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September 14, 2016

Face of the Deep: She's not there

Face of the Deep: She's not there
Inspired by the beginning of the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) too. Embracing as I do a fictional friend with whom I stir conjealed brine with my lance.

Utilizing Oil Slick by Andrew.

Each standing in the others light.

Posted by timtak at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)

Magatama Curved Jewels as (Inner) Ears

Magatama Curved Jewels as (Inner) Ears
Children and adults can make curved jewels at the Yoshinogari museum of ancient Japanese culture in Saga (吉野ヶ里歴史公園) for about 2USD a jewel. My children enjoyed making one each this weekend.

Curved jewels (magatama) are one of the few things mentioned in Japanese mythology that are also found in reality.

As 'transitional object' in both myth and reality, they form one of the three sacred items symbolic of the Japanese imperial lineage the other two being a mirror, of the Sun Goddess, and the sword, that was found inside the tail of a multi-headed snake.

In Japanese mythology, the Sun Goddess is wearing a necklace of curved jewels when she meets her brother Susano who takes some of these jewels, puts them into his mouth, chews (onomatopoeically "kami-kami") them to bits and spits them out into the 'central well of heaven' to create other gods (kami) and imperial ancestors.

This act continues the Japanese mythological theme of "creation via dripping" often onto a reflective surface. The creative act of chewing symbols and spitting them out onto a mirror making the noise of what one is making ("kami" or deities), struck me as being a pagan expression of creation via the word - we speak to internalised other in the mirror of our mind, thereby making the world, speciated, en-wordified.

In Japanese mythology this act of creation, however, ends in disaster. Susano commits all manner of "sins" and his sister the Sun Goddess is lost to the world, since she hides in her cave. When the sun goddess has hidden in her cave, Amenouzume (lit "the headdress wearing woman of heaven) the founder of Japanese masked theatre (and I believe Susano in drag) wears a special headdress including curved jewels, to encourage the sun goddess to come back out of her cave by performing an erotic dance on top of a drum which made all present laugh, which encourages the Sun Goddess to come out of her cave again.

[My interpretation is that this is Susano attempting to return from the hell of the narrative self, by enacting it as an erotic solo, transsexual, auditory - hence the drum - dance to achieve enlightenment through satire and humour. Derrida represents the tragedy in a book of self addressed loving, erotic postcards. Japanese mythology and dance is more behavioural. ]

The curved jewels are said to have first have been made by deity by the name of "Parent of the Jewels" whose shrine is about 20 km from where I live in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Hōfu City (Tamanooya Jinja 玉祖神社).

This brings me to the occurrence of curved jewels in reality. They are found widely in ancient Japanese Joumon (lit. "string pattern" [pottery]) archaeological sites and in ancient burial mounds and in ancient archaeological royal sites from Korea.

The Japanese claim that the curved jewels spread from Japan to Korea, whereas Koreans claim that they spread from Korea to Japan. In Korea they are called gogok or comma shaped jewels and are found paired with mirrors on the regalia of Korean Kings in decidedly ear shaped forms, hanging from a tree shaped crown (similar that worn by Ameno-Uzume, the head-dress-woman, my "Sunsano in drag").

The fact that they hang from a tree has suggested that they represent a fruit.

[A fruit reminds me of Adam's apple, which gets stuck in our throat. I would also be inclined to suggest that the tree crown may also have had a practical purposes as a primitive "selfie-stick" to enable its wearer to see himself reflected, and echoed, in mirrors and jewels, there dangling.]

There are several other theories as to the significance of the shape of curved or comma jewels, all of the following from Wikipedia.
The shape of an animal tusk
The shape of the moon
The shape of a two or three part tomoe (as represented in the above image top row)
The shape of the soul
The shape of ear decorations

I had liked the part tomoe (Taoist and Shinto symbol) interpretation, for no good reason, but the ear decoration theory is more persuasive.

According to recent research (Suzuki, 2006) on curved jewels unearthed in Korea and Japan, curved jewels are found alongside "nearly circular ear jewellery split into two halves. The visual evidence for ear jewellery as the origin of curved jewels appears to be strong (see the above link and bottom left in the above image).

This interpretation does not conflict with the tomoe or soul interpretation. Various scholars (Mead, Bakhtin, Freud, Lacan, Derrida) claim that the self is dependent upon the assumption of an ear into the psyche. As such, a fitting together (either as a circle or tomoe) ear-shaped or ear-associated jewel may have represented a transitional, partial-self-object.

It is known that mirrors were given to others as remembrance tokens or keepsakes by the ancient Japanese from poems in the Book of Ten Thousand Leaves (manyoushuu). Looking at a mirror presented by a loved one, one might feel their gaze. Hearing the sound of the clinking of a curved jewel, made from the earring of ones mother or girlfriend, one might imagine the attention of their loving ear.

I have also claimed that headless deformed Venus figurines, including ancient Japanese dogu and and ancient Jewish Ishtar idols, may have represented the represented part of an autoscopic visual self. 'The ancients' may have known more about the parts from which the self is created, or at least been more fully aware that the self is created from parts. Moderns may have become more prudish, and lost our sense of humour.

In Japanese mythology, when Susano chewed the Sun Goddesses' curved jewels and spat them out into a reflective surface (in which he may have been reflected as his sister, I claim), she took his sword and chewed it and spat it out likewise into the well of heaven. The curved jewels therefore form a pair with swords. In a myth parallel to that in which the sword (Kusanagi no Tsurugi) was found in the tail of a snake, the sword is associated with the naming of its owner. Indeed it could be argued that the sword that Susano finds in the snake is his symbolic self-representation. If jewels represent internalised ears, then it would be appropriate that they be paired with swords as self symbols or names. Mirrors can represent the perspective/gaze, and the transitional, part-self image that is gazed at, and the world-heart in which it takes place.

It seems to me that my self-narrative and any internal ear take place on or in the mirror of my consciousness which sees as it is seen.

In China, "nearly circular" earrings (I thought that they were "butt" shaped earrings in an earlier version of this post!) are sometimes represented as a snake or dragon biting its own tail. Out out damn butt (! I jest, ketsu, 玦) snake! My self narrative is gay.

That in Japan the "incomplete circle" 玦 "pig dragon" earrings are broken into two, and worn as necklaces seems to me to represent the way in which language and the linguistic self in Japan does not form an "incomplete circle," completed by the reality of the ear or face, nor go around in Japanese people's minds but is broken. The linguistic self, the "I" of the cogito, is in Japan, as Mori claims, broken, a "you for you."

Under this reading, the myths of Susano - with his sister and in Izumo - are about how one form of selfing defeated another: in Japan the paradoxical circle of light defeated the incomplete snake circle of speaking. Or paraphrasing the myth from Guam, some humans managed to escape from hell to live in the light of the sun, without physically or imaginatively nailing themselves to a tree.

Perhaps I should dress up in drag and dance in front of a mirror, as a metaphor for that which I am always doing, now for instance. I did in fact recommend dancing in front of a mirror to a schizophrenic many years ago. That patient showed remarkable but only temporary improvement.

Suzuki, K. 鈴木克彦 (2006) "縄文勾玉の起源に関する考証."『玉文化』3号.

Posted by timtak at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2012

What are the Kami not? Beyond the logodome


I am really confused about the Kami. Also, alas I have not even been going to Shrines much lately. But here I will describe Shinto as a sort of Nacalian philosophy, a sort of reversal of world as described by Jacques Lacan.

I have long been interested in what God might be. I was raised in many ways an atheist. I had good physics classes and a parent that thought the world physical. I had another parent that believed in "God." "What?" I thought. And I asked, and got answers that did not make much sense to me. "God is love," was one of them. Lately, that answer makes a little more sense, but still not a lot.

I have since searched around for other answers to this question as to what (first of all) the God that Christians talk about might be. So here is my collection of theories on what God might be.

Starting with the most atheistic, Richard Dawkins (2008) says that God is an "imaginary friend". that is a start.

Following on, a book I liked about an imaginary friend is John Wyndham's "Chocky" (1968). In that children's book, the imaginary friend turned out to be an alien from outer space! It has been a long time since I read "Chocky" but I think I liked, or like now, the way the imaginary friend turned out to be real:-). Speaking of imaginary friends that turn out to be real, my son has for the past couple of years been addicted to "The Gruffalo" a picture book by Julian Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (2006). In it a mouse makes up a sort of imaginary friend - a monster called a Gruffalo, who again turns out to be real. Can that which starts out as an imaginary friend become real?

Someone also asked what attracted us to Shinto. One of the things that really attracted me to Shinto was sorry for using a nerdy numbered list but...
1) My feeling was that I did have an imaginary friend
2) Not only do I have an imaginary friend but I can't seem to stop having one.
3) Christianity seemed to require that I claim my imaginary friend is *real,*
4) That seemed to be going a bit too far - to claim reality to my imaginary friend.
5) I met Shinto practitioners (at least three) who said that while they believed in the Kami they were not sure if they were real or not. One famous Shinto practitioner (the founder of a Shinto Sect; Kurozumi, 2000) even seemed to intimate that they thought that their Kami are not real. But as far as they were concerned, that did not matter. 'If you believe then that is okay,  welcome to Shinto!' I bet that a lot of Shintoists would not agree and insist that the Kami are 100% real. But at least some Shintoist felt that belief, imagining something to be true, feeling something to exist, and acting as if something exists, is enough to do Shinto. That struck me, strikes me, as very attractive, very much in tune with how I feel.

Moving on to more highbrow theories of (Christian) God.

Adam Smith (1812, see Brat, 2005), the economist was a Calvinist by upbringing. He theorised the existence of an "Impartial Spectator." He said that we see ourselves from the point of view of an "Impartial Spectator". Bearing in mind where I am going to take this, I should mention that Adam Smith felt the "Impartial Spectator" to be above all *rational*. What is a "rational impartial spectator"? Why should we have, or imagine one?

Sigmund Freud (1913) said we have a "Super Ego," which is an imaginary father figure hidden inside our head. Freud, for all his popularity, is rather hocus pocus it seems to me. He claimed that we have a Super Ego due to the real event (!) of killing and eating (yuck) a primal big bully father, in the depths of human history, and then (for reasons that are not entirely clear) feeling so guilty about it that we felt and feel obliged to internalise that father figure, that our ancestors killed. Freud has written a lot, and gives other reasons for the origin of the "super ego" but, I am not keen on historico-concrete or physiological essentialism of his theories. One thing I do like however is that he emphasises that we *hide the internalisation*. Going back to the "imaginary friend" metaphor, it is as if we make, and intake (eat, internalise) an imaginary friend and then hide the fact that have done so. That part is very much how I feel. For many years it seems to me I kind of forgot my imaginary friend was even there. I had sort of hidden my friend, it seems to me. Freud also asserts that the Super-ego is a condition for the ego or "I" (me, myself) but I am not able to say why. These next theorists start to explain why.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1986) was a Russian literary critic and philosopher of language. Before I introduce what he had to say, Hermans and Kempen (1993) are two Dutch, I think, psychologists, who are quite popular at the moment that have a theory of imaginary friends (though not of god) based upon Bakhtin. Bakhtin argued, I think, that language is always meaningful in communication, in discourse. So what happens when we are on our own? Bakhtin, and Hermans and Kempen, say that we are always imagining a variety of real friends and acquaintances as listeners to our language. Yes! As I write this blog post I am thinking of how a few list members (if they are still reading) might react to what I am writing. It is by imagining their presumed reaction that I am able to be coherent to myself, to be meaningful. Bakhtin (and his followers Hermans and Kempen, 1993) provide an answer as to why it may be difficult to give up on imaginary friends. If language is essentially discursive, depending upon an addressee, then all those times we are using language on our own, we need imaginary-real-friends at least to help, or allow us to understand what we are saying.

Bakhtin (1986, p126) himself went further to assert that not only do we imagine the reaction of imaginary real others, (i.e. for instance John Dougill or David Chart, or Sean K., or anyone we are talking to) Bakhtin also claims that we imagine a "super addressee." What is a super-addressee? Bakhtin says that any person that we are talking to, or even any group that we are talking to, are not going to understand all that we have to say. We want to say more. We want to say what we have to say and not be limited by our audience (as if!). So Bakhtin claims, we also imagine in addition to all the people (the second persons of our narrative, a third person, someone else who is, hearing or reading our words and understand them. This rings a bell: Adam Smith's "impartial spectator." It also explains the "reasonable-mess" of Smith's spectator. I think that Smith said that his "spectator" is reasonable because rather than "spectating" (that is to say viewing) the impartial spectator is an impartial listener.

George Herbert Mead (1967 and free on the Internet) has the same kind of theory, but also provides more meat to notion that our imaginary friend is essential, or even that the imaginary friend turns out to be real. Mead starts out from the "Radical Empiricism" of William James in which experience, for the child at least is a chaos of colours and feelings in which there is no self nor world just a mishmash of experience [Aside, Japanese philosopher of Zen, Nishida was also very influenced by James]. Mead proposed a way for us to recognise ourselves, our self, from out of that confusion. He said that we do, we must do it, by expressing ourselves and internalising the reaction we imagine others to have - imaginary real friends again - and then gradually, to internalise so many perspectives, that similar to Bakhtin's "super addressee" we become able to simulate a "generalised other." That is to say, a sort of amalgam of all the friends we have, of our mother, our father, our friends, our enemies, eventually an impartial listener. By coming to be able understand at first the reactions of real others, and finally to the reaction of their amalgam/average/generalisation, we are able to understand our words objectively, and understand who we are, from the perspective of that simulation.

I bet all these people are (in my version) sounding very similar. Too right. The above is merely my interpretation of all these theories.

Now break (Collins, 1982, 1:59)....When I was about 22 I went stone raving mad and found that I not only did I agree with all the above, but that I met my "super-addressee," my "super-ego" my "generalised other," the "Gruffalo". And I did not like, did not want to share a head with the simulated person I met, primarily because she was a woman. Or rather, most of all, I did not like the self that I had (have) in the dialogue I had (have) with my internalised "other," because all this talking to a woman had feminised him (me) more than seemed advisable. Also, until that point I had been an atheist. After that point I came to think that I had an imaginary friend upon whom I depend.

About two years later I came to Japan.

Japan is a strange kind of place (or perhaps the UK was). I felt very liberated here. It seemed to me that Japan did not have the same kind of thing going on at all. The Japanese did not seem to care nearly so much about heir words. In Japan it was like, *no one is listening*.

There is a Japanese theorist Arimasa Mori (1999), who lived in Paris and was au fait with the aforementioned theories of super-addressees etc. Nothing that the Japanese language contains gramattical markers and first person pronoun change depending upon who one is talking to, Mori said the same thing: Japanese language is directed only to the person the Japanese speaker is talking to. There is no third person presumed to be listening. There is no impartial spectator to Japanese words. At first it was like I had escaped God that I had left the logo-dome("Mad Max 3"*).

It seemed to me that the rugged individualism, the self-confidence, the self-esteem of my English peers was bought at the price of believing in the tenets of reason, of internalising the big ear in the sky.

Almost all theorist of Japan since Ruth Benedict and well before and after, Eshun Hamaguchi, Hazel Markus and Shinobu Kitayama, Kimura Bin, Takeo Doi, Chie Nakane, Shu Kishida, Takahiko Masuda, Steven Heine and lots more, and all the big names (sorry to name drop), seem to claim that the Japanese are collectivists, groupists, interdependent. That they do not have a God or even Gods, but that they are defined in, trapped in, only care about, their real friends, or at best imaginary-real-friends (see Herman and Kempen above). The Japanese, it is claimed, only care about self-presentation, how they look to 'their public' (Seken). They could, under this theory, sell their mother down river if it suited them and the rest of their peers did not complain.

Now this is where I and most of the theorist I know part company and where I get onto the Kami. The view of the Japanese as collectivists is not my experience. Yes the Japanese are into harmony, or getting on well together (Yamagishi, 2002). But it seems to me that one of the reasons that they are so into harmony is because the Japanese are so self-possessed. I am an egoistical English public school ponce. Though fractured, I know how to push people around, and I have in the past. The Japanese, however, are no push-over. They say "yeah," and "I agree" and "Okay, probably the opposite" and "whatever." Then they walk away, ignore you, and know you are a fool. The Japanese seem to be very independent, as in difficult to sway, non-conformist, to me. There is some research to support this view (Takano & Osaka, 1999; Takano & Sogon, 2008), but it is limited and contraversial.

All the same while it appeared to me that Japanese words slip slide like the proverbial 'water off a ducks back' they make baseball players, cars, marathon runners, boxers, scholars, fashion, anime, manga, architecture, weird inventions, martial artists, computer games, and a whole load of beautiful people, to beat the world. You don't get that sort of creativity and achievement without a considerable degree of personal motivation. What is going on?

Incipit Lacan (2007). I love, but mainly also hate Lacan. Jacques Lacan was a French obfuscater. He obfuscated like mad. He may well have been a genius or a charlatan or both. Most of what he says is to me at least, double Dutch. However, he has a couple of things going for him. Like Mead, Nishida, and James, he believes that at first there is chaos, and that the self (me, I, you) is something that created, even fictional. Secondly, he also says that there are two ways of creating a self. All the above theorists stress the importance of Language. And Lacan may stress the importance of language even more the any of the above. But he also theories, in his paper on "The Mirror Stage" that one can have a visual self, if we have a mirror or another person's face. We can, or we do, according to Lacan, generate an conception of self visually when we see ourselves reflected in a mirror, or when we see how others' faces change according to our visual behaviour.

Mead also addresses this question specifically. He says that while one can always hear one's own linguistic thoughts, we need a mirror (of glass) or an physically present audience, to be able to gain an autoscopic (self-directed self-) view.

All the Western theorist of internalised others, imaginary/simulated interlocutors, above (see also Buber 1970, Marková 2006 for a review) sound so rational. Unfortunately for them, recent advances in neurology have shown that we all can simulate Autoscopy (Blanke & Metzinger, 2009) via "mirror neurons." All the above Western theorists treat it as a given that we can understand ourselves from the perspective of others (quite a mental feat, methinks) but seeing oneself is almost impossible without external devices.

Okay. So what are the Kami? For a long time it seemed to me that in Japan, the Japanese, the Shintoists have learnt how to see themselves. Not only do they see themselves from the position of other-real-imaginary friends. I.e. not only can they imagine how their mothers see them, or how their father, friend or grandparent sees them, they can also simulate how their dead great grandparent sees them, and how the world sees them, and how (similar to the generalised other, or super addressee) a impartial spectator, in the literal sense see them. The Japanese have what the Noh philosopher Zeami (see Yusa, 1987) calls "riken no ken" a view on the self from nowhere, from a generality, from the kami, from the view point of the Japanese Gods.

So my first answer to this question, "what are the Kami", is that they are, like the Western God, a sort of imaginary friend, that is amalgamated, combined, generalised and thus from no-where just like their Western counterparts, but in a different channel vision, not language. In both cases, however, athiests take note, they are imaginary friends upon which we depend.

But then, returning to the confusion that I expressed at the beginning of this email, it seems clear at the same time that the Kami have a lot to do with symbols. After all the sacred tablet in my household shrine is a piece of card with the name of a deity stamped upon it. It is almost as if all the preceding argument should be reversed. In the beginning was the word and the word was god? The "god body" in my household shrine contains a word, printed on a piece of paper.

Another thing I have been interested in these past few years is Japanese superheroes who, from Mitoukoumon, Mira- Man, to Super-sentai and kamen rider transform via the use of symbols. The receipt of special symbols in the form of sacred shrine tablets (ofuda), lucky charms (omamori), ('rubber-') stamps received when on pilgrimage, Gaia memory, Pokemon cards...all these things are tremendously important and sacred.

I wonder if the "the body" that Christians receive at the sacrament/mass is the same sort of thing. But even if that where the case, is "the body" (of Christ) sacred? I am not sure of the importance of the body of Christ to Christians or the extent to which it is felt to vector the sacred. Okay, yes. I will run with this. The Christian god listens, is linguistic, is the linguistic Other of our thoughts, but is vectored by a wafer of *body*. Shinto deities see, is the together-seeing (Osama Kitayama, 2005) thou, but they are vectored by the tablet or a sign.

The sub title of the film "Mad Max 3" is "Beyond Thunderdome." I like the title because it was a place that was also a sound, or perhaps a place were sounds are heard. It seems that my head, or perhaps even Western culture is like a sound box, or place where sounds, particularly words sound and are heard, hence "the logodome." When I eventually saw the film, and the "Thunderdome" in question, a place were people go to fight to the chant of ""two men enter, one man leaves." and the existence of a double man (Master-Blaster, reminiscent of Nietzsche's dwarf that rides on Zarathustra's shoulders) made me think that its writers (Miller and Hayes) might conceivably have have been thinking about imaginary friends, imaginary audiences. It has a great poster (above) with Auntiy Entity (Tina Turner) on the shoulder of Mad Max (Mel Gibson). I feel that I have, or am, an imaginary dwarf riding on a giant.

Selected Bibliography
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Brat, D. (2005). Adam Smith’s God: The End of Economics. Virginia economic journal, 59. Retrieved from
Blanke, O., & Metzinger, T. (2009). Full-body illusions and minimal phenomenal selfhood. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(1), 7–13. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.10.003
Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou, trans. (W. Kaufmann, Ed.). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Collins, P. (1982). You Can’t Hurry Love. Atlantic Records.
Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. Mariner Books.
Donaldson, J. (2006). The Gruffalo. Puffin.
Freud, S. (1913). Totem and taboo. (A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. Retrieved from
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Kitayama, O. 北山修. (2005). 共視論. 講談社.
Kurozumi, M. (2000). The Living Way: Stories of Kurozumi Munetada, a Shinto Founder. (W. Stoesz & S. Kamiya, Trans.). Altamira Pr.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). W W Norton & Co Inc.
Marková, I. (2006). On the inner alter in dialogue. International Journal for Dialogical Science, 1(1), 125–147.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Miller, G., & Ogilvie, G. (1997). Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Warner Home Video.
Mori, A. 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.
Smith, A. (1812). The theory of moral sentiments. Retrieved from
Takano, Y., & Osaka, E. (1999). An unsupported common view: Comparing Japan and the US on individualism/collectivism. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2(3), 311–341.
Takano, Y., & Sogon, S. (2008). Are Japanese More Collectivistic Than Americans?: Examining Conformity in In-Groups and the Reference-Group Effect. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 39(3), 237–250. doi:10.1177/0022022107313902. Retrieved from
Wyndham, J. (2010). Chocky. Penguin Books.
Yamazaki, M. (Ed.). (1984). On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami. J.T. Rimer, Trans.) (annotated ed.). Princeton University Press.
Yamagishi, T. 山岸俊男. (2002). 心でっかちな日本人―集団主義文化という幻想. 日本経済新聞社.
Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331–345.

Posted by timtak at 01:31 AM | Comments (1)

May 22, 2012

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished

Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished by timtak
Unlit Lamps Remind us they are never Extinguished, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

In front of many Shinto shrines there are many stone lanterns. They have the shape of lanterns. They have windows in them representing the sun and the moon. But perhaps it is more appropriate to say that they are copies of lanterns because, in the vast majority of cases the simulated lanterns are never lit. They may appear to be fake lanterns, containing nether candle, nor any sort of lamp. So what are they doing there?

It seems to me that these lamps draw attention the visual or qualia field of consciousness, or in other terms, "the mirror of the sun goddess".
It was this mirror that became the first copy-that-was-not-a-copy, in Shinto mythology. Amaterasu, the Sun-Godess appeared to have been fooled by it, tricked out of her cave, but was she? Was she perhaps not a mirror all along? Certainly when the first imperial ancestor left her company for Japan he was given, as a senbestu of sorts or keepsake, a mirror, which the first emperor was told to worship as if it were the original.

his mirror or field always extended, and in a sense alight, while we are awake, and can not be turned off other than globally by death, unconsciousness and sleep. The lanterns in front of Shinto shrines are thus never extinguished and in a way shiny brightly, even or especially in daylight. So bearing that in mind, are these lanterns copies of lanterns, or really lanterns after all?

Some people believe that words mean ideas and that these ideas are somehow both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of god). They believe furthermore that the meanings of words are not copies, but always authentic in each and every instantiation. The Japanese may believe that the world they see is both in the mind and in the world (or the mind of a different type of God). In that case perhaps "copies", such as copied horses or copied shrines, are not copies at all but the real thing.

Further Reading

Derrida, J. (2011). Voice and Phenomenon: Introduction to the Problem of the Sign in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Northwestern Univ Pr.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr.

Posted by timtak at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2012

"Chinkon" and Inhaling the Earth

Chinkon literally means something like "sinking the soul" or "putting the soul down into the body", or perhaps again "pacifying the soul (so that it does not fly off somewhere?)"

In Shinto, as in many other religions, the soul of humans comes from the outside, from the divine.

Chinkon uses the characters for "sink" (chin, shizumu) and "soul" (kon, tamashii, spirit, mind, perhaps self), and refers to the notion that for humans to be human, to exist at all, to have a soul, they need to take into themselves the divine.

Shinto says that we need to make sure that our soul stays inside us. And that we need to take in the divine, periodically, especially at New Year, when Japanese eat Rice Cakes and get an new amulet from their Shrine and by this means, take in the spirit, effecting a rebirth.

Yanakita (1990) says that in the past these amulets were more natural (small stones, leaves, pieces of branch) that were taken from the shrine area as a vector for the spirit. The belief that trees in the vicinity of shrines contained magical properties continued into the nineteenth century (Hearn, 1894, p305; Herbert 2010, p.100). Yanagita (1975) and others also point out that the "Ihai" in Buddhist altars, or mitama in Shinto altars, were originally derived from the same pieces of spirit-containing-wood so that a person while alive would receive their soul as amulet/tablet/stone/stick and after death this would be returned to the shrine after a suitable period of prayer and purification.

In the Chinkon rite carried out by the emperor of Japan under some interpretations the soul of the imperial ancestors is inherited and refreshed anew by the ritual putting on of clothes (Orikuchi, see Mayer, 1991). The use of clothes to change the self is not limited to, but perhaps especially prevalent in, Japan (Calefato, 2000, p19-20). Watsuji (1937) models the self or "persona" upon a mask which is worn. McVeigh's "Wearing Ideology" (2000) describes the variety of ways in which clothing, especially uniforms are used to regulate, control, express and define self in modern Japan.

Needless to say Shinto is also about purification too. In Shinto people periodically sends out the junk, and takes in the divine. The purification is achieved by rituals often involving waving sticks with lots of pieces of zigzag shaped paper at the end, getting into water, or waterfalls, or simply by cleaning oneself and ones immediate environment - folks usually clean and effectively repaint their houses at the end of each year.

This notion of the need to take into oneself the divine, is as above, quite common in many religions.

I was just thinking to look up the notion of what might be called "chinkon" in Christianity.
[There are many ways in which people take into themselves the divine in Christianity too
1) In the far Eastern Church *at least* humans are human and not beasts, not just body, because they have taken in (chinkonned?) the logos of God.
2) The body of Christ as consumed, eaten, in mass. (The Japanese too eat and take inside themselves the sun goddess at New Year in the form of "mirror rice cakes")
3) 'The realisation' that God is already inside them, that they have a relationship with God who is always omnipresent, even or especially party to ones thoughts. In Christianity, perhaps, the 'Chinkonning' of the soul is thought to be *not* a sinking in of the divine, and *not* an actual ontological movement of the divine, but an epistemological realising that the divine was there all along. This may be a difference between Shinto and Christianity.]

Chinkon refers to the taking in of a bit of Kami, a copy of Kami, (bunshin, bunrei) into oneself, that is or becomes oneself. I am most familiar with the teaching of a Shinto-offshoot-cult called "Kurozumikyo" where, as in the page you referenced, the practioners attempt to inhale the sun or sun goddess. In the page you referenced they are inhaling the entire earth. This becomes their soul. Their soul is a part/copy/another sun. This in Kurozumi-Kyo is the sun or mirror which is the Sun Goddess.

In Shinto the spirits are infinitely partionable, like dividing a fire (Norinaga, see Herbert, 2010, p99) in a way that each of the portioned parts are (almost?) equivalent to the whole. That way for instance, the spirits (kami) enshrined at one place can be taken to shrines at other places and be in both places.

In the Kurozumi view, in a sense we are the Sun Goddess, we have a sun of hers, a mirror of hers, which is her, as our soul.

Generally in mainstream branches of Shinto one takes in something divine, generally these days simply by buying an amulet, and and prior to that also attempts to expunge the impure (via lots of waving of pieces of paper, etc).

It seems to me that the practice of inhaling the earth or sun may be, philosophically, similar to a phenomenological 'transcendental meditation' especially as understood by the Japanese phenomenologist and Zen practitioner Kitarou Nishida.

Husserl the German phenomenologist, claimed that if we just attend to phenomenon and quiet/stop or "bracket away" our interpretations of phenomena then we are left with a mass of sense datum AND our awareness that we are aware of this sense datum (Husserl, 1960, p.25) . Nishida (having practised Zen meditation) on the other hand said that if you turn off all interpretation then there is no awareness of oneself interpreting the sense datum, but that that soul and world meet at and as that sense datum, or at what the German physicist Ernst Mach called the visual field (see also). Nishida went further than Mach (who he quotes in the preface to "Philosophy of the Good") in that he argues the individual is inside the sensations rather than the other way around*.

Heisig (2004) claims that Nishida, like medieval German philosophers and believed in a "mental mirror" with "no tain" (the tain is the silver bit on the back of the glass). Alternatively it
might be argued that the soul and the world is, or meets at the tain.

The breathing exercise may be an attempt to come to this realisation. The breathing itself may quieten interpretive thought and the inhale of the world/sun may make us attend to the visual field or phenomenological totality of consciousness.

I think that the rowing in the next part of the exercise (as many other repetitive actions in the Japanese martial arts) may require the practitioners to visualise himself, to awake in himself "riken no ken" (Yusa) the ability to see himself from a point outside himself and yet of course inside himself - an internalised external gaze, as demonstrated in through experimental social psychology (Cohen & Gunz, 2002; Cohen, Hoshino-Browne, & Leung, 2007; Heine, Takemoto, Moskalenko, Lasaleta, & Henrich, 2008).

*"For a long time I had entertained the thought of trying to explain everything using pure experience as the only existent (jitsuzai). At first, I tried reading Mach, but was not at all satisfied. Subsequently.... I came to believe that one could escape solipsism thinking that it is not the case that the individual comes before experience, but that experience is prior to the individual and that experience is more fundamental than the distinction of the individual." (Nishida "The philosophy of the Good," preface, cited and translated by Michael Santone)

Calefato, P. (2004). The Clothed Body. Berg.
Cohen, D., & Gunz, A. (2002). As seen by the other...: perspectives on the self in the memories and emotional perceptions of Easterners and Westerners. Psychological Science, 13(1), 55–59. Retrieved from
Cohen, D., Hoshino-Browne, E., & Leung, A. K. (2007). Culture and the structure of personal experience: Insider and outsider phenomenologies of the self and social world. Advances in experimental social psychology, 39, 1–67.
Mayer, A. C. (1991). Recent succession ceremonies of the Emperor of Japan. Nichibunken Japan Review, 2, 35–62.
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.
Hearn, L. (1894). Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Complete). Library of Alexandria.
Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida’s medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55–72.
Herbert, J. (2010 [1967]). Shinto: At the Fountainhead of Japan. Taylor & Francis.
Husserl, E. (1960). Cartesian meditations: An introduction to phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. M. Nijhoff.
McVeigh, B. J. (2000). Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling and Self-Presentation in Japan (First ed.). Berg Publishers.
Watsuji 和辻哲郎. (1937). 面とぺルソナ. 岩波書店.
Swanger, E. R., & Takayama, K. P. (1981). A Preliminary Examination of the‘ Omamori’ Phenomenon. Asian Folklore Studies, 40(2), 237–252.
Yanagita 國男柳田. (1975). 先祖の話. 筑摩書房.
Yanagita 柳田国男. (1990). 神樹篇. 柳田国男全集 (Vol. 14).
Yusa, M. (1987). Riken no Ken. Zeami’s Theory of Acting and Theatrical Appreciation. Monumenta Nipponica, 42(3), 331–345.

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

April 10, 2012

Shinto Symbols as Totemism/Bricolage

Shinto shrines are covered in pieces of paper, often zigzag strips of paper. They hang from the rice straw ropes (shimenawa 注連縄) that mark a sacred site. They are attached to the sacred branches that people give as an offering in Shinto ceremonies (tamagushi 玉串). They are used as a tool for purification, when swung to and fro in bulk at the end of a wand (大幣/祓い串). They stand next to mirrors at shrines as gohei(御幣).

In addition the the zig zag strips however, there are other pieces of paper that Shrines give out, specifically the pieces of paper that people take home to put in their household shrines (ofudaお札), and the pieces of paper that are contained inside Shinto lucky charms (omamoriお守り).

However, in many case, as Yanagita (1990) bewails, the same things are at once offerings to the gods (like money today) and invested of, containing the gods themselves (note 1).

It seems to me that essentially they are all the same, the vector for the sacred symbols of Shinto: the offerings which start out as simply pieces of paper become sacred as a result of their use as symbols. When they are in their zig-zag form, the form which is usually given to shrines, they have yet to have been cut or torn into their individual form for distribution to worshippers as sacred tags (fuda札) or lucky charms (omamori).

This video shows you how to make the zigzag strips and how I propose they were originally used, to create strips of paper for distribution to the faithful.

There is strong evidence to suggest that these strips of paper evolved from the use of branches, leaves, and grass as is recorded in the ethnology of Kunio Yanagita(1990), and as is suggested by the form of the tamagushi, which like the composite forms recorded by Yanagita, may be the old form of the Shinto symbol (a branch with leaves) combined with new (the zig zag strips shown in this video). For ethnographic evidence that these strips of paper were once branches and leaves, and that they were distributed, please notes in Japanese at the bottom of this post.

Bearing in mind the natural origins of Shinto symbols, I think that Shinto can be interpreted as a form of totemism, that is to say, a religion that values, structures, distributes a certain type of sign. Levi-Strauss (1966) redefined totemism as "bricolage," (DIY) or "the science of the concrete": the use of things to hand, things in the world to signify their gods *and themselves*. The importance of this observation is that it provides a hint to a non-logocentric (i.e. hearing yourself speak) form of self.

The problem with this interpretation is that, while Levi-Strauss(1966) concentrates on the use of natural articles for thought, he does mention the use of manufactured articles (such as gourds) used as totems, and even mythical articles (mythical creatures) used for totems. This considered, the distinction between "savage thought" and Western thought (using mental images of phonemes) becomes very vague. If Shinto is a form of totemism then it has moved beyond using solely natural articles to using seals printed on pieces of paper. In what sense if any are such symbols "concrete" or part of the world any more than phonemes are part of the world? I suggest that these symbols, that are organised, distributed and valued by the Shinto religion are above all visual, understood by the eye rather than ear of the mind.

That visual signs can mean by themselves without the vector of the phoneme is argued persuasively by Hansen (1993) but runs directly against the Western tradition (Barthes, 1977) and is attacked vociferously by scholars such as Unger (1990).

That Japanese may have used branches, leaves, and grass as important religious symbols may be the reason why they are recorded as saying things in the "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" (Manyoushu) and why, as recorded in the same book, as a result of the imperial government being so effectively organised (and I suggest the use of paper and ideograms) that the same trees and grass stopped saying things. I need to find those two poems.

Sorry it was not poems. In the great purification ritual in the Shinto book of prayers and rituals (engishiki) it says
国内にあらぶる神たちをば、神問はしに問はし給ひ、神掃ひに掃ひ給ひて、語問ひひ磐ね樹だち、草の片葉をも語止めて、天之磐座放れ、天の八重雲をいつの千別に千別きて、天降りし依しまつりき (Toyota, 1980, p74)
Which may mean something like. To all the wild spirits throughout the land, impeaching them and sweeping them away, the rocks and trees and the leaves of grass that before called out to us, stopped speaking, when (and) the imperial ancestors left the rock of heaven and parting the clouds came down from heaven.

By performing the purification ritual (which these days is accompanied by a lot of waving of paper, but in those days seemed to use tablets or pieces of wood that are washed away in a river) the ancient Japanese felt that their ritual provided by the new imperial system enabled them to rid of their wild spirits, and prevent the rocks, trees, and grass from speaking despite the fact that they had done so hitherto. I argue that what we are seeing here is the gradual transformation (or subjugation) of a purely natural science of the concrete (totemism), wherein rocks, trees and grass where used as symbols - hence they 'spoke' - into a ritualistically structured legal, political religious system eventually using Chinese characters stamped on pieces of wood, cloth and paper. By way of analogy imagine if some deposed EU bureaucrats from Brussels, went to live with the Nuer (as studied by Evans-Prichard, 1940), and rather than converting them to Christianity, ordered and persuaded the Nuer to formalise their belief system. "No, there is no need to cut scars into your face any more. Please use these ID cards instead. Don't worry, the same information will be contained in the bar-code here. Yes, the bar-code reader will be available at all marriages and festivals." And so the science of the concrete evolved, but it did not become logo-phoocentric (Derrida), or alphabetical (Hansen, 1993).

Implications for Non-Shintoists Recent Westerner psychologists have with increasing frequency, claimed that it is the practice of using 'inner speech' or internal self-narration that is constitutive of self. Descartes cogito has been modified from "I think, therefore I can be sure that I am," to "I think, or speak to myself, and listen to myself speaking to myself, therefore I come into being." But what sort of being can come into existence as a result of speaking? Only a fiction surely? Over this question Western psychologists and philosophers (see Dennet, 1992; Velleman, 2005) are divided, but as long as there is only one method of symbolic-self-creation, then it may seem as if humans are bound by some imperative (Kant, 1785), or hard-wired (Pinker, 1994), to narrate themselves into existence. But what if there were other ways of symbolising oneself? What if there were indeed some race of 'Cretans' who consistently prevaricated, who did not care about, certainly do not identify with, and perhaps even despised language, and who, at the same time, functioned, and created a stable society? Then the 'imperative,' 'hard-wiring' would be swept out from under the feet of the fiction, and once again perhaps we'll be 'falling, backward, sideward, forward, in all directions', unless God, of one type or another, were still alive.

Barthes, R. (1977). Elements of Semiology. Hill and Wang.
Dennett, D. (1992) "The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity." in F. Kessel, P. Cole and D. Johnson, eds, Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives, Hillsdale, NJ:Erlbaum. Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373--399. doi:10.2307/2059652
Kant, I; translated by James W. Ellington [1785] (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.. Hackett. pp. 30. ISBN 0-87220-166-X. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1966). The science of the concrete. In G. Weidenfield (Trans.), The Savage Mind. University Of Chicago Press. Retrieved from
Toyotai, K. 豊田国夫(1980)『日本の言霊思想』講談社学術文庫
Velleman, D. J. (2005). "The Self as Narrator". In "Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Unger, J. M. (1990). The Very Idea. The Notion of Ideogram in China and Japan. Monumenta Nipponica, 45(4), 391--411.
Pinker, S. (1994). "The language instinct: How the mind creates language". New York:William Morrow and Company Inc. (Recommended!) Yamada, T. (n.d.). Shinto Symbols. Contemporary Religions in Japan, 7(2), 89--142.
Yanagita, K. 柳田国男. (1990). 神樹篇-柳 田国男全集.
Note 1
Yanagita (1990, p214) confused as to how an offering can be holy. My comments in [brackets]
これは日本の神道の解きに くい問題の一つだが、[神の憑代である]シデと[お供えされた]ヌサのとの区別がはっきりとしていない。[神の憑代である]ミテグラは明らかに手に執る祭の木の名であったに もかかわらず、[お供え物の意味のある]幣帛(ミテクラ・へいはく)という漢字の古訓として久しく用いられ、今でも俗間では[神の憑代である]斎串(いぐし)を[お供え物]御幣と呼んでいる。幣は、贈遣でありま た財物このことであって、むしろ今日の貨幣の用法が正しいのに、どういうわけがあってわが邦(くに)でばかり、これを神々の依りたまう木の名にしたか、と いうことがまた説明せられていないのである。
On the one hand these things (natural or strips of paper) are things that are given to shrines somewhat like money is today, and at the same time are things that the deities are said to possess (such as fuda, which are containers of spirit). At some point in their history, as argued in the video above, the transition from mere offering or artefact to vessel of the sacred may have been achieved by stamping pieces of paper with a shrine seal but it is not the stamp that is important, rather the way that the artefact is used. A branch from a special tree given to a shrine may be just a branch. Leaves from the same branch given to worshippers can be symbols signifying group membership, the ability to marry (see recent post on other types of "omamori"), and identity. By their symbolic function they are transformed from mere leaves to very special things.

That these strips are given to people not just to shrines/gods
p50 棒の上端に藁苞を取り付け、それへたくさんの幣を指すベンケイのような形になる家々にその幣を配って、軒に指させ全をもらった。

That this distribution of strips of paper is not only in the paper form but also in the natural form.

p51 稲荷山の杉・伊豆さ山の梛(なぎ)[tt常緑高木、榊に少し似ている]の葉のごとく、信者が神木の枝を折って行く慣習と、著しく類似する点があるのである。

Again that originally it was not paper but branches that were used
p70竿の尖に取り付けた藁苞(わらづと) に、たくさんの小さい御幣を押し、それを抜いて家々に配る風習は前に述べておいたが、天然の神木において、祭りのたびごとにこれと類似した小枝の分配があった。その最も古­い出処は、『貞観儀式(じょうがんいしき)』巻三、大嘗祭の儀式中に、舞人八人、布の帯末額(おびまっこう)[はちまき?]を着け、おのおの阿札木(あれき)を執るとあるのがそれであろう。。。。阿札木・ミアレキは[玉串・御幣のように]神の降りたまうことである。

Prior to the use of paper, things made out of trees and their bark were used, and before that branches and grass were used as is.
白紙を細かく剪(き)ったものをシデとする以前、こちらにもすでにいろいろのシデがあった。最も著名であったのはユウシデである。このユウにも木綿 という漢字をあてているが、いまあるモメンとはまったく別なもので、何か楮(こうぞ[used in Japanese paper making, of mulberry family])の類の木の皮の繊維、またはその織物の白く晒したのを祭りの木の端に結び垂れていたろうと思われる。近世は朝の苧糸をもってこれに代用 し、紙の流行もまたこれに基づいたものらしいが、そのユウシデとても工芸品であるからには、やはり最初からの習わしとは見ることができないのである。
い ま一段と古いころのシデとしては、イトススキの葉などが想像せられる。。。。今でも稀ならず各処に伝わっている。たとえば、大井、大竜の二川の流域など を、夏の祭りのころに汽車で通ってみれば高い幟(のぼり)の竿の頂上にははきっと芒(ススキ Silver grass. )が結びつけてある。東北地方の燈籠木(とうろうぎ)には、三 ところに杉の青葉をつけたものが多い。

These strips that hang from shimenawa are called Shide (or hanging-down things) but Yanagita suggests that they originated in a word for flora.
213 (シデは垂れるのではなく) 繁きを意味する言葉で、たださまざまの木立ち草立ちの中にあっ[た」。

213 Process of using man made things instead of natural articles. This is one step away from the bricoleur who uses natural things as symbols, but it is a symbolism that is still using things as symbols.

Posted by timtak at 02:20 AM | 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 Dogナォ - A self-body view? by timtak
Venus in Dogナォ - 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 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)

October 10, 2010

The sound of one hand clapping and David Lynch

The question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" is perhaps the most famous Zen Koan. The gist is that if you know the answer then you get a bit of enlightenment. I have heard someone suggest that it is the sound of fingers slapping a palm! No, surely not.

Or again that it is simply un-thinkable, beyond the bounds of that which a human mind can frame, and so, to frame the answer, requires that one takes a step back, into the chaotic, emptiness of the flowing, floating world. That sounds more likely, and more difficult.

Shinto.... I don't find to time to go to a Shinto shrine often. Shrine visiting for me has always been part of my jogging. I am more of a joggist than a Shintoist. Lately, or for the past several years, my jogging route does not end, or turn back, at a Shrine. It ends instead by the side of a river and there I pray, Shinto style, by bowing twice, clapping twice and bowing once again.

I have feelings for the river! It is quite magnificent. In flood it threatens to overun its banks, and the first floor of our house. It is a powerful little, and sometimes big, river. I try to see it as god or a Spirit or at least at the end of my run in my slightly befuddled, adrenalined state to feel the awesomeness of the place, and I clap, to the river, as earnestly as I can, "clap clap." First, an aside about hats. Someone opined that in Shinto it is more polite to be hatted than to be hatless. I remember ages ago I went into the cathedral in Bath (UK) with my hat on a member of the congregation 'tsk-tsked' me to take my hat off. I am sorry.

In Christianity it is polite to be hatless, but perhaps in Shino it helps to be wearing a hat. Anyway, in these winter evenings, when I stand at the end of my jog, I look out of the gun emplacement of my hatted mind at the river. I would like you to imagine a photo taken not from a camera at my brow, but from a camera shooting from behind my eyes, that sees the band of hat framing the river. And I clap. I hear the two clapping sounds. Then sometimes it seems to me as those my clapps are my speach, they, "pachi, (clap)" "pachi (clap)" are my prayer to the river. They are my greeting, my "thank you," my "yoroshiku (be nice to me)."

Normally I think that I identify with the presumed origin of my speach, especially my self-speach in the worded silence of my mind. "God be good to me, yoroshiku" "There goes someone with a saxaphone," whatever, I figure myself to be the thing that says the words, a thing inside my head. But when I do the Shinto clap, clap praying bit, it is like the center of myself moves from within my head to my hands. Out out damn self!? Well, I don't achieve enlightenment, but I do get this feeling that I am the clapper, not the speaker. And yet I can see my hands, and see that there is nothing between them.

Now for a bit of David Lynch! (Can this have any relevance at all? I would not blame you for wondering.) In two David Lynch films ("Blue Velvet", and "Mulholland Drive") the protagonists have a powerful, rather painful it seems from their expressions, experience before a mime artist. In both cases the singer sings a Roy Orbison song. Blue Velvet (particularly at 1:23)

or Mulholland Dr. (particularly at about 6:00)

In the latter there is greater emphasis on the deception of mime, on the fact that in mime, it really looks like someone visual is making a noise, when in fact the noise and the vision are not linked. Well, going back to the clapping, at the river, it seems to me that there is the river, and there are the hands, and the hands come together and there is a sound and yet, does the sound really come from the same place, that place where the hands meet?

The sound track of my clapping and the visible act want to be together. They clap a love song to the river, but from different places. What is the opposite of mime? When is it ever the case that sound comes from vision? And, to return to the question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" I can't answer. But, first of all, it makes better sense to me to understand the question in the context of Shinto prayer.

And further, I wonder whether the sound of one hand clapping is any different to the sound of two hands clapping. Did two hands ever clap? Did they ever make a sound? Thanks to Christine and Mr. Tachibana for the inspiration to write this post.

Posted by timtak at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

Space in Shinto again

In Japan one does not say that a room in a house measures "10 by 12" but rather one counts room area in spaces, that is to say the number of tatami mats that would be needed on the floor of the room. In the West we seem to be thinking of the boundaries of space, in Japan the Japanese seem to be thinking of the space itself. Typical Japanese house floor plan (scroll down to see numbers that show numbers of mats)

Typical Western floor plan

Japanese roads are not given names. Japanese addresses are given by area name. Japanese houses are given numbers according to where they are in an area not where they are on the street(spatial boundary). Again this seems to suggest that space (or areas) in Japan is named, and thus emphasised, rather than the roads, lines or limits of space. This can make Japanese towns difficult to navigate

compared to even London towns where one can give a street name (the link below to where I grew up)

In Japanese houses there are a lot

of named spaces such as the "tokonoma" where wall hangings are put up and ornaments are placed, or the holes at the top of walls, or the gaps in partition walls. Here are some diagrams showing the various "spaces" created in traditional Japanese architecture

Japanese traditional architects seem to enjoy making houses that are akin to 'rectangular Swiss cheese', with all sorts of spaces to enjoy by virtue of the interplay and presentation of spaces.

Western interior design seems to emphasise boundaries such as walls and their coverings, and *content not space*, particularly a in traditional English interior

Corridors and hallways are given prominence as spaces over and above their practical uses as passage-ways. Japanese pottery is often sparsely or "naturally" decorated and rather than using geometric shapes, its is the "foot print-like" (kutsugata-chawan, kutsu-chawan) shape of bowls, their deformation and texture and individuality that is prized. This at least demonstrates a lack of interest in geometrical lines, and a greater interest in texture and perhaps encapsulation of space. Again this may suggest the importance of space itself in Japanese aesthetics.

 In Japan spaces themselves are related to power more so than in the West, I think. Such as there is a lot of emphasis placed upon where people sit in a room, at a table, in a car, or in a lift. Space or spacing is perhaps inscribed with more meaning. Some pages describing the relative importance of the positions in a room.


Behaviour in Japan is especially 'spatially contingent', with some behaviours allowed in some spaces but not in others. Rules concerning the appropriateness of behaviours depending on the place in which they are carried out, are applied in the West too, but in Japan to an even greater degree. Such as in the almost anything goes 'red-light-district', Kabukicho, Tokyo

Or the fact that the (spatial) addresses of Yakuza, are publically listed (in Japanese):

Indeed in Japan it is rare that one should hold a dinner party at home, or allow non family members to enter the home, since the family in Japan is defined spacially (as "ie"). Entering a home in Japan, almost defines one as family member. [Sad aside: The tragic and brutal murder of 22yr old British, English teacher, Ms. Lindsay Anne Hawker, by a twisted 28 year old Japanese man may have been precipitated in part by different conceptions of the importance of space. As is often pointed out, there is less violent crime in Japan. One article claims that there is a kind of lurking violence in the "honne" as opposed to "tatemae" of Japanese culture.

 Be that as it may, I think that one of the problems arose from different interpretations of the fact that Ms. Hawker entered the murderer's appartment. As far as I am aware, entering a man's room is a vastly more value-laden in Japan than it is in the UK. While I believe the rape statistics that show that one is far less likely to be raped in Japan, as far as I know it is almost impossible to convict someone of rape in Japan if the victim enters a private space. Japanese women are aware of this and thus are far more reticent to enter a private space with a man. Unknowingly, Ms. Hawker may have sent a message to her murderer that she had no intention of sending. This does not of course excuse the murderer. I hope they catch him soon.] In the Japanese Garden

1) The relationship or spacing of the elements in the garden is very important, perhaps more important than the things themselves. Thus the Japanese garden contains a plants that might not be all that much to look at on their own (unlike a rose bush perhaps) but gain their beauty by the interspacing of elements.

2) The relationship between the garden and the surrounding environment, as far away as mountains in the distance, is also and important part of the garden design.

3) Geometrical patterns - that emphasise lines - are rarely used but but rather it is spatial relationships between elements that are prized.

4) The parts of the garden may represent much larger spaces, such as a whole inland sea, Japan as a whole or a whole cosmos.

5) Rather than will natural look of the English country garden, or the trimmed artificial look of the stately home garden, the Japanese garden aims for controlled nature, a nature more natural than nature. I don't know if or how this last point connects to conceptions of space but it relates to Japanese conceptions of nature.

Rerturning to Shinto Shinto is all about sacred spaces. Shinto shrines like Japanese culture are "wrapped"

their spacing is emphasised by gates,

boundary markers such as rice straw with zigzag strips of paper "shimenawa"

 boundary guardians such as "koma" dogs

boundary rituals (such as washing ones hands) the

nested structure of the shrine building

and the layers of wrapping around the spirit-body (goshintai). There are no pictures of the spirit body (goshintai) of a Shinto shrine, because they are wrapped in far more layers, but omamori talismans are wrapped in a similar way (and it is equally important not to remove the wrapping apparently)

"Res Extensio" is, as Descartes doubted it, not 'mere' (Aristotle) space but it is in the dimension in which the sacred is revealed. Finally [few would agree] John Brenkman("Narcissus in the Text.?h Georgia Review. 30.2 (1976): 293-332) argues that Westerners culture appreciates voice and voice as consciousness, above "body" and "image" - and that is to say space I believe. I think that he also argues in a more recent paper, that even aesthetics, what is beautiful, becomes a sort of discussion about aesthetics. "[Kants] key assertion restates and extends his central tenet that the experience of the beautiful "gives pleasure *with a claim for the agreement of everyone else*." So perhaps Western gardens, with their geometry and their guided tours ("This is a grandiflora: Queen Elizabeth") are designed to be explained, discoursed upon whereas, Japanese gardens are appreciated in the immediacy of the visual/spatial experience. If so then all the pontification in this artivle shows that I do not understand Japanese gardens at all well:-) And, if so, it may be essentially difficult to explain the beauty of a Japanese garden. This is a machine translation of the Japanese Garden wikipedia page. Top ranking gardens

Posted by timtak at 05:57 PM | Comments (0)

What Makes a Mountain a Deity?

Fujisan Mt. Fuji: April 11, 2004 Originally uploaded by derochan3
. Mount Fuji is a kami, a symbol of Japan. And kami are the deities of Shinto, they are objects of worship.

How do mountains get to become "Kami"? According to Motoori Norinaga's famoust definition of kami, they are "What ever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence and virtue, and inspired a feeling of awe was called Kami".

Thus in Japan outstanding features of the natural landscape - such as mount Fuji - as well as warriors, weapons, rulers, and sumo wrestlers are regarded as kami, since they all inspire awe.

It is tempting to suggest that it is not the human perception "that is strikingingly impressive" or "that is awe-inspiring" is an effect rather than a cause of supernaturality. Not so fast. Another definition of kami, from the record of sayings of shinto, states "Kami are not precious in themselves, but are prescious as a result of being respected by humans." The chief priest of Koura Shrine went to far as to say, "Kami are notjust a given. We have to work [their creation] through the process of enshrining them." Sometimes the magic works, and people feel awe when they look at Mount Fuji. Other times, even if it does not work, Shinto encourages them to keep trying: to climb mount Fuji again, or pray to the giant tree at the top of a mountain, or to wrap a rope made of rice straw around the giant rock, and often the magic returns. We feel awe again.

But what is the big deal? Why should inspiring awe make a thing supernatural? On the basis of this arguement, every quack-pot, primitive, superstision, every new religious fad, every cruel or violent cult would, if the believers "feel awe," be entitled to claim that the object of their religion is in some sense supernatural or at least a kami. I think that the Shinto answer would be yes, they all are.

My own explanation as to why being "striking" or "awe-inspiring" should make something supernatural derives from my understanding of Buddhism or perhaps simply humility.

Buddhism teaches us that the world is in a sense a fantasy. We are used to a world of objects and dimensions. Of things and events like keyboards, shoes, yesterday and the three dimensions of space. Buddhism argues that all these things are human interpretations, of the true unfathomable nature of things. Instead of climbing mountains, buddhist often take are more direct approach, trying to to tun off their intepretive mind, but chanting, or counting their breath and trying to think of nothing.

I don't think that it is necessary to believe in Buddhism to realise the conditioned nature of the world. All one really needs to be is humble. We now know that humans have basically the same structure as earth worms. We share most of our genes with dogs. But at the same time we do not presume that worms or dogs know much about the world. Worms have a wormy world view and dogs have a doggy one. The human interpretation of the world as made up of three dimensions, plus time, and populated with things, is about as close to the truth of universe as that of the worm.

So here comes Mount Fuji. In my experience, nature, like works of art has the effect of preventing human interpretation. There is that "Mount Fuji whammy", the size, the feeling of awe takes ones breath, and more importantly ones interpretive mind, away. Mount Fuji seems to have the ability to do inspire awe in a large number of people. It is I believe Mount Fuji's ability to bring us back to our humility and the unfathomable nature of things is why it gets to be a Kami.

Posted by timtak at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

The Passion of the Christ and Shinto Rites of Passage

 was very impressed with Mel Gibson’s “<a href="">The Passion of The Christ</a>.” Admittedly that is probably because I was raised in a Christian family and know the story, the background and consequences. I wept, but my Japanese wife fell asleep. You can see the <a href="">trailer here</a>.

A considerable part of the film showed Jesus and friends carrying large pieces of wood up a mountain. For part of the way Jesus was helped by someone else. So, two men carried a heavy piece of wood, while women watched and were mightily impressed.

This spectacle seems to have a lot in common with a lot of Shinto festivals

In many Shinto festivals men carry heavy objects through streets, often while women watch, for the sake of a spiritual purification. So why is that a lot of men do a lot of back breaking tasks **carrying things** in order to have a religious experience. And is it important that women watch?

Surprisingly, it does seem to be important that women were watching, in Mel Gibson's version of the passion at the very least. From reading the books upon which the film was based I was not particularly aware of the "women watching" aspect. But Mel Gibson's film made Jesus rather "mazacon" (mother obsessed? with conflicting feelings towards his mother) in a sense, or at least the film concentrated on their relationship to a very considerably extent. The whole film wallowed in maternal love. Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ took place before the eyes of his mother.

I don't know whether the episode is in the book, but the scene from the film in which Mary sees Jesus fall, unable to bear the weight of the cross is doubled with a scene from Jesus’ childhood when his mother ran to him when he fell over as a boy. Painful enough is the thought of a guy with his flesh torn to shreds, falling down under the weight of a giant log, but how much more painful and sad, when seen from the point of view of his mother, who sees him as a little boy.

But it was not clear who was seeing who as a little boy. The images from Jesus’ past, of his relationship with his mother, were more his own than those of his mother. In the Gospel according to Mel, Jesus saw his own suffering from the eyes of his mother - And how much more painful that
must have made it.

And for me seem to lie the rub, the point of the whole exercise. Why do all these Japanese gentlemen take their kit of an carry logs up or down hills? What was Jesus up to?

I have only done the carrying bit in one festival, that of Hesogaki-Sai held in June on the side of Mount Kora in Kurume. Gentlemen young and old, take their clothes off, put on a loin cloth, and carry a palanquin to the top of a mountain shouting "essah, hossah." The carrying part is very lightweight, nothing whatsoever on Jesus of course. But the purpose is a right of passage. The loincloth is the first one that young boys put on, and by putting it on they join the crowd of men, who take part in
the festival. The festival signals becoming a man. The important thing is, perhaps, that *only the men do the carrying thing*, and by taking part one signals that one is a man. The women have to stand at the side and watch (until very recently -- women are allowed to take part).

It is probably my own bias again but, looking at Mel Gibson's Passion it seemed as if Jesus was doing it to get away from his mother. "The son of man" was determined to carry this break through to the end, to make the cut, to pass that rite of passage.

What is at stake is not Jesus' real mother of course -- to get away from ones real mother is a lot easier. The attempt at which Jesus triumphed was to get away from the mother that he was carrying with him. The one through whose eyes he saw his own suffering. Even as he was seeing his suffering through her eyes, and we, he and she are aked to weep and watch, the very wallowing in matrios (motherly love), that makes us realise the fictional nature of the beast, the way in which we are creating a mother-internal to weep for us.

And even more, it seemed to me, there were times when Satan, played in a slinky-snake-like, hermaphrodite way by a woman, Rosalinda Celentano, seemed to double with Mary Mother of God. Both Rosalinda's Satan and Mary *seem* to love Jesus. Satan's love is seduction no doubt, but what of Mary's? Satan, like Mary is seen watching Jesus’ suffering all the way through. While Jesus is being whipped, Satan is for some reason nurturing a grotesque child. As Jesus carries his cross, Satan and Mary gaze at him from either side of the street. At first I thought that this indicated some sort of tension between them but...

Jesus’ final words -- before the famous ones  -- was to tell his mother that the young man she is with is her son and the young man, that Mary is her mother. That final cut precedes, crack-a-boom, heaven and earth rent asunder, and Mary's horrified face cuts to Satan's screaming as if at the bottom of the well. Satan had lost to 'the son of man', and a mother had lost her 'baby boy'. Then, "it is done" or "the prophecy is fulfilled."

I very painful way to become a man perhaps but, thanks to Jesus - very possibly a fictional account at the very least in case of Mel Gibson - it may be many Christians suffer less pain than the average man taking part in a Shinto festival. Christians use fiction to fight fiction.

All in all, I was very impressed by the film. I don't mind blood and I like Peter Gabriel. The Passion of the Christ  seemed to add a new dimension to carrying heavy pieces of wood around, and to the meaning of Sin/impurity and purity/redemption, which may not in fact be all that different after all.


Posted by timtak at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2004

The Origin of Amaterasu and Blanchot

What is the origin of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu? We don't know much about her but we are told that: She is probably female (but this is controversial), she was upset by her brother and hid in a cave, she came out of the cave when she was shown a mirror that she mistook (?) for herself, and that vast mirror she was given should be worshipped as if it were her. There is a mirror in most shrines in Japan, thanks to the Meiji reformers.

Theories regarding the origin of the Sun Godess, often mention the reference to a female leader of ancient Japan mentioned in the "Wajinden."  

One theory, says that there was a transition from a shaman like (female) person that tends to and communicates with the sacred, to that mediator being worshipped, as Amaterasu the sun goddess. Or in a phrase, "ancient vicar becomes godhead?"

This is, I believe, a famous theory. I am not sure if the writer of the link rerenced made it famous. But I have read it quoted more than once. Personally, however, I don't have all that much faith in it.

The Japanese have one ancient history book about their country written my a Chinese: the "Wajinden". This is like what the Romans had to say about the ancient Celts or Britons. It is a very important historical document, a direct link from that ancient time to this and, at the same time, it is of course pretty distorted. It was written by an outsider, and especially in the Japanese case it is very brief (a page or so in total).

The bit about Himiko, the ancient "shaman" queen of the Japanese people mentions (from memory, but there is not more than about 5 sentences)

The mini-countries in Japan had a war, and as a result eventually chose upon princess Himiko to lead a union.  She was in consort with the spirits and confused or spooked the populace (the Kanji is "konwaku" no "kon" or "madowasu"). She kept herself hidden communicating via her brother.

So, this hidden lady that speaks with the spirits and confuses people, and has a brother, does not fit too badly with the Amateraus myth. If someone that has the role of communing with the spirits can be called a shaman then Himiko was a shaman (but then so is a priest or vicar).

So perhaps, that is the origin of Amaterasu. Is her origin bound up with the political situation of ancient Japanese states?


But...I like to think that there is a lot more relevance for us now in the theory that the supreme spirit is the sungoddess. I prefer the Kuro-zumi Shinto sect theory (that there is a mirror soul of the sungoddess in all our hearts), crossed with Jacques Lacan (the mother/other in our psyche) and Phemenonology 101 (what is this disk of light that we are looking at anyway?) and a Jorge Luis Borges's story about a Celt losing a shiny coin with only one side.

Haven't we lost that disk? (Sounds like geek trauma!) But I kid myself that, when I pray at a shrine, I sort of find that disk again, darkly, and ever so fleetingly.

While the Borges's short story, "The Disk" (1975) is very cool, words like "disk" and "coin," make the sphere seem small. The Sun Goddess' mirror, we are told is much bigger, and "yamata," vast even.

I am not sure if this is at all relevant to the origin of the Amaterasu but in a story by Maurice Blanchot, he has a vision, an "agonizing contact with the day," when he sees a woman with a baby go first through a door, in "The Madness of the Day"

What did Mr. Blanchot see? He writes,

"As the cold wrapped around me from head to foot, I slowly felt my great height take on the dimensions of this boundless cold; it grew tranquilly, according to the laws of its true nature, and I lingered in the joy and perfection of this happiness, for one moment my head as high as the stone of the sky and my feet on the pavement. All that was real; take note."

I like to think he saw Amaterasu.

Posted by timtak at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2004

Kokoro-gamae and Image Training

A reader asked be for my opinion of the psychology of “Kokoro-gamae” recently, in reference to the martial arts. While I try to be a psychologist I have not come across research or even mention of the term within academic psychology. Recently indigenous cultural psychologists have started studying terms from languages and cultures outside of the West. I think that a study of Kokoro-gamae wouldbe appropriate to and well recieved in this field (for example at the Asian Association of Social Psychology) However, I have seen no research which refers to kokoro-gamae. So all I can talk about is the way it is used in the Japanese language, and my own theory of its content. Kokoro-gamae is made from kokoro meaning heart or mind, and "kamae" meaning stance-in-preparation-for-something. To Kamae(ru) is to take up a stance in preparation for what is about to happen, like the poses that practioners of the martial arts take, the pose of a cat before it pounces, or the coiling of a snake before it strikes. I guess "to take up a stance" comes closest for me. In this physical realm, the Japanese seem to be keen on poses. Putting ones body into a particular position is seen as being a good preparation for what is to follow. Images of Ultraman (left) spring to mind. But what about "kokoro-gamae"? What sort of position can one put ones heart or mind into? One way in which Kamae is used to express psychology is "sonnnani kamaenakuteiiyo" (lit. you don't need to take up a stance so much ) or "kamaesugi" (you’re taking up a stance too much) which meansomething allong the lines of "don't think so much about it," "chill out!" Kokoro-gamae might I think also refer to something negative. For example one might refer to someone who looks on the negative side of things or is a paranoid, as having a mistaken "kokoro-gamae" they have taken up a mental stance such that even trivial mishaps or conflicts seem like disasters and major put-downs. In all these cases kamae refers to a temporary state of action taken up prior to some event. However, kokoro-gamae in the sense as it is used to describe the mental state of someone that practices the martial arts for instance, is usually different in that it refers to a "stance", not in the usual English sense of someone’s opinion about something, but a state of mental readiness, which is both actively pursued and held over a long period of time. But what is this active pursual, or art, of Japanese mental readiness, kokoro-gamae? How does one take up a mental stance?

As a university-lubber that knows little about kokorogamae in practice, I unpack the concept of kokoro-gamae in the following way 1) Heightened attention. This is the obvious one. Before a fight, when the adrenalin is rushing, one usually enters a state of heightened focused attention. We "get ready," "focus," "put up ones guard," "steel oneself." 2) Calm focus. I guess there are many ways of achieving a heighten state of attention. It is possible that someone who is really "on edge" is very sensitive, and in that sense attentive. But the kokoro-gamae that is pursued here seems to me to particularly calm, even to the point of being peaceful, so as to achieve a greater degree of focus. Which brings us on to… 3) Mental quietness. This is the Zen Buddhist stance, now also well known, which encourages to achieve readiness by reaching a state of emptiness, of immersion in the moment. This *perhaps* departs a little from Western notions of readiness, since in that context one might "plan" or think about ways of attacking. The ultimate Zen warrior is empty, untroubled by plans. Zen books and books on Zen describe this sort of stance very well. There are lots of ways of achieving this "non-stance-stance", such as concentrating on one thing (such as ones breathing), or repeating a phrase (mantra, nembutsu) over an over again, or staring at a picture (mandara). 4) Imagery in Mental preparation. This is my own theory, and again rather trite, since it has a lot in common with Western "image training." That being said, it seems to me to be particularly prevalent in Japan, and in Shinto culture especially. Please see this mail written when my name was still Leuers, particularly about the guy doing "Zen and way of Badminton" The Japanese paths (dou, judou, karatedou) are all very visual. They seem to me to have an air of what I would call "image training" where one often practices, in silence with an emphasis on form, on seeing the self from the outside. It seems to me that Shinto encourages a visual awareness of self and construes the divine as a viewer/seeer rather than a listener/hearer. Some of the paths show a ritual reverence towards the place where the art is carried out, with formalise rituals for entering that place - such as the bow towards the mats of the Doujou or the way in which one should enter the tea ceremony room. It seems to me that Shinto grew out of a reverence for holy places. By way of example, let me tell you about a guy that plays badminton at a club that I attend. He treats the badminton court like a Dojo making sure that he cleans it very well sweeping only in the direction of the floorboards and not against the grain of the wood. He plays with an almost religious attention to detail, and sometimes (this seems particularly moot) he plays without a shuttlecock, *imagining* where the shuttle is flying would be flying if playing against a real opponent. Sometimes he and his accolyte play together, without a shuttlecock, as if taking part in a ballet on a silent badminton court. This silent imaginary badminton that he plays reminded me of what one could call "The way of Badminton" more than anything else. What is this image training and is it Shinto? Misogi? Ritual, in action? Practical ritual? Pure movement? Embodied-ness? The “emptiness” and “back to nature-ness” of Japanese mental readiness is often emphasised. However, this is far from the whole caboodle. I can imagine a person being calmly focused and empty and still being a pretty poor warrior. I have a friend called Will who is doing Buddhist training in Scotland. But even assuming that Will achieves enlightenment, and even assuming that he is strong and fit, I don't think that Will will become a particularly good warrior. Hence it seems to me that there is another component of "kokoro-gamae" which entails what one might call "training ones unconscious." Using the world “unconscious” at once sounds disrespectful and unfair. It seems a very Western appellation. Who am I to call that part of my mind that controls my bodily movements "unconscious." It reacts, and proacts towards events in the world all the time. However from the point of view of timothy-that-is-speaking, from the point of view of the intellect, "it" is other. Timothy decides what he wants to say, but who is it that presses the keys? In Zen Buddhism it is clear that one empties or silences the workings of ones intellect. However that does not mean that the mind ceases to work at all. A lot of processing is being done, but it is being done "elsewhere." No matter how much intellectual processing power we spend in preparation, this will be largely useless if we silence our intellect. But this does not mean that it is impossible to train the mind at all. So it seems to me that there is a lot of what one might call "image training" going on here in Japan and this forms a significant part of the active art of "kokoro-gamae." As a result the "unconscious" mind is honed, to such a degree that, without thinking, the move is made, the opponent hits the tatami mat, or is swept out of the ring. All this was rather a glimpse of the obvious. More attempts need to be made to outline what it is about the "image training" aspect of kokoro-gamae. 1) Through training does one become one with ones image or oneself or on the contrary does one become free of ones image of oneself (the latter, me thinks)? 2) Does it involve creating mental images of things (hmmm)? 3)Is there any playback of images at the time of action (surely not)? 4) Are these things social, such as imagining getting the gold medal (western athletes do do this apparently, but I don't think that this is what is going on here)? 5) Is the self seen from the outside (not sure)? 6) Does one imagine a gaze (Chiyonofuji used to imagine girls watching him do Sumo! I find it effective to imagine my father is watching me when I run!)? I am sure that the art of kokoro-gamae is very different from Western-style image training, and that there are many other aspects of “kokoro-gamae.” Please let me know if you find any more.

Posted by timtak at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2004


I am told that Shusaku Endo, the Japanese Catholic novelist, sought a 'maternal Christ', believing that Japan as a land of 'amaeru' had a childlike dependence on a merciful compassionate mother. This notion, that the Japanese are inclined to amaeru, may ultimately derive, as Takeo Doi suggested, from a belief in humans as the children of kami and in particular Amaterasu.

Takeo Doi became famous with his classic book, The Anatomy of Dependence The title in Japanese is "Amae no Kouzou" ("The Structure of Amae") where Amae is the noun form of the verb "amaeru." The book is de rigeur for those that study the psychology of the Japanese, and highly respected academically. Doi's theory of Amae is quoted by most papers or books in this field. Doi has written several other books since and there are books about his theory written by other authors. For example, Susumu Yamaguchi of Tokyo Unviersity and x-head of a leading cultural psychology conference in Asia, started his research life investigating amae(ru) using questionnaires and or perhaps experiments. Osamu Kitayama, x-popstar and well known Japanese psychologist has edited a book of psycho-clinical papers on amae. All in all, amae(ru) is considered to be a critical, key word when attempting to explain Japanese culture.

Amae(ru) is according to Dr. Takeo Doi a word that cannot be directly translated into English. Doi starts out by making a Sapir-Whorf hypothesis based observation that any word that exists in one language but cannot be expressed easily in others, refers to a phenomena which is culturally important in culture of the first language, but not so important in the culture of the others which lack a means of its expression.

It is very true that Amae(ru) does not translate well into English. I would use "(to) fawn upon" or perhaps "to be a baby," or "to be cute." It refers to the action and emotional state of mind of a baby towards its mother (care giver). By "emotional state" I mean that it involves the expectation, need or desire to evoke the love in the other. Another way of putting amae(ru) is "passive love" i.e. feeling and behaving in such a way as to be loved (by a parent). It does not refer to being sexy, flirting or pouting or all the other ways of attracting eros (i.e. being "erotic" ?) but ways of attracting what C.S. Lewis calls "affection," the love of parents towards children. So amae is anticipating, and behaving in such a way as to receive love, affection, or induldence. The last word is moot too since the active form of amae in Japanese, amayakasu is usually traslated as "to indulge". One of Doi's most accessible examples is the behaviour of a puppy. A puppy (or an older dog, since dogs are always children to their masters) might roll on its back and wait for its belly to be stroked. Or it might come up to you wagging not only its tail, panting, and looking you in the eye. This is partly just being happy to see you but it is also a call for affection.

On top of the fact that Doi's insight regardign Amae started from a Sapir-Whorfian insight, it has a yet stronger relationship with language, or rather the lack of language. This connection can be approached in two ways.

First of all Doi's first, and for me most memorable, example of amae, is from when he arrived in the USA and visited a friend. His friend put some cookies or something on a table and said "If you are hungry, please help yourself." Coming from the culture of "amae," Doi felt put out. He was hungry, but he was in an amae frame of mind. He did not want to say, "Well I don't mind if I do," and tuck into the cookies. He wanted his host to actively perceive ("sasshi") that he was hungry and give him a plate of cookies. He wanted to be mollycoddled. The word "mollycoddle," not so common in English, helps us to understand the term amae. Some one who wants to be mollycoddled does not articulate their desire but hopes by their person or their actions to elicit indulgence from an other without the use of language. As soon as they put their desire into language they are putting themselves on an equal footing, as another separate desiring individual - but the person who "amaes" (if I am allowed to conjugate the verb) wants to merge (Doi argues) with the other.

This brings us on to the second connection between amae and the absence of language. Doi, argues that amae is the desire to merge with the other, as if (?) still not an independent entity, and puts forward a theory of individuality (quite common these days among narrative psychologists) that says that being an individual is to linguistically articulate oneself and ones desires. To amae is to refuse to go down that path to linguistic self-hood. 

Endo Shusaku is possibly Japan's most famous Christian. Not only was he a Christian but also, as mentioned above, he tried to define a sort of Japanese Christianity. Indeed, Endo Shusaku attempted to take the best of Christian and Japanese culture to propose a more Japanese, and in a sense an even more Christian version of Christianity! In perhaps his most famous book ("Silence") Endo Shusaku raised the question of the martyr, the person that sacrifices themselves for others. The Christian bible tells us, "There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend." However, Endo suggests that there is greater love. Endo seems to come to the conclusion that the ultimate "martyr" could and would lay down his life for another, but ultimately she would also refrain for doing so, even if it meant rejecting all that she had lived for, if she felt that she would be held as an example, and thus encourage friends to lay down their lives as well. Putting it as tritely as this does not do service to Endo's sentiment but, Endo argues (successfully judging by the rave reviews from Western Catholics at that sometimes it is even more difficult to *live on*.

Living on, even when this means not being entirely true to ones beliefs, is close to the philosophy of the Bodhisattva, such as. Kannon. A Bodhisattva is someone that could throw off their ego and reach nirvana/satori but decides to hang around, at the brink of satori, in the hope, working towards the day when, all other sentient beings reach nirvana/satori too.

It also reminds me of "About Schmidt" a film I saw today, in which the hero, played by Jack Nicholson, doesn't say what he really thinks, what he really believes, but chooses a polite, positive *silence* for the sake of those that he loves (perhaps a controversial reading of this bleak, but real and interesting film.)

Putting Endo's question back in terms of a possibly non PC gender related question: "who loves more, the fathers that go to war -- perhaps to die -- to protect those they loves, or the mothers that refuses to go to war, and would rather live in slavery, and abjection, for the same reason?" I think that opinions are likely to be divided. I am afraid that my sentiment is on the side of the warrior, but one might argue that a true blue Shinto-ist would come out on the side of the mother.

Shusaku Endo is a very famous novelist. His books are even more popular among Japanese Christians, who make up less than 1% of Japanese Christians.

Takeo Doi is also, as far as I am aware, a Japanese Christian. It is concievable therefore, in my opinion, that Takeo Doi  may have been in part, subliminally inspired by the novels of Shusaku Endo. This is however, highly unlikely since (as kindly pointed out by Maraku below) Doi makes no mention of Shusaku in Amae no Kouzou. Takeo Doi does however, suggest, in the first chapter of his seminal work, that the origin of the word amae may be related to the name of the deity at the top of the Japanese panthenon, Amaterasu Oomikami. This suggests to me a common sensitivity motivating Shusaku Endo's and Takeo Doi's realisation that Japan is a country of amae. To Japanese Christians as they both are, it may be striking that there is a strong difference between their own religion, as expressed in the Bible, and that of the majority of Japanese who are much more enclined to amaeru to, request indulgence of, their deities.

Thanks to VikingSlav for the first paragraph and inspiration for this article.

I would like to apologize for an earlier version of this article that suggested a closer link between the work of Shusaku Endo and Takeo Doi. This suggestion was entirely my own and based entirely upon supposition and speculation. In any event, nothing can be taken from Takeo Doi's immense achievement of making the notion of amae available to generations of psychologists, some of whom use the theory to cure people. And incidentally, academically, I am of course not fit to wipe Dr. Doi's shoes.

Posted by timtak at 06:47 PM | Comments (8)

April 28, 2003

The Last Judgement East and West

The Last Judgement East and West:
A Comparison between the Christian Judgement and the Judgement of King Enma

The concept of a post death judgement is one which is shared by a great many religions to a greater or lesser extent.

For the ancient Egyptians, post death judgement was central to their religion.

According to the Christian bible, humans will ressurected and they all be judged at the same time, some going to heaven some going to hell.

In The Book of Revalations, in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, the process of judgement is described as follows.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Revelation 20:12 (p. 921)

Hence, according to this Christian rendition of judgement, the dead are judged by what is written in the book of life. Sometimes we hear that Saint Michael looks to see whether our name is written in the book, but Revelations is quite clear that it is not our name but what we have done that is written.

The concept of judgment is not as strong in Japan as it is in the West, but there exists a "Buddhist" tradition that the judgement of the dead is performed by "Enma-sama" (Mister Enma) or "Enma-Ou" (King Enma). Enma is a god that is inherited from an Indian god, via China, with Daoist influences. Enma also has a prominent place in the Tibet Buddhist "book of the dead." Enma is the most famoust of the ten kings or Buddhist gods that are worshipped in Japan and is believed to be an avatar of Jizou Boddhistatva. Enma stands at the entrance to hell (rather than heaven) and decides which of the 6 paths a dead person will take. Some people go to straight to hell, some are born again starving, some are born again as an animal, some are born into the world of war, some are born again as a human, and some are born again in heaven.
Enma holds a wooden staff staped like a ruler, such as held by the judges of the Sumo ring. He also has a book, but he usually seems to have a pen so that the write the verdict in the book rather than read from it. According to popular tradition in Japan, the first thing that Enma does to the dead when they arrive at his court is tear their tongue out, presumably so they cannot complain or speak out against his verdict. Enma reaches his verdict by looking in the "Jouhari" Kagami in which he can see the dead person's life, particularly any of the nasty things that the dead person has done. Accordng to some he also has a "Enma-register" in which the dead person's ill deeds are written. In an Edo period picture drawn by a Buddhist priest trying to discourage women from killing their children, Enma is shown looking into the mirror to see a younger version of the dead person before him, suffocating a child with a pillow.

There are many similarities and differences between these traditions. In both those that are deemed free of sin fare better than those that are judged to be guilty. The latter go to some sort of hell which often depicts humans being torn part and or roasted. In Christianity judgement takes places at the same time - at "Judgement Day." In Japan, on an individual basis. In Christianity the judgement takes place at the gates of heaven or by good, or someone heavenly, in Japan it takes places at the gates of hell by someone much more fearful: the god of the dead. The difference that I would like to draw attention to is that in both cases we are judged based upon a record of our lives. In Christianity our lives are written in a book. In Japan, lives are recorded as images in a book too but more importantly, as we stand mute before a mirror.

Soka Gakkai Study Materials state
The benefit Shakyamuni attained through his practices shows clearly the working of the law of cause and effect expounded in his Buddhism, and how the present effect is always the result of a past cause. President Toda often drew an analogy to the Johari Mirror when he talked about this subject. The mirror hung in the palace of King Enma, and was also called the Mirror of Karma. When King Enma interviewed the deceased he said, "You have done this much wrong while you were alive, haven't you?" But the deceased tried to deny it, "I have done nothing of the sort, I can assure you, sir." The king retorted, saying, "Take a look in the Mirror of Karma over there!" Much to his surprise, the deceased could see all the evils he committed when he was alive in the mirror. (HTML version here)

King Enma and his attendents Sculpture at the Kyoto Nation Museum.
In Japanese

A Series of Annotated Paintings Showing the Eight Stages of Hell

The Ten Buddhist Kings including King Enma, with photos if you click on the links. You will notice that many of the other Kings, that also take part in the judgement process, are reading from books. It seems however fair to say that it is Enma, with his mirror that captured the imagination of the Japanese.

A page about Hell as represented in Buddhist Japan.

All about Enma"A page explaining the Ten Kings faith that spread from China emphasising King Enma, that was linked with the already popular Jizou Boddisatva (Jizou Sama, the little stone statues you see at the sides of roads. This pages also gives photos, and the names of the temples, of King Enma statues throughout Japan.

Posted by timtak at 02:05 AM | Comments (3)