Book Review ‘The Japanese Mind’, edited by Roger J. Davies, Osamu Ikeno  

“Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out…”

When I’m reading Ryokan’s poem I’m dreaming about Japan – to go and stay there forever. But while reading the book ‘The Japanese Mind’ – all I wanted is to stay where I am, because Japan seems like the most depressing, unhappy, anxious place EVER. Ouch?! 

The book is a collection of essays based on key concepts in Japanese culture. I don’t know much about Japanese culture (unless it is sushi, ikebana or wabi – sabi), so the book was kinda ‘the enlightenment’ for me.
The articles in the book were written over a period of several years by students enrolled in seminars at university in Matsuyama, Japan. Most of the questions explore the changing nature of Japanese society. The book contains 28 chapters and there is a section of ‘discussions activities’ after each chapter. 

I’m going to explain some ‘complicated shit’ to you, my non-japanese souls.
Let’s call it – Ray’s WAY!

The 2 most important concepts of Japanese society or ‘minds’ are Aimai and Amae.

Simple explanation by Ray OR Ray’s WAY:
Shut up and listen,
do not talk much and hey, nobody interested in your damn opinions!

Difficult explanation by the book:
Aimai = Ambiguity is a state in which there’s more than 1 intended meaning, resulting in obscurity, uncertainty, indistinctness.
Japanese conversation is almost always fixed from the beginning to end depending on the human relationship. It is one-way, like a lecture or an inconclusive argument going along parallel lines or making a circle round or round, and in the end still ending up at the beginning.
Nobody expect to be told NO directly, even if the other person is really in disagreement.
Famous expression – maa-maa.

-How did you do on the examination?
-Maa-Maa (even if you did well).

If you are going to say ‘I did well!’, you’d be seen as arrogant or overconfident. 

Amae – ‘depending on the benevolence of others’, and is a vital concept for getting along with others in Japan. It is very important in order to maintain the solidarity of the group.
Example: Keiko, Haruka and Ai is going to a concert. You don’t wanna go to the concert and you actually have a diarrhoea. BUT, because of a sense of mutual dependence…you feel pressure to pick up new Pampers and go to the concert.  


Ray’s WAY:
Invest in 90 yo former politician – he knows how government works. 

Difficult explanation by the book:
Amakudari – senior bureaucrats who are allowed to take important positions with private and semiprivate companies after retirement.
It has been claimed that the Japanese government is a kind of secret, bureaucratic organisation, because the independent inspectors who are supposed to oversee governmental institutions are also bureaucrats and can not monitor the government fairly…
Info: 35% of public and private corporations – amakudari.


Ray’s WAY:
‘You are mono no aware!’ – whispered a man near the pond. 
‘That’s too fkn subjective, dude!’ – said a frog, covered by cherry blossoms.

Difficult explanation by the book:
The Japanese aesthetics are very subjective, and there are no absolute criteria as to what this should be. The sense of beauty is quite difficult to understand because it relates specifically to the Japanese feeling of appreciating something that is regarded as worthless.

Bushido – the way of warrior

Ray’s WAY:
You aren’t a warrior if you don’t know what to do with your Hara when you are in danger, sad or happy… And nope, Hara is NOT: 

A) cute leggy chick who’s living around the corner
B) new kind of burger with triple cheese
C) belly dance in the darkness 

When Hara said ‘hello’ –
I ran to the book store to
Buy KAMA Sutra.
clipbdfgdoard-1Difficult explanation by the book:
The origin of Bushido is ZEN BUDDHISM. The main goal is to achieve spiritual enlightenment (satori) through experiencing the Buddha – nature within. It is said that ‘to experience satori is to become conscious of the Unconscious’ (mushin or NO-MIND)…and mushin is the secret of the martial arts as well as the aesthetic arts in creating a strong mentality.

Mentality sucks? Go directly to Zen…

The origin of Bushido: Confucianism.
Motto: Die rather than disgrace yourslef. 


Ray’s WAY:
…………….you know what,
…………………you got it right, don’t worry!

Difficult explanation by the book:
Silence or Chinmoku can be viewed as a communicative skill, not just a form of emptiness between spoken words.

Silence plays an important role in maintaining harmony and avoiding conflict in Japan. 

In the world, just as in the classroom, there’re 2 types of quiet students – those who do not have their own ideas and do not think about issues at all, and those who are way too thoughtful and very conscious of their own feelings. Most problems has been found in the latter group, who usually remain silent until their emotions overflow and cannot be controlled (it contributes to the rising number of cases of teenage and adult violence in Japan).traditional-japanese-temple-architecture-photos-of-taditional-luxury-home-designs-interior-design-designer-homes-new-my-house-modern-designers-plans


Ray’s WAY:
Study and work hard.
Or better die.
That’s the only way
to show your determination and patience in this office.

Difficult explanation by the book:
Gambari is a frequently used word in Japan, with the meaning of doing one’s best and hanging on. Translation: ‘Keep up your hard work until your goals are achieved.’

Many japanese people do not know what to do with themselves after they retire, since their purpose in living had always been to work. As a result, the number of elderly people who commit suicide has been increasing.
One more problem with Gambari – death from overwork. People in Japan are easily influenced by others because of the importance of groupism (so fanaticism is reflected in gambari as well). 


Ray’s WAY:
Please, take a cookie.
– Thanks, yummy, had you baked it for me?
– Yes… but against my will. 

Difficult explanation by the book:
Giri is japanese social obligations:

  • moral principles or duty,
  • rules one has to bey in social relationships,
  • behaviour one is obliged to follow or that must be done against one’s will. 

In Japan, if you receive a present from a colleague but do not send one in return – you’ll be regarded ignorant of social obligations. In some families the expense of sending giri-related gifts can become a real financial burden.

Honne to tatamae

Ray’s WAY:
Lie is always welcome!
The more lies – the better.
Smart lies are better than stupid lies.
There’re NO stupid lies. 

Difficult explanation by the book:
Even today, one will always be accepted in japanese society as long as one follows the system and rules. And the main rule is:

  • if Japanese person asked you ‘Won’t you dine with us?’ – you have to answer ‘Thank you very much, but I’m not hungry’. No, nobody cares if you are hungry or not. Maybe your honne (one’s deep motive and intention) says that you are hungry and food smells very inviting, but tatemae refers to motives or intentions that are socially – tuned (shaped, encouraged, suppressed by majority of norm). That means – lie, lie…lie!

Want to maintain a harmony level?
Use Tatemae!

There’s much more in the book:
Folktales of Japan, explanation of IE-sytem, ryosaikenbo (good wives and wise mothers – concept), sempai -kohai (senior rules in Japan), Sudan ishiki (group consciousness), the beauty and difficulty of japanese funeral (soshiki) and dual meanings in japanese human relations (you are forever SOTO or outsider)…

The structure: remind a good course book, perfect for studying – in the group or in the classroom.

The idea: understanding contemporary Japanese culture in 1 shoot.  

Rate: 4156516104-in11o0um-img_2580wo_opbase

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I’m going to post some pictures from Stockholm in my next post. This week I won’t share any #coolprompts, but I’ll post ‘My Memory Jar’ and maybe one more book review – Ray Celestin ‘The Axeman’s Jazz’ (reading now). 

I’m not sure if I can keep up with all the challenges and prompts, but I’ll do my best to post. 

My dog Daisy is feeling ok, she’s going to vet clinic 22/10. Hopefully we’ll get more info about her disease. 

You can’t comment on this post, I switched off comments for a while. 

Stay Happy! 🕺🍩☕️✌️

Next post – #MemoryInJar

Book Reviews

Victoria Ray NB View All →

Living in Sweden. Awesome. Happy. Writing. Ayurvedic food. Healthy lifestyle. Dogs. Literature. Drawing. Meditation/Yoga.

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