In all honesty I think this is a load of old cobblers. (That's not to
say someone couldn't get a Ph.d out of it, naturally - but it would
be one of those "deeply solemn without ever being intellectually
serious" doctorates that plague academia - and are rather pet hate. )
Background: I am a Brit - read analytic Philosophy at uni, so not
afraid of the odd bit of abstract thought, been here 15 years and two
of my marriages were in Shinto shrines. That last means I probably
know rather more about shintoism than - oh - 90% of the population.
At new year I trot off to the local shrine and ring the bell, and so on.
But let's assume that what you are referring to is a "cultural
mindset" rather than the detailed knowledge so clearly lacking in the
Japanese population at large. (What does stun me is how much "general
knowledge" an "educated" Japanese adult is permitted to be utterly
ignorant of without anyone thinking it amiss...)
I am always a little cautious about ascribing a "cultural mindset" to
another culture. Would we not react with mirth were we to be told by
"the Japanese" that we are not open to ubiquitous computing because
our cultural mindset is that of the Anglican Church? (slash
Protestantism, slash Catholicism)?
It has to be said that foreigners coming into this culture take - oh
- all of 5 minutes to become just as accustomed to ubiquitous
computing as the JPs. Without, it has to be said, a crash course in
> The kami represent a cultural precedent for
> ascribing virtual qualities to real objects.
How unlike - say - Christianity, which has never had its saintly
relics, its holy places and which has no beliefs about - say, the
status of the bread and wine in the holy communion, etc....
Surely the ascription of virtual qualities to real objects is
fundamental to many, if not most, forms of religion?
You don't want to say that "the Japanese believe X, Y and Z about
shinto kami" - because many of them are blissfully ignorant - so you
are driven back to saying that it is a "cultural precedent". But
since such precedents can be found in every culture that has been
influenced by religion, you have to make a case as to how this
"cultural precedent" relevant while the cultural precedent of - say
the Anglican communion, has no such magical powers to influence
stroppy Brits towards or against ubiquitous computing.....
> The implication here is a unique cultural openness of the Japanese to
> growing Ubicomp applications.
I would really like to know more about this implication - you seem to
assume it, without demonstrating it. I don't think it is implied at
all. You have simply noted certain very general features about a
culture, then yoked it into harness to justify a conclusion, without
really explaining the relationship between the two.
Here is another tree to bark up - a more promising tree, I suspect,
although it would still be wrong-headed to spend too much time on it.
I will put it forward, as it is another approach - but I don't think
it is the solution.
One starts with a gut feeling that the JP's have a different concept
of public access to the "interiority of the other". One then notes
that intellectually it is a culture which does not march beneath the
long philosophical shadows either of Descartes or of Freud. We - I -
start from the Cartesian ego. What am I? I am a thinking thing. Not
only that, but - after Freud - "I am a thinking thing with a rich
interior life - much of which is opaque to me without a struggle".
But it IS - ultimately, accessible, and COMMUNICABLE, both to
ourselves and to others. It is true that Freud is no longer
intellectually respectable outside the worse sort of English
department - but our whole manner of speech and casual thought - our
casual "folk psychoanalysis" takes much from Freud.
Of course, there is a profound concept of "3rd party access to the
interiority of the other" in Japan - but it is a rather different
one. It rests - I suspect - ultimately on the sheer unknowability of
the other and the lack of communicability of their emotions, desires
and needs. What is the most stressful thing for a Japanese person?
Well - I have asked many of them - and it all comes back to
"understanding what the other person is thinking". "Why don't you ask
them?" one asks, in one's naive, empiricist way - and the answer
usually comes down to "because it would make them angry" - which
seems to be related in part to the other party not always really
"knowing" in any epistemically rich sense what their needs and
desires are, and thus being quite unable to communicate them.
One could extend the argument to note that many Japanese people I
know seem to have a different attitude to "utterances". Words - all
linguistic utterances - stand and fall by themselves - they have a
life of their own slightly apart from whether or not they are
invested with sincerity. "Does he mean it from his heart" seems
often to be of less concern. (This is not a pejorative remark - I am
not suggesting Japanese people are insincere). What is often
important is that the right thing was said at the right time.
Alright - that's enough "noting" of wildish generalisations - one
could argue that the Japanese get on well with computers because they
can relax with them precisely because they believe they DON'T have an
ineffable inner life that is incommunicable but which requires
consideration. (This is close to what the Economist was arguing in
its notorious - but containing a grain of truth - article about why
elderly Japanese might prefer to be nursed by a robot.) Further -
what is uttered (by a robot) is not any the less "sincere" because it
comes from a robot - because the question of sincerity simply does
not arise, even implicitly. Can one have a relationship with it? Yes
- because a relationship does not imply any profound access to it's
interior life that is separate from its utterances. One can simply
take it at face value - and because it is a machine it is
predictable. Of course one can invest it with feelings, quite
naturally, at a playful level ("He's hungry", one says un-self
consciously as one's aibo marches to the corner to plug himself in
for a recharge.)
Now - why is this, also, a load of cobblers as an approach?
Well - because there is far, far easier fruit to pick. Why are the
Japanese happy with computers in every day life?
BECAUSE THEY ARE WELL DESIGNED, WELL MARKETED, PARTICULARLY TO WOMEN,
WELL SERVICED, RELIABLE AND DO WHAT THEY WANT THEM TO DO.
And that is not the case in many western countries. And until it is,
we need not concern ourselves greatly with any deeper explanations.
(When Sony release an Ai-jin-bo - that's when ubicomp will have
On 24 Mar 2007, at 16:53, Robert Ness wrote:
> We are a mobile marketing startup in China. One of our principals
> research on the cultural trends in network technology in China.
> some of that work has brushed up against Japanese culture and its
> relationship with ubicomp and lbs, and the result was this memo.
> We would
> love to hear the Keitai-L's communities feedback, for we are no
> where close
> to experts on Japanese culture. Thank you, see below.
> Shintoism's concept of place and things and implications to
> applications of
> ubicomp and location-based mobile technology.
> Shinto involves the worship of kami (神), or gods. According to
> "Some kami are local and can be regarded as the spirit or genius of a
> particular place, but other ones represent major natural objects and
> processes". This is a cultural and religious contribution to the
> conversation on the relationship between the virtual world and the
> Kami can be defined as virtual objects because they cannot be
> through the naked senses, but are nonetheless we perceive them
> mentally and
> they have specific qualities in our imaginations. A kami is a body of
> virtual qualities ascribed to a physical object or place.
> Locational and object-based characteristics of Shintoism originated in
> shamanic beliefs brought from the Continent (China) and the Korean
> peninsula. At first this was worship of kami who inhabited things.
> Ceremonies were held outside before iwakuras, a small space or
> alter made
> of stones. After the arrival of Buddhism, the idea of building
> for kami arose and shrines were built.
> The development of Shintoism has been intertwined with Chinese
> Buddhism as
> well as other Chinese philosophies, and is generally part of the
> Chinese-born idea of a monist nature of existence (天人合一, man
> and nature are
> one) that has influenced many belief systems in East Asia (though
> it should
> be point out that this way of thinking has largely been lost in
> present day
> The most interestingly theme in Shintoism is reverence for nature and
> natural beauty. Thus kami are ascribed to objects and places that are
> striking in their natural beauty. More interestingly, Wikipedia
> quotes, "As
> time went by, the original nature-worshipping roots of the
> religion, while
> never lost entirely, became attenuated and the kami took on more
> reified and
> anthropomorphic forms, with a formidable corpus of myth attached to
> I feel this implies that kami could easily be perceived in urban
> especially with high-tech themes. Moreover, the reification,
> anthropomorphism, and myth have direct implications to digital
> and story-based events such as urban gaming.
> Modern day Shinto is better viewed as a cultural mindset than as a
> religion. In other words, it is an implicit factor affecting
> rather than an explicit set of goals (such as do something so you
> can get to
> Heaven and avoid Hell). This is highlighted in the fact that
> belief in Shinto as a dogmatic religion has declined since the War
> while use
> of Shinto artifacts, participation in ceremonies, and other Shinto
> have remained popular.
> The implication here is a unique cultural openness of the Japanese to
> growing Ubicomp applications. The kami represent a cultural
> precedent for
> ascribing virtual qualities to real objects. The fact that
> Shintoism is a
> way of thinking rather than a dogmatic religion has the potential for
> innovating on Shinto concepts in the design of Ubicomp and location-
> applications without fear of treading on the sacred (although
> and respect are still required).
> Robert Osazuwa Ness
> mobile: +86.15951775747
> Blog: www.thechinaventure.com
> Podcast: China Businesscast www.danwei.org/danwei_fm
> Skype: robert_ness
> Skype in: +1.717.798.8559
> MSN: robert_ness_at_hotmail.com
> Mail: Hopkings Nanjing Center,
> Nanjing University, 126 Shanghai Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu, PRC, 210093
> This mail was sent to address nick_at_kyushu.com
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Received on Sun Mar 25 05:18:53 2007