Is Japanese communication predominately visual?

Discussion in 'Japanese Culture and History' started by foodog, Aug 16, 2011.

  1. foodog

    foodog White Belt

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    I've noticed a trend in Japanese communication and would like too be told if I'm simply imagining it. Colors, hand gestures, and placement of things seem very important. Examples? Take "Last Samurai" for instance. Tom Cruise takes the red armor of the man he killed in the first battle scene. Hand and face gestures are scene all over Japanese cartoons. Finally, something as simple as carrying your katana into a dojo with your right or left hand can be perceived as threatining/non-threatining respectively.

    Thoughts?

    -- Sent from my Palm Pixi using Forums
     
  2. seasoned

    seasoned MT Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    The Japanese, and martial talk, deal with tradition much the same way. With the Japanese, formality in life is followed closely for the body and mind discipline value. With martial talk stopping my the meet and greet thread and introducing yourself, is also customary for your first few posts. Welcome aboard, see you around the site.......
     
  3. Ken Morgan

    Ken Morgan Senior Master

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    First things first, welcome.

    Second, never take what they do in any MA movie as the way things are done. The last Samurai wasn’t half bad from a JSA perspective, but it is first and foremost just a movie.

    Third. There are no left handed swordsmen. Hence if you are carrying your sword in your right hand you cannot draw and cut anyone. During the opening bow, the sword is transferred to the right hand, a non-aggressive position. Also when you are in seiza, listening to sensei, or bowing to your dojo mates, the sword is placed to the right of the body, again a non-aggressive position.

    Why do you ask?
     
  4. oaktree

    oaktree Master of Arts

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    Japanese have customs, traditions,taboos like every other culture. Americans think 13 unlucky Japanese think 4 unlucky Chinese think 18 floor unlucky.
     
  5. Sukerkin

    Sukerkin Have the courage to speak softly

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    All cultures have non-verbal communication elements to them, foodpg. In Japanese society, as Seasoned says, formality is very important, as is not being overly demonstrative or excitable. So their cues and mores of behaviour tend to be subtler than ours in the West.

    Also, when thinking along these lines, it has to be borne in mind that when it's your own culture you don't really notice it, especially when the roots of a certain mode of behaviour are archaic.

    My favourite example of this is why, in English culture at least, when a man is walking with a woman, especially arm-in-arm,she will be on his left side. These one is not particularly obscure, tho' many people do not even think about it. It is tied in with the fact that, usually, a sword is hung on the left hip and a pistol on the right hip and having your 'drawing hand' hampered, should the need arise, is a very bad thing :D.

    As an aside, Oaktree, why do the Chinese think that 18 is unlucky? I know that, allegedly, 13 comes from the Knights Templar in Western culture, 4 and 8 in Japan because the characters can also mean Death and Suffering. But that unlucky Chinese one I don't know.
     
  6. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    Hello, and welcome. My thoughts are that communication, especially that of pre-modern warfare, i.e. feudal times. Those times no matter what people they where, depended on non-verbal communication in the battlefield, just as in daily life. Tom Cruise depicting such an instance by taking the red armor, showing everyone at once something of great importance communicates allot quickly. A picture is worth a thousand words. Tied in to that is color, which can be seen quickly and clearly at a distance, i.e. battle flags vs. yelling across the battle field what army you where. Then per objects, proof is in the pudding. If your holding your enemies armor or his head says allot in feudal Japanese warfare. if you don't want your enemy to hear you and then discover your sneaking up on him, hand gestures are better than being audible. Yelling, verbal communication, is a poor way of getting your message across. It would reason that Japanese do what you say. I am sure there are good books out there explaining it that would help.
     
  7. oaktree

    oaktree Master of Arts

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    The 18 floor comes from the levels in Chinese hell.The 18th floor people are being burned so 18 unlucky.I'm not entirely sure what foodog means with anime. Maybe some examples.
     
  8. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    In terms of The Last Samurai, the big thing to remember, as Ken said, was that it was a movie... Col. Algren (Tom Cruise) taking the red armour of Hirotaro is a cinematic device to show his taking Hirotaro's place in the village and Katsumoto's movement (honestly, I'm with Katsumoto, so I don't call it a "rebellion"...). Red was historically chosen as it was associated with bravery and honour on the battlefield (most famously used by Takeda Shingen's army, who ended up being known as "The Red Army"). For similar reasons, it was chosen for the film, as it stands out against the rest of the black armours being used, separating out Algren from the rest of the "heroes" in the film (Ujio, Katsumoto, "Bob" etc).

    With gestural actions being a method of communication in Japan, what should be remembered there is that Japan was a rather restrictive and highly regulated society, with strict rules on what could and couldn't be done. As is common in a fuedal society, most of this was to prevent unexpected attacks. Add to that the fact that Japanese is a language of subtle context and inflection, with different forms of language depending on relative social status', and as such, much communication was implied (given context) by the surrounding actions/facial expressions/gestures/environment etc.

    Oh, and Suke? 13 was already a "bad luck" number, with a number of legends about it's origin, including some Greek legends about numbers of guests amongst the Gods at a gathering, and so on. Friday the 13th, on the other hand, reputedly dates from the raids on the remaining Knights Templar on Friday, October 13th, 1307, when the new Pope moved against them.
     
  9. David43515

    David43515 Master Black Belt

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    I`ve been living in Japan for about 8 years all together and I speak the language well even though I`m functionally illiterate in Kanji. I can`t say that it`s especially visually oriented, at least not any moreso than English. The gestures they use aren`t any more common than the ones we use every day, but since they`re differnt they seem to stand out more. As for ettiquete like carrying a sheathed sword in the left hand rather than the right, like others have said it just goes back to the idea that the sword is always drawn with the right hand so carrying it in the left looks like you`re spoiling for a fight because you`ve made sure you can do a quick draw. It`s the same as not holding your chopsticks in a closed fist, that`s what you would do if you were about to use them as an improvised weapon. In a society where samurai had the right to cut down any non samurai who appeared rude or disrespectful, it`s always good to not look like you`re getting ready to jump someone.
     
  10. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    I agree that Japanese is no more visual than any other society as far as language is concerned. However, the Japanese do tend to have a well developed aesthetic sense, which comes from their early association with the Chinese I believe, although it seems to be nowhere near as prevalent in the later generation who seem to be much more westernized.

    And by the way, 13 is considered unlucky in western society because that was the number at Jesus' last meal (with his 12 apostles) before he was crucified.
     
  11. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    I feel that I wasn't clear enough, and by no account am I an expert on the Japanese. What I want to say is, yes, probably during the feudal period allot of visual communication was taking place. Because the samurai class depending on and utilizing visual communication, it would reason visual military communication would have a great impact on Japanese daily life, and influence on society. No different than other influences on Japanese society that came from the samurai class. Just as what David has pointed out, i.e. the holding of chopsticks. What reasonably would diminish the visual communication would be modernization; advances in communication. I think a large part of human communication, Japanese and everyone else, is visual communication. We see it in so many things like hand and body gestures that help us communicate. One thing I can think of off hand, is the Japanese point to their faces (nose) when indicating something related to themselves. American's point to our chest. American's wave to say good bye, Japanese traditionally bow. Most places have traffic signs, and advertising to communicate which are all visual communication devices . This goes for movies too that rely on symbolism as well, i.e. Tom Cruise held up the red amor- it's a movie that takes allot of liberties, but it uses visual communication just like Japanese movies. I also know the Japanese like many other countries use a color code, i.e. in the dojo you have colored obi's, as well as color codes in Sumo. Kamidana are full of symbolism/visual communication. I think dojo Kamidana can have purple curtains with a red tassel and home alters use white paper. I was saying yes, I think the Japanese do depend on visual communication with a heavy influence from the samurai class, who depended on visual communication in the battlefield, at one time. Yet in modern times visual communication in Japan, like the rest of the world, is still important though it has changed.
     
  12. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    Numerology plays a huge in the Jewish history and religion thereby an influence on Christianity. The number 13 isn't an unlucky number in Judaism, as 13 years old signals the age of manhood for a boy. And 13 isn't mentioned in the Christian texts as being unlucky. The more reasonable indication for 13 being an unlucky number in Christendom isn't the myth regarding Jesus' last supper, but rather the order of King Philip IV on Friday, October the 13[SUP]th[/SUP], 1307 to arrest the Knights Templar. Both of which aren't the most illustrious things in Christendom. Perpetuating the origin of the iconic unlucky number of 13 to something else more illustrious like to Jesus benefits the Christian\Catholic religion. Avoiding the original origin of the unlucky number 13, not having it associated to King Philip IV and the Knights Templar (neither of which don't have illustrious good Christian reputations), keeps the Christian\Catholic religion in the best light, just as any reputable organization- protecting the brand. Based on that it is more that reasonable the superstition of the number 13 being unlucky and it's popularity doesn't have its origins in the Last Super, but rather in the arrest of the Knights Templar.
     
  13. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    You are more than welcome to believe whatever you wish about Japanese society, visual clues, and numerology. I'll continue to believe what I do. I have some slight inkling who the Knights Templar are, but no clue at all who Philip IV is. I have, however, heard quite a bit about a fellow named Jesus though, so I think I'll continue to believe what I was told thanks.
     
  14. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    I am glad to provide you with more historical facts and information on the Knights Templar and King Philip IV, and how it gave birth to the superstition of the number 13 being unlucky. Now you can say you know more about Christendom then you did before. And that is always a good thing. :)
     
  15. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    As I said earlier, the concept of 13 being unlucky predates the raids on the Templars. In fact, some think that the earliest example was Babylonian, some 1700 years before the Common Era (although this is widely held to be a myth, or a misunderstanding). Others have it in Viking Mythology, where Loki is the Thirteenth Deity (the God of Mischief, amongst other things...), as well as being held to have been responsible for the murder of Balder, and was then the 13th guest at the funeral. There is also an account of Norna-Gest, a child prophesised in Norse myth, whose birth was attended by 10 guests, until the Norns (Viking versions of the Fates, really) turned up uninvited. They brought the number to 13, and the meeting ended with the last (and youngest) of the Norns cursing Gest to die when a candle failed. Then there is the Norse tradition that if there is a gathering of 13 people, then one will die the following year.

    There has been some linking of the Last Supper in an attempt to "Christian-size" the Norse traditions (this is far from the only way they did this, and was part of the usurping of the traditional Norse mythology, which I've covered other aspects of before, such as the "twist" the invading Christians put on the Norse myth of Creation and Destruction), with some saying that, as Judas was the last, and therefore thirteenth person present, that number is unlucky for a gathering (it may be noted that there is no account of the order that the members of the last gathering arrived, and in fact, the Last Supper may have had many more present than just the Disciples and Jesus, but they were not considered important enough to list in the Gospels) and so on, but to my mind that is just part of the appropriation of Norse tradition.

    There is also mention of 13 being considered unlucky in Ancient Persia, where the 12 signs of the Zodiac, accompanying the 12 months of the calendar, represent the structure of the world, and the 13th Month (and 13th Sign of the Zodiac) would be the destruction of the sun and moon as they came together, in other words, the end of the world. There is a Persian tradition that involves leaving your house on the 13th Day that is linked to this idea.

    Back to Judeo-Christian concepts, 13 seems to have little relevance, really. It has both positive and negative associations, depending on what you're looking for! For example, there are lists of rules for a just and good life under God that have 13 points, 13 is a traditional age of adulthood, Jesus recieved the Magi on his 13th day, and, possibly the most telling, there is no omitting of the number 13 in a book that gives everything a numeric categorization (chapter, verse). On the other hand, there are 12 Disciples with Judas making the 13th, the Jewish People murmured 13 times against God in the Exodus, the thirteenth psalm is about corruption and wicked people, and so on. So I'm not sold on it being a Christian idea.

    Honestly, I think it's more about "neatness", combined with adoption of Norse concepts (there is also a reasonable link in many other Christian areas, such as the concepts of Santa Claus and Christmas Trees...) as Christianity overran the various peoples in Europe. The "neatness" is due to the fact that 12 is considered almost a "perfect" number (if you ever wondered why a dozen was so dominant, when we have only ten fingers, and our counting system is metricly based...), and 13 "disturbs" that.

    When it comes to the Poor Knights of King Solomons Temple (The Knights Templar), they were a definite force in their day, but not quite to the point that you seem to be making out, John. Honestly, the biggest influence that the Templars had (and still have today) isn't even the idea of Friday the 13th being unlucky, it's the concept of banking and credit. Philip was indebted to the Templars, and tried a few times to get them out of his way. The first Pope he tried it with didn't go for it, but when a new, more malleable Pope followed him (Pope Clement the Second), Philip and the new Holy Father organised the final moments of the order that had been declining for a decade or more.

    So, hopefully you can say you know more now, too, John. Which is also a good thing.
     
  16. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    Chris I was going to point some of the theory of the number's possible ancient origin, though I feel when discussing 13 being an unlucky in the western culture and Christendom we really have to look at the Knights Templar and King Philip as the evident origin. Sure there are other possibilities, but none have more sound evidence, logical and reasonable answer to why the superstition is so widely held, its popularity and the reason why the superstition still exists today in Christendom / Western culture. That was a historic event that was well known at the time, effecting a large strong and powerful organization on a date that is marked historically as being unlucky for the Templar, because the order essentially was a death sentence for the Templars. That took place during a time in history where mythological traditions where very predominate in western culture and thus, Christendom. It would be logical that such a well known event in Western culture and Christendom would be associated as unlucky. At time where being unlucky was a serious cultural matter; in relation to medieval explanation of the world around them was based in strong mythological tradition. The medieval period had a much stronger effect on today's traditional western superstitions than say the persians.

    I find the origin of Friday the 13th as being synonymous to the superstition of the number 13 being unlucky as a result of the order by King Philip to arrest, thus put an end to the Knights Templar. Which really was an unlucky Friday the 13th. Far more reasonable and evidential than proposed folklore, speculations and myths. Chris, I appreciate your post. I too learned something new today. Thanks.
     
  17. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    No, I disagree with pretty much all of that. The two dominant forms of cultural belief are typically either much longer than realised (old traditions that predate Christianity in most cases) or much newer than most realise (things like Santa). It's that mid-ground that has some of the least influence. It's actually far more feasible that a range of culturally embedded beliefs came together in such a fashion than a single event having such a huge influence in such a small and insignificant way, when, if the event was as devastating as you are suggesting, the impact would be felt over much wider areas (the Papal power base, the entire concept of banking, credit, organised private militias, autonomy from taxation by location, and more), but we don't see that. Instead, we get "13 is unlucky", to the point that some hotels refuse to have a 13th floor. No, it doesn't gel.

    Oh, and for the record, Philip and Clement did far more than just arrest the Templars. They had their property and possessions confiscated by the Church, they were driven to confessions, and then executed for what they had confessed to (although within a year they were completely absolved... much have come as cold comfort, after being burned alive, eh?). Still, they didn't last much longer. The Grand Master of the Templars, Jaques de Molay, as he was being burned was reported to have said "God knows who is wrong and who has sinned. A disaster will befall those who condemn us to death!" (Some reports have this as more along the lines of "The Pope and King will meet me again before they meet God!", but this is urban myth). True enough, both Philip and Clement were dead before a year was out, with Clement lasting not much more than a month. But I digress.

    I don't think you're quite understanding the power of such old belief systems. There was a reason they could not be removed, only subsumed into the new religion, and those reasons are the very same ones that give them their influence and power today. Add to that the fact that pretty much all beliefs (like this one) go one of two ways; either a limited and specific belief, found in only a small segment of society, and coming from a single source, or widespread and coming from several, at least. And with this idea of 13 being unlucky being so widespread, looking for a single reason is to not understand the nature of these beliefs and how they are formed and maintained. This is either a varied old belief from a range of sources, or it's a relatively (last 150-200 years) new one, typically codified from fragments of other, older ones (again, looking to Santa Claus as an example).

    Oh, but just on the Persians.... do you know how important to the entire course of the history of Western civilization the Persians were? Remarkably, for something they didn't do? The effects of such things are very long-lasting.
     
  18. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    Chris, we are simply discussing the most factual and reasonable origin of a superstition and numerology. The world isn't flat, and we are not the center of the universe, the sun doesn't revolve around the earth. Yet, the Church still exists. It is more likely, the superstition of Friday the 13th being unlucky which has been abbreviated to 13 being an unlucky number came out of historical documented events in a time in western history that would support superstitions. Unlucky 13 superstition didn't originate in Christianity. It originated more likely to the depute between the King and Templars. Both of which were part of the Christendom of Europe. Rather than the "urban myth" that it was do to the number of people or something at the last supper. That God, decided in his infinite wisdom that the last supper was going to be "Di Vinici" coded with a secret message that the number 13 is unlucky.

    Especially, if he made the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th, decided Christ is going to have only 12 apostles and not 13 because 13 is unlucky. But of course if you include Christ and that makes it 13, so therefore to make numerological sense and keep with the evil number 13 going, Judas had to betray Jesus because he has 13 letters in his name. So really that is why it is unlucky. I am waiting for the day that the St. Valentine's day massacre is related God and the book of Genesis because 7 people where killed that day which was on the 14th of February. the 2nd month . I stray from that kind of superstitious unlettered mumbo jumbo that really sells tabloids, preferring to stay out of that dark age thinking. As my beliefs are not threatened by reason or fact. This is not what the thread is about anyway. It is about Japanese communication being visual.
     
  19. JohnEdward

    JohnEdward 2nd Black Belt

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    When I posted the above in a rush as I was trying to condense down allot of information. As a result, I may have unintentionally sounded rude and argumentative. The result of the Friday the 13 superstition is most reasonably, logically, and most factually strongest from the dispute between King Philip and the Knights Templar, and not from a numerological forced cipher of unlucky 13 origins resulting of the Last Supper. It can just as easily be said, Unlucky 13 is because Judas' name has 13 letters in it, he then would the one to betray Jesus. And the number 12 is a significant and important number in the Bible, yet it isn't associated with the superstition of being lucky. This type of thinking is not supported by fact, the credibility in such presumptions as the origin of Friday the 13th being unlucky lies in the unlettered connections of superstitious numerology assumption. I do believe the shift of origin from King Philip and the Nights Templar to something more acceptable to Christendom and it's image is a fair and reasonable argument. I am comfortable with what I wrote now than before as it gives a more accurate matter of fact tone by me.
     
  20. Chris Parker

    Chris Parker Grandmaster

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    Well, I've just re-read through this thread a few times to try and figure out exactly what you're trying to argue against, and honestly, I just don't see where you're getting a lot of this from. Sukerkin mentioned the idea of 13 being unlucky being related to the raid on the Templars, which I corrected, stating that that is one potential origin for the tradition of Friday the 13th being unlucky (which is a different, and believe it or not, unrelated superstition). You have since been arguing that it is the origin of 13 (the number itself) being unlucky, even though that was covered and dealt with, to the point that I have stated a number of times that the idea of 13 being unlucky predates the Templar raid. I also tried to explain the way beliefs and superstitions are generated, which you are ignoring (there is not always, or even often, a real event at the heart of them, if you're lucky then there is a range which get amalgamated into the lore). Try looking up superstitions involving things like vampires and werewolves, and see how many origins to those beliefs you find.

    But to take this back to the heart of the matter:

    The raid on the Knights Templar is not the origin of the belief of the number 13 being unlucky, as it was already relatively widespread, particularly in the Germanic and Norse traditions, before the incursion of Christianity, let alone the Templar Knights rising to power and being summarily destroyed.

    Beliefs such as this have many stories associated with their origins, and do not necessarily follow single events (in fact, they almost never do).

    These types of beliefs (superstitions) are not related to any form of reasonable thought (as a comparison of what I mean, there is a belief that you should always wear a seat belt in a car, which has reasonable thought behind it, even though the odds of being involved in an accident are relatively remote every time you go for a drive, as opposed to the belief that if you break a mirror, you will have seven years bad luck... tell me, can you point to the instance where someone broke a mirror, had seven years of consecutive bad luck, and now we all worry about it?). Trying to find a reasonable origin is pointless, as you've misunderstood the premise to begin with.

    Your entire argument about the raids on the Knights Templar being something that Christianity (and the Catholic Church) wanted to distance themselves from, or use as a scapegoat to avoid connection with Jesus and the Last Supper is completely unsupported by the Church itself, with full pardons and exoneration of the Templar Knights being issued a year after the events (under the next Pope, it may be added), and a second edict declaring their innocence a year after that.

    I have noted your arguments, and none of them are supported. But, as you say:

    Nor influenced by them, I see. But I do have to ask... if you, as you say, prefer to "stay out of that Dark Age thinking", when do you think the Knights Templar and the raids of King Philip and Pope Clement were (and yes, I know they weren't the Dark Ages... but pretty damn close!)?
     

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