of Izanagi's sons, born from the blood of the god of fire (that killed his mother, killed by his father) dripping onto rock, that holds the earthquake subduing keystone in place.

I asked my neighbours for their thoughts concerning the earthquake. One said that with the long history of earthquakes in Japan fear of them is built into their system, and at the same time their destructive power is seen as inevitable (shikata ga nai).

Perhaps the feeling is that earthquakes like death are going to come. All that we can do is postpone them, by villigence, and believe in natural creation. 

Posted by timtak at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2011

Ernst Mach's Self Portrait may be of Amaterasu's Mirror

Ernst Mach's Self Portrait may be of Amaterasu's Mirror by timtak

Ernst Mach's Self Portrait may be of Amaterasu's Mirror a photo by timtak on Flickr.

At last a realistic self portrait! At last the nose, the nose! Not forgetting the eye sockets, and moustache. This is the first auto-genus perspective portrait, or self-view portrait right up to the nose, that I have seen. I wish it were circular though. The Mirror I see is approximately circular but this "self-portrait" is cut of at the left and right sides. He should have shown more of the nose!

If there were more auto-portraiture like this going around then I think that more people would understand the disk that Borges was talking about. The disk that Max Ernst has drawn, and that figures in the Borges book "The Disk" is the only thing in the world that has one side. Can everyone see the disk? The Mirror?

I think that perhaps Ernst Mach's self portrait may also be of Amaterasu, or at least the way I understand her.

I also see that there is someone promoting auto-genus perspective self-views such as the above picture by Mach, or "headlessness" in the UK! The organisation teaches people to think more in terms of self-portrait than mirror goddess. Since I think that I am only a misconception floating accorss mirror, I tend to call it (the mirror) something other than "Tim." But having said that they have interesting videos pointing quite literally at what may be Amaterasu's Mirror, or according to Kurozumi Kyo, the mirror of Amaterasu in your heart.

Non Shinto Post Script
Ernst Mach opposed Einstien's assertion that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. I am not sure why, but, putting on my scientists cap, I agree. Einstien was Batty.

Posted by timtak at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Venus in Dogu - A self-body view?

Venus in Dogū - A self-body view? by timtak
Venus in Dogū - A self-body view? a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Proffessor LeRoy McDermott argues that paleolithic female figures (the paleolithic venus shape) was strangely distorted, with extremities particularly small NOT because they have been made to look particularly female, sexy, as a fertility symbol, but because they are based upon the auto-genus perspective, self-views of the self.

In other words the shape of the Dogu (jomon period figure) above appears distorted since we are used to seeing and identifying with our figure in mirrors. If you are used to the mirror image of yourself, and that third person perspective is how you see yourself, then the above figure looks unrealistic. But if in addition to seeing other people, you are also used to looking at your self, and identifying with what you see then the above will be an accurate represtation of that first person perspective. Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our first person (auto-genus) views of self.

See the previous photo, and the riddle at the end for proof that you are not used to first-person self-views of self, and the intriguing photos in professor McDermot's paper.

I am suggesting that it is not in any way an apriori that people seem themselves as that which is reflected in the mirror, animals, children and paleolithic people (who lasted on this earth for thousands of years) may not have had a third person perspective on self. I also do not believe that the mirror supplied third person perspective is necessarily any more adaptive or true. The people who built this venus may have got it right, where as I think that I am the stranger in the mirror.

Mirror image identification - which is perhaps to identify with a symbol for self - is is a riddle worthy of representation in myth, perhaps in a myth where deities rinse, chew and spit out symbols at themselves in a mirror.

LeRoy McDermott "Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines"

Posted by timtak at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2011

Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making

Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making by timtak
Amotsuki, the old word for Mochi-Tsuki or Rice Cake Making a photo by timtak on Flickr.

In this Japanese dictionary (koujien 4th edition) it says that, "Amotsuki," an old but not defunct word for "mochi-tsuki" which means "beating rice to make rice cakes", was used as a metaphor for "boji," which means sex.

The rice beating ritual performed at New Year gave me that (sexual) impression, especially when, as is traditional, a woman turns the rice while her husband beats it. In the ritual that I saw performed, and took part in, a woman would kneel or crouch down beside the "usu" (bowl) and make noises indicating when the person holding the big hammer should beat the rice cake. Apparently quite a lot of males die each year of heart attack as they wield their hammer. The ritual is quite hard work. The men build up a sweat. The rice cake becomes more and more gooey. The thwack resounds. Finally everyone rejoices partaking of the gooey rice cake. It is quite a carbohydrate high after all that exertion. Bearing in mind the shape of the tools used, I made an interpretation which prompted my my Japanese friends to call me a pervert. Then one day I was reading my dictionary and came accross the entry above.

It may be quite irrelevant and coincidental but since the Shinto-Amaterasu myth is represented in Shinto New-Year's festivities, the fact that a ritual seen as a metaphor for sex (at least in times past) should take a central role in the festivities suggests that perhaps there is a similarly metaphorical episode in the Susano Amaterasu myth. At least one resarcher has suggested that the bit where Susano-O throws a backwards skinned horse into the clothing room of Amaterasu such that one of her weavers dies as a result of a shuttle entering her vagina, may be a metaphor for sex.

Posted by timtak at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

Susano-O the Trickster

Susano-O the Trickster in the Mirror

The Myth of Susano and Amaterasu contines:

"How can I trust you?" asked the goddess Amaterasu. To this, Susano-O replies, "How about if, to divine my intentions, we exchange oaths and make children" Amaterasu says "okay." First she takes a a part of her brotherfs sword, and rinsing it in the Well of True Names (with a nunatomomo sound) and chewing it chewily spits it out into the Peaceful River in Heaven, whereupon three female children are formed. Then Susano-O takes some of the curved jewels hanging at his sister's neck and washing them in the Well of True Names, chewing them chewily, spits them out onto the surface of Peaceful River in Heaven, whereupon male children are formed. They agree that the children belong to the owner of the symbol from which they are made.

Thereupon, Susano-O exclaims, "Since the children I gave birth to are wan females, that proves that my heart is pure". And Amaterasu believed him.

here are many versions of the above myth in the Kojiki, the Nihonshoki and its "according to another version" footnotes. The versions vary according to which children are made from what, which children are made by each god, and whether female children or male children demonstrate purity.

n the Nihonshoki Susano-O says gmy children are men (and even though Amaterasu made them), and that proves that my heart is pure.h

apanese scholars debate which version of the myth is correct. The assumption is that the myth is portraying  an allegory of a historical truth, or a historical truth of some sort, if only regarding whether males or females were regarded as being pure. For example, it is argued that in Shinto males are considered to be purer than females (the reverse of the Christian tradition), but since it was an emperess not an emperor who commissioned the Kojiki, and since the storyteller was also a female, this part of the Kojiki was changed so female children demonstrate purity.

s mentioned in previous posts however, I suggest that myth may be speaking about misconceptions rather than exactly truths. When explaining a misconception, it is often expedient to explain what the truth really is, but sometimes this is not possible (such as in the case when the truth is beyond the explanatory power of the language you are using). In that case, if the reality cannot be explained directly, another way of explaining a misconception is to provide examples of analogous misconceptions – a technique used in Biblical parable.In all of the versions, the end fact that Amaterasu gains the male children who go on to be the ancestors of the imperial throne, and that Susano gains three daughter deities that live somewhere near Fukuoka does not change.

Also, the fact that Susano turns out to be impure does not change either : in any event, as soon as Susano finishes "proving" that his heart is pure he then commits all, or many, of the sins in the book. He commits earthly sins, and heavenly sins. His behaviour in the myth immediately after the above excerpt is used as an example of the worst, most impure behaviour on record, anywhere in the Shinto cannon. So whatever is the case, his heart was not pure, and he did, undoubtedly, trick his sister.

In other words, Susano-O, like many heroes that appear in the Kojiki, was a trickster. The trick that is being played here is similar to, "heads I win, tails you loose," or gmoving the goalpostsh. Whatever the outcome of their oath, Susano can claim that his heart is pure basing the decision upon whether the children that he made himself, or that were made from his possessions, are male or female. In the Kojiki he is not even self consistent since he did not give birth to female gods.

I imagine that listeners in ancient where used to their being various versions, and also used to the fact that Susano always exclaims at the end, "Si that proves I am pure!" This trickery, (like Susano's misquotation of his father) again draws the reader towards an appraisal of language as an untrustworthy medium of communication, open to mischievous reinterpretation after the event.

Furthermore, the way in which Susano revels in his victory also suggests to me an objective for carrying out the oath, visiting his sister, visiting his mother, and even crying in the first place. Perhaps what Susano-O wanted all along was to create children, and hence his suggestion of the method of "proof," his glee, and subsequent drunken revelry at having fooled Amaterasu into making them. If so then, perhaps he visited his sister's kingdom with this intent in mind. Perhaps he wanted to visit the underworld, aware that that his father was able to create children -- Amaterasu and Susano-O himself, an event that Izanagi too rejoices in -- as a result of going to the underworld. And finally since Izanagi was able to make children as a result of water dripping from his eyes onto water, this may be why Susano spent so long crying -- dripping water from his own eyes. I can imagine a comic dramatical rendition of the first scene, showing Susano-O rubbing his eyes, dripping tears, but looking down, and looking at the audience as if to say "still no children."

ut why should dripping chewed up symbols into mirrors create anything at all? I am not sure. gCreating by dripping into Mirrorsh is one of the most popular methods of creation in the Kojiki. I think that it makes as much sense as creating by speaking, and may be open to a semiotic interpretation, or one related to Yohtaro Takanofs theory of left-right reversal in mirrors. The important thing about seeing a mirror image as oneself, may be to see it as ones symbol. If so then dripping symbols may make some metaphorical sense.

ven if Susano-O is a trickster, it should be remembered, according to my interpretation Susano-O is in a sense looking at his own reflection (image above), and the only person he is tricking is himself. And that is what I think that the myth may be about: how we trick ourselves into identifying with our mirror image.

Picture: Based on Portrait of :Alexander Sakharoff, by Alexej von Jawlensky 1909. Original formerly on display at the Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art, chosen asspecially because the sitter appears of uncertain gender.

Posted by timtak at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2011

Amaterasu and Susano as Echo and Narcissus in a Textual Mirror

Amaterasu and Susano as Echo and Narcissus in a Textual Mirror by timtak
Amaterasu and Susano as Echo and Narcissus in a Textual Mirror a photo by timtak on Flickr.

The part of the myth that I will comment on this time is the following.

Susano-o meets Amaterasu by the Well of True Names . The Sun Goddess speaks first asking him, "Why do you come to my kingdom, do you meant to rob me of it?" "Not at all sister" he replies and proceeds to explain what happened. "My father came and finding me crying asked me "Why do you cry"E I said 'I cry because I want to see my mother in the world of the dead,' whereupon he said 'go from here!' and banished me from my kingdom."

The above seems pretty inconsequential. All the same, I managed to write a paper and give a presentation about it to a congress of Japanese psychotherapists at which Takeo Doi (Mr. Amae) and Kitayama Osamu (genius, poet, folk singer, and leading Japanese psychotherapist) were present at the congress. Bearing in mind the company, though alas I think that Doi had left the building, I was on fire:-) But alas, the learned members of the audience were pretty disinterested, even if they were in the room, as far as I know.

As mentioned previously, the Kojiki myth is very terse. Perhaps this is a characteristic of myth in general, it is certainly true of the Kojiki. There is very little repetition. There are repetitions of structural elements, mentioned in more than one episode of the myth, such as of a child that cries until he is advanced in years, or deities spitting or dripping, things, and symbols into water. There are also repetitions of some words, presumably for emphasis such as the aforementioned, "Skinly-skinned"Eor"chewily-chewed." But generally speaking the writer of the myth did not write the same thing twice. But in the above passage, the myth repeats itself, word for word, character for character, *almost*.
Here is the part that is being repeated:
[Izanagi said] "Why do you cry?" Susano-o replies, "I cry because I want to see my mother in the world of the dead". Hearing this Izanagi says "*If you want to do that*, then go from here!" and banished him[Susano-o] from his[Susano-o's kingdom."
Compare the second version above:

[Izanagi said] "why do you cry" I said 'I cry because I want to see my mother in the world of the dead,' whereupon he said 'go from here!' and banished me from my kingdom."

The repetition is long in a book which has little repetition. The repetition is word for word. The exact same sequence of characters repeat themselves, with one very small change. The change is miniscule. In the Japanese text it is only one character, read "shikaraba" which I have translated "if you want to do that." It could be translated "if so." What is significance of a missing single character written 1500 or so years ago?
1) The myth is a sacred text for those that wrote it. In the preface they state that they have taken great care. So why in one of the few places that the scripture repeats itself does the writer slip up, miss a character, unless the exclusion were deliberate?
2) The same type of omission occurs in at least one other place very clearly, and possibly in several other places (I list them in my paper). The Kojiki has a particularly regular structure. In at least two clearly, probably three, and more mistily in several other episodes, there is a sort of refrain: a winger/fawner repeats the words of another (or himself) in a (deliberately?) incorrect way.
3) In this case and in others, the misquotation serves to make the quoter out to be a victim. The quoter is allowing himself to "amaeru" or (my trans) "fawn"in an unhealthy way.

"Amae" (the noun) amaeru (the verb) are, thanks to Takeo Doi, definitive of Japanese culture. Many books have been written, by Doi and others, attempting to define the term. Doi and others attempt to explain Amae/amaeru . They explain the prevalence of that which it describes in Japanese culture. but perhaps due to the non-linguisticness, of what the terms mean, the descriptions continue.

Amae is the *unspoken* demand to "Love me!"that children beam, as it were, towards their mothers. It is "being cute,"Eit is being weak, it is avoiding the linguistic expression of ones desire, but behaving in such a way as to encourage the beamed, the recipient of the extra-linguistic message, to respond and fulfil the unspoken (but beamed) desire of the "fawner."E
And here Susano-o is engaging in a particularly excessive, pathological form of "fawning" Susano-o's father, Izanagi, came along, asked what was the matter, found out what was the matter, did not allow Susano-o to amae/fawn, but instead, said "if that is the case, go and do it". Izanagi presented a perfect linguistic mirror to his son. He was the shrink that the son seemed to have needed. But Susano-o, ignores the linguistic mirror that he was presented with. And when he meets his sister, by a minor modification of the words his father spoke, made himself out to be the poor, little, lovable victim. The readers of the Kojiki myth have just read of the fathers'slove, his sincerity, so they know what went down. But the son says, "there was I feeling lonely for my mother and our father came along and banished me from my kingdom." Instead of showing the Son what he has to to do to fulfil his desire, the father becomes, in the misquotation, a bully.
The protagonist, Susano-o, takes a good linguistic copy of himself ("Well if you want to do that, then go and do it") and transforms it into vector for Japano-Narcissitic self love (" I am so weak and sad and put upon").

Mirrors, be they linguistic or visual, can be deformed to suit our self love. Narcissus, if he had been visually awake, would have seen in his reflection the image, movements, of a man engaged in self-love-sickness.
Susano-o goes and stands above the Well-of-True-Names, and copies himself, in his self narration (that imperfect medium) presenting himself as linguistically lovable, and in the Well-of-True-Names, I argue a mirror, there is someone that loves him.

So, the structure of the myth of Amaterasu-Susano is (please compare with the previous post) as follows
1) Susano-o's linguistic self-narrative, his linguistic-self-copying, is just a copy, but a bad copy, a deceptive copy. It is certainly not alive. It is a nothing, a chimera allowing gross and misplaced self love.
2) Amaterasu's image is truthy. Though "it" is only a copy of what Susano appears to be, "it" is not an "it" at all but being, a tragic, supernatural being that loves, means, meaningfully loves the protagonist.
3) But even though it is the image that (in Japanese myth), as always, comes out the winner, the speech plays an essential part of the story. The speech is the scapegoat, the nub of jokes, that nasty deceptive bit to be derided. The fawning self speech of Susano-o is needed both for the suspension of unbelief, and for subsequent defamiliarization (Brecht) to take place.
3.1) If it were just a story about some "Mirror Goddess" loving some guy, no one would be able to see the Mirror Goddess as a person at all, let alone a tragic hero.
3.2) If it were not for the speech, then we would never be able to come back to the realisation that, "oh ****! The Mirror Goddess, is just a copy. She is not, we are not, really people at all!"
4)Amaterasu is Susano-o *queered*. Amaterasu is just Susano-O's  image, but she is also a woman.

The next part, the vows of Susano and Amaterasu, are both a trick, and explain the phenomenon of mirror reversal.

Posted by timtak at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2011

Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in a Mirror

Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in a Mirror by timtak
Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in a Mirror a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Painting by John William Waterhouse

Before I go on to talk about the next part of Amaterasu and Suano-o I would like to reiterate the relevance of John Brenkman's paper (1976) "Narcissus in the text," which is hailed as a great example of Derridean deconstruction (Culler, 1993)

Derridean deconstruction has two interlinked aspects. One is a rhetorical analysis of Western philosophy, the other a theory about our attitude towards the media, -phonemes - of Western language. Derrida argues that Western philosophers use certain rhetorical techniques in order assert the descriptive power of Western alphabetic/phonetic languages, and their absolute truthiness. The rhetorical endeavour, would be deception that Derrida attempts to expose, is called logo-centrism.

Derrida claims that western philosophers from Plato to Searle set up a dichotomy between two types of language, and then trash one side of the dichotomy, making it a sort of scapegoat to the truthiness of the other side: the phonemes in mind, that might grasp ideas, the logos. E.g. Plato and others point to, bah, writing and compare it to speech (and thought) and claim that writing is just, an inferior concrete copy of speech, which when it occurs in mind is complete free of the constraints of the physical world, enabling it phonetic speech to express pre-existing ideas. Or Searle talks about "speech acts" like writing, another form of dirty, worldly, speech that does things. E.g. "I promise," and "I bet," which as well as being speech also perform an action. These performatory speech acts are compared with pure descriptive, truthy speech, that express true ideas about the world. In each case, philosophers create an unequal dichotomy to bolster the continued belief in the power of phonetic speech to grasp chimerical "ideas." Derrida points out that, rather than being inferior and excludable, writing, speech acts are essential, both in that they are needed in rhetoric as sacrificial victims or straw men, and because in fact all speech is always part corporeal (like writing) and always partly an act (like speech acts). And that is Derrida in my nutshell.

While Freud uses the Myth of Narcissus to explain how children first start identifying with their image in mirrors - an example he tells us of self love, he does not go into detail about the myth nor does he mention the other major character Echo, at all. Brenkman does a good job of deconstructing the Myth of Narcissus.

As is predicted would be his downfall (don't let him see his reflection! said the sage), Narcissus falls in love with his reflection. Narcissus love for a mere image, is raised almost as an object of ridicule and used as a name of a disease to this day. At the same time, all this time Echo, who only appears in the myth's dialogue, repeating the words that Narcissus speaks, is seen as a tragic figure, who dies of unrequited love for a narcissist. Brenkman points out that this myth shows the same rhetorical techniques and objectives as pointed out by Derrida in Western philosophy. There are two copies of Narcissus. His image and his echoed words. His image is trashed as being (as images are always trashed as being) mere image. His words however, taken female form, are seen as coming from a real, good, loving supernatural person, with not merely the power to copy, but to speak and say the truth of her love. Brenkman could have argued that the myth of Narcissus gets in at the ground floor of Western philosophy (as seen by Derrida) in that it is the first to displays all the deconstruct-able rhetoric, and intent to deceive. At the same time Brenkman could also have pointed out that the myth gives the game away, laying its cards on the table, and deconstructs itself: Echo is called echo! It inscribes itself with a warning to all now and future Narcissists, "look at my trick ye mighty, and be aware."

The structure of the myth of Narcissus is as follows
1) Narcissus's image is just a copy, a bad copy, a deceptive copy. It is certainly not alive. It is a nothing, a chimera allowing gross and misplaced self love.
2) Narcissus's phonetic speech is truthy. Though "it" is only a copy of what Narcisuss says, "it" is not an it at all but being, a tragic, supernatural being that loves, means, meaningfully loves the protagonist.
3) But even though it is the speech that, as always, comes out the winner, the image plays an essential part of the story. The image is the scapegoat, the nub of jokes, that nasty deceptive bit to be Derided (Derrida's pun). The image is needed both for the suspension of unbelief, and for subsequent defamiliarization (Brecht) to take place.
3.1) If it were just a story about some "echo" loving some guy, no one would be able to see the echo as a person at all, let alone a tragic hero.
3.2) If it were not for the mirror image, then we would never be able to come back to the realisation that, "oh ****! Echo is just a copy. She is not, we are not, really people at all!"(1)
4) Echo is Narcissus, queered. Echo is just Narcissus's speech, but she is also a woman.

This structure is the precise opposite of what seems to be being played out in the Myth of Amaterasu and Susano.

There is two type of copying, one trashed, the other lauded as real, one male one queered, and the whole thing providing an opportunity for self-realisation. I will cover it in my next post to the Shintoml mailing list.

(1) Everyone has seen Sixth Sense? Lacan claims that we just speech, just a copy, and in that sense, always, already dead.

The above is based upon my paper "The Structure of the Kojiki and the Specular Self of the Japanese" (in Japanese), and personal experience.

Posted by timtak at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

Susano, Amaterasu and the Stranger in the Mirror

Susano, Amaterasu and the Stranger in the Mirror by timtak
Susano, Amaterasu and the Stranger in the Mirror a photo by timtak on Flickr.
I did not put the camera a quite the same position as my eyes, so the camera see slightly less of my legs, but if you look down into a mirror at your feet then you will see a reflection of yourself about up to your thighs.

Most people (including experts such as Yohtaro TAKANO whos book on mirror reversal has an image like the above on the cover) say that one does not appear vertically reversed (i.e. upside down) in a mirror, only horizontally (left-right) reversed. However is this really true? Or rather, of course Professor Takano is right, but in what way is he right?

As one can see from my photograph, I appear with my head towards the top of the photograph in my reflection so, it is straightforward to claim that I am "not upside down." But when compared to self views of myself (as in the bottom part of this photograph) where my feet are usually higher than my legs, and (if the photo extended as far as the limits of my visual field) my legs higher than my waist and so on up to my chest and lips which are at the very bottom of my visual field, my image in the mirror is upside down.

Even when I look at one of my hands, at my side, my fingers are above my hands, which are above my arms and this is the reverse of how they appear in the mirror, so why do I feel that my hands are not reversed vertically in the mirror, and yet I feel that they are left right reversed?

When I look down at my body, I feel that I am looking down and feel that my feet are further down than my legs, and my finger tips are "further down" than my hands. I am not swayed by their position in my visual field. It takes a photo like this to remind me that my feet are usually at the top of my visual field when looking at myself.

I guess that the reason is that we are comparing our selves in the mirror not with our views of ourselves, but with our views of other people. No one else appears to have their feet above their knees, so I do not appear upside down in the mirror, even though I am upside down compared to how I usually look to myself. Someone else appears in the mirror, called me.

What does this mean?

Yohtaro TAKANO argues that there are TWO (this is is big addition to the field) reasons why things appear reversed in the mirror. After a very thorough introduction to all the theories as to why things appear left-right, but not up-down reversed in mirrors.
1) In the case of letters, or characters
Because letters have been turned around to face the mirror. This is the same as looking at the backs of the letters.
2) In the case of people.
Because we take the perspective of "the person in the mirror" (rather than our own) when we are looking at "our own" relfection. The "person is the mirror" is a person, an other, at the same time as being ourselves.

How come we have this same other relationship with the person in the mirror, who is at once ourselves, and not ourselves? What is the nature of the relationship? Are we seeing ourselves or are we not?

I suggest that the answer may be in "the other type of mirror reversal" outlined above. The reason why we take the other in the mirror's perspective is because the other in the mirror is like a letter, a character, a symbol for ourselves. When we look in the mirror we are not "seeing ourselves" exactly. We can see a large part of ourselves by looking down at our bodies, and the view (as in the above view of my legs and feet) looks very different. While there is no way that we could see the back of ourselves looking into the mirror. Our turn ourselves around to face ourselves as opposed to the mirror, as we can with sheets of paper with letters written on them. Bur all the same, I think that we teach ourselves to see our reflections as our symbol, our letter, character which is me.

This may show light on the next part of the Susano Amaterasu myth where "both of them" (the mirror and her reflection?) reach into the mirror and take their symbols for each other, curved jewels and a sword (two of the three imperial regalia, the other being the mirror) and spit them out into the mirror.
Posted by timtak at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

Amaterasu as Susano's reflection

Amaterasu as Susano's reflection by timtak
Amaterasu as Susano's reflection a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The Myth of Susano and Amaterasu is probably the most famous in Shinto mythology.

In my experience of asking Japanese people what they think about their myth, this episode together with the one preceding it regarding Izanami and Izanagi, are the only two episodes from the Kiki mythology that Japanese people know. These two myths are therefore, in fame if not also in theme, up there with the myth of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, and an outline of the New testament, the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (see note 1).

The Myth of Susano and Amaterasu, particularly that surrounding the entry and exit of Amaterasu from the rock cave is also said to be related to the main Shinto festival, the New Years festival, or at least the version of the New Years festival performed by the Emperor of Japan, the Chinkonsai (which means festival of accepting the soul of deity). The emperor is thought to be a descendent of the Sun Goddess, and as the year end approaches and the Sun light decreases, his spirit is thought to weaken so in midwinter he reaffirms his connection with the Sun Goddess taking in her spirit once again. Japanese people on the other hand put out "mirror rice cakes" go through a period of semi-fasting, visit their shrine to receive a new Holy Tablet for their household shrine and the Shrine of the Sun Goddess at Ise, and eat the Mirror Rice cakes, thereby (both in the form of the tablet, and in the form of the rice cakes) taking in, and imbibing the spirit of the Sun Goddess into themselves. Through this the Japanese are felt to be reborn every New Year.

Thirdly the myth is interesting due to its possible ability to explain human development. To assume that a myth has this explanatory power before even reading it may be putting the cart before the horse but:

1) The myth starts with an adult male in an arrested stage of development, crying and behaving like a child even though he is advanced in years. Similar developmentally arrested children (most of whom cry, have long beards, and some who cannot speak) are seen throughout the Kojiki myth, so arrested development is arguably a major them. If heroes are not "Eternal Juveniles" ("Eien no Shounen", Hayao Kawaii's term) then it is only because subsequent events in the myth allow them to develop and mature. Thus the myth has been taken to describe human, or at least Japanese human, development.

2) The myth is associated with the birth, or rebirth of the spirit, and so might be describing the genesis of the self.

3) The myth involves an encounter with a mirror, and mirrors loom large in theories of human development such as those of Freud, Piaget and Lacan, where self-recognition in a mirror is seen as being a *stage* in human development. On the face of it Susano, the developmentally arrested hero, does not encounter a mirror himself, except in the person of his sister.

Finally, even so, even if the myth should be an allegory or *parable* about the genesis of the self, then if interested in the development of the self, it might be a better idea to read a book such as "Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness" by Philippe Rochat or another scientific representation of the development of self-awareness. It was a belief in Buddhism that brought me to myth. Buddhism argues, quite convincingly, that the self is a mistake. Be that the case, then it is going to be a very strange, and allegorical sort of explanation that might allow someone in that state of mistake to become aware of it.

Now turning to the Myth of Susano and Amaterasu
The myth starts, as mentioned above with Susano in an arrested state of development. At this point is father arrives and throws him out of the world of adults.

The Name/Prohibition of the Father (skip this if you hate Freud and Lacan)
This again is a very interesting start from a psychoanalytic point of view, since it the Freudian or Lacanian view of child development it is the prohibition of the father, that forces the child to grow up. In Freud, the prohibition of the father causes the child to think something along the lines of "I can't just hang out with my mother. My mother belongs to my father. I must go out and find my own woman."

In Lacan the prohibition said by the mother "I belong to your father." This pronouncement of the prohibition of the father through, the lips of the mother, has a double effect in Lacan, encouraging the child not only to want to go out and get his own mother, but also to want to become "a father" or someone who is called "a father", and so to want to join the word of names, of language. Lacan, in typical Lacan fashion, makes a pun "Non de pere" (the no or prohibition of the father) and "Nom de Pere" the name of the father. So for Lacan, the “prohibition of the father” is also the order to join the world of names, the world of language.

In the Kojiki myth however, the father says "Get out of here, the world of adults, and go to your mother, *if that is what you want to do*." Rather than prohibiting the mother, the Japanese father prohibits entry to (or the ability to remain in) the world. And further, rather than being an obstacle, preventing the child from sleeping with his mother due to his desire, the Japanese father acts as a mirror to the child, telling him forcing him to see himself "*If that is what you want*, then get out of here. Go and do it." The father acts as a linguistic mirror to the child, putting his intentions into language, and forces the child, Susano, to start to act.

The Mirror Goddess as Susano's Hidden Reflection
Things get stranger still in that rather than go see his mother, Susano goes to see his sister, the Sun Goddess. This may not be so strange if one considers that his parents may have been brother and sister. Perhaps the decisive prohibition of the father, caused the child to attempt to mimic his father's incestual relationship by going off to find a sister of his own.

This is when the myth is really interesting. The warrior god, Susano, later famous for killing a dragon, sets off towards his sister, who is it should be emphasised both the goddess of the sun and the goddess of the mirror. As Susano approaches, Amaterasu behaves in a strange way.

From my version of the Susano and Amaterasu Myth
"Amaterasu hears her brother coming from far away (he [too] is stamping and shouting?), and suspects that he may be coming to take her realm away from her. So she dresses like a male warrior, rolling up her long hair in the way of men, and stands beside the "true name well in heaven", shouting and stamping her feet in a "manly" way, so much that she sinks into the ground up to her thighs as if "kicking around slushy snow."

Or here is Chamberlain’s version
"So the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity, alarmed at the noise, said: " The reason of the ascent hither of His Augustness my elder brother is surely of no good intent. It is only that he wishes to wrest my land from me." And she forthwith, unbinding her august hair, twisted it into august bunches; and both into the left and into the right august bunch, as likewise into her august head-dress and likewise on to her left and her right august arm, she twisted an augustly complete string of curved jewels eight feet long, of five hundred jewels, and, slinging on her back a quiver holding a thousand arrows, and adding thereto a quiver holding five hundred arrows, she likewise took and slung at her side a mighty and high sounding elbow-pad, and brandished and stuck her bow upright so that the top shook, and she stamped her feet into the hard ground up to her opposing thighs, kicking away the earth like rotten snow, and stood valiantly like unto a mighty man, and, waiting"

Several commentators point out that the way that Amaterasu puts her hair in buns at her ears, wears a bow, and shouts (quite literally) "like a male," implies that the Sun Goddess is cross-dressing. There is quite a lot of cross dressing in several episodes of the myth. Japanese commentators tend to assume that Amaterasu dresses up as a guy because she wants to be a warrior. Fair enough.

None of the commentators, ancient or modern, that I am aware of (at the time of my paper anyway) were able to shed much light on why Amaterasu should stamp her feet so much that she sinks into the ground “up to her thighs”, and kicks the ground around like slush (weak snow) If you are about to do battle to defend your kingdom, then sinking into the ground up to ones thighs, even if one is dressed as a warrior, does not seem to be an advisable thing to do.

The myth makes sense to me however if one imagines the sight of the Sun Goddess from the point of view of Susano. What he sees is approximately the image above, except that I have drawn (a mythically unforgivable) third person view from behind Susano’s head, in order to emphasise the structure of what may be happening.

Please note that Amaterasu, the deity *of the mirror* in front of him is sunk into the ground until “her” thighs, and dressed, behaving like a male warrior, and that both Susano and she is beside a pool of water, "heaven's well of true names." This is the image that Susano would see of a manly shouting warrior, if he looked into a pool of water at his own reflection. The reason that the image appears buried in the ground up to "her" knees, spraying the ground like slush, is either a result of the angle at which he is looking at the pool at his feet (please see this photo)
perhaps with his feet entering the water a little, and if so, hence the "kicking around slushy snow."

If Susano is seeing a water surface acting as a mirror then it would explain why he and Amaterasu (his reflection?) is able to chew the jewels and swords(2) that they are wearing. Reaching down into the water, he may scoop their reflection, "chew" on them and spit them out.

The Myth of Susano vs The Myth of Narcissus
The myth also presents a very interesting duality: a myth in a myth. Amaterasu is presented as a living entity (a deity) and yet, reading between the lines, she might be interpreted as a mirror, or mirror image. She represents, therefore, a possible misconception on the part of the protagonist, Susano, and from a Buddhist (or Lacanian) view of self, this is what one might hope be described in a description of the development of self. Finally, under this interpretation the Susano Amaterasu myth relates in interesting way with the myth of Narcissus.

Freud used the myth of Narcissus, who falls in love with his reflection to explain why humans come to identify with self-image, and to form a nascent self. What Freud failed to mention, but as John Brenkman (1976) points out, is that myth of Narcissus too contains a duality, a double copying, a myth within a myth. Narcissus even as he falls in love with his own image (which is presented as an image, and his undoing) he is loved by Echo, who, though she is only ever represented in the narrative as the vocal repetition of words that Narcissus speaks, is present (as Amaterasu is present) as an personae. The parallel between the structure of Narcissus, and Susano may be argued to increase in the next part of the myth.

(1) A survey of Mexican converts to Christianity taking part in pagan-Christian syncretistic festival for the dead, by my professor, Nobukyo Nomura, found that the participants were generally only familiar with these two parts of the bible: the myth of the fall and an outline of the New Testament
Kawai Hayao reports that Hidden Christians believed that once upon a time a long time ago humans committed a sin which has stayed with their descendents, but if they pray to the Christian God then they would be forgiven. Kawaii seems to have concluded that Hidden Christians are therefore different from Christians in general but, perhaps they had the general gist of the Christian story.
(2) The jewels and swords that Amaterasu and Susano are wearing are two of the jewels of the Japanese imperial regalia, the third being the mirror itself.
(3) Brenkman. J (1976) “Narcissus in the Text”, Georgia Review, 30, pp293-327.
Posted by timtak at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

Amaterasu and Susano-O

Amaterasu and Susano-O by timtak
Amaterasu and Susano-O a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Izanagi comes back from the underworld and closing its rock door on his undead wife, and exchanging an important vow, he washes himself in a river estuary and as he washes his face, the water drips from each of his eyes and nose, and as it hits the water (upstream, downstream and in the middle of the estuary)three children are born: the sun/mirror goddess Amaterasu from Izanagi's left eye, the moon god Tsukiyomi from his right eye, and Susano-o-o the wild warrior god from his nose.

To each of them Izanagi assigns a realm for them to rule over. Amaterasu goes to rule over high heaven. Tsukiyomi the night, and Susano-o to the world of the sea (or perhaps this world, since later we find that the world of the sea has rivers and mountains)

The three children, rulers all, grow up, but Susano-o spends his whole time crying till his hair grew long. He cried so much that he dries up the rivers and the sea (eh?) and in the absence of a ruler in this world, bad spirits work all kinds of mischief, swarming like flies on a summer's day.

One day Izanagi comes to visit his son Susano-o asks, "Why do you cry?" Susano-o replies, "I cry because I want to see my mother in the world of the dead".

Hearing this Izanagi says "*If you want to do that*, then go from here!" and banishes him from the middle world, and retires to a shrine never to be seen again.

Rather than going to see his mother in the underworld, Susano-o instead decides to go and see his sister, Amaterasu in the plane of high heaven. Amaterasu hears her brother come from far away, and suspects that he may be coming to take her realm away from her. So she dresses like a male warrior, rolling up her long hair in the way of men, and stands beside Well of True Names, shouting like a male warrior, and stamping her feet so much that she sinks into the ground as if into scattering soft snow.

It is here that Susano-o meets her. The sun goddess speaks first asking him, "Why do you come to my kingdom, do you meant to rob me of it?" "Not at all sister" he replies and proceeds to explain what happened. My father came and finding me crying asked me why I cry. I said 'I cry because I want to see my mother in the world of the dead,' there upon he said 'go from here!' and banished me from my kingdom."

"How can I trust you?" asked the goddess Amaterasu. To this Susano-o replies, "How about if, to divine my intentions, we exchange oaths and make children" Amaterasu says "okay." First she takes a part of the sword of her brother, and washing it in the Well of True Names and chewing it chewily spits it out into the Well of True Names, whereupon children are formed as her breathe meets the water. The children are females. Then Susano-o takes some of the curved jewels hanging at his sister's neck and washing them in the pool, chewing them chewily, spits them out onto the surface of Well of True Names, whereupon male children are formed.

There upon, Susano-o exclaims that since the children formed from my possessions(his sword) are wan females, that proves that my heard is pure. And Amaterasu believed him.

But as soon as Susano-o entered the plain of high heaven he wrecked the rice fields, defecating on them, and destroying their walls and dikes. Amaterasu mused to herself "It is just that he has been drinking, and thinks that the rice paddies are better off as fields," but Susano-o's exploits escalated to the point where he climbed onto the roof of the Sun goddess's changing room, and threw down into it a reverse skinly-skinned dappled horse causing a weaving lady to go into a fright and insert her spindle into her vagina.

Shocked, Amaterasu retreated into the cave of rock closing the rock door behind her, and throwing the world into permanent night, at which all the bad sprits swarmed like flies on a summer's day.

The spirits of high heaven gathered together to discuss what should be done. Upon much deliberation they created a vast mirror. Then they had Ama-no-Uzume wear a headdress of jewels, and dance before the rock door, pulling at her breasts and pulling down her skirt to her privates, and perform a lewd dance that caused the assembled myriad spirits to laugh.

Sun goddess was surprised at all this merry-making outside, the and opened the rock door to ask what was going on. The spirits there assembled said, "look, there is someone as beautiful as you out here" and handed Amaterasu a giant mirror, looking into which, Amaterasu thought she was the mirror or that which was reflected, and came out of the cave.

Other gods closed the rock door behind her with sacred straw rope (such as is now displayed at the entrance to shrines) preventing her from returning into the cave.

All the spirits rejoiced at the return of the sun.

Finally they pulled out the hair and fingernails of Susano-o and banished him from the high plain of heaven.
Posted by timtak at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)