Climbing the Ladder with 22 steps

Climbing the Ladder with 22 steps

Table of Contents (目次 Eyes-Next )

Chapter 1: The Inscription Sitting-to-our-Right 座右の銘 (Our Motto)

Chapter 2: The Value of Our Existence as Human-Beings 我が人生の存在価値

Chapter 3: The Ki-Merging Path 氣に合するの道 (Aikido 合氣道)

Chapter 4: Mind-Body Integrated-as-One 心身統一

Chapter 5: The One-Point Below-the-Navel 臍下の一点

Chapter 6: Relax リラックス

Chapter 7: Falling-quiet Reaching-stability 落ち着き (Calming-Down)

Chapter 8: Positive Human-Life プラスの人生

Chapter 9: Sunk-in-a-Place Meaning-Knowing 潜在意識 (Subconscious Awareness)

Chapter 10: The Principle of non-Conflict 争わざるの理 (The Principle of non-Competition)

Chapter 11: The Root-Quality of Ki 氣の本質

Chapter 12: The Ki Method of Body-Manipulation  氣の体操法 (Ki Gymnastics)

Chapter 13: Quiet-Movement One-Match 静動一致 (Dynamic-Static Consistency)

Chapter 14: The Un-Moving Mind-heart 不動心 (NOT unmoved!)

Chapter 15: The Ki Method of Calling-out-Taking-in  氣の呼吸法 (=The Ki Method of Breathing)

Chapter 16: The Ki Method of Pressure 氣圧法

Chapter 17: The Spirit-Like Mind-heart 霊性心 (the Spirit (霊) is aligned (並) with the Rain (雨))

Chapter 18: The Path-Seeking Mind-heart 求道心 (Centri-Petal Force = Center-Seeking Force 求心力)

Chapter 19: The Power of Thought 念の力 (Thought refers to Attention made up of Now (今) Mind-heart (心))

Chapter 20: Virtue-in-the-Shadows 陰徳

Chapter 21: The Path of Explaining 説道

Chapter 22: The Ki Test 氣のテスト

Post scriptum: This will be continuously updated as I climb up and down in dialogue with each step.

Sun-rooted Language and People 2

Mutual-Deference Spirit-God (互譲の精神): Let each other's light shine

Mutual-Deference Spirit-God (互譲の精神): Let each other’s light shine


This will be about Sun-Rooted People Theory (日本人論).

This topic is something that can be discussed from two perspectives involving either:

  1. the political history or
  2. the religion (of a people).

Japan (like many, many other nation-states) was made up of little, small Countries (国=kuni). It didn’t use to be the whole Japanese chain of islands from

  • the contested Northern Territories / Kurile Islands in the north to
  • the contested… islands to the south of Okinawa. (What do we call the southern islands? Senkaku or Diaoyu? Who is “we”?)

The concept of Japan (Nihon-koku 日本国 Sun-Rooted-Country) as the chain-of-islands (and not a mosaic of prefecture-sized countries) is very modern (post-1860s).

At some point somebody started calling all this a “country”.

When did this happen? It started when other people (other countries) start coming in.

The Bright-Fixing Time-Era (明治時代 Meiji-Jidai) is the most conspicuous point when Sun-Rooted People Theories begin to take root, but the seeds were there already.

The notion had been entertained since

  1. at least Edo (Bay-Door 江戸, currently known as the Eastern-Capital 東京 (Tokyo)) and
  2. probably going back as far as Heian (平安 Peace-Rest) period, when the emperor was located in Kyoto (Capital-Metropolis 京都).

Let us remember that the emperor is descended from the Sun (Amaterasu 天照 Sky-Illuminating) God.

Let us remember that the emperor’s family lineage can be traced back thousands of years using some scrolls.

Now, you have to understand that in Japan the family scroll business is taken very seriously. Personally, I don’t think it goes back as far as Yayoi (Increasingly-Alive 弥生) period before Christ. It might. I don’t know.

However, for your average Japanese family living nowadays it goes back pretty far into the past. If you don’t believe me, read some anthropological study about the family register system in Japan (koseki 戸籍): The Door-Register for the House-Tribe (家族=family).

I’m not sure whether the current emperor is descended from one specific person living in the 6th or 7th century:

Before Common Era we have Emperor Jinmu (God-Warrior 神武) and in the Common Era we have Emperor Tenmu (Sky-Warrior 天武).

There is a whole book about this.

How is it called? Inscriptions of Old-Things (Kojiki 古事記) written circa 8th century CE.

I will not go into that because I’m not knowledgeable (or smart) about the Old-Things, but I will tell you this:

For the average person living in Japan until Meiji period the above was not common knowledge and the sense of identity was perhaps different from what the current Japanese people feel about Nihonjin (the Sun-Rooted People).

Since the Bright-Fixing (Meiji 明治), when there were conscious efforts at state-building, the Sun-Rooted Theory had to be emphasized with a great deal of attention paid to those Western powers threatening to break up the country, like they were doing with the Middle-Country (China 中国).

Recall that at this point (at the end of the 19th century), whereas

  • in Europe the Western powers (and Russia) are scrambling to gobble up parts of Turkey (the Ottoman Empire, which, by the way, included some parts of Romania),
  • in Asia the Western powers (and Russia) are just pushing into China (Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, Port Arthur…).

If you’re an Asian person at the end of the 19th century, you see that people coming from across the ocean try to plant colonies in your country, the way they did in the United States 200 years before.

What happened in the United States, in what was called America?

Why was it called America? Because of the name of some guy from Europe.

Let us remember the names and their etymology.

The name of the country was decided by those White guys coming from Europe.

So how do you feel if you’re in the Sun-Rooted Country?

  • Will you bow your head to these guys?
  • Will you let them settle in and try to make inroads into your country?
  • Is it safe (to let them)?

Obviously, the Tokugawa (Virtue-River) family thought it was not, so for 250 years Japan becomes “Closed” (Chained-Country sakoku 鎖国).

While the Sun-Rooted People prepared to fight the foreigners, they also fought to assimilate (by force of arms) other people nearby such as the Ryukyu people (Kingdom of Okinawa) and the Ainu people. The Sun-Rooted People had to come together and this is when the Sun-Rooted People Theory came in as a unifying concept.

The Sun-Rooted People Theory goes through cycles of positive and negative feelings.

The Meiji period (the Bright-Healing 明治) starts with the BAD feeling that we (the Japanese, the Sun-Rooted People) are inferior, uncivilised in some ways. By “uncivilised” it was meant

“we may lose in the battle for survival with the other races, so we need to adopt some of the techniques of those other guys, because ours are not as perfect (although we will keep ours in store)”.

Then we have re-discovery of a GOOD feeling once we (the Japanese, the Sun-Rooted People) managed to copy the Western know-how and technology and combined it with the Sun-Rooted Theory to make Japan strong. We felt confident enough to spread Sun-Rooted People Theory across Asia.

The problem is that we tried to spread the same spirit of aggressiveness which, take note, was

  • the same as the one Japan had feared,
  • the same which inspired the Sun-Rooted People to become strong.

This GOOD feeling about our own Sun-Rootedness also inspired us to attack weaker places by creating

a huge wave of enthusiasm and patriotic fervour which swept the whole chain of islands of Sun-Rooted People and threw them like a wave across Asia, until they smashed upon the rocks of their own arrogance and the rocks of a different people…

As soon as this wave breaks, the Sun-Rooted People think that their Sun-Rooted Theory is trash, so we have (again) a BAD feeling about ourselves as we have to ask

Who made the Sun-Rooted Country bad?

For several decades after the war everybody goes through a phase of self-recrimination, but then we reach the economic boom of the late 60s: The miracle of Asia.

This is a time during which the Sun-Rooted People produce such a huge amount of wealth for themselves and (in some ways) for many other people that one cannot help but feel GOOD about oneself as we see the name “Japan” on

  1. so many things that
  2. so many people in
  3. so many countries used.

This phase lasts until the 80s when the bubble bursts and Japan finds itself in the current BAD mood:

A cyclical return since things eternally recur.

Why was the Sun-Rooted Country in the gutter (again)?

  • Over protectionism?
  • Too much confidence in land prices going up in Ginza (Silver-Sitting 銀座)?

Fast-forward a quarter of a century later where the mood may be swinging again to a positive one. The Sun-Rooted People have started to think that the Sun-Rooted Theory has some GOOD parts which could be adopted by the rest of the world.

What are the GOOD parts which can become models for others to follow?

These can be found in that tradition which had been held in store for so long, from before that time when new stuff was brought in to protect the Sun-Rooted People in the 19th century.

There is more to be found within the Sun-Rooted Theory. It’s not limited to showing you how to make a really good car. Somebody had developed in this land a method on how to approach things:

  • zen (禅 Meditation)
  • zen (善 Good)
  • zen (全 All)
  • zen (漸 Gradual)
  • zen (然 Just-so)

We need to remember the principles and the paths which our ancestors everywhere have walked to enable us to arrive here.

Where is “here”? This is the Land of the Rising Sun and the Rising Sun does not mean conquering and subjugating other people. It means

  1. shining a light upon other people (where possible), and
  2. holding a mirror to ourselves to see the light shone back, and
  3. allowing that other humans such as ourselves have also come from the same place, and
  4. being in this world together we should let others’ light shine upon us.

Hopefully this dialogue of lights will reach some resonance point to allow us to live in harmony and peace, Sun-Rooted People, Middle-Country People, everybody coming together, as One.

tinerete fara batranete cu broaste testoase si cocori

Permiteti-mi sa va mai torc un fir de poveste.

Asadar, se spune ca demult tare demult, intr-un sat de pescari din Kagoshima (Insula Caprioarei) traia un flacau voinic pe numele sau, Urashima (Insula-Brat-de-mare).

Cu fiecare revarsat al zorilor, neintinat de efectul de sera, Urashima isi lua ramas-bun de la batrana sa mama si pleca cu barca sa in larg, sa-si arunce plasele de pescuit.

Intr-o buna zi (fac o paranteza pentru a ma certa cu un nene care spune ca afirmatia “intr-o buna zi” este extrem de inselatoare, cele mai multe intamplari care incep cu ea terminandu-se ingrozitor de prost. Nu domnule, zic eu, orice noua zi e buna, indiferent cum se termina ea, gata, acum ca l-am bestelit ma-ntorc la poveste, ca-nainte mult mai este) Urashima nu putu sa iasa pe mare cu barca sa din cauza unei furtuni ce ridica talazuri uriase.

Furtuna continua cateva zile, pana cand, intr-o seara, Urashima si mama lui realizara ca vor ramane fara provizii si vor fi condamnati sa flamanzeasca incepand cu ziua urmatoare.

Urmatoarea zi insa, marea se linisti ca prin farmec si Urashima pleca bucuros la pescuit cu primele raze de soare. Cu toate acestea in plasele sale nu se prinse nimic toata ziua in afara unei uriase broaste testoase, pe care pescarul nostru, milos, o elibera redand-o valurilor.

Amurgul il gasi intorcandu-se catranit la casa sa, si, ca un facut, vremea se inrautati iarasi.

In zorii zilei urmatoare, Urashima se duse la tarm sa priveasca marea ce-l napastuia astfel; deodata, din spuma valurilor se intrupa o forma zvelta ce se infatisa in fata ochilor larg-deschisi de uimire ai lui Urashima, si ii grai astfel:

Eu sunt printesa marii si vreau sa-ti rasplatesc fapta ta marinimoasa de a ma fi redat tatalui meu atunci cand m-am prins in plasa ta.

Primeste a veni cu mine in fundul marii unde tatal meu locuieste intr-un castel de margean.

Urashima ezita o clipa, dar printesa intelegandu-l il linisti spunandu-i ca mama sa va avea toate cele necesare traiului si apoi, Urashima se va putea intoarce oricand va pofti.

Cei doi pierira in valuri si Urashima putu contempla minunile unei lumi peste care plutise o viata intreaga fara a-i banui adancimile. In palatul regelui dragon un urias banchet fu pregatit in cinstea celui ce o crutase pe printesa si Urashima fu atat de captivat de toate cele ce se infatisau ochilor sai incat statu timp de trei ani, si nu doar trei zile asa cum isi propusese initial.

La capatul celor trei ani ceru ingaduinta de a se intoarce in satul sau si printesa i-o acorda, daruindu-i o cutioara cu trei sertarase pe care ii spuse ca o poate deschide oricand se va afla la ananghie.

Urashima pasi din nou pe tarmul pe care-l lasase in urma cu trei ani, si se indrepta grabit catre catunul sau, observand cu mirare cum copacii si raurile pe langa care copilarise, isi schimbasera forma considerabil.

Ajungand langa un ogor pe care trudea un mosneag pe care nu-si amintea sa-l fi zarit vreodata, desi credea a cunoaste fiecare membru al satului, pescarul nostru il intreba pe acesta daca stie unde se afla coliba lui Urashima.

Batranul ii raspunse ca

demult acea asezare a fost napadita de buruieni si nimeni nu mai traieste acolo, el insusi nestiiind decat din legende despre un Urashima ce ar fi fost rapit de printesa marii pe vremea bunilor sai.

Urashima pleca si se convinse de adevarul spuselor mosneagului privind gradina fostei sale case, neintelegand cum se intamplasera atatea in doar 3 ani.

In acea clipa isi aminti de cutia daruita de printesa marii, si

  1. deschise primul sertar din care cazu o pana de cocor;
  2. nedumerit, deschise si cel de-al doilea sertar din care un fum alb iesi invaluindu-l;
  3. indata ce acest abur se risipi, deschise si ultimul sertar in care gasi o oglinda, in care privindu-se, se vazu batran cu parul si barba albe.

O pala de vant iscata din senin, ridica pana de cocor si i-o aseza pe spate; in acelasi moment Urashima se transforma intr-un cocor ce-si lua zborul.

Printesa marii, iesita dintre valuri, il urmari cu ochii pana cand cocorul disparu catre apus…

Variante ale tineretii fara batranete si vietii fara de moarte, din care si noi parem a trai una pana cand deschidem un sertar, o cutie sau (de ce nu?) un sotron prafuit al mintii.

Sun-Root Language and People (1)

(Very distant) hydrogen explosions

(Very distant) hydrogen explosions

Now I’m going to talk a little bit about my Master thesis, which is one of the few things I published [“on paper” as opposed to “on the Internet”] in an obscure university journal that nobody reads.

What did I write about? Well, I wrote about this thing called nihonjin-ron (which is “Sun-Root-People Theory” 日本人論), about Japanese-ness (Japanese identity).

I’m going to talk a little about the Sun-Root-Language (= Japanese language 日本語).

I’m trying to show you how it would sound if we talked in kanji (Chinese-Characters, ideographs, 漢字) using a different reading, using English word-sounds instead of Japanese.

We have “thank you” in English. What do we have in Japanese?

We have “[there] is a Difficult-Polite-Sitting” (arigato gozaimasu 有り難う御座います)

“[It is] Difficult to Be [as I am] Politely Sitting [in your presence]”.

Thank you: You have placed a burden on me, so it is difficult to be sitting here. Arigato gozaimasu.

We could call Japanese “the Sun-Root Language” (nihongo 日本語). I’ll have to Google this and see if somebody else came up with this idea.

Later: Not really, unless you count Japanese-English dictionaries. However, Sun-Root People (i.e., the Japanese) yielded the following fragment describing Chinese experience with Japan in the 1930s:

One other creature joined this small company of a student bachelor with his two servants, a little dog so wise and graceful, so unreal, that at times it seemed as if he were one of the traditional sculptured lion-dogs come to life.

He was indeed a lion-dog, and the breed had come from Lhassa; so his forbears had been Tibetan.

Erh Niu was his enigmatic name. It meant merely “Bullock Two,” or else “Bull the Second.” […]

In time we became quite used to Japanese air-planes passing in flight over the still peaceful city, bent on more distant missions with their deadly cargoes.

At such times Hsu Jung would hug Erh Niu tight, or go over to him as he lay in his round basket, and pointing to the airplane cry:

“There are cats, CATS, within the Sun-Root People’s flying boat”

(The Japanese lived in the east, which is, of course, the quarter of origin of the sun.)

Erh Niu never failed to try to frighten them off, and this always cheered us all. For we loved our dog, and of course we knew the Chinese proverb:

“Cats shift houses (in time of adversity); dogs do not shift houses.”

Source: Kates, George N. 1952. The Years That Were Fat: Peking, 1933-1940, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Back to Japanese-ness (Sun-Root-People Theory nihonjin-ron 日本人論).

I wrote (in English) about what (Japanese people think) it means to be Japanese.

Of course, there is a lengthy theory (a “discourse”) in each country which attempts to capture the respective (real, imagined, or in-between) national character

Romanian Theory :“surviving as an island of Latin culture surrounded by Slavic societies”

Greek Theory: “fountain of democracy resisting despotism across the ages”

Native Americans: “the proud people who fought a losing battle against the Civilised Whites pushing into the Wild West”

The Japanese identity discourse has been given its current form at the Bright-Healing Time-Period (Meiji Jidai 明治時代).

The second character in mei-ji is naoru/naosu (治る / 治す). The former is intransitive while the latter is transitive, so it can be translated as “Getting better” by oneself or “Fixing” by another (knowledgeable) agent.

Therefore, Meiji was the Bright-Fixing, the Bright-Getting-Better.

Before Meiji, we had the Edo Jidai (Bay-Entrance Time-Period 江戸時代), which simply reflects the political reality of

switching the centre from the imperial capital (Kyoto Capital-Metropolis 京都) to Edo (currently known as Tokyo East-Capital 東京)

but if we consider the ruling family for most of the period, then we are talking about the Virtue-River (Tokugawa 徳川) dynasty.

This is followed by the Bright-Fixing, so there must have been some mistake. What was the mistake?

The mistake was Closing the Country (sakoku 鎖国).

When we use sakoku, we actually read our our present reality in the past:

“Country” (koku or kuni ) at this point in history referred to what we now call “prefectures” (ken ) or regions. That’s why we had something called hitachi no kuni (Usual-Land Country 常陸国) which is currently Ibaraki prefecture.

So there are many more meanings in Japanese than meet the eye when you see it spelled in Roman characters [the italicised words in these posts].

Why do I speak about Japan(ese) in English? Because I don’t believe that the Japanese are alone; the English (or British) are not alone; the Native Americans are not alone.

Nobody is alone in searching for the way (kyudo-shin 求道心 “Searching-the-Path-Mind).

I wrote this master thesis on Japanese identity and it was interesting to discover that there has been a

recurrence of attaching a positive or a negative value to what it means to be Japanese since the time called the “Bright-Fixing Transition-to-New” (a.k.a., the Meiji Restoration meiji-ishin 明治維新).

Japan has been one since the 1860s, when kuni (country ) symbolising a small part of territory on the islands became koku from nihon-koku (Sun-Root Country 日本国).

The education system was unified, everybody learned standard Japanese, everything was made uniform (and lots of people were made to wear uniforms).

This was good for Japan because it was the only way that the nation could come together as one and resist the encroachment of English, or French, or Portuguese, or Russian, (and even Dutch).

At this time everybody in Western Europe, all the white people in Western Europe were trying to find new places and new people to conquer.

This was a time when many countries were ruled by white people: From Hong Kong to Madagascar to Cuba, the whole of South America (a continent!), then the whole of North America, Indonesia, Australia…

Japanese people living in the 19th century (who were aware of this trend) felt nervous and it was a normal feeling to have in these circumstances.

However, this doesn’t mean that people in Japan should abandon the search for the way (Taoism and Zen) which we had in Japan before this obsession with country started.

Let’s remember our past before Meiji. Not necessarily “We=the Japanese”, but “we=somebody in Japan” (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter):

Musashi (Warrior-Storehouse 武蔵) pointing to the Way of the Warrior or

Sen-Rikyu (a-Thousand-Benefits-of-Rest 千利休) pointing to the Way of the Tea.

Who do we (choose to) remember?

Safety First and mind conditioning

An-zen Dai-ichi: Calm-All Number-One

Safety First: an-zen dai-ichi Calm-All Number-One

If you listen to these recordings (something that I find hard to imagine right now), you might think that

  1. I’m a really smart person (or a person who thinks he is really smart), or
  2. I’m somebody really dumb (who thinks he’s very smart).

I suppose you’ve even swung like a pendulum from one pole to another, from thinking that I’m really smart to thinking that I’m actually really dumb, just pretending (to himself and to others) to be smart.

The truth is a bit more complicated:

I am dumb for some stuff, and  I am smart in some respects, in certain directions.

I assume I know much more about aikido (Ki-Merging Path 合氣道) than a lot of Europeans, and a lot of Americans, and a lot of English speakers in general.

Why? Because I speak Japanese and I can read Japanese, which puts me in a minority (among native speakers of European languages). Nonetheless, anybody in Japan who has taken the trouble to read about aikido would know more than me.

One thing that puzzles me to no end is that very few Japanese people seem to be aware of what aikido could offer Japan.

Aikido is different from judo (Soft-Way 柔道), karate (Empty-Hand 空手) and all the other martial arts which are intrinsically Japanese as they have

all sprung from the same root:

budo (Warrior-Way 武道, which is rendered using two words in English, “martial arts”),

a root from which several branches have developed.

Aikido is different because at least one of its branches (shinshin-toitsu aikido: Mind-Body-Into-One Ki-Merging-Way 心身統一合氣道) presents us with more than just fighting techniques.

Just to be clear, I am talking about this particular branch whenever I talk about aikido. There’s another branch with many more members (in Japan and abroad) which concentrates (like other martial arts or sports) on the actual techniques and does not put much emphasis on aikido as a way of life with its own distinctive philosophical and spiritual aspects.

The names of the several branches developed from old martial arts show you what is considered most important, what is central in each branch:

  • karate using the hands (te )
  • kendo (Sword-Way 剣道) using (nowadays) a bamboo sword (bokuto 木刀 Wood-Long-sword)
  • kyudo (Bow-Way “traditional Japanese archery” 弓道) using the bow (yumi 弓)
  • merging with the ki for aikido (合氣道)…

I happen to know more about the last one, which makes me more smart to some people, but obviously I appear very dumb to anybody who knows more than me about aikido.

Maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe I’m Oriental-ising (the discourse on the Oriental).

Maybe I’m Occidental-ising when I talk about the Western world and its values.

Maybe I’m Romanian-ising when I talk about the Romanians’ passion for jokes.

Of course to the people who belong to that (ethnic, cultural, racial, etc.) group and think they know more than me, to these people I appear very dumb (stating truisms).

On the other hand, for the people who are outside this group (i.e., those who are not Romanian, Westerners, Japanese, or aikido practitioners), to these people I would appear very smart.

So I’m swinging between appearing smart and trying to appear very smart…

Allow me to present you with a concrete example: the slogan.

When we explain (to a Japanese audience) a semantically-loaded concept like “slogan” which is well established in English but has also been borrowed into Japanese (suro-gan), we have to explain that the English “slogan” is rather negative.

Why is it associated with BAD? Because we (in the West) think of slogans as being propaganda-related (e.g., the slogans of the Communist Party).

There is a political background to slogans and their political background is not cute.

We also have advertising slogans: those catchy phrases from the commercials which you can’t remove from your head.

Why are they perceived negatively in English, but not in Japanese? Even towards advertising slogans, you (=the Westerner) would feel quite defensive because they’re taking away your freedom.

Freedom is (of course) a huge value in Anglo culture.

A high-level Anglo cultural script connected with “personal autonomy”

people think like this:

when a person does something, it is good if this person can think about it like this:

“I am doing this because I want to do it” (Goddard 2006: 6)

Why do the slogans take away your freedom?

  • Because in political terms, they take away your freedom to act as an individual.

The crowd chanted slogans: ” Dear leader, dear leader, wise, kind and blessed by the rainbow”

His birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow across the sky over the mountain and a new star in the heavens.

  • Similarly, advertising slogans take away your economic freedom by somehow controlling your wants, your desires.

What do we have in Japan? In Japan we have safety slogans.

“Pointing with the Finger and Calling out loud” (yubi-sashi kosho 指差呼称)

Calling out loud what? “Safety First”, for example (anzen dai-ichi 安全第一).

If you have seen a construction site operated by a Japanese company, you probably saw it written. It’s that common.

It’s a slogan about which everybody in Japan thinks “safety first, perfectly okay”.

It doesn’t have a negative connotation, as it does in English, obviously.

Now it appears that I know more about the Japanese language, if you’re not Japanese.

On the other hand, if you’re Japanese, you might say “okay, I didn’t think about it like that” because now you’ve seen the light shining from “slogan” in English, which is the original coinage, and about whose semantic valencies you haven’t been aware until now.

What if you’re Romanian? Well, same as the Westerners, right? You’re probably thinking

“Why does he have to explain, isn’t it obvious? And what’s with the Japanese?

Aren’t they brainwashed into behaving like robots?

Why is everybody repeating (bleating like sheep) the safety slogans?”

For a Romanian it is very hard to grasp these positive connotations, because it does feel like a form of mind control.

Romanians (and many Westerners) do not realise that it is a form of mind training (brain self-conditioning), which is something you do voluntarily.

Why? Because you’re just trying to get your brain (and your body, 心身統一 shinshin-toitsu Mind-Body-Into-One) to react properly (quickly and automatically) in certain situations.

Pointing and calling out, at the same time, helps people concentrate better; this has been proven in experimental tests.

Let’s say that you’re about to press a button which will lower a 20-tonne stamping die onto a sheet of metal which is sitting on another 20-tonne die.

Is everything as it should be, is everything set up correctly?

Or is it possible that there will be a problem at the time of impact between the upper die and the bottom die which is meant to shape that sheet of metal into a car-body part (a fender, a door etc.)?

  1. You can check visually, you can have a look and say “Okay, it looks mmkay” and then press a button, or
  2. you may be thinking “Come on, I’ve done this so many times, I’ll just press the button”.

Which one is safer?

The safest way is to include a step whereby somebody is pointing with the finger, so he (she) is following his (her) gaze to the piece of metal inside the stamping press (by the way, “stamping die” is rendered matrita “matrix” in Romanian). You look at it to check if the die will impact in a way that is safe or not.

It is possible that the sheet of metal is set askance (= not properly set), so at the time of impact it’s going to fly and, I don’t know, stab somebody, whatever a-piece-of-metal-flying-from-a-stamping-press-kind-of-accident looks like.

I don’t know because I’ve never seen such an accident, despite working in a stamping die manufacturing factory for a year.

Why didn’t I see an accident? Because everybody was careful, everybody would point first, follow their own gaze, make sure that everything is okay, anzen dai-ichi 安全第一 “Safety-First”, and then press the button.

Which method is going to ensure safety?

  1. The guy who points with the (index) finger and calls out?
  2. Or the guy who’s like “Yeah, I’ve done this many times, I’ll just check it; I don’t have to shout like an idiot, like a robot”?

You’re not a robot; you’re just a human who has conditioned his (her) own brain out of his (her) own accord to ensure that he (she) doesn’t hurt himself (herself) or other people around him (her).

So that’s what the Japanese industrial safety culture means, that’s why slogans have a positive connotation.

This is another area where I may sound more knowledgeable than other people; or maybe not, maybe I sound very dumb, stating the obvious, stating that which is common knowledge in Japan:

だって、常識だもん (datte, joshiki da-mon)

I guess I could continue by contrasting English “common knowledge, common sense” with the Japanese equivalent Always-Knowledge, Permanently-Aware (jo-shiki 常識), but why not stop here?


Goddard, Cliff. 2006. ‘Ethnopragmatics: A new paradigm‘. In Cliff Goddard (ed.), Ethnopragmatics: Understanding Discourse in Cultural Context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 1-30.

Whispering names at dusk

Suppose you want to remember something. How do you do it?

Let us say you want to learn the Chinese-Character (kanji 漢字) for “name” (na or mei 名). What advice do you get from textbooks on “learning Japanese”? The answer (it turns out) is:

You make up a story which “provide a peg on which to hang the recall of the sign in question and its analogues. If all else fails a mnemonic is sometimes offered, even if it is etymologically without substance” [1].

In other words, just spin a yarn centered on that “something” and it doesn’t have to be accurate as long as it’s memorable.

Let’s see an example:

”Comprising the characters for evening ( 夕 ) and mouth ( 口 ); calling out one’s name at night?” [2]

Or if you prefer French:

“A la nuit tombée, dans l’obscurité, le seul moyen de se faire reconnaitre c’est de dire son nom; par extension la réputation qui s’y attache” [3]

Maybe you prefer pictures:

”His name is on everyone’s lips”[4]

The name on everyone's lips

The name on everyone’s lips


And my personal favourite:

”Perhaps you have heard of the custom, still preserved in certain African tribes, of a father creeping into the tent or hut of his newborn child on the night of the child’s birth, to whisper into its ear the name he has chosen for it, before making his choice public. It is an impressive naming custom and fits in tidily with the way this character is constructed: evening mouth. At evening time, a mouth pronounces the name that will accompany one throughout life.”[5]

[1] Martin Lam and Shimizu Kaoru, Kanji from the Start, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1995, p. 14

[2] Kanji from the Start, p. 133

[3] Jean-Claude Martin, Memento des Kanji utilisés dans la langue Japonaise, Paris: Imprimerie de la Bourse, 1987, p. 14

[4] Michael Rowley, Kanji Pict・O・Graphix, Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 1992, p. 102

[5] James W. Heisig, Remembering the Kanji, Vol. 1, Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading Co., 2001, pp. 61-62 .

How to communicate indecisiveness in English (and sound cautious in Japanese)

Having fun with words:

With back-translation you’re trying to guess what the original writer tried to say (in Japanese) based on the translation (in English).

Let’s put the English text (good luck trying to figure out the meaning) next to my Japanese translation:

 “It isn’t that we can’t do it this way,” one Japanese will say.

“Of course,” replies his companion, ”we couldn’t deny that it would be impossible to say that it couldn’t be done.”

“But unless we can say that it can’t be done,” his friend adds, “it would be impossible not to admit that we couldn’t avoid doing it.”

(Gibney cited in Clancy 1986: 214)

太郎: こうやってできない事はないけど

次郎: もちろん、できないと言い切るのは無理だと否定できない

太郎: 但し、できないと言い切れないなら、やらざるを得なかったと認めずにはいられない。



Clancy, Patricia. 1986. ‘The acquisition of communicative style in Japanese’. In Bambi Shieffelin & Eleanor Ochs (eds) Language Socialization Across Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 213-250.