Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 23
XI: To Bow or not to Bow?
Morihei Ueshiba and his Gods: Thoughts on Culture, Logic, Religion and Aikido
Part 1: Preliminaries: Religion and ‘Cultural Logic'
This column is a rethinking of matters discussed in two articles that were published several years ago. The articles were published in Stanley Pranin's magazine Aikido Journal
] with the title, "Touching the Absolute." Since I wrote those articles, I have lived here in Japan longer, have read and studied much more about all aspects of Japan and its culture, but have not had the opportunity to revise them and the third article is still only half-written, ten years after it was promised. Subsequent AikiWeb
columns on aikido and language, especially the essays on kotodama
, have, in my opinion, demonstrated the fundamentally religious nature of Morihei Ueshiba's thinking. However, there is scope for rounding off these later columns by moving away from strictly linguistic considerations to matters of religion in general—rituals, organization, belief, doctrine, and morality—in sum, to the matter of Morihei Ueshiba's general conception of religion and religious belief, and the important differences between Ueshiba's conception and those of prewar and postwar aikido practitioners, both Japanese and non-Japanese. As implied in the above sentence and clearly stated in previous columns, World War II and its effects on aikido constitute a general dividing line that is of some importance for the understanding of postwar aikido, although this fact will not be at all obvious to those who are not prepared to dig beneath the surface when reading the narratives of the existing biographies of the Founder and his son.
Clash of Values
Issues connecting aikido, religion, and ethics have continued to exercise the minds of members of discussion forums like AikiWeb
. For many AikiWeb
participants, there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between a martial way like aikido, on the one hand, and religion, including general religious beliefs and practice, on the other. For others, however, the notion of a ‘martial way' is not quite as clear as that of a fighting art or a straight fighting sport. The notion of a ‘martial way' or ‘way of the warrior' can be extended to cover life in general, as the ‘traditional' concept of bushido
certainly was, and so people wonder how they should best live their ‘aikido' lives outside the dojo, the assumption being that by comparison with an ordinary ‘non-aikido' life, these have to be superior. There is no point in the hard training of the dojo, the argument runs, if it does not make a real difference to how you live your life outside, in the ‘real' world.
However, making a real difference to how you live your life in the ‘real' world has also been thought to be the province of religious beliefs and practice, and the problems arise when aikido training is somehow made analogous to such practice. Some state categorically that aikido is not a religion; others state equally categorically that Morihei Ueshiba himself believed that it was—and if he said so, well, this has to be considered by anyone seeking to practice aikido or to replicate Ueshiba's training methods. In the dojo, the Founder's picture usually occupies a prominent place and the practice of bowing in the direction of this picture at the beginning and end of class causes seemingly immense problems for those for whom bowing is a religious practice. Not so long ago, a thriving thread in the AikiWeb
forums discussed the practice of bowing to each other or to a picture of Morihei Ueshiba in the dojo. Terms like ‘spiritual', ‘religion', ‘faith' and ‘enlightenment' were used fairly frequently, as if the meanings were universal and intuitively obvious to any aikido practitioner. The question later arose about the ethics of exclusion: excluding from the dojo any who did not wish to conform to the dojo rules on bowing as interpreted by the chief instructor. Separate training for male and female dojo members on religious grounds, which is encountered in some countries where the dominant religion is Islam, was another issue.
The above discussion illustrates one way in which a conflict between aikido and religion could be understood. There is another way, which focuses more on the Japanese side of the distinction and compares the whole content of these religious practices, rather than one or two aspects such as bowing in the dojo. If the fundamentals of aikido training were, for Morihei Ueshiba, the fundamentals of his religious practice, then this might well have important implications for the way the actual training is conceived. There are two ways of seeing the conflict if it is conceived in this way. The negative way is to exclude the specifically religious aspects of the training and focus only on the non-religious aspects, such as the waza
. This term is usually translated as techniques and the latter are also given names, such as shiho-nage
. There are grounds for thinking that this negative way of looking at Morihei Ueshiba's religious activities was actually adopted by the Aikikai after 1945, in order that aikido could escape the unwelcome scrutiny of General MacArthur's SCAP investigators and avoid becoming a proscribed activity.
The more positive way is to look at the whole spectrum of these religious practices and see them primarily as practices, which could be shorn of their specifically religious aspects, but which could still be understood as essential components of training. In this case, the essential training would not comprise merely the waza
, but would include all these other components, now understood as essential parts of the whole training regimen. This more positive way of looking at Japanese religious practices involves examining them on their own terms, so to speak, and it is here that problems can arise. A discussion of Japanese religious practices can be seen as one aspect of Nihonjinron
and this discussion can involve two major assumptions, based on the supposed fundamental differences that are the focus of Nihonjinron
. One assumption is that Japanese religious practices are unique in the very special way that Japanese culture is argued to be unique. The second assumption is that this type of discussion of Japanese religious practices needs its own special logic, since ‘normal' logic (usually understood as ‘Western' logic) is considered not adequate to the task. These two assumptions, about Japan's ‘unique culture' and special logic, have been fused together by one scholar, Takie Sugiyama Lebra (hereinafter, when referring to this scholar I will generally use the shortened form, Lebra, especially when discussing her arguments in detail: no disrespect is intended), in her research on Japanese ‘cultural logic' and this was discussed briefly in an earlier column. We need to examine some of this research again and look at how it might apply more specifically to Japanese religion and religious beliefs and practices.
The main aim of this column, therefore, is to examine, through a very wide lens, this apparent conflict between aikido training and religious beliefs and practices. There are two major groups that are the main focus of this conflict. When I wrote the Touching the Absolute
essays, I had in mind primarily aikido practitioners who are not Japanese, or who have not lived in Japan long enough to become well assimilated into the local culture. These constitute the first group. With such practitioners this conflict might be temporary, in the sense that it is resolved in some way, the later resolution being achieved perhaps as a result of aikido training. Or it can continue to exist, but the two spheres of living achieve a sort of peaceful coexistence. Perhaps an example will be of use here. I knew an aikido practitioner who was a lay preacher in his local Methodist church. His enthusiasm for both aikido and Methodism was passionate, but he appeared to keep the two in separate categories. If there was any mixing at all, it consisted in his Christian values adding a spiritual and moral dimension to the way he practiced aikido.
Since I have been living in Japan for many years, I have gradually come to see more clearly how Japanese aikido practitioners deal with religious practices and these practitioners constitute the other major group. In my own experience, Japanese aikido practitioners experience a conflict between aikido and religion so rarely that it can be considered negligible. In fact, one can go further and suggest that there is generally very little conflict to begin with, even for those ‘postwar' Japanese who have little time for Morihei Ueshiba's ‘prewar' religious beliefs and practices.
The fact that many postwar Japanese devotees of aikido have little time for Morihei Ueshiba's own religious beliefs and practices is of some significance. Previous columns have shown the importance for many postwar Japanese of incorporating into one seamless narrative discourse the turbulent events of the 1930s and 1940s that led to World War II and Japan's defeat. The resulting discourse is a smoothly integrated narrative that gives due weight to these events, but places them in an suitable context, seeing them as part of the evolution of Japan as a modern, peace-loving nation, fully on a par with the western democracies.
Japan's traditional martial arts are an essential ingredient of this narrative and one strand emphasizes the strong links between bujutsu
and Japanese religion, especially Shinto, Buddhism, and the blends that appear in ‘new' religions like Omoto. An important variant, begun by Nitobe Inazo in 1899, explains the deep importance of traditional bushido
and its links with Christianity. The latest contribution I have read in this regard is a book by Sasamori Takemi, the 17th Soke
of Ono-ha Itto-ryu
, published in 2013 and entitled 『武士道とキリスト教』[Bushido and Christianity].
Sometimes the iemoto
system is also mentioned in this narrative, increasingly in the case of aikido, to show that the art in its present state was the result of a smooth evolutionary process, which the Founder himself accepted and actively pursued. Morihei Ueshiba's own religious beliefs and practices are fitted into this smooth postwar discourse, usually also in ‘evolutionary' terms. They had a very important place during the period when he was creating the art of aikido, but the religious aspects of aikido and aikido training are better seem in terms of the more enlightened and less extreme postwar Japanese world view, which emphasizes the peaceful and ‘spiritual' aspects of aikido, while also giving exceptional weight to the fundamental Japanese identity of the art and also not forgetting completely its strictly martial aspects.
The first unstated assumption here is that the Japanese view of religious belief and practice is quite different from other views and also provides a superior context for understanding a Japanese martial way like aikido. This view will have to be examined, for it is fundamental to any conception we might have of Morihei Ueshiba's aikido. The second unstated assumption is that the Japanese conception of religious belief is also closer to Morihei Ueshiba's own religious beliefs and practices because, well, he was Japanese also. However, an assumption is not an argument and some expected consequences do not, in fact, follow: while there might be grounds for the truth of both assumptions, there are also strong grounds for thinking that Japanese aikido practitioners are no closer to a correct understanding of Ueshiba's religious beliefs and practices, as these relate to his aiki-budo
/ aikido training, than their non-Japanese counterparts.
That these religious beliefs and practices are part of a major issue can, in my opinion, be seen from some recent discussions on AikiWeb
. A sharp distinction is sometimes drawn between Morihei Ueshiba's aikido and that of others. These ‘others' sometimes include Ueshiba's earlier students at the prewar Kobukan and certainly include Kisshomaru Ueshiba, who was also such a student. However, in this case the difference is more often drawn between Ueshiba Father and Ueshiba Son in the latter's capacity as the second Doshu and the person mainly responsible for both the postwar growth of aikido and the creation of the dominant postwar discourse on aikido, discussed above. The criticism is sometimes made that there is something missing from Kisshomaru Ueshiba's aikido training that was present in his father's, but the critics of Kisshomaru Ueshiba tend to ignore the fact that a crucial component of his father's training was precisely his religious beliefs and practices. There is a tendency in such a comparison to pay little attention to the religious aspect, usually on the grounds that ‘no one understood it anyway', or to adopt a reductionist approach, which distils the differences into the presence or absence of one important factor, such as what is sometimes called aiki
, and / or ‘internal power' or ‘internal skill' (the two are not usually distinguished), which Morihei Ueshiba ‘had' (allegedly in abundance), but Kisshomaru Ueshiba lacked. Arguments for the distinction are usually based on film of Morihei Ueshiba in action and on an analysis of his discourses (usually translated in such a way as to make any evidence of the distinction more plausible or convincing). I believe this approach is too simple and one of the aims of this column is to examine Morihei Ueshiba's religious beliefs and practices more closely, in order to see how these might have affected his training.
On the other hand, some proponents of modern postwar aikido, especially those associated in some way with the Aikikai, do not go out of their way to make it easily accessible to a complete neophyte, for aikido is sometimes presented as an art that requires the abandonment of most of one's common sense in order to practice it. It is sometimes stated that aikido is indefinable and that it requires many years of training in order for any level of proficiency to be obtained. In answer to very reasonable questions that a prospective neophyte might ask, especially about the effectiveness of the art when compared to other martial systems and the long training period required, the answers tend to be unsatisfactory and resort to platitudes, like "I had the same problems when I started", or "Don't think too much; just train," or to exhortations to "enjoy the journey", as if aikido was like a package tour round an exotic Japanese city.
So there is a difference of emphasis in this column, compared with that of the earlier Touching the Absolute
articles. The main focus is still whether the connection for Morihei Ueshiba of aikido with religion, however this is conceived, is relevant to how the art is practiced—or to be practiced—now. The essay is intended primarily as a ‘phenomenology' of Morihei Ueshiba's religious beliefs and practices and these are examined as far as possible on their own terms. However, some preparatory discussion is required to lay the foundations and for reasons of length, the essay is divided into parts. This first part starts a wide-ranging and very general examination of Japanese religious beliefs and practices. I consider the question whether considering or discussing Japanese religious practices, as part of Japanese culture, needs a special ‘cultural logic'. One proponent of Nihonjinron
has argued that discussion of Japanese culture does indeed require its own special logic. In the second part I go on to discuss whether this apparent uniqueness of Japanese religion, again considered as a part of Japanese culture, can be captured by an alternative set of concepts to ‘cultural logic', namely, the concepts, closely tied to human relationships, of intimacy and integrity. I also consider the question whether the concept of Japanese ‘common religion' is likely to have any relevance for Morihei Ueshiba. The final part of the essay builds on these foundations to examine Morihei Ueshiba's religious beliefs and practices in more detail.
Scene-setting: My Own Experience and Biases
First, I need to present my own developing awareness of the depth of aikido training. I do this, in order that others can compare and contrast this with their own. I took up aikido purely by chance. I was a university student and if I had a chosen sport, it was long-distance cross-country running in the hills behind the university. A friend mentioned this ‘martial art' called aikido and I went to the university gymnasium to have a look. None of the reasons usually given for beginning training were in play here and I did not see aikido as the answer to any ‘martial' questions or to any practical or ‘spiritual' questions about the conduct of one's life. The point that needs to be stressed here—especially in the light of discussions on AikiWeb
about the definition of ‘martial' and the type of commitment required to practice ‘true budo'—is that I had no specific expectations at all from practicing the art, any more than I had such expectations from cross-country running. In any case, this was in 1970 and the art was not generally known. A Japanese student who happened to have 3rd dan had come to the UK and wanted to continue training and the only way to do this was to start a university club. In order to start a club and qualify for funding, students were needed and this was why my friend mentioned the art. I took a class, signed up, and never looked back. This Japanese ‘student' is now in his seventies and we have become very good friends, though we meet only occasionally.
Moreover, the art was presented as a martial ‘art' or ‘way' (the two were never distinguished): the focus was always an encounter in which an attacker was bested in some way. Aikido was presented as ‘hard' training—some people dropped out because they thought it was too hard, but without the rules that one finds in competition judo. As in judo, however, there was a component, which, for want of a better term, can be described as ‘ethical'. In the dojo, bowing to the attacker and then wantonly beating the hell out of him / her was ruled out as inappropriate, but, on the other hand, the point of training in the dojo was emphasized as being to prepare for possible encounters in the street. Even in the street, however, the attacker had to be dealt with in an appropriate way. I did in fact apply this training in the street on two occasions. After these encounters took place and discussions ensued, the question was not ethical, as in, ‘Should I as an aikido student actually be doing this?' It was practical: ‘In the encounter, did I apply the training I had undertaken in the proper fashion—with maximum efficiency and minimum effort?'
So in one sense, aikido training turned out to be a complex series of steps to gain power. However, at this point a number of equally complex issues about power and the realization of power, which I later understood, were never distinguished. There was a vast amount of solo training, for, though he did not quite have the English ability to present it in these terms, our teacher emphasized that we were not properly prepared to train properly, either alone or with a partner. It was simply presented in terms of preparing for a potential or real attacker and as steps to prevent the attacker from succeeding with the attack.
Religion did not enter into this picture at all, except in so far as for some aikido practitioners who were religious believers, it might privately govern their own ‘ethical' behavior. Though we never bowed to his picture, my teacher very occasionally talked of the Founder of the art and suggested that, according to the Founder's teaching, the essence of aikido was respect and gratitude, initially to one's opponent, but which also extended to one's family and ancestors, friends, but especially—and very unusually—to the Japanese emperor, on the grounds that he had a very important role in Japan, which was the country where aikido originated. We had rather mixed feelings about this and much later I understood that my teacher espoused a certain form of the traditional Japanese religious practices known as Shinto.
None of my other Japanese teachers ever stressed the point of aikido as showing respect to the Japanese emperor, but one teacher in particular stressed the suitability for aikido training of Zen sitting—and, later, the great importance of Zen meditation for aikido. Since he also taught iaido
, and saw himself as a traditional shihan
[師範: teacher/model], teaching in a traditional way, the impression was unmistakably conveyed for some students that aikido actually needed to be supplemented by these two activities and the most committed students did both. Though my teacher's training was extremely hard, his explanations of iaido
, and especially Zen, left open the possibility that training could well be seen as much more than an encounter in which an attacker was bested—or, for my teacher, virtually annihilated—in some way.
The practice and discussion of Zen led to a view of Japan as the ‘Shangri-la of Zen-Budo
' (D T Suzuki popularized this view in his books, which had a huge influence outside Japan, but I did not read them at this time.) Japan as presented was an oasis of peace and harmony, to which even gangsters made their due contribution. The country was quite different from any other, but it was also considered very important to have a ‘true' understanding of Japanese ‘culture', whatever this was. We learned of an institution called the Hombu Dojo, where very important matters concerning aikido were decided, always in a harmonious Zen-like atmosphere, with no hint of problems or disagreements. In fact, the view of Japan presented was very intriguing and led some students, including myself, to plan to go there and practice aikido at the roots, so to speak.
There was a dimension that was called ‘spiritual', though this term was never defined. It was assumed that because its founder called aikido a new ‘budo
' (quite different from mere bujutsu
or the seemingly older, more rigorous and ethically questionable bushido
), this was somehow enough: all one had to do was to ‘penetrate' the ‘deeper meaning' through continuous training. This emphasis on constant and continuous training was one thing that was regarded as common to both aikido and spiritual activity. In any case, it was emphasized that budo
was not an intellectual activity and in fact all the English translations of budo
were regarded as somehow lacking, one general (stated, but untested) assumption being that translations, especially of such Japanese terms, never succeed in capturing the sense of the original: they never quite hit the target. The unstated assumption, also encountered in Aikiweb
discussions about the Japanese language, was that since all the attempts at translation miss the mark, they are both equally far from the target and also equally valid as attempted translations: one mistranslation is as good as another.
The practice of Zen raised wider issues concerning the importance or unimportance of intellectual thinking and also led to the possibility—and the question—of practicing meditation and achieving enlightenment, and what this meant. One answer: calming the mind in the face of death and developing a readiness to accept death at any time without flinching, I found rather unsatisfactory, for it smacked too much of nostalgia for the lost age of the Japanese samurai, which my teacher also occasionally talked about. Before I encountered aikido, I had always been taught that enlightenment was essentially tied to a personal God in a very direct way and was not something that one could achieve purely by one's own efforts. The Zen version of enlightenment offered a radically different perspective.
However, as I trained more often and with increasing intensity, I became aware of one conflict that was as much ethical as religious. The conflict can be expressed very simply: aikido was presented as a new budo
, a path to enlightenment, but the teachers who walked around the mat and threw their students did not appear to practice what they preached, or to have got very far along the path—certainly not far enough to teach others about enlightenment. All the years of hard training seemed to have made little difference to their exceedingly flexible spiritual and ethical values. In one notable happening, which occurred after I had come to Japan, a student died shortly after summer training at a university. He had problems with ukemi
to begin with, but had been thrown repeatedly from shiho nage
, on the grounds that he lacked ‘fighting spirit'. The club's chief instructor was not supervising the training and none of those who threw the student admitted to having been responsible for his death. The case caused a shock locally, but not for the same reasons why it was shocking to me. I will return to this important matter below.
My initial practice of Zen was not the practice of Zen Buddhism. It was ‘just sitting', which had to be done correctly, but was without any recommended conceptual, ideational or spiritual input or superstructure. However, the more I practiced and studied aikido, the more I was led to believe that it was connected to spirituality in some way, even to religious practice, as this was understood by the Japanese, but nothing was ever defined clearly. I was urged both to deepen by means of harder training my awareness of aikido as a ‘spiritual' art [sic
], but also to study the life and discourses of the Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. I have mentioned before my surprise on first reading some of Ueshiba's aphorisms translated into English (in Kisshomaru Ueshiba's book, Aikido
). I was not looking for a guru in my aikido training, yet here was my teacher proclaiming O Sensei
[he was even called Great Teacher
], as the guru who seemed to ‘out-guru' every other guru who had ever lived. The fact that Morihei Ueshiba has been treated as both a guru and the martial equivalent of a saint has colored my view of the man ever since: he should not have been treated as a guru and most certainly was never a saint.
I learned that Morihei Ueshiba had once stated that aikido was not a religion, but perfected religion, in the sense that practicing aikido enabled one also to practice one's religion in a better fashion (than, presumably, not practicing aikido). This remark, breathtaking in its apparent arrogance, raised some major questions. How was a man living in Japan during the Meiji / Taisho / Showa era in a position to make such an absolute statement? Had he studied the Bible, or the Quran? To what extent was the statement based on experience? In other words, to what extent was the statement based on his own membership of a religion that needed to be perfected? How would aikido enable one to practice something that was believed to be complete to begin with, but to practice it even more completely? It took a study of Japanese religion, especially the ‘new' religion called Omoto, for me to understand the cultural context of Ueshiba's remark. Later I will discuss Omoto, and the effect it had on Morihei Ueshiba's thinking.
A few years later, after I had decided to move to Japan, I met one of my earlier teachers and he gave me a gentle warning. In Japan I would learn the ‘truth' about aikido and also encounter many problems. He was correct in both respects, but not at all in the way I had anticipated.
After arriving in Japan in 1980, I began training at the local Aikikai dojo, which was the main dojo in the prefecture, where the training was led by the resident Japanese dojo-cho
[道場長: dojo head; I later learned that the term shihan
was not used because it was accepted that anyone of 6th dan rank and above was regarded as a shihan
], now 8th dan in rank. I became the only foreign yudansha
training there regularly. Initially, at least, I was ‘tested' by the mid-ranked Japanese yudansha
, but never by the dojo-cho
. This quiet emphasis on ‘foreignness' was a constant feature of training, but it was not so much unique to aikido as one manifestation of something pervasive in Japan. (Rather than straight ‘racism', I prefer something more nuanced, like ‘chronic and acute perception of supposed cultural differences').
The most striking aspect of aikido training in Japan was that it was, naturally, very firmly embedded in the culture and my situation as a member of faculty in a large provincial university afforded me many insights into the striking similarities between two distinct sub-cultures in which I was embedded (academic and martial arts) and the dominant national culture of which they were a more intense and nuanced expression. I should add that achieving some proficiency in the Japanese language was a major revelation. For the first time I could understand those parts of a discourse that are not usually translated when foreigners are around. Secondly, the contrast between the Japanese spoken by colleagues, neighbors, students, dojo members and the rather artificial Japanese used in aikido was striking. Thirdly, the discourses of Morihei Ueshiba began to make greater sense, despite the huge gap between the Japanese used in the discourses and the language spoken and written by my Japanese students and colleagues.
Certain features of the training were also striking. First, there was no picture of the Founder of the art displayed in the tokonoma
; instead, there was the Japanese hinomaru
flag. However, we never bowed to the flag; instead, the dojo-cho
faced the students, with the flag behind him, but we bowed to him. Secondly, there was very little explanation—of anything. The dojo-cho
usually demonstrated aikido waza
four times, omote
left and right and ura
left and right, and that was all. Explanations were occasionally given, but individually, sometimes by the dojo-cho
who circulated round the dojo, sometimes by one's own partner, especially if the latter was a senior yudansha
. However, even then, there were long periods of silent training, back and forth, the pace being set by mutual, but silent, consent. Thirdly, except for its occurrence in ordinary Japanese, ki
[気, 氣] was never mentioned, nor was the concept ever discussed and none of the training exercises we did were specifically called ki
exercises. Fourthly, there was no emphasis whatever on aikido as a religious activity in any sense, and this will be important when we consider the notion of Japanese ‘common religion'. In fact, no emphasis whatever was placed on aikido as spiritual training of any kind and my own instructor never considered the art as in any way spiritual.
It was this last aspect that led me to think of what Takie Sugiyama Lebra calls ‘cultural logic', for none of the distinctions that she makes about the different logic employed by the Japanese to mark off their religious worldview from that of ‘Westerners' was ever made in the dojo. In particular, the art that was practiced was assumed to be identical to the art that had been created by Morihei Ueshiba and handed down to his son. There was a high level of respect accorded to Kisshomaru Ueshiba that was not extended to his own son (Moriteru was still too young for any judgments to be made about his technical potential), but no doubt was ever entertained that the art we were practicing—and which was constantly displayed in different ways by a pantheon of visiting shihan
: Shirata, Saito, Yamaguchi, Tada, Arikawa, Fujita—was the art that Morihei Ueshiba created and practiced all his life. The only comments made about Morihei Ueshiba, who was actually very rarely mentioned, were that he was a member of one of Japan's ‘new' religions and that this affected his own understanding of the art he created—and popular reception of the discourses that nobody understood, at least at the time. But it was taken for granted that one could leave the Omoto religious aspect to one side and still practice the same art. It was only later that I realized that this thinking almost exactly conformed to the smooth postwar narrative that I mentioned above.
Some Nihonjinron Again
Since this column refers to Japanese and non-Japanese, something must be stated at the outset about this common distinction, often made between Japanese and the rest of humanity. A previous column has shown that some Nihonjinron
literature, especially earlier literature originating in Japan and following a precedent set by the scholars of the Mito domain, tends to mark off Japanese from non-Japanese and, later, ‘Westerners'. The intense background to this exclusiveness is explained by Mark Ravina:
"A significant and growing number of samurai and commoners throughout Japan were enthralled by the notion [known as 公武合体: koubu gattai] that devotion to the emperor could solve the nation's political problems. Central to radical loyalism was the belief that foreigners in Japan constituted a pollution of the ‘land of the gods'. Only by expelling the foreigners could imperial subjects prove their loyalty; anything less was not just cowardice, but also a disgrace to the emperor and the gods. The principal tenets of radical imperial loyalism could be summarized in one sentence: ‘Revere the emperor [son-nou: 尊王] and expel the barbarians [jou-i: 攘夷]'".
Ravina goes on to make an important point that is relevant to the issues concerning logic and rationality to be discussed later.
"The emotional force of sonnou joui thought was enormous. Like radical Islamic fundamentalism in our day, it seemed to answer deep-seated grievances and humiliations with a visionary, if vague, promise of purity and vengeance. The irrationality of sonnou joui rhetoric was part of its appeal. … Ito Hirobumi once observed that ‘if one speaks logically of the (things that happened then), they are impossible to understand … but emotionally it had to be that way.'" (Mark Ravina, The Last Samurai, pp. 110-111.)
Nowadays the distinction is rarely invested with the venom it had for the samurai after 1853, but the fact remains that for many modern Japanese (meaning, Japanese reaching born or reaching adulthood after World War II) some kind of distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese is absolutely central to their outlook on the world.
Some of the issues here might also plausibly correspond to those described and discussed by Edward Said in his book Orientalism
. In Said's discussions the ‘Orientals' are lumped together in one general category, just as ‘Westerners' are lumped together in the Nihonjinron
literature. Though Said actually has in mind the way that Arabs were considered by the old colonial powers, Britain and France, East Asians would also fit into this category of ‘Orientals'. But problems arise when attempts are made to translate the term ‘Oriental' into Japanese and issues of language and translation cut right across the Nihonjinron
debate. The Japanese also consider themselves different from other ‘Orientals', just as the Chinese do, and this issue has been described and discussed by Stefan Tanaka in Japan's Orient: Rendering the Pasts into History
. Tanaka's aim is to show how Japanese scholars like Shiratori Kurakichi baulked at the idea of a common subject entitled 東洋史 [touyou-shi
: oriental history]. One can easily see the plausibility of the threefold linguistic distinction: Western
, and Japanese
. The last pair is clearly different in category from the first two, even though the first two are rarely encountered as such in actual usage.
Thus the distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese is artificial and problematic, and is being made here only to find a way of focusing on the particular features of what might be called ‘Japanese religion'. Initially, the distinction seems quite plausible. Since 1600 at least, the Japanese have indeed been regarded as archetypically ‘Oriental' or ‘non-Western', inhabiting a rich cultural cocoon somewhere to the north-east of China and whose very tentative and halting steps to ‘Westernization' gained impetus only since the arrival of Perry's ‘black ships' in 1853. One of the effects of this process of ‘Westernization' was the need to find new Japanese terms for imported concepts, such as ‘freedom of religion
', which did not exist before this. However, the distinction ‘Japanese/Western' is not really appropriate here. The very distinctive Japanese attitude to religion and religious practice actually serves to mark this off also from the religious practices of other ‘non-Westerners'. In fact, unlike the distinction ‘Japanese' and ‘non-Japanese', the distinction ‘Western' and ‘non-Western' ceases to have much value here, other than as a peg on which to hang some cherished cultural beliefs. The only value lies at a deeper level, the level of what has been called ‘cultural logic', the term used by Takie Sugiyama Lebra, in order to illuminate the Japanese concept of the self. As a preparation for discussing this notion of ‘cultural logic', in order to consider how it might apply to religion, let us consider an example.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The example is a film made in 2005 by Sir Ridley Scott. Starring Liam Neeson, Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Isaacs, and Edward Norton as Baldwin the Leper King, Kingdom of Heaven
is a sensitive depiction of one of a series of bloody religious wars known as the Crusades. In this film, the general attitudes to religion shown by Christians and Muslims are very similar. Both are fighting for what they see as a ‘kingdom of heaven'. The ‘good' attitudes are exemplified by the hero Balian, his father Godfrey, Baldwin the Leper King, Saladin and his lieutenant Imad. These are balanced by the ‘bad' attitudes displayed by Guy de Lusignan, his lieutenant Reynald de Chatillon, most of the Christian churchmen, and one of Saladin's Muslim chiefs, named Mullah. For both the Christians and the Muslims there is a theological and moral code based on a set of beliefs about this world and the world to come, which is summarized in a body of doctrine, and the moral value of attitudes and actions is measured by the extent to which they are, or are not, in accordance with these beliefs. In Sugiyama Lebra's terms, the ‘cultural logic' is clear, oppositional, and is ‘zero-sum': it is based on a set of opposites that are mutually exclusive, but which can be considered equally applicable to the Christianity of the crusaders and the Islam of the Saracens they are fighting. A related example can be found in a 13th-century anonymous poem called Ordene de chevalerie
. Hugh, Count of Tiberias, is captured by Saladin and is ordered to explain the ‘western' tradition of chivalry, in substitution for the payment of his ransom. He does so by guiding Saladin through the ceremony of knighthood, omitting only the collée
(the light blow to the face). The explanation is successful and he wins his freedom. The point here is that in this 13th-century poem, the ‘cultural logic' underpinning the ceremony is ‘zero-sum' and equally applicable to Balian, Godfrey, Baldwin, Tiberias and Saladin.
The issue for Balian, whose wife has died in tragic circumstances and who because of this was led to kill his brother, involves an attempt to reconcile his own beliefs with the actual ‘good' & ‘bad' attitudes and conduct of those with whom he actually comes into contact. However, Balian makes the attempt without calling into question the beliefs themselves and the ‘cultural logic' that underlies them. In making the attempt, Balian questions whether he really has the beliefs at all, whether they really are an adequate measure of the morality of conduct, and whether they will be of any value to him in coming to terms with the death of his wife and, to a rather lesser extent, the killing of his brother. However, the zero-sum ‘cultural logic' involved in the nature and dimensions of his beliefs is not affected by this questioning.
The example of the Kingdom of Heaven
film is relevant here for three reasons. First, crusades were the practical expression of a Christian warrior culture. The entire actions of the hero Balian and his father, Godfrey of Ibelin, are based on an ethical code of chivalry that very easily stands comparison with so-called bushido
. Balian succeeds Godfrey as Baron of Ibelin and at the end of the film, when he is in Jerusalem preparing to withstand Saladin's siege of the city, he makes all his fighting men kneel and recite the ethical vows of knighthood. So they stand up again as knights / ‘samurai'—and fight as such. Eventually, Balian and Saladin, both ‘samurai', according to their own respective religious and ethical belief systems, agree on terms and a bloody war is averted. Probably everyone leaves the cinema feeling good about this, especially since the film was made not so long after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
The second reason relates to the title of the film itself. When on his deathbed, Godfrey of Ibelin counseled Balian to go to Jerusalem to find the ‘kingdom of heaven'—and he did not simply mean the physical kingdom ruled over by Baldwin. However, the concept itself is cross-cultural, for at least one of the reasons why Deguchi Onisaburo set off for Mongolia in 1923, with Morihei Ueshiba in tow as his bodyguard, was to establish a ‘kingdom of heaven' in that country, as the first step towards a universal kingdom. However, the ‘cultural logic' operating appears to be different in each case.
The third reason relates to Takie Sugiyama Lebra's initial treatment of ‘cultural logic'. Balian is a Christian blacksmith living in France, but his ‘French-ness' appears to have no bearing whatever on his decision to go to the Holy Land and take part in the crusade. Of course, Lebra would argue that he is a ‘Westerner' and so displays the ‘cultural logic' of a Westerner, but she is also going to argue that the Japanese display a special ‘cultural logic', not as non-Westerners, but as Japanese. However, she is unable to illuminate this concept very clearly, other than to state that is a label that the Japanese give themselves, and is thereby appropriate to use.
Earlier, two assumptions were noted concerning the use of this term, that Japan has a unique ‘culture' and that this culture deploys its own distinctive logic. A distinction is sometimes made between two types of logic and the accompanying claim is made that ‘soft' Japanese logic is superior to the ‘harder' Western logic. A similar claim is sometimes made also with respect to the ‘logic' of aikido, that ‘soft' Japanese logic is necessary for fully understanding the art. The advice is often given that in order to practice aikido correctly—an art that is thought to be hard to learn, one must leave one's ego at the door of the dojo and one must also practice with one's whole body, not merely with one's head. While sound advice, this does not mean that normal intellectual activity, including the logic that underpins such activity, has to be abandoned altogether and this seems to match a statement attributed to Morihei Ueshiba himself that aikido training has to combine 文 [bun
: intellectual matters] as well as 武 [bu
: martial matters]. The assumption underlying the claim about Japan's ‘unique' culture is that logic is an essential part of a particular culture and as such possesses important cultural differences. This can be seen in a classic exposition given by the anthropologist Geert Hofstede.
Notes Towards the Definition of Culture
Hofstede likens culture to an onion, at the core of which is a set of values.
"Values are broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. Values are feelings with an added arrow, indicating a plus and a minus side." (Geert Hofstede et al, Culture and Organizations: Software of the Mind, pp. 10-11.)
Feelings are thus always paired, with the ‘positive' feeling ranged against the polar ‘negative' feeling and Hofstede gives a few examples:
Evil versus good
Dirty versus clean
Dangerous versus safe
Forbidden versus permitted
Decent versus indecent
Moral versus immoral
Ugly versus beautiful
Unnatural versus natural
Abnormal versus normal
Paradoxical versus logical
Irrational versus rational
The examples appear to be random, but the number has actually been expanded through successive editions of his book and Hofstede clearly does not regard the list as exhaustive. He also explains that the values are part of the necessary information absorbed by humans from their environment in the first twelve years of life. Of particular note for this column are the last three pairings, which Hofstede sees on a par with the other paired items, but which actually cover the general process of dealing with these.
Hofstede's view of culture imputes to a culture the important quality of uniqueness relative to other cultures and also its own ‘cultural logic'. Hofstede insists on the importance of this ‘cultural relativism', by which he means that any judgments relating to a particular culture can be made only by the members of that culture. That this is not quite as straightforward as he suggests can be seen from the hypothetical inclusion of another pair of polar opposites: ‘tolerant versus intolerant', not chosen by Hofstede, but which imputes value to ‘outside' things like other cultures and how they are treated within the culture. It is also very important to note that, even though the concept of a nation is relatively recent, Hofstede, like Takie Sugiyama Lebra in the case of Japan, is discussing ‘national' culture here, within which the huge variety of sub-cultures operate. This becomes clear later in his book, which in fact is a record of complex comparisons of national cultures based on extensive surveys. The comparisons rest on a ‘meta-cultural' base, formed of a set of general parameters that Hofstede believes are applicable to any national culture. These dimensions include power distance, individualism, gender, uncertainty avoidance, time concepts, and subjective wellbeing.
Because the concept of culture itself is both ‘culture-neutral' and ‘culture-specific', there is an ambiguity attached to the concept that needs to be understood with regard to Hofstede and Lebra. Once, on my mentioning Hofstede, a Dutch friend who is a specialist in cross-cultural issues remarked that Hofstede's treatment of culture was very ‘Dutch' (Hofstede is indeed a Dutchman). He treats culture as if it is not itself a part of any cultural comparisons, as if it were possible to have a ‘philosophy of culture' in the same way that one can have a ‘philosophy of language' or a ‘philosophy of art' (aesthetics). This way of looking at culture is very much a part of the Western philosophical tradition and it is highly likely that a practitioner of aikido in Europe will approach the religious beliefs and practices of Morihei Ueshiba from within the cultural confines of a European. The practitioner might also believe that these cultural confines—the values in Hofstede's list, are generally applicable to other cultures. Lebra, on the other hand, is at pains to compare ‘Western' cultural logic (which she believes is largely oppositional) with Japanese cultural logic (which she believes is largely contingent), but her account of Japanese cultural logic is really a presentation of Japanese culture on its own terms, as a particular cultural philosophy, rather than as a general philosophy of culture.
It's All a Matter of Logic
Takie Sugiyama Lebra does not include Hofstede's works in her bibliography and she would probably take exception to his account of culture. Lebra is a Japanese who has spent many years living and teaching in Hawaii. In her book, The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic
, she is concerned to explain how Japanese ‘cultural logic' determines various aspects of Japanese general behavior—and her terms of reference include all Japanese, including Morihei Ueshiba. This general behavior also includes religious practices and so in this column we need to discuss Lebra's ‘cultural logic' and its application to Japanese religions. Later in this essay, I will discuss an example that illustrates Lebra's point about Japanese ‘cultural logic' quite clearly. We can then examine its relevance for Morihei Ueshiba's own religious practices and ponder the question whether Ueshiba's own activities and discourses have their own special logic, which needs to be understood in order to understand them.
Lebra's discussion is wide ranging and her views about Japanese religion have to be inferred from her treatment of ‘cultural logic' in general and Christianity in particular. However, since she is focusing on the ‘Japanese self', we may assume that this includes a religious component. Lebra's overall aim is to devise a set of logical categories that she considers appropriate for analyzing the ‘Japanese self' and to do this she has to isolate these categories from other logical categories, but under the general heading of ‘culture'. She starts off by making a broad distinction between two types of logic: the logic of the logicians, which she associates with Aristotle, and the logic of everyone else (including the anthropologists, in which group she has to include herself and those she cites). One plausible difference would lie in the thesis that the logic of the logicians deals with propositions, whereas the logic of everyone else deals with the much wider sphere of what might be called the justification of ‘propositional attitudes'. However this does not do full justice to the breadth of the logic associated with Aristotle. In fact, Lebra's argument here has a more than a tinge of the ‘straw man' fallacy, but since she is not concerned to illuminate the ‘logic of the logicians', the ‘straw man' intrudes only when there is a contrast to be made with the logic she depicts of the Japanese ‘self'. I would simply note that her comparison between the ‘logic of the logicians' and the ‘logic of the anthropologists' is much too weak to bear the weight she puts on it, since the former is a much more complex phenomenon and covers a much wider field than Lebra appears to think. This might not affect her general account of Japanese ‘cultural logic' and how this affects religious beliefs and practices, but it will certainly affect the sharpness of the distinctions she makes and the comparisons she often draws with ‘non-cultural logic' and non-Japanese ‘cultural' logic.
Lebra's strategy is to construct a ‘self' based on her own view of logic and she starts off by marking this off from what she calls ‘opposition logic'. Basically, according to this logic, if X
, it cannot be q
. The ‘self' constructed on the basis of such logic has a very strong sense of ‘myself' and ‘others', subject and object, external and internal, good and evil, right and wrong, true and false. The list given earlier of the values considered by Hofstede to be inherent in any culture are all examples of opposition logic. Hofstede's list, with some additions, bears repeating here, but in a different order.
Evil versus good
Dirty versus clean
Dangerous versus safe
Forbidden versus permitted
Ugly versus beautiful
Paradoxical versus logical
Decent versus indecent
Moral versus immoral
Tolerant versus intolerant
Unnatural versus natural
Abnormal versus normal
Irrational versus rational
Infinite versus finite
Unlimited versus limited
Clearly, the above distinction between X
is too broad and Lebra refines it somewhat. She distinguishes between (1) q
as positive concept in relation to p
and (2) q
as an negative concept: an absence of p
. She calls the first type of opposition between p
‘symmetric' and the second type of opposition ‘asymmetric'. Accordingly, I have modified Hofstede's list to take account of Lebra's new distinction. The upper six pairs in the list are of symmetric opposition and the lower six pairs are of asymmetric opposition.
The first two examples on Hofstede's list are immediately relevant to religious beliefs and practices and to the distinction made by Lebra. In the Book of Genesis
, Adam and Eve are given a choice between two modes of action that are clearly opposed. They can leave the fruit alone and remain virtuous, or eat it and commit a sin. If they eat it and commit a sin, dire consequences follow. Even one of the consequences, the realization that they are naked, is presented as a consequence of guilt. This opposition is absent from the Japanese creation myths recorded in the Kojiki
. To begin with, the myths all deal with deities, but even when Izanagi and Izanami produce a leech-child, the deities regard this as a mistake, not a sin. Later, after Izanagi visits the underworld to persuade his dead wife to return and complete the work of creation—and is finally chased away by his dead wife, he washes himself in a river because he believes he has been polluted by his visit, not because the visit was in any way sinful.
In any case, Hofstede's distinctions are blurred in the two narratives. In the Genesis
narrative, it is not immediately clear that evil is considered as a positive quality, rather than the absence of good, and this later became a major issue for Christian theologians. Similarly, the visit to the underworld by Izanagi is not presented as something that is positively dirty, but rather as something that is regarded after the fact as ‘unclean' and necessitates purification, for it is not that Izanagi has the prior intention to pollute himself by going to the underworld. This (negative) state is sometimes given a positive value, in the term ‘polluted', for which in English there is no (positive) opposite, beyond ‘unpolluted'. So Lebra's broad distinction between symmetric and asymmetric opposition does not meld easily in English with Hofstede's list of opposed values.
In fact, all the examples given by Lebra of ‘asymmetric' opposition are marked by negative prefixes. However, she gives two examples where she reverses the order and these appear as the last two pairs in the list, above. The ‘limited / unlimited' and ‘finite / infinite' pairs are turned round so that ‘unlimited' and ‘infinite' denote a positive property and ‘limited' and ‘finite' denote the negative opposite. This allows Lebra to suggest that the "ultimate asymmetric opposition" may be found in the transcendental being as opposed to all finite beings. This logical shift should be borne in mind when Lebra goes on to discuss the ‘cultural logic' of deities.
Hofstede regards his list of values as being applicable to any culture and a reasonable implication would be that ‘opposition' logic is a crucial part of any culture. Lebra, on the other hand, identifies such ‘oppositional logic' with what she calls ‘Western' thinking and she cites several anthropologists and thinkers in support of her contention. According to Lebra, Edward Said's Orientalism
, mentioned earlier, is structured in this way, as is pretty much the entire spectrum of modern European and North American culture. She quotes the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who
"characterizes the ‘Western self' as ‘a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background' (emphasis added)."
Lebra sees here an image that "resembles, if not replicates, the Cartesian subject—unified, centered, non-contingent
" and adds that Geertz does this because he wants to "qualify and relativize the Western notion of person as peculiar
." Another anthropologist, Michelle Rosaldo, is quoted as reinforcing this oppositional image, since she considers that it is detrimental to understanding non-Western persons. The reason is that
"an analytic framework that equates self/individual with such things as spontaneity, genuine feeling, privacy, uniqueness, constancy, the ‘inner' life and then opposes these to the persons or personae shaped by mask, role, rule or context is a reflection of dichotomies that constitute the modern Western self."
She adds that
"the Western notion of ‘a constant "I" [is missing from] tribal cultures in which kinship and identity are forever things to be negotiated in diverse context'."
This "meta-logic of opposition" is common to anthropologists who both defend and attack the characterizations of Geertz and Rosaldo. This commonality
"cuts across all these points of view, Cartesian and anti-Cartesian, modern and post-modern alike. Postmodernism, because it is set ‘against' the modern paradigm, winds up sharpening binary oppositions of modernism/postmodernism, centrism/decentrism, uniformity/diversity, and so on. It is as if one cannot escape the logic of opposition, but must create a new opposition in order to defeat an older one. Priorities are now reversed, though still presented in oppositional terms. Underlying opposition logic is a strong conviction, which in turn generates a strong opposition. Theism is as oppositional as atheism." (All above citations/quotations from Takie Sugiyama Lebra, The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic, pp. 4-5.)
It is clear from her last citation that Lebra would also include Hofstede in this group, since his entire discussion of cultural values is in terms of this "meta-logic of opposition". She even attempts to fit discussions of Japan into this dialectical opposition. She notes that cross-cultural observers are often bewildered by the seeming contradictions, but she then emphasizes that attempts to explain these contradictions by appeal to one or more factors, such as historical or generational change, or to intra-cultural variation of class, gender, age, or urban/rural differences, all rest on opposition logic.
Lebra is more interested in another type of logic, which she calls ‘contingency logic', and which allows X
to be p
at the same time and in various ways. This type of logic is at least as old as Plato, where he struggles in his dialogues to work out to what extent the Forms are instantiated in the world (X
instantiates the Form p
, but not completely: it is also not-p
"In opposition logic, the subject is logically separated from the object, even if the two might seem in some ways to overlap. By contrast, in contingency logic subject and object share the same space, are contiguous and intersecting, even when they at first may appear to be separate. These two models of logic are available for universal use, but I assume there is cultural bias, habitual or consciously reasoned, for choosing one over the other when such a choice becomes necessary, with individual cultures resorting more readily to one logic over the other. I propose that Japanese tend to follow contingency logic and to resist opposition logic more often or more consistently than do Westerners."
There is also a crucial corollary.
"Because it is a residual category to opposition logic, contingency logic encompasses a broad range of reasoning at the expense of precision and coherence. Adherents of the opposition-logic point of view might dismiss contingency logic simply as ‘non-logic' or ‘anti-logic'. Yet that, in itself, is too simplistic." (Lebra, op.cit., pp. 8-9.)
Lebra devotes the rest of her book to illuminating "the opaque complexities" of contingency logic in her analysis of the self. However, she needs to make two more major distinctions, in order to explain how the various strands of her argument fit together.
The Logical Ties that Bind…
The first distinction is between ‘binding' and ‘unbinding' contingency logic. In contingency logic, X
but at the same time X
also needs to be q
. Lebra immediately contrasts this with opposition logic, where if X
cannot be q
"In looking at subject and object, or self and other, contingency logic would say ‘If self, then other', or put another way, ‘There is no self without other'. I call this binding (conditioning, implicative, structuring), as opposed to oppositional. Q may be either a sufficient or a necessary condition for p, but not necessarily both." (Lebra, ibid.)
However, there is a major problem here, as Lebra states the distinction. When applied to the self, her ‘binding' contingency logic is quite compatible with her ‘opposition' logic. As the story is told in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis
, when God realized in the Garden of Eden that it was not good for Adam to be alone, He created Eve. Adam certainly needed Eve, but Adam could never actually be Eve, nor Eve Adam. So both specified logical conditions are satisfied. We might intuitively understand what Lebra means, in the sense that there might well be a major difference in the way that the ‘Japanese self' sees its relation with other selves and the way that she thinks that the ‘Western self' does. However, this difference is not satisfactorily captured by the distinctions made so far.
The problem is compounded by the addition of another type of contingency logic, which Lebra calls ‘unbinding'. Even though for X
to be p
, it is necessary or sufficient for X
to be q
, the p -- q
contingency is unbound: it might be ambiguous, indeterminate, uncertain, unknowable, or even random. So X
might turn out to be p
. In other words, p
are fused into one. To illuminate the above distinction Lebra makes use of another complex distinction, between binary, ternary, and unitary logical relationships.
…Which are Binary, Ternary, or Unitary
Lebra regards opposition logic as "naturally" binary, but contingency logic
"often manages to emancipate itself or run away from the binary constraint. Such emancipation is made possible by seeking out a higher level of logical hierarchy, which I call ternary. A third factor, R, thus intervenes in the P -- Q binary, distantiating P from Q and then mediating the two in a loop: P -- R -- Q. The ternary mode is mobilized to play down or supersede the oppositional binary as P is unlocked from Q by R." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 11.)
Here, the comparison becomes even more ‘dynamic' and contingency logic is even given intentions and desires. This liberal use of ‘action' metaphors is somewhat disconcerting.
At this point in her discussion, Lebra gives some general observations as to why opposition logic does not take account of the additional factors of society, human nature, and 心 [kokoro
]: matters of the ‘heart', and briefly discusses the unitary mode, where X
can become p
, or both, or neither, and where the distinction between X
loses its force.
"Paradoxical as it may sound, the unitary mode is an expression of the ultimate randomness of reality, of the complete unlocking or disengagement of P from Q. Whereas opposition logic would locate unity and randomness at opposite ends of a continuum, in the unitary mode unity is seen in chaos itself, as suggested in the Buddhist insight into the identity between nothingness and existence. It can be thought of, perhaps, as ‘random unity,' ‘unitary chaos,' or, to coin a word, ‘chaosmos.' Japanese contingency logic and Western oppositional logic thus diverge most widely when they are applied to metaphysical and cosmological beliefs and speculations. …" (Lebra, op.cit., pp. 13-14.)
The example chosen by Lebra is of a monotheistic god versus polytheistic kami
. The work of bringing order out of chaos in seven days by a god who is entirely separate from the creation is seen as an example of opposition logic, whereas the coming into being of a vast collection of deities, including male & female pairs, who also bring order out of chaos, but remain an essential part of the world—actually three worlds—that they have created, is seen as an example of contingency logic. This contrast, between monotheism and polytheism, has been made by other proponents of Nihonjinron
besides Lebra and is regarded as a fundamental point of contrast between ‘Western' culture and Japanese culture. We will discuss another example below. Morihei Ueshiba, on the other hand, was clearly very happy with his polytheistic / pantheistic universe and followed his Omoto teacher Deguchi Onisaburo in thinking that its existence presented no great obstacle to ‘Western' understanding.
Having made all her distinctions, Lebra devotes the rest of her book to giving a complex phenomenology of the Japanese ‘self'. Intended to apply to all Japanese, her diffuse account has some similarities to the explanations of 甘え [amae
: dependence], 表 [omote
: towards the face], and 裏 [ura
: towards the rear], made by the psychologist Takeo Doi. Lebra, like Doi and Nakane Chie, seeks to explain the whole spectrum of Japanese culture in terms of one or two central concepts, in Lebra's case, ‘cultural logic'. However, Lebra's argument is more complex than Doi's or Nakane's and she provides a wealth of examples coined from everyday Japanese. In this respect her research is of great value and easily stands comparison with the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson on metaphors in English. The main problem with the research of Lakoff and Johnson, however, is that it does not easily translate into Japanese and we will see a similar problem arise with Lebra's research when she moves from Japanese to English.
The ‘Cultural Logic' of Apologies
Lebra applies the distinctions reached so far to an example, that of making apologies. The issue can be seen in the advice sometimes given to foreign motorists when driving in Japan. They are usually told not to make any apology to the other party if they are involved in an accident. Lebra gives this example in her book as an example of opposition logic and this is quite reasonable. Apologizing is seen as an admission of guilt. In religious terms, this would be confessing one's sins before God, directly or in a confessional to a priest. The example Lebra prefers is of a politician who profusely apologized for some alleged misdeed that caused a scandal, while at the same time insisting on his own innocence. According to Lebra, this would not work in opposition logic, where apologizing is an admission of guilt, but the apology of the politician relates to one of several other factors, that take the place of R
in a ternary mode. These are society, human nature, and 心 [kokoro
]: matters of the ‘heart'. The politician was apologizing to the public
"for having allowed himself to be suspected, which could have been avoided had his character been flawless. …To refer to futoku [不徳: unworthiness] in a context such as this is common practice, allowing one to express modesty or humility and often having nothing to do with guilt or moral offence. What matters was the exposure of the scandal to the public, not accountability. In this ternary mode of reasoning, guilt and innocence were non-oppositional: both could apply." (Sugiyama Lebra, op.cit., p. 14.)
Lebra's argument is quite valid here, but apologizing has to be seen as a very wide spectrum, ranging from admissions of actual guilt for wrongs committed to phatic expressions made to smooth human relationships. Recently, while sitting in an aircraft at Munich Airport, waiting to depart for Japan, I heard apologies being made several times on the intercom. The captain and purser were apologizing because the extreme cold weather meant that the wings and fuselage of the plane had to be de-iced. Though not stated, this would mean that the departure would be delayed. Questions of guilt simply did not enter the issue, but the weather certainly caused a breakdown in the relationships between people and nature symbolized by the concept of wa
[和]. The apologies kept coming until the plane departed and were renewed as the time of arrival in Tokyo approached. The plane landed two hours behind schedule and some passengers (including myself) missed their onward connections. The airline was a Japanese airline and the ground staff went to great trouble to lessen the inconvenience to passengers as far as possible, in my case arranging airport transfers, overnight accommodation at a good hotel, and booking another onward flight.
At the time this essay was being written, there was a major scandal in Japan involving the women's Olympic judo team. Some 15 contestants complained about the violent and abusive training methods used by the (male) judo coach. The coach, named Ryuji Sonoda, who would have been seen by millions accompanying the competitors to and from the arena and sitting by the tatami
mats giving instructions as the matches were in progress, resigned his position and was often seen on TV in the usual apology position: a 45-degree bow, maintained for as long as was necessary for the cameras. The affair has now become a full-fledged mondai
with the usual accoutrements of special committees and the sage interventions of ‘experts'. There were periodic announcements in the media suggesting that violence of coaches in Japan is not confined to judo, but is common in many sports that are represented in the Olympic Games. (A mondai
[問題] is usually translated as issue
, but has the much wider connotations of something that is a major topic of general discussion, for which an acceptable solution is very difficult to find. Other examples include climate change, predicting a major earthquake in the Nankai Trough, the dispute with Russia over the Northern Isles, and the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea.)
The apology of Sonoda, and, later, of the leaders of Japan's judo organization, was certainly performed in accordance with the schema suggested by Lebra, above. The exposure of such training methods to the public and the scandal it caused, especially after some spectacular performances in London by the women's judo team, was a major factor. However, there is a difference between this case and that of the politician. The politician claimed his innocence, but the judo coach did not deny his violent behavior. The real issue was whether this behavior was actually unacceptable and the following kind of explanation (actually given by a respected aikido shihan
on a different occasion) was produced. ‘When I was a student training under O Sensei himself, training was very hard and injuries were not uncommon. Rough treatment was accepted as an example of pedagogical solicitude and to receive an injury was an indication that one was tough enough to undergo the necessary training.' So the line between an acceptable level and an unacceptable level of hard training was never drawn very clearly and the problem arose only because the victims of the training themselves complained and, because their complaints fell on the deaf ears of the (male) high officials of the All-Japan Judo Federation, went to the media. If we follow Lebra's schema of contingency logic, both the victims were ‘logically' able to complain and the officials were also ‘logically' able to ignore the complaints until Lebra's ternary mode was reached, and the problems then became problems involving society, human nature, and 心 [kokoro
]: matters of the ‘heart'.
Being in the Zone
In aikido, waza
are sometimes classified into omote
and Lebra's account of binary relationships in contingency logic makes use of these two concepts, together with the related pair of uchi
[内: inside] and soto
[外: outside]. Lebra notes that interpreters of Japanese culture sometimes treat these pairs as examples of opposition logic. According to this logic, omote
cannot be ura
cannot be soto
. Lebra's own scheme is rather more complex and is similar to the scheme used by Hofstede for locating national cultures within the vertical and horizontal parameters that define the mix of trans-cultural attitudes, such as male/female orientation and uncertainty avoidance.
Lebra's ‘self' is situated at the center of a cruciform graph. Extending in opposite directions along the longitudinal (horizontal) axis are the two poles of Near
. Extending in opposite directions along the latitudinal (vertical) axis are the two poles of what Lebra calls Nomos
(what is sociable and proper) and its opposite Anomie
(what is estranged and anomalous). These cruciform axes yield four ‘zones', but each zone is bisected by a diagonal axis. Located along each diagonal axis are the four terms noted above. Accordingly, omote
, above the horizontal axis, marks the zone combining nomos
, and the ‘logical' behavior between the ‘self' and ‘other' in this zone is a varying combination of what is ‘distant' and what is ‘proper'. Diagonally opposed is the ura
zone, below the horizontal axis, in which the ‘logical' behavior of the ‘self' is a varying combination of the ‘familiar' and the ‘anomalous'. Adjacent to the omote
zone above the horizontal near
axis is uchi
, in which the ‘logical' behavior of the ‘self' is a combination of the ‘proper' and the ‘familiar'. Directly adjacent to the ura
zone, below the near
axis is soto
, in which the behavior is a combination of the ‘unfamiliar' and the ‘anomalous'. Lebra uses this diagram (on p. 39 of her book) to plot the binary relationships of the ‘self' and the ‘other' (or others, considered as individual binary relationships) somewhere within the zones created by uchi
. This allows Lebra to escape from seeing the above pairs as mutually exclusive, and especially from seeing omote
as another version of the quite different pair of tatemae
"Especially to be noted is the very nature of contingency logic, which sensitizes us to the anomic side of sociality—as expressed in a basic ambivalence towards social expectations. Self-other relationship thus shifts across the four zones horizontally, vertically and diagonally. This dynamism is a strong characteristic of contingency logic.
Particularly familiar to students of Japan is the diagonal shift from omote (front) to ura (back), and uchi (inside) to soto (outside), and vice versa. These diagonal pairs, contrasting as they do in both distance and civility, seem almost to have nothing in common. … I argue, however, that these diagonals can be reconceptualized, such that the diagonal pairs are necessarily interconnected by ‘binding' contingency logic (if omote, then ura; without ura, no omote)." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 41.)
"When a choice is to be made in matters of self-presentation, Japanese tend to favor omote over uchi, focusing on the public component of self. A respectable outsider, thus, commands more polite attention than does an intimate insider, as does a foreign (Western, Caucasian) guest vis-à-vis a Japanese national. This is why I object to the usual equation of omote/ura with tatemae/honne (omote as tatemae, or external pretense; ura as honne, true feeling): to my mind, one's omote display can be one's true feeling." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 91.)
Such binary relationships over the four zones cover a very wide range of behavior, of which Lebra gives a detailed phenomenology. One can use the diagram, like a modern mandala, to plot, within each of the four zones, the position of one's own ‘self' in relation to others. Positive and negative aspects are covered in detail, including love relationships, marital problems, bullying, suicide and even murders. The harsh treatment of judo players by Ryuichi Sonoda and also the ‘loving' treatment of his ukes
by Morihei Ueshiba can also be located somewhere in the four zones. Thus the judo coach was in a binary non-binding logical relationship both in omote
and in uchi
with each of his female athletes and also with his fellow coaches and his bosses in the All-Japan Judo Federation. Similarly, Morihei Ueshiba was in a similar type of logical relationship with Takeda Sokaku, Deguchi Onisaburo, his son Kisshomaru, Terry Dobson and all of his students at the Kobukan and, in later years, Saito Morihiro in Iwama and Tamura, Yamada, Chiba and others at the postwar Aikikai Hombu Dojo. It has been suggested that Ueshiba used these students as ‘crash test dummies' for his own training, even though the relationship with each student was close, but also different. Of great importance here is the fact that the ethical issues involved with the behavior and the relationships, which can indeed be analyzed in terms of oppositional logic, are seen by Lebra as subordinate to the binding relationships, not the other way round. Thus, any moral issue of violence in the way the students are treated is seen as subordinate to the way in which the violent ‘self' sees the relationship with the ‘other'. It is the ethical issues, coupled with a logic that is oppositional, than can cloud the perception of Morihei Ueshiba's activities in the 1930s. The smooth postwar narrative of Japan and Japanese aikido has established a view of these activities that sanitizes them of their darker content, but this is something of a projection. Lebra's detailed analyses offer a way of looking at Ueshiba that places his activities squarely within the sphere of his own ‘self' with its complex interplay of omote
Lack of space prevents a more thorough examination of Lebra's treatment of the four zones omote
. Her treatment is the most detailed and complex treatment of these concepts and their interrelation of which I am aware. Her account is strongest when she deals with the binary and ternary relationships involving the Japanese ‘self' in its interaction with others, either singly or in groups, such as the family, the company, or the sports club—and dojo
; it is weakest when she uses these concepts to wander into the more difficult terrain of metaphysics and cosmology. We will start with the cosmology and then look at how she treats the concept of kokoro
as the nexus of a whole cluster of terms used to describe mind-body relationships.
The Unitary Leap into the Void
Lebra regards opposition logic as "naturally" binary, since there is always an antithesis opposed to every thesis, but contingency logic can be ternary (involving r
as well as p
) or unitary (where there is no distinction between p
). This is the most unsatisfactory part of Lebra's discussion, since it involves a rather forced comparison between the Bible (regarded as the archetype of oppositional logic) and the Kojiki
(regarded as the archetype of contingency logic, especially in its unitary aspect). I have briefly discussed this part of her analysis in Column 19, so the treatment here deals more with the overtly logical aspects.
Lebra's overriding preoccupation with drawing a sharp contrast between the oppositional logic of the monotheistic religion of biblical Judaism and the contingency logic of the Japanese polytheistic or pantheistic complex of Japanese Shinto and Buddhism leads her to ignore any contingency logic in Judaism & Christianity and any opposition logic in Japanese religion. This is partly because she wishes to draw a sharper contrast between unbinding or random contingency and asymmetric opposition in cosmology than was possible in her earlier discussion. The issue is whether monotheism entails opposition logic and polytheism entails contingency logic.
To illustrate her argument, Lebra gives another diagram (on p. 226), similar to the earlier graph of the four zones of omote
. This diagram, like the points of a compass, offers similar vertical and horizontal matrices, which also yield four zones. The vertical matrix, which moves upwards from a chaotic universe to an ordered cosmos, is bisected by the horizontal matrix, which moves from east to west, from what is phenomenal (natural and immediate) to what is noumenal (transcendental and ultimate). In the zone defined by the upper and westward matrices, the ordered cosmos and the noumenal world, sits the ‘self' of Judeo-Christian cosmology. This ‘self' is defined by a miniature version of similar horizontal and vertical matrices, which in fact are centrifugal arrows extending outwards from the ‘self'. Thus the relation of the ‘self' to the ordered cosmos and transcendental reality in which it is located is marked by opposition logic. The 'self' is thus a ‘complete' being, in an oppositional relationship with the rest of the ordered cosmos and with transcendental reality.
In contrast, the ‘self' of Shinto-Buddhist cosmology sits in the zone defined by the lower and eastward matrices, the chaotic universe and the world of nature and immediately accessible phenomena. This ‘self' is defined by a similar miniature version, this time of centripetal arrows extending inwards towards the ‘self'. The relation of the Shinto-Buddhist ‘self' to the chaotic and phenomenal world in which it is located is marked by contingency logic. This ‘self' is thus an ‘incomplete' being (in the sense that it is never clear whether the ‘self' is complete or not), in a contingent relationship with a cosmos that is chaotic and with transcendental beings of which the transcendental nature is unclear (the boundaries with the ‘self' are not clearly defined). There is some overlap, since each miniature ‘self' is at the center of a circle the boundaries of which intrude into the circle of the other, like a Venn diagram. Unlike the previous diagram, which offered a flexible interpretation of the four zones omoto
, this diagram firmly locates the Judaeo-Christian ‘self' and the Shinto-Buddhist ‘self' in a fixed position on either side of central cruciform axis in the diagram.
The picture of Judeo-Christian cosmology revealed by the diagram is highly plausible, but for reasons which are equally plausible. The Old Testament records the history of a ‘chosen people' who had to fight their way into a ‘promised land' occupied by others. Thus oppositional logic is a very suitable basis for recording this history. However, the editors of the Old Testament saw fit to add, in the Book of Genesis
, a creation narrative that drew heavily on the myths of the surrounding cultures, but which also gave a central place to a monotheistic God who was distinct and separate from the created world. Nevertheless, it was a world with which He had a close and enduring relationship after the creation. The relationship was symbolized by a ‘covenant' or solemn agreement, with obligations to be carried out by both parties. Lebra depicts this relationship as a life-and-death struggle, but in the New Testament the relationship is seen as one of love -- still depicted largely in terms of opposition logic. I say ‘largely' because the Christian ‘self' is seen as a ‘complete' individual, but also as an individual in a mutually loving relationship with God, Christ, and fellow men. It is a relationship which is also marked by moral values that are very difficult to put into practice, but which can lead to a ‘mystical' relationship in which God / Christ and the self become one.
Problems arise with the lower half of the diagram, which depicts the Shinto-Buddhist ‘self' of the Japanese. Lebra relies for her analysis of the Judeo-Christian ‘self' on an interpretation of the Bible in terms of opposition logic, but it is quite reasonable to give a similar interpretation of the Kojiki
, which is the text on which she bases her interpretation in terms of contingency logic. Like the Bible, the Kojiki
records the history of a ‘chosen people' who had to fight their way into a land ruled by other clans. The chronicles of the Yamato emperors are also preceded by a creation narrative that also brings order out of chaos, but in this case the order is achieved by the appearance of a pantheon of deities, one of whom is regarded as the ancestor of the Yamato emperors. Lebra states that it is difficult to make a sensible ‘story' out of the Kojiki
narrative, but perhaps she has not tried hard enough. The story of the Imperial Grandchild's descent to the Land of Reed Plains and of the Emperor Jimmu's trip to the East are told with the same vividness as the Old Testament flight from Egypt and into Canaan, with a similar cast of characters. The stories are similar to the narrative poems recorded by Homer, for ordinary human beings intrude into the Kojiki
narrative only occasionally, the first time as ‘human grass', to be killed or created by Izanagi and Izanami if their ‘divorce' is not finalized.
In my opinion, such texts do not make a good basis for maintaining such a simple distinction as that between opposition and contingency logic. Lebra argues that the Kojiki
reflects contingency logic much more than the Bible, but the dealings between the deities that make up the first part of the work and the dealings of the Yamato emperors that make up the rest are equally amenable to either type of logic, which is really too simple a device for analyzing such a rich tapestry. This situation is immensely more complicated in the case of Omoto, which is a syncretistic religion based on texts that include the Bible
, the Kojiki
and the vast panorama of happenings that constitutes Deguchi's Reikai Monogatari
. To compare these in terms of the simple juxtaposition of opposition logic vs. contingency logic, as applied to the Bible
, loses its relevance. It is not that the distinction between opposition logic and contingency logic is of no use. It is an important interpretative device, but, given that it is a logical device, is one that should be applicable to all the evidence or to none.
Examples: 1: The Logic of Kotodama: ことだま / 言霊
That the ‘logical' world into which Lebra offers entry is an alien world can be seen from the discipline or study called kotodama-gaku
[言霊学], which is the basis of Morihei Ueshiba's discourses on kotodama
. As usual, some background discussion is necessary here, otherwise, readers of Morihei Ueshiba's discourses might mistakenly interpret his statements on kotodama
as applicable to language in general. First, some important points need to be made about the Japanese language itself.
Some discussions in AikiWeb
have shown the pitfalls of using Japanese terms and script to make points in an argument. In a recent discussion, for example, the semantics and etymology of the Japanese word kokoro
were used, both involving the readings of the kana
syllable system and Chinese characters used to write the word, but, unfortunately, the semantics and etymology were fused together.
A fundamental distinction needs to be drawn between the etymological provenance of the characters used to write a word in a language and the semantic use of the word as a symbol for expressing meaning in the language. This fundamental distinction applies to any language with a writing system, but it is harder to discern and keep in mind with Chinese and Japanese. This is because the process from character to word in Chinese followed a different route and yielded a different result from the equally complex process with languages using alphabetic writing systems like Latin or Greek, based on the Phoenician alphabet. Japanese added another factor: a kana
syllable system, also of Chinese origin, which is combined with the Chinese logograms.
With respect to the semantic side of the distinction, a wide variety of English terms, such as mind, spirit, mentality, heart, center, core, feeling, sincerity, attention, will, intention, inclination and mood, can all be translated into Japanese by one word, which is written in the kana
syllabary as こころ or ココロ and read as ko-ko-ro
. However, the word can also be written in the Chinese script as 心 and, in addition to kokoro
, can be read as SHIN
, which is the Japanese adaptation of the Chinese reading of the character (the usual linguistic convention is to give the Chinese reading in capitals and the Japanese reading in lower case letters). Thus, there are three ways of writing the word and two ways of pronouncing the word, but this fact does not change the meanings of the word, as given above. So anyone reading Japanese, or translating Japanese into English, needs to remember that the one word, whether read as SHIN
, has many different meanings and it is the context that will usually determine the meaning intended by the user in any one case.
Of course, Japanese also has a wide variety of ways of translating the above English terms and, like Chinese, Japanese also uses many words composed of several characters, with 心 occurring as one of the characters used to write the (compound) word. In this case, the compound word will have a definite meaning or meanings, but, unlike Chinese, the preferred way of reading the characters used to write the word will vary. To give two contrasting examples, the word that is spelled in the Latin alphabet as kokoro-gamae
[meaning, preparedness, mental attitude]is written in the hiragana
syllabary asこころがまえand in Chinese characters as 心構え. So 心 is read as kokoro
. On the other hand, the word that is spelled in the Latin alphabet as sho-shin-sha
[meaning, beginner]is written in the kana
syllabary asしょしんしゃ and in Chinese characters as 初心者. Here, 心 has the modified Chinese reading of SHIN
. However, the way 心 is read in each case does not affect the meaning or meanings of the word.
Another compound word is spelled in the Roman alphabet as kotodama
and written in the kana syllables as ことだま or コトダマ and in Chinese characters as 言霊. Again, the meaning of the word in no way depends on whether it is written in any one of the three ways, but the term is harder than kokoro
to translate into English. Lebra leaves the term untranslated, but this can cause problems, since the meaning she attaches to the term is left unclear. However, this is a different matter from the question whether the meaning changes according to the way a Japanese term is written.
End of Essential Digression)
An important point for any treatment of kotodama
is the fact that Japanese contains many homonyms, such that knowing the way in which a word is written is crucial for knowing the meaning of the word. Thus SHIN
, for example, is the Chinese reading for over 80 different Chinese characters, but, as we have seen with kokoro
, this same phoneme also has a large number of Japanese kun
readings that are quite different. The wordplay that can result from such a rich variety of readings is the major foundation of kotodama-gaku
, the so-called ‘science' of kotodama
A recent example can be cited. It comes from a book written by Morito Suganuma Shihan on the preparatory exercises done before aikido training. After the funakogi
rowing exercise, furitama
is performed, accompanied by kotodama
counting. The counting is from Ame no kazuuta
and a short explanation is given:
"In our minds we repeat counting ‘hito (1), futa (2), mi (3), yo (4), itsu (5), muyu (6), nana (7), ya (8), kokono (9), tari (10)' three times, and then conclude with reciting ‘momo (a hundred), chi (a thousand), yorozu (10 thousand).
Ame no kazuuta is the way of counting in kotodama (spirit of language: a traditional belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names). Hito means the sun, fire or spirit; futa, the wind; mi, the water; yo, the world or stage; itsu, the life or emergence of life; muyu, the insects; nana, the fish; ya, the birds; kokono, the four-legged animals; tari, the human beings; momo, a hundred; chi, a thousand; and yorozu, ten thousand.
Ame no kazuuta chants the history from the birth of the universe to the emergence of human beings. We shake the hands while praying for the prosperity of our earth for hundreds of thousands of years." (Morito Suganuma, Aikido Preparatory Exercises, p. 7.)
I will discuss the ame no kazuuta
(number song of heaven) in Part 3 of this essay, in connection with the Omoto religion. It suffices here to note that Suganuma Shihan's explanation is based entirely on the special characteristics of the Japanese counting system and the different readings of the numbers. In aikido dojos where counting in Japanese from 1 to 10 is the norm, the following system is standard: ICHI
, with the numbers based on Chinese readings. However, the counting system in Japanese is quite different and the following version was given to me by a Japanese neighbor: hi
(there are slight differences between this version and that used by Suganuma Shihan). The Chinese characters (the simplified forms are given below) are the same regardless of the readings, as, of course, are the meanings: 一, 二, 三, 四, 五, 六, 七, 八, 九, 十.
The complexities of kotodama
and kotodama gaku
begin with the fact that the terms for Japanese numbers are homonyms for other things. Thus, to take a few clear examples from Suganuma Shihan's explanation, hito
can be written as 日 (the sun), fuu
can be written as 風 (wind), and yo
can be written as 世 (world). Such homonyms were exploited to a much greater degree by Onisaburo Deguchi and Morihei Ueshiba and without this homonymy, it would be impossible to construct an art or science of kotodama
based on meanings rather than mere sounds (which is the counterpart of kotodama
in languages with alphabet-based writing systems).
Takie Sugiyama Lebra discusses kotodama
in relation to silence, which is one of the devices open to the ‘self' in each of the fours zones discussed above.
Silence in omote
is seen as an expression of courtesy—respectfulness, unobtrusiveness, modesty, whereas speaking out might hurt another's feelings. Such silence is advised in many proverbs, as a means of social discretion. The norm of silence is also related to status hierarchy in omote
. Silence has various implications, ranging from enryo
[遠慮: polite self-restraint] on the part of someone with an inferior status to igen
[威厳: dignity], the polite self-restrained shown by someone of superior status. Silence in uchi
tends to take the form of an intimacy that renders words unnecessary, sometimes expressed as 一心同体 [isshin doutai
: one mind, one body]. Finally, silence in ura
indicates a lack of civility: apathy, animosity, or defiance. Such silence ranges from the dead silence on a crowded train of commuters, fake deafness, used as an expression of hostility, or openly expressive silence. Lebra adds that,
"In a vocal culture, this would be a situation where verbal bullets are shot at the target ruthlessly and at a high pitch. The difference in noise level between Japanese and American TV soap operas in serious, confrontational, scenes may have a great deal to do with the different ways of asserting hostility: vocal battles amplifying to maximum decibels on the one screen, and dead silence on the other." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 183.)
After discussing the role of silence in each of the four zones, Lebra locates silence in the kokoro
as a ‘sign of inner integrity'.
"The inner domain, symbolically located in the internal organs, most commonly in the heart or chest (kokoro) but also in the belly (hara), is where truthfulness, frankness, sincerity, fidelity, authenticity and integrity reside. In contrast the outer half, localized in the face, mouth and lips, in words and speech, is associated with deception, disguise, pretense, falsity and trickery. Truthfulness, sincerity and moral integrity are thus allied to reticence." (Lebra, op.cit., pp. 183-184.)
She gives several illustrative proverbs, each with her own translations:
口に蜜あり、腹に剣あり。 Kuchi ni mitsu ari, hara ni ken ari. Honey in the mouth, a dagger in the belly.
阿呆の話食い。 Ahou no hanashi gui. A fool eats whatever is said.
話半分。 Hanashi hanbun. Believe only half of what you hear.
美言信ならず。 Bigen shin narazu. Beautiful speech lacks truthfulness.
However, although Lebra also admits that the primacy of silence is also given to the inner core of the Western self, with proverbs like, Speech is silver; silence is golden
, eloquence is given much greater importance than for Japanese and this eloquence is given transcendental status.
"The mind, and especially reason, so central to the Western philosophical tradition, are inseparable from confidence in linguistic articulation. St John's prelude to his gospel praises the Word with astonishing unequivocality: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' Christ is the ‘Word' of God. The Word, stemming from the Greek logos, is elevated to be synonymous with God, the rational creator of the cosmos out of chaos." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 185.)
Lebra's discussion on the role of silence offers some context to a problem that often vexes contributors to AikiWeb
forums: the complete silence of the Aikikai over the break with Koichi Tohei. It is true that a sharp response to Tohei was made by Tadashi Abe, but this was treated by the Aikikai as an individual response. Lebra's distinction between opposition logic and contingency logic certainly offers a clear cultural context to this issue, even though individuals may be unhappy with the way it was handled.
Lebra, like Morihei Ueshiba, discusses kotodama
as the counterpart of the ‘transcendentalized biblical word', exemplified in the words of St John's gospel, but she gives it a different interpretation.
"The difference is obvious. In contrast to the Word, which is associated with logos, rationality, and the mind, kotodama (an utterance of ancient origin with supernatural potency, leading to either propitious or ominous events) is magically empowered. Although the supernatural potency of kotodama has faded away, these expression still live on in the social form of aisatsu greetings, delivered at holidays and celebrations. In the Western religio-philosophical tradition, then, the inner self is linked to mind, reasoning, transcendental existence, and the Word, while in the Japanese inner self, apart from kotodama, it is tied to spiritual serenity, integrity, sincerity and silence." (Lebra, ibid., with alterations made to the sentence sequence.)
It is curious that Lebra does not discuss kotodama
in more detail, since kotodama-gaku
is most obviously based on the kind of flexible contingency logic that is the object of her research. As it is, her treatment is not really adequate, since it is based on a superficial reading of St John's gospel text and very limited acquaintance with the practice and theory of kotodama
Examples: 2: The Logic of Kokoro and Cognates
Lebra argues that ‘kokoro
: matters of the heart' always defeat opposition logic. Since this term plays a major role in Morihei Ueshiba's discourses, we should examine whether her arguments about logic are likely to throw any light on his use of the term. For Lebra, the logic of kokoro
is ‘contingency logic' par excellence
and to show this, she compares kokoro
with other Japanese terms similar in meaning. To understand Lebra's observations, it is useful to consider a continuous spectrum, with the Cartesian poles of pure ‘spirit' and pure ‘body' at either end and with the various items ranged along the spectrum. The problem with this interpretation is that it is virtually impossible to locate along the spectrum all the items in relation to each other and a more useful notion would be of a cluster of concepts, all of which straddle the Cartesian divide of body and spirit. Lebra states repeatedly that all these cognates of kokoro
lack clear one-word translations into English, but this smacks of Nihonjinron
. The same could be said of related English terms like heart
, when translated back into Japanese.
In addition, Lebra uses both italics and plain text and this suggests that sometimes she is discussing the word used to denote the ‘thing' and sometimes the ‘thing' itself and she clearly intends her use of ‘opposition logic' and ‘contingency logic' to cover both. Lebra relies excessively on what I would call the ‘tyranny of concepts' and places too much emphasis on absolutes like the Cartesian divide and the indeterminacy of translation. (In what follows, I give the kana
readings and the Chinese characters, whereas Lebra simply gives the Japanese terms in Roman script.)
Kokoro: こころ / ココロ / 心
readers can decide for themselves to what extent Lebra's explanation of kokoro could apply to the English term heart
. There are English expressions like ‘lift up your hearts' (a famous BBC radio programme), ‘deep in your hearts', ‘deep down at the bottom of your heart' or ‘deep down in your heart of hearts', but orators, including politicians, usually set out to capture the ‘hearts and minds' of their audiences, not just the hearts. For Lebra,
"kokoro spreads across the space that lies between pure mind and physical body; physically located in the heart, it has to do with sensation, feeling, emotion, desire, as well as thinking, and may be translated, unsatisfactorily, as the embodied mind or heart / mind. … In fact, kokoro, while it unites body and spirit / mind, also refers to the spiritual side of self that exists in parallel to the physical body (karada)." (Lebra, op.cit., p. 186. Karada: からだ, カラダ, 体, 體.)
A glance through any large Japanese dictionary will be sufficient to show the wide spread of this concept. For those who have access to the latest edition of Kenkyusha's dictionary, the references to kokoro
and compounds of kokoro
cover several pages of densely packed columns with a vast number of examples, ranging from kokoro-atatamaru
[心温まる: heartwarming], through the kana
system to kokoro-yowai
[心弱い: fainthearted], and this covers only the examples read as kokoro
and not as SHIN
. (Watanabe Toshiro et al., Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary
, Fifth Edition, 2003, pp. 976-981.)
Recently, among the adverts that come with the morning papers in Japan was a pamphlet bearing the title, あなたのこころ、元気ですか？ [Anata no kokoro, genki desuka?
: Your kokoro: is it healthy?
] The pamphlet was a guide to the advisory services offered by the Hiroshima city government for identifying and coping with stress and depression. Similarly, a recent gift had the following label in English:
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart. Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
Given that this is Japan, the level of English was surprisingly good, but if it were in Japanese, the locus of the feeling would certainly be the kokoro
. The sentiment was printed on a pink heart-shaped card, surrounded with roses, which adorned a box of chocolates presented by one my students on February 14, St Valentine's Day.
The word kokoro
, therefore, has a very wide range of meanings in Japanese, but one cannot conclude from this fact that the word denotes an equally wide range of things, or even one thing.
Hara: はら / ハラ / 腹
This is another term for the embodied mind, but this time the locus is the lower part of the belly. The term
"also refers to the person's inner state of mind, dispositional, emotional, intentional and spiritual. While kokoro is associated with the blood (heart), hara conjures up the lungs and breath."
The references and compounds given in Kenkyusha's dictionary are only partially concerned with the lungs and breath. Another way of reading the character is naka
, as in o-naka ippai
[お腹いっぱい: my stomach is full], with the ‘o' being an honorific. From the physical stomach and bowels, the meaning is extended to cover heart, mind, intention, and then courage, spirit, pluck and ‘guts'.
Kokyuu: こきゅう / コキュウ / 呼吸
It is curious that Lebra refers to the association of hara
with ‘lungs and breath', but makes no mention at all of this term. It might be that she regards it as purely physical, but this is not borne out by examples and the term is certainly does have this exclusive meaning for Morihei Ueshiba. Certainly, the physical aspect is clearly evident and the Kenkyusha dictionary gives a chart on p. 961 of the human respiratory system, in Japanese 呼吸器系 [kokyuu kikei
However, there is also the meaning of alignment, having the same aim, as suggested by the following example:
[Zenin ga kokyuu wo awasenai to kono shigoto wa muri da
We can't do this job unless we move together (each of us knows what the others are doing
There is a further meaning of knowing the ropes, having the knack of doing something. Again, there are two pertinent examples:
[Ama no hi wo itsu otosu ka, sono kokyuu ga nomi-komenai to ichininmae de wa nai.
You can't say you are a true potter until you have mastered the trick of knowing when to lower the temperature of the kiln (you can time the lowering of the kiln temperature properly).
[Sono atarashii kikai wo sousa suru kokyuu wo kanojo wa sugu etoku shita.
She mastered the (use of the) new machine in no time.
Ki: き / キ / 気 / 氣
Lebra associates this term with the respiratory association of hara
"Amorphous, and circulating throughout the body / mind, ki moves in and out of the body like air, breath or gas. The ki, usually translated as vital energy that emanates from the center of hara, is fully mobilized in martial arts."
To support this comment, Lebra cites, not the statements of martial arts masters like Kano, Funakoshi or Ueshiba, but a Ph.D thesis about kendo, written in 1978 by one Jeffrey Lewis Dann, entitled, "Kendo" in Japanese Martial Culture: Swordsmanship as self-cultivation
is written by a single Chinese character, but has far more meanings and compounds than hara
and the dictionary entries run to several columns. The meanings cover much the same ground as kokoro
and include sprit, mind, heart, disposition, intention, motivation, mood, feelings, frame of mind, interest, attention, and also more strictly physical items like air. The Kenkyusha
dictionary also notes that the term additionally has a meaning equivalent to the Chinese concept of chi
, with the definition of 生命の根元・生命力 [origin of life; life force] and the phrase 気を送る [transmit the force of one's spirit; project one's chi
Seishin: せいしん / セイシン / 精神
Lebra regards this term as very similar to kokoro
"it may be placed closer to the mind pole of the mind-body continuum, both because it has no physical locus and because it is also associated with seishin ryoku (spiritual power), which is used to overcome physical and material shortcomings. Although the character shin in this word means a spiritual entity, seishin cannot be equated with the disembodied mind because it is driven by concentrated ‘energy'."
It is curious that Lebra needs to put ‘energy' in quotation marks, as if it were a special usage. The vast columns of meanings in the dictionary focus especially on the mental or the spiritual. In the Japanese equivalents of losing one's mind, having a noble mind or a defeatist frame of mind, disciplining or developing one's mind, cultivating a volunteer spirit, the mind and spirit are both rendered by the term seishin
. In addition, there are many compounds denoting technical terms related to psychology as a science.
Mi: み / ミ / 身
Lebra regards this term as very similar to karada
. She cites a Japanese scholar, Hiroshi Ichikawa, but it not clear how much of the citation is Ichikawa's and how much Lebra's.
"Mi as an intricate, unbounded complex of self that combines spirit and body, mentation and sensation, conscious and unconscious, literal and metaphorical, is not a fixed entity, but a ‘relational unity'. As such mi is as multiple as these relations are and forms a vulnerable unity open to constant reintegration—which can include dramatic self-transformation, as when engaging in a sacred rite, one ritually cleanses one's body in order to attain a supramundane status. (Lebra, op.cit., p. 187.)
The three central meanings of mi
are one's body, with the transferred meaning of one's self, and the further transferred meaning of one's status or position. Lebra adds that,
"Written in Chinese characters, mi and kokoro together become shinshin, a compound term that suggests awareness of the semantic distinction between the spirit (mind) and the body and yet is routinely used, as in the phrase, Strengthen your shinshin, as if the two shin—kokoro and mi—overlap completely. Oneness of the two shins is summed up as shinshin-ichinyo." (Lebra, ibid.)
However, the routine use of shinshin
always has the connotation of both parts in close association, but it does not always have the connotation of identity conveyed by the addition of ichinyo
, which can be used as a slogan, as here, but with quite different concepts—such as farming and budo
Koshi: こし/ コシ / 腰
Lebra regards this term as very similar to kokoro
, but it also has connotations that go well beyond the physical parts of the body. Lebra cites Dann, the scholar referred to earlier, in offering phrases that suggest an extended meaning to koshi
. As with mi
, the base meaning, in this case of the pelvic region of the body, is extended.
[Hajime wa isei ga yokatta ga, nakama ni hantai sareru to sugu ni koshi ga kudaketa.
He started off full of enthusiasm but as soon as there was opposition from his colleagues he lost heart.
[Riidaa no kimi ga sonna ni koshi ga hikete ite wa daremo tsuite ikanai yo.
You're the leader! If you're so defeatist, nobody will follow you.
A very important point to be made here is that some of the above terms, especially kokoro
, occur in compound words, such as 電気 [denki
: electricity], or in established phrases, such as 腰掛ける [koshi kakeru
: to sit down], the meanings of which are quite clear. In such compound words, the meaning of the compound is not at all the same as the meaning of the constituents.
Some Provisional Conclusions:
The Role of Logic
Takie Sugiyama Lebra attempts to present a clear explanation of ‘cultural logic' and it is perhaps not surprising that there are some problems with her exposition. To take one example, Lebra contrasts the Judaeo-Christian belief in one god with the Shinto belief in many kami
and a visit to the Grand Shrines at Ise, for example, where the sun goddess Amaterasu O Mikami is presented with food twice each day in an elaborate ritual, or Izumo Taisha
, especially in October, when elaborate preparations are made for a meeting in which all the kami
are believed to participate, is convincing evidence that the Shinto belief flourishes. However, qua
objects of belief, based on evidence that the believers take to be convincing, the monotheistic god and the polytheistic kami
are in precisely the same logical category.
I suggested earlier that Lebra had an unduly narrow view of what she called the ‘logic of the logicians', in contrast with the logic (of the anthropologists) in which she is interested. This can lead to a misuse of the term and the problem was clearly stated by Thomas Kasulis in his book on philosophy and cultural differences.
"First ‘logic'—if we include in this term even the most fundamental or formal rules of reasoning such as the law of non-contradiction—is important to the conception of every kind of critical or philosophical discourse. This is true regardless of whether the philosophy is self-described as either cultural or universal. Why? Because such a basic law of logic is not about truth but intelligibility. As Aristotle noted when he first articulated the law of non-contradiction: to contradict oneself is not to speak a falsehood, but to say nothing at all. If someone asserts both p and not-p, this means that both p and not-p are supposed to be true in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. Such an assertion is unintelligible; it has no meaning that can be judged true or false. One can neither agree nor disagree with it. (Agreement and disagreement assume that what is false at one time and in one way cannot be true at the same time and in the same way—and vice versa.) To deny the law of non-contradiction would make discussion and critical thinking impossible not only between cultures but within any culture." (Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity, p. 16.)
One of the problems here is the terms in which Lebra chooses to discuss the differences between Japanese and ‘Westerners'. Kasulis makes the point clearly.
"Second, the radical relativist is justifiably suspicious about something here. But the problem is not the formal logic itself. Instead the problem is the misapplication of this logic to justify a particular worldview. Logic can tell us how to think and express ourselves clearly, but it can tell us absolutely nothing whatsoever about either the way the world is or the way it should be. No worldview follows from intelligibility. Intelligibility and its formalization as fundamental rules of logic can only help us articulate a particular worldview—a worldview that may or may not be accurate. Logic requires only that we, not reality, make sense. If an individual or group misconstrues this relationship and tries to go directly from logic to ontology, only then do we find the situation that someone might want to label ‘patriarchal,' ‘hegemonic,' ‘Western,' or whatever. Logic is a tool used to sharpen analysis, thinking, articulation—not a weapon to bludgeon to death any philosophical position one does not like. The point is to describe the way things are with as much logical clarity as possible; the error is to use logical clarity as the main criterion for the way things are." (Kasulis, op.cit., pp. 16-17.)
The matter of ‘cultural logic' is a useful conceptual tool for understanding Morihei Ueshiba and his religious beliefs and activities and also for understanding many aspects of training in the Japanese martial arts dojo. There was a recent AikiWeb
thread on the definition of aiki
[合気] and one could analyze the discussion of the concept according to the assumptions of what Lebra calls ‘oppositional logic'. Thus the assumption behind the discussion was that if 合気 was defined as one thing, it could not be defined as anything else; in particular, it could not be defined as anything else at the same time and in the same circumstances. Even the possibility that 合気 actually meant different things was entertained in terms of ‘oppositional logic': 合気 meant certain things in certain contexts, but in each context it meant a specific thing. It could not mean more than one thing at the same time and in any specific context—which is the opposite of what Lebra argued. It is very clear from his discourses that Morihei Ueshiba did not see reality at all in terms of ‘oppositional logic' as Lebra conceives this.
Webs of Belief
Civilization generally is obliged to the ancient Greeks for some stunning intellectual achievements. One, a somewhat double-edged achievement—since it is a clear example of a certain kind of ‘cultural logic', was to establish a mutually exclusive opposition between knowledge—with the cognate concept of truth—and belief. Plato's Theaetetus
, for example, offers a dramatic dialogue in which Socrates struggles to find a way of adding to belief properties that will convert belief into knowledge. He fails—and the state of knowledge is seemingly just as unattainable as it was when the dialogue started, the only consolation for the participants being that it was a ‘good' discussion, as discussions go.
In this sense Takie Sugiyama Lebra's analysis is of great value, since the way she sets up her argument underlines the importance we give to logic and certainty in our thinking. AikiWeb
forums occasionally have contributions from some individuals who do not seem to use the same type of logical thinking as the majority and this clearly causes some general frustration at times. Going through a ‘logical' process in our thinking and having degrees of certainty are both highly valued because they underpin our general experience of the world and our beliefs about the world based on this experience. The logic that grounds our own belief systems in a set of principles is something that I would call ‘informal' logic'. It lacks the rigor of the formal logic of the logicians, but is not necessarily restricted to a particular culture. Depending on how one regards culture, it can be trans-cultural, or even ‘supra-cultural' or meta-cultural. Lebra's arguments constitute one major example of such ‘informal' logic and as such repay very careful study. However, her research is very much part of a Nihonjinron
effort to show that the Japanese ‘self' is unique in a way that the ‘Western' self is not. To do this, she believes that she also needs a special variety of ‘Japanese' logic. However, we can ignore the references to ‘cultural logic' and see her descriptions of the Japanese ‘self' as a sophisticated ‘phenomenological' exercise. Of course, her descriptions run the risk of being question-begging, in the same way that anthropologists' supposedly ‘objective' descriptions and analyses of ‘native' behavior can beg the questions they are supposed to answer, but this only partly diminishes their use.
The problem, as I stated earlier, is that the simple distinction between the ‘logic' of the logicians and the ‘logic' of everyone else is too simple to bear the weight that Lebra puts on it and so something much broader is necessary. Logic and rhetoric have been extensively studied as two subjects originating with the Greeks, but comparative rhetoric, or cross-cultural rhetoric, is comparatively new. The adversarial logic of the Greeks can easily be compared with the similar rhetorical traditions from China under the Mohists, but this is only one part of Greek rhetoric and Greek rhetoric is one rhetorical tradition among many others. The apparent supremacy of adversarial Greek logic and rhetoric is primarily due to the evolution of both as separate and distinct disciplines, applicable to differing subjects of study, which is something that never happened to the rhetorical traditions of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or India. However, these rhetorical (including logical) traditions, especially the traditions of India and China, are deserving of the same kind of research that has been expended on Aristotle's Organon
The original articles still bear reading, though in some respects they are dated and these columns have taken the place of the projected third part: Peter Goldsbury, "Touching the Absolute: Aikido vs. Religion and Philosophy (1)," Aikido Journal
. Available online (by subscription):
"Touching the Absolute: Aikido vs. Religion and Philosophy (2)," Aikido Journal
. Available online (by subscription):
For the purposes of this column, Japanese religion needs to be seen in a proper economic and social context. In this respect, William Wayne Farris's Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History
(2009, Hawai‘i U P) is a good preparation for the issues discussed in this column. The book is a survey, probably aimed at undergraduates, and is clearly written. The chapters are organized chronologically and each chapter contains extensive suggestions for further research.
For Japanese religion in general, an essential resource is the website of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture. All the issues of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies
are available for download in PDF format: http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/youkoso.htm
There are a number of general books on Japanese religion, some collection of essays, others continuous monographs. The first is a college text: H Byron Earhart, Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity
, Fourth Edition, 2004, Thomson. Earhart has also edited a collection of texts: Religion in the Japanese Experience: Sources and Interpretations
, 1997, Second Edition, Thomson. Both are volumes in a series entitled, Religious Life in History
. There are two more collections of texts: Mark Mullins, Shimazono Susumu & Paul L Swanson (Eds), Religion and Society in Modern Japan: Selected Readings
, 1993, Asian Humanities Press; George H Tanabe Jr (Ed.) Religions of Japan in Practice
, 1999, Princeton U P.
Tanabe has teamed up with Ian Reader to examine the concept of ‘common religion', which is discussed in this column: Ian Reader and George J Tanabe Jr., Practically Religious: Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan
, 1998, U of Hawai‘i P.
A good discussion about the historical accuracy of the film Kingdom of Heaven
can be found on the Internet Movie Database
), under ‘Frequently Asked Questions'. In this connection, the 3-disk or 4-disk DVD sets of the Director's Cut
edition are preferable to the single-disk theatrical version. Those who wish to study the period in more detail might begin with a book on one of the main characters in the film: Bernard Hamilton, The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem
, 2000, Cambridge U P. The history of the Crusades is also a fertile ground for the study of issues connected with religion and the martial arts. Runciman's three volumes are the established text here, but have been superseded: Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades
, 1951-1954, Cambridge U P. For newer treatments, see, for example, Christopher Tyerman, God's War: A New History of the Crusades
, 2006, Allen Lane.
Types of Logic
The book extensively discussed in this column is Takie Sugiyama Lebra's The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic
, 2004, U of Hawai‘i P. Her work is compared with the research done over a number of years by Geert Hofstede, which is conveniently summarized in a fundamental text: Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
, Third Edition, 2010, McGraw-Hill.
When reading Lebra, one might forget that there is a great deal of research in English devoted to body-mind relationships, exemplified in the following works: Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason
, 1987, Chicago U P; The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding
, 2007, Chicago U P; Raymond W Gibbs, Jr., Embodiment and Cognitive Science
, 2005, Cambridge U P; Shaun Gallagher, How the Body Shapes the Mind
, 2005, Oxford, Clarendon; Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi, The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science
, 2008, Routledge.
Peter Goldsbury (b. 28 April 1944). Aikido 7th dan Aikikai, Emeritus Professor at Hiroshima University, teaching philosophy and comparative culture. B. in UK. Began aikido as a student and practiced at various dojo. Became a student of Mitsunari Kanai at the New England Aikikai in 1973. After moving back to the UK in 1975, trained in the Ryushinkan Dojo under Minoru Kanetsuka. Also trained with K Chiba on his frequent visits to the UK. Moved to Hiroshima, Japan, in 1980 and continued training with the resident Shihan, Mazakazu Kitahira, 7th dan Also trained regularly with Seigo Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tada, Sadateru Arikawa and Masatake Fujita, both in Hiroshima and at the Aikikai Hombu. Was elected Chairman of the IAF in 1998. With two German colleagues, opened a small dojo in Higashi-Hiroshima City in 2001. Instructed at Aiki Expo 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada.