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Old 02-16-2011, 09:56 PM   #12
Carl Thompson
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Location: Kasama
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 491
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 19

Thanks for another great article Professor

I always learn something when I read them and this one is no exception. I have a few comments and questions for yourself and other readers. It wasn't easy reading for me so please accept my apologies in advance if I missed or misunderstood anything.

First, I have a point that others might find helpful regarding the article. I've noticed among some foreigners living in Japan that the term nihonjinron often gets to be used (in English) to mean only Japanese uniqueness (i.e.: nihonjinron = the belief that Japanese people are special/unique). For that reason, I'd like to draw attention to the fact that this article could also be regarded a form of nihonjinron or "theories/discussions about the Japanese".

More recently, for the past ten years I have been Chairman (座長) of a committee established by the Hiroshima city government to examine the situation of foreign residents and make recommendations to the Mayor. There are four Korean members of this committee, who are in precisely the situation described by Buruma and they represent a sizeable population of Korean residents, the general name for which is Zainichi Kankokujin / Chosenjin (在日韓国人 / 朝鮮人: two names distinguish North Korea from South Korea). In other words the situation described by Buruma in 1978 has not changed in 2011.
I wonder if the concepts of nationality, and more importantly, the transmission of nationality, are not factors in this.

I have "Korean" students who have never set foot in Korea and cannot speak a word of the language, but on our return from a trip to the UK last year, they had to line up with me with the "foreign passport holders". It is significant that neither Korea nor Japan allow dual citizenship. This even affects me as a Brit too, even though the UK does allow dual nationality: if I wanted to become a citizen of Japan, Korea, Denmark or other such countries, I would have to give up my British citizenship.

Also, I think the link between national identity and culture is a factor. Nationality is a bigger thing to give up for different people. When we talk about some of these countries, the terms we use may have stronger links to the cultures and inherent factors (including the ethnicity) of the people therein. So for example, I think the words "American, British etc" have different connotations compared to "Chinese, Japanese" or "Korean".

If I may expand upon something you mentioned later in the article:

A major issue is the choice of terms used, especially, ‘Japan' and ‘the Japanese'. The denotation goes well beyond innocuous geographical boundaries and the group of human beings who are native inhabitants of the particular landmass that bears the name.
I can recall ticking the "White British" box to indicate my race on equal opportunity forms back home, but I would not be particularly offended by the term "Caucasian" to refer to my race even though I have never set foot in the Caucasus region and I have no lineage to that geographic area that I am aware of. If someone says "British people are arrogant" I might take it as xenophobic at worst, but the extent to which it strikes the core of my being is limited (others may feel different I'm sure). Britain is a political union of a number of constituent countries, each with their own national identities. And I come from the border between two of those constituent countries anyway. "Japanese" or "Korean" on the other hand both seem to have much stronger links to the most common ethnic group and/or culture in each country and even refer to their respective languages.

I think these stronger ties deeply concern what is being discussed.

The climax of the demonstration are the performances given by the Japanese armed forces and by the employees of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, the latter invariably crisp and sharp in their own way, reinforcing the assumption that aikido around the world really needs to have a Hombu in Japan: a center of ‘technical excellence' that also serves as the center of overseas operations. These overseas operations need to be ‘serviced' by the regular dispatch of teachers who have supposedly reached certain levels of skill and have been awarded certain titles according to the internal system of this Japanese Hombu. The regular dispatch of shihan teachers in the other direction, from, for example, the US or France to Japan, is considered unthinkable and, in fact, there is no participation in the All-Japan Demonstration, not even a guest demonstration, by any non-Japanese of shihan rank. To my knowledge, the last such demonstration, very much a one-off demonstration in view of his status as a celebrity, was given by the actor Steven Seagal, shortly after he was promoted to the Aikikai rank of 7th dan.
One thought I have on this is that considering it is essentially a domestic event (unlike the IAF congress for example), featuring local "Japanese" dojos, it seems that there is a significant foreign presence. On an even more localised level, if you look at the Ibaraki Aikido Demonstration, you'll see that it does not feature dojos or shihans from neighbouring Chiba or Saitama prefectures although as with the All Japan, there are many foreigners. The Ibaraki Demonstration has had guest performances from overseas though and as it happens, even in the All Japan there is a guest slot for foreign dojos every year. I would agree with the idea that there should be more foreign shihan representation in that slot. Also, although we could argue what constitutes "the climax of the performance" it should be pointed out that the demonstrations do not "end" (as in "the climax") with "the armed forces and employees of the hombu." The event is brought to a close by the Doshu's demonstration.

From the speeches, the idea that I get which I think has been repeatedly stated is that "the Doshu should be the centre." One of my own teachers has made the closing speech a number of times in recent years and I am familiar with what he usually says. It seems to me that a lot of dojos with foreigners in them go to pains to show off how international they are by featuring their resident foreigner where possible. Perhaps it may just be tatemae in some cases, but if you look through any of the programmes from recent All Japan Demos, you will see plenty of foreign names. Also, if you look through back issues of Aikido Tankyu magazine, which reports on the event every year, you will see several shihans using foreigners for their individual demonstrations. Considering our relatively small number in Japan, I think we have a disproportionately high representation in this event (not that I'm complaining!).

In the English-language section it is as if no other country in the world is of such interest to the foreigners who visit as Japan. By contrast, I often visit the Netherlands and sometimes browse around bookstores. I have yet to find a bookstore anywhere in the country where the only books available in English are all books on Dutch culture.
I think that there is a significant difference in the kind of demand from readers of English in Japan. Surely English-readers are making bigger lifestyle changes when coming to Japan and are a lot more concerned with learning about local language and culture than they are when visiting the Netherlands (e.g.: most of my friends on stag nights in Amsterdam) for example.

Given the structure of Japanese, Stevens in effect has to divorce kotodama from semantics and confine it essentially to sound. In this view, the focus of the kotodama is purely the sound, divorced from any meaning the sound may carry. In his published works on kotodama, however, Stevens includes as ‘universal examples' only Japanese sounds or their English translations. Kotodama chanting might thus be a very good breathing exercise, but the problem with this view is that it divorces kotodama from its roots in well-established theories about the semantics / semiotics of the Japanese language.
I very much agree with this.

In the case of soup, Suzuki distinguishes "overt" culture and "covert" culture, the latter not being easily visible.
One thing Suzuki did (which I didn't like) was taking examples of cultural behaviour such as spoon-usage without either understanding or at least explaining that these customs cannot be applied across the board. I am reminded of the joke made by the central character in the novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" by Mark Haddon. The protagonist has an autistic spectrum disorder and only knows three jokes, one of which is…

"There are three men on a train. One of them is an economist and one of them is a logician and one of them is a mathematician. And they have just crossed the border into Scotland (I don't know why they are going to Scotland) and they see a brown cow standing in a field from the window of the train (and the cow is standing parallel to the train). And the economist says, 'Look, the cows in Scotland are brown.' And the logician says, 'No. There are cows in Scotland of which at least one is brown.' And the mathematician says, 'No. There is at least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown.' And this is funny because economists are not real scientists and because logicians think more clearly, but mathematicians are best."
…Suzuki would have done better not to have been so economical with his examples. I like this quote very much because I find it the best way to look at a culture without using a "cultural lens" as Ruth Benedict put it. And of course I'm from the border with Scotland.

However, I wonder what you made of Suzuki's "relative" and "absolute" adjectives as featured in "Words in Context". It's interesting that the word "unique" would fall into the relative band. That would mean that this very discussion is heavily coloured by our relative experiences on what constitutes "unique".

The examples from Tsunoda for the way language has featured in the "uniqueness" argument within nihonjinron were obviously conducted in a very "economist" way. There are of course some serious studies from both the Japanese and foreign sides including research into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which postulates a relationship between the grammatical structure of a language and the ways in which a person views the world. Also, outside of the Japanese context there has been some interesting research into the way language shapes how we think.

Sorry for a long post. Thanks again Professor. Thinking about and commenting on your article is also a good mode of study for me and having put my oar in, I'm sure reading further responses will be too.

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