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The Evolution of the Japanese Ego: Part I 

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Michael Hoffman writes: When Adam and Eve defied God, creator and master of the universe, and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what did they learn? To say “I.”

They learned that they were “naked” — they were selves, egos. As such, there was no place for them in paradise. Their expulsion was “the fall of man,” narrated in the biblical Book of Genesis.

This seems a long way from Japan. It is. Japanese myth records no “fall,” no defiance of the undefiable, no primeval descent into selfhood. The Japanese ego evolved very differently from the Western one.

This is the introductory installment of a four-part series examining what the Japanese mean when they say “I.”

A peculiarity of the Japanese language gives it many first-person pronouns, varying with circumstances, rank, age and gender, but comparatively few occasions to use them. Japanese often leaves sentence subjects
unspoken. You can speak of yourself without emphasizing and reinforcing, as Western languages force you to do, your “I-ness.”

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Japanese tradition denigrates not only selfishness but selfhood. To Buddhism it was a delusion; to Confucianism, an object of “self-cultivation” whose ultimate object is self-denying, society-dedicated “benevolence.” Bushido, the “way of the warrior,” was especially hard on the self. “The way of the warrior is death,” declared the grim 18th-century military treatise known as the “Hagakure.” “This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death.” The self that instinctively protests51e9jgsshl-_sl250_ its death sentence must be rigorously suppressed: “Every day without fail one should consider oneself as dead.”

[Check out Michael Hoffman’s book, “In The Land of the Kami: A Journey Into The Hearts of Japan at Amazon.com]

The first “I” in Japanese literature is identifiable but not nameable — her name is unknown. A noblewoman and poetess, she lived in 10th-century Kyoto and left posterity a diary — the “Kagero Nikki” (“Gossamer Diary”). It’s a brilliant portrait of a soul in torment. Her “I” is her suffering; her suffering forces her into the black hole of selfhood. Hers is no plea for individualism; if anything she pleads for release from it. She would be anyone other than herself, if only she could. Other people were like other people; only she was different, condemned to the morbid isolation of selfhood by an insufficiently attentive husband and the perversity (which she admits) of her own feelings. Sharing a husband was gall to her. Polygamy among the aristocracy was the norm. Other noblewomen resigned themselves to it, more or less graciously. Why couldn’t she? Why did she alone torture herself over slights and neglect that others shrugged off? Because she was she. She wanted a husband “30 days and 30 nights a month,” and, knowing she demanded the impossible, refused to settle for less. “If only the Buddha would let me be reborn in Enlightenment,” she prays. In other words: If only the Buddha would release me from the agony of selfhood. It never happens.

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Between the long peace of her time and the long peace of the Edo Period (1603-1868) stand 500 years of war — civil war, mostly — in which bushido prevailed. Life was nothing, death everything, the self a mere sacrifice to be laid on the altar of loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »

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Japan: Novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) Returns in Robot Form

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Novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) is back in Tokyo — as an android.

Nishogakusha University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and Osaka University Prof. Hiroshi Ishiguro unveiled the final product of their joint project at a press conference on Thursday, a day before the 100th anniversary of the writer’s death.

The humanoid robot sits 130 centimeters high and was made based on pictures taken when the writer was 45 years old and his death mask, among other materials. Read the rest of this entry »


Illusion: Porn Makers Want Sexual Fantasies to Become Virtual Realities

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Are you ready for your VR Kanojo? 

 reports: In June, hundreds of people thronged a small virtual reality event in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, forcing the organizer to cancel it halfway through.

“In the future, some say we might see people giving up on real-life relationships in favor of virtual romance — a possibility that could emerge as the technology becomes more immersive, which is likely to raise a moral question.”

What drew such a big crowd so quickly?

A VR-based porn demonstration.

“It was unexpected,” said Kento Yoshida, head of the group that organized the event. “But it proved that many people have expectations for VR adult content.”

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Industry insiders claim that adult VR content may be the key to spreading the technology to the general public, just as it did with videotapes and the internet.

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

They said VR’s potential is huge because it could eventually lead to virtual sex, either with a digital character or a real person in a different location. The technology can also be used to fulfill one’s secret fantasies more easily.

“There’s a certain degree of adverse reaction to adult content. I’m concerned that it might damage the image of VR.”

While admitting that the erotic possibilities made possible by VR will provoke critics of adult content, they said it will still be meaningful to have a new option for sex.

Yoshida, who is also president of Tokyo-based adult video maker VRG, said most people remain unaware of VR’s potential, which is why he held the Akihabara event.

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“Illusion plans to release a game called ‘VR Kanojo’ — ‘VR Girlfriend’ —  that lets players virtually enter an imaginary girlfriend’s room to have sex. The producers say they are focused on making players feel the girlfriend is really there.”

“At that time, people didn’t really know what VR was … so I thought that adult content would be the most catchy topic to use to get people more familiarized with VR,” he said.

The technology opens up a whole new horizon for people with sexual fantasies, he said.

For instance, if people harbor a desire for abnormal or illicit sex, fulfilling that desire may be difficult or risky in real life, to say the least. But VR can make it all possible, Yoshida said.

“VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people.”

It can also help others who are too shy to express their feelings or start a relationship.

“VR is the best way to satisfy their sexual needs,” he said.

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[ALSO SEE – For Japan’s ‘stranded singles’, virtual love beats the real thing]

VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people, Yoshida said.

But achieving high-quality virtual sex means conquering several technological barriers, including the lack of physical sensation, he said.

Other Japanese firms are already cashing in on the trend. Read the rest of this entry »


The Making of Asian America: A History

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The Making of Asian America: A History, by Erika Lee, 528 pages, Simon & Schuster, Nonfiction. 

Nicolas Gattig reports: In 1922, a Japanese immigrant to the United States named Takao Ozawa applied for citizenship with the U.S. Supreme Court. Having lived in America for almost 30 years, Ozawa was fluent in English and an active Christian, assuring the court that his skin was “white in color” and that he wished to “return the kindness which our Uncle Sam has extended me.” Still, his appeal was denied — naturalization at the time was exclusive to Caucasians.

“Asian-Americans have experienced both the promise of America as well as the racism of America. As we debate what kind of America we want to be in the 21st century — with concerns about immigration policy, racial equality and our ties to the rest of the world — Asian Americans and their long history in the U.S. can inform on these issues.”

— Author Erika Lee

A recurring theme in Erika Lee’s new book “The Making of Asian America: A History” is the humiliations of immigrant life — the “collective burden” of people who have to keep proving they are worthy. With a keen eye for telling quotes, Lee shows the human dimensions of Asian immigration to the U.S., which now spans 23 different groups and makes up 6 percent of the total population. Incidentally, she tells of a nation expanding its identity, of the inclusion of people once vilified.

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From the start, Japanese sojourners feature prominently in this history, as the second largest group of Asian immigrants —the bulk being Chinese — during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hailing mostly from 41ko6B1RfoL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Okinawa, Kumamoto, Fukuoka and Hiroshima prefectures, they were mainly young men dodging military service or farmers fleeing the taxation of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) government.

[Order Erika Lee‘s book “The Making of Asian America: A History” from Amazon.com]

The immigrant dream was soon interrupted. The “gentlemen’s agreement” between the U.S. and Japan was signed in 1908, barring all Japanese laborers from entering the U.S. This spurred illegal immigration via Mexico, and in a quirky aside Lee quotes a letter by a stateside contact named Nakagawa, who advised border-crossers laconically: “Some people go to Nogales. But sometimes they are killed by the natives. So you had better not go that way.”

The book reminds us how hedging the “Yellow Peril” was a part of U.S. immigration policy, culminating in 1924, when “immigration from Asia was banned completely, with the establishment of an ‘Asiatic Barred Zone.’”

“There is widespread condemnation. But there is also a lot of amnesia about WWII incarceration, a lot of misinformation and misremembering. So the lesson still needs to be learned by many, and with great urgency.”

Fitting this theme, two whole chapters here are devoted to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Imperial Army, the “military necessity” allowed for the U.S. government to round up all persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, without due process or proof of wrongdoing. In fact, the measure was unwarranted: reports by the FBI and other offices showed that second-generation Japanese Americans were “pathetically eager” to show their loyalty to the U.S.

“Since the 1980s, American media have been praising the ‘rise of Asian America,’ pointing to Chinese and Indian Americans who enjoy better schooling and salaries than many whites. Still, it is misleading to speak of a ‘model minority.’ A wildly disparate community, Asian Americans also grapple with lower income and high crime rates.”

More than 120,000 Japanese Americans spent the war in camps, many losing their homes and livelihood. About 5,500 internees renounced their U.S. citizenship — becoming “Native American Aliens” — and some of them were deported to Japan. Read the rest of this entry »


Monkey Orchids Exhibition in Japan

 


Scientists Develop Artificial Skin That May Help Treat Burn Victims

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The artificial skin can be stored at room temperature for a long period of time, which means hospitals lacking facilities to treat patients with severe burns can hold stocks to apply as first aid.

Magdalena Osumi reports: Researchers said Thursday they have developed an easy-to-use artificial skin that acts like a bandage and could be used as a temporary treatment for patients with severe burns until their undamaged skin can be harvested for grafting.

“In tests conducted on mice we managed to speed up the healing.”

— Shigehisa Aoki, associate professor at Saga University

The new technology — which some say could revolutionize the treatment of burns — uses a collagen membrane scaffold to help heal wounds faster, researchers from Saga University and the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences told The Japan Times. Their findings were published in the June 4 edition of online medical journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.

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“In tests conducted on mice we managed to speed up the healing,” said project co-leader Shigehisa Aoki, associate professor at Saga University’s Department of Pathology and Microbiology.

The artificial skin can be stored at room temperature for a long period of time, which means hospitals lacking facilities to treat patients with severe burns can hold stocks to apply as first aid. Read the rest of this entry »