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Old 01-28-2011, 11:32 PM   #1
niall
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Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

I recently did two blog articles about certain aspects of hiding and revealing true feelings in Japanese culture: Mask and Truth and tatemae. Francis Takahashi has asked me to move the discussion to the general forum thread.

I didn't really go into the normal dictionary definition of tatemae or fašade - the tatamae meaning of tatamae. I talked about how it can really work in a positive and unselfish way. There is another related word in Japanese which also means lying when the truth could hurt: houben. In Japan when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness it is still very common to tell the immediate family - but not the patient.

Francis brought up the point that honne and tatemae are important concepts in maintaining social harmony and cooperation in Japanese society and he also made a point about the masks we wear and change or discard. I suggested that O Sensei didn't wear a mask.

Or did he?

Last edited by niall : 01-28-2011 at 11:40 PM.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:10 AM   #2
aikishihan
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Hoooray for you, Niall, and welcome to the greater audience in the General Forum for your thoughts and experiences. You undoubtedly are aware that the vast majority of the Aiki Web faithful do not respond, and those that do are usually respectful, informed, and interesting. Still,,,,,, there are those few who did not get the reigi memo, or still choose to ignore it. You can handle it, so full speed ahead.

Being freed from the 500 letter limit to Aiki Blog responses, I can now more fully express my thoughts, and my appreciation for all that you represent. Thank you again for posting, and welcome aboard!

To me, the phenomenon of “tatemae” and “honne” remain essentially Japanese in origin, appropriateness and applicability. The Western penchant for “telling it like it is” is probably too unrestrained and abrupt for the structured Japanese mind and its preference for an indirect style of communication. Yet, there must be some meeting point of cultural and artistic interplay that would work for both sides. Sorry, I haven’t found it yet.

I have often wondered what the Founder would have discovered, absorbed and perhaps incorporated of the Western culture, ethic and experience, had he spent a reasonable amount of time in the West, America and Europe to be specific We will never know, but I honestly feel that he would have been indelibly affected, and his Aikido undoubtedly influenced, although to what extent and degree would be pure conjecture.

Only in Japan would he have been allowed to maintain the privilege of enjoying the benefits of tatemae and honne, and I personally have no doubt that he utilized such an advantage. In the West, however, he would have been hard pressed to employ such protection when confronted with the “need to know” signature of Western curiosity. In that light, there is no doubt in my mind at least, that he took full advantage of this cultural device, and selectively chose with whom his innermost thoughts were actually shared.

One only needs to look at his direct students, peers and associations to find no common image or identity shared by those people who actually knew and interacted with the Founder. Instead, it appears we must make do with the findings and interpretations of scholars and researchers of all ilk, which again, has to date, produced no consistency, legitimacy or agreement to speak of.

He remained an enigma while alive, and remains as unreachable today.

Guess that is how myths and legends are spawned and jealously defended.

Last edited by aikishihan : 01-29-2011 at 01:22 AM.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:22 AM   #3
carina reinhardt
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Did anybody whom you never met wear a mask is a really difficult question ? We only can guess by reading everything written about the life of O'Sensei. The most beautiful writings of Ueshiba Morihei Sensei are his dokas and by reading them I also think he didn't wear any mask in a negative sense.
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Old 01-29-2011, 08:42 AM   #4
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
I
I didn't really go into the normal dictionary definition of tatemae or fašade - the tatamae meaning of tatamae. I talked about how it can really work in a positive and unselfish way. There is another related word in Japanese which also means lying when the truth could hurt: houben. In Japan when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness it is still very common to tell the immediate family - but not the patient.
Just a note. "Houben" translates Sanskrit upaya, "expedient means", and represents the Buddhist concept of doing things that are not strictly within the "right" way of doing things, in order to accomplish a higher purpose (to really oversimplify!). From this meaning is the common Japanese meaning of "an expediency".

What you are referring to here is a proverb, uso mo houben: "lies are also an expedient means."

As to whether Ueshiba Morihei wore "a mask", well, I think we can be pretty certain he followed the Japanese use of tatemae. To not do so would have been anti-social, and anti-social folks generally do not cultivate the friends in high places that Ueshiba did. Personally, I felt my tatemae sensors going off reading the letter to Okawa Shumei that Professor Goldsbury posted a while back. There's also Terry Dobson's statement (quoted by Ellis Amdur) that dovetails nicely with Mr. Takahashi's post above, saying, "Osensei had this quality that when he would talk to you, you would get a clear message that he was saying, 'Look, I'm doing the best I can with these other guys, but they will never get it. I'm giving you the real goods. He did this with all the deshi.' Honestly, I firmly believe he said this to me. But I think I'm the only one who thinks this is funny."

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
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Old 01-29-2011, 11:32 AM   #5
graham christian
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
I recently did two blog articles about certain aspects of hiding and revealing true feelings in Japanese culture: Mask and Truth and tatemae. Francis Takahashi has asked me to move the discussion to the general forum thread.

I didn't really go into the normal dictionary definition of tatemae or fašade - the tatamae meaning of tatamae. I talked about how it can really work in a positive and unselfish way. There is another related word in Japanese which also means lying when the truth could hurt: houben. In Japan when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness it is still very common to tell the immediate family - but not the patient.

Francis brought up the point that honne and tatemae are important concepts in maintaining social harmony and cooperation in Japanese society and he also made a point about the masks we wear and change or discard. I suggested that O Sensei didn't wear a mask.

Or did he?
Hi Niall, a very interesting couple of blogs which when really looked at covers so much in human relations and actions. I don't know what the japanese for 'shroud' is but I think the concept of the shroud or cloak would also fit in with what you are looking at and would translate as identity or image.
The basic concept I see is that of the true intention, as you pointed out, compared to what's shown, presented, displayed.
Once again it conjures up lot's of negative examples but also we can look for positive ones.It can take you to all kinds of places like for instance I portray the image of a rastafarian and as so many people nowadays are led by image alone without true inspection then they are led to false conclusions. So I myself could inspect my own reasons for the way I dress, present myself, and thus bring up more truth about me, more self awareness. So I'm saying here that the concept can be used as an educational tool as well. Some people dress in what they like wearing, some for functional reasons, some because they feel they should, some because they are told to, some in order to present a professional image etc.etc.
Actually I'm not Rastafarian and I am more buddhist really from that perspective. As many have noticed I like hats which for me are both functional and personal style. In fact there's another thing as an aside, some hats worn originally depicted the type of job the person did.
Anyway, now to a more philosophic view to do with the originl question about O'Sensei. How many times have you heard or maybe even given advice to someone along the kines of 'just be yourself' or 'be true to yourself'? That's almost like saying stop wearing or adopting or using all those masks and find the one that suits you. Someone may say you should also use ones to fit the variouse situations and scenes you visit. All fascinating stuff.
Then from a spiritual point of view, let's say a buddhist one, to find your true self, free of all masks etc.
So in conclusion I would say that O'Sensei was very much being himself and true to himself but of couse showed, presented himself as something or else no one would have 'seen' him. In other words it's part of existing with form so we can communicate to each other but I don't believe he wore any, or compared to most, many false masks or rather deceptive masks.
Thanks for posting.G.
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Old 01-31-2011, 08:26 AM   #6
niall
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Great comments, Francis. I like the idea of O Sensei interacting with the West. In fact Jigoro Kano the founder of judo is said to have been many things to many people too. We have the contrasting images of the urbane and international Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) campaigning for Japan to get the Olympics and Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969 - so about a generation later) with his recondite teachings and links to Omoto-kyo. O Sensei did go to Hawaii and I hope that the Aikido Celebration 2011: Morihei Ueshiba in Hawaii 1961-2011 results in more stories about O Sensei's visit becoming known. This is another link from that site about the history of aikido in Hawaii which has a lot of interesting links.

Thanks Josh for your great linguistic input as always. I did mean the Buddhist sense of houben. I don't take that Terry Dobson quote as calculating. We can also take it at face value that O Sensei was simply stating that he didn't feel that anyone was able to understand him. Or it could be his charisma. Some politicians have this ability of making you feel that you are the most important person to them while you are speaking to them.

Graham I like that extension of the mask to cloak and to clothes (and hats!). We could extend it to bodies too in the end! I agree with you and Carina that O Sensei didn't need to wear any concealing or deceptive mask. Of course he functioned in Japanese society with its mores but my impression is of a straight and simple man. And as I answered in the blog perhaps the fact that he was remembered in so many different ways might reflect the different people remembering him rather than the masks he might have worn. And be true to yourself - great advice.

Last edited by niall : 01-31-2011 at 08:29 AM.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats


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Old 01-31-2011, 09:00 PM   #7
Josh Reyer
 
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Re: Mask and Truth and the mask of O Sensei

Quote:
Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Thanks Josh for your great linguistic input as always. I did mean the Buddhist sense of houben. I don't take that Terry Dobson quote as calculating. We can also take it at face value that O Sensei was simply stating that he didn't feel that anyone was able to understand him. Or it could be his charisma. Some politicians have this ability of making you feel that you are the most important person to them while you are speaking to them.
I don't take it as calculating either. Let me put it this way -- when I'm with my friends, I swear quite a bit, as men often do. When I'm with my mother, I do not, even though it is the same natural "me" in both situations, truthful to myself. (Here's a brain twister -- which situation is "tatemae", and which is "honne"?)

Japanese society turns this up to eleven. It's a high context language, and a high context society. Each interaction with each individual person creates a new context, and Japanese people adjust themselves accordingly to that context, perhaps to a greater degree than we do in American society (to really overgeneralize). If we connote "tatemae" with a mask, then I think Ueshiba wore one. On the other hand, I personally would not necessarily make that connection. Even within the natural societal constructs of tatemae/honne, the Japanese have a negative term for someone who's all tatemae and no honne: happo-bijin. That to me is a "mask", and based only on what I have read of and by Ueshiba, I would not say he was a happo-bijin. On the other hand, few people living have the necessary experience with him to truly make that call.

Josh Reyer

The lyf so short, the crafte so longe to lerne,
Th'assay so harde, so sharpe the conquerynge...
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