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Thread: Japanese express emotions by facial expressions and music rather than words

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Post Japanese express emotions by facial expressions and music rather than words

    First, I started analysing "emotion words" in Japanese. You can have a look here. I've concluded that they were much less numerous than in English, and even basic verbs describing the way of looking, walking or laughing didn't convey nuances in feelings in Japanesecheck here. In English, "stare", "gape" and "gaze" all mean look fixedly ("jitto miru"), but "stare" is unpleasant or embrassing for the person who is stared at, while "gaze" express admiration and "gape" has the feeling of suprise or wonder (so that the mouth is wide open).

    I am not going to make a list of all words, but my impression of Japanese, after living 2 years in Japan, hearing and speaking it everyday, is that words are more repetitive than in English, not only because they are less numerous, but because Japanese tend not to use lots of formal kanji compound (more literary or old fashioned).

    As I was watching Japanese TV programmes and anime, it dawned on me that Japanese expressed their feelings with gestures, strong facial expressions and emotional tone of voice, to compensate the absence of adequate words. So, when an English speaker says "remarkable, fantastic, wonderful, marvelous, amazing, awesome, breathtaking, sensational, stupendous, phenomenal, extraordinary, miraculous, prodigious, excellent, superb, outstanding, dazzling, magnificient, exquisite, super, fab(ulous), brill(iant), ace or wicked", in Japanese it's always "sugoi" - or "subarashii", but with a different tone of voice and facial expression.

    In several dramas and anime, music is extremely important to give the right feeling. Without the music, it would probably be plain boring.

    Japanese have been sucessful in the comics industry, because they know that facial expression is the key to conveying emotions without words. Anybody can read "some" (not all) manga and understand what's going on just by looking at the facial expression of the character. There are lot's of agreed signs that each express a particular emotion : red patch on the forehead or fist = anger, drops running on the temple and cheek = embarassment, nose bleeding = sexual excitment, green or purple face/cheeks/forehead = disgust or fear, blushing and crying are just what they are, etc.

    Modern Japanese language lacks diversity, which is why there are few world-class Japanese writers, orators or actors, eventhough it's one of the world most populous and most developed country. That's also why Japanese are bad at learning languages.

    I've often compared Japanese to Italians. When my parents came to Japan a few months ago, though I hadn't told them about my comparison, their opinion after their stay was that Japanese are similar to Italians for their extrovertedness. That might surprise those of you who've only known Japanese outside Japan, as Japanese tend to be much more introverted and shy when they aren't together or have to speak a foreign language (especially one like English that they can't pronounced, so they have a hard time giving emotions in the tone of their voice).

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    Regular Member tasuki's Avatar
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    My time here couldn't have brought me to more different conclusions... Because, as far as gesturing and expressing emotions through facial expressions, while comedians, anime, and manga may be good in rendering it, I think we haven't been hanging around the same type of people, because after living here for almost six years, I've come to the conclusion that Japanese are amongst the most expressionless people I've come across.

    While most African cultures, a good portion of North Americans, and a good deal of Europeans (French, Spanish, and Greeks, to name just a few) tend to gesticulate a lot, guffaw, move, mimic, shout, touch, and kiss when they get together, I can't really bring myself around to thinking this describes Japanese. If we exculde drunken men, bousouzoku, chattering school girls, and TV personalities, who do not constitute the majority of Japanese society, Japanese don't touch or kiss casually, almost don't gesticulate (while conversing in Japanese, mind you, hand movement is kept to a minimum compared to what I'm used to), do not overtly laugh (polite women hide their mouths when they do, though that's changing; but I've never seen a Japanese guffaw and turn red from laughing, which just one evening amongst friends back home will happen at least once), don't make sudden movements, and their faces are masks of expressionlessness that very rarely go beyond a smile or puzzled expression (they don't pout, frown, squint, make disgusted faces, bored faces...).

    At least thay what my time here has imparted on me, maybe yours is different...
    Last edited by tasuki; Jul 25, 2003 at 17:55.
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    Regular Member Sekabin's Avatar
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    Interesting topic (although I've never heard anyone exclaim 'prodigious'! ;) )

    However, surely the lack of 'world class authors' is more to do with the lack of good translators, and the subtle complexities of the Japanese language?

    Does 'world class' literature mean 'literature written/translated in english', or at the very least euro-american?

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    I can't count the number of times I have gotten into trouble with my facial expressions. To me, the Japanese put so much emphasis on facial expression, it's ridiculous. I don't think the Japanese use facial expressions a lot, but when they do, it's taken way too seriously. I once had my husband blame our friends leaving our house simply because of the "crease between my eyebrows". That was when I got my first dose of reality of the cultural differences between my husband and me. I sat quietly for a couple of hours listening to my husband and our friends speak in nothing but Japanese--them not even considering my not being able to understand or speak it at all then--and just because I might have shown a tad bit of irritation on my face near the end, they got up and left. My husband's reasoning, they got up because of that one facial expression.

    On another note, when my husband and I started dating, he always held my hand in public, kissed me in public, put his arm around me, etc., because he said he felt he could do it more openly here than in Japan. Maybe around Tokyo, people do that, but my husband is more from the country, and to him, he didn't feel completely free to showing his affection in public at all, and was happy to do so here.

    Personally, it's the expressionlessness that is an ongoing problem for me. To me, the Japanese don't communicate at all. At least, not as far as I'm concerned. They might on a superficial level, but I think it is somewhat rare for them to have in depth conversations, and genuinely express themselves, and tell their true feelings. You know, how many times have I heard "well, I don't want to tell you about bad things" and stuff like that. They are constantly worrying about what the other person thinks. I mean, that's good sometimes, but sometimes, it just doesn't work and comes off as being phony.

    Of course, I can only base my findings on my husband, his co-workers, and the many other Japanese friends I have that I can talk to about this kind of thing.
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  5. #5
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Sekabin
    Interesting topic (although I've never heard anyone exclaim 'prodigious'! ;) )
    I might...

    However, surely the lack of 'world class authors' is more to do with the lack of good translators, and the subtle complexities of the Japanese language?
    Well, do you know many Japanese authors ? People who arent interested in Japan usually don't know any Japanese writers, even if they like literature. In Japan, most people know the European classics : Shakespeare, Hugo, Cervantes, the Brothers Grimm, Andersen or Tolstoi, just to name a few in different countries. They also know Ancient writers or philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle... But even me, with an interest in literature, can hardly name more than a few Japanese writers before Meiji. Most modern authors haven't made their way in encyclopedias in English yet (I checked a few online ones that are otherwise very complete).

    No, you can find translations in English of most works nowadays. There are also lots of bilingual books, but once again almost always for Western authors translated in Japanese - and reading English in Japanese is losing half of it, you know... What's interesting is the old-fashioned tone, the richness of its language and words that aren't used anymore. It's untranslatable. I am just taking this example because it's more famous, but it's true for lots of authors in any languages.

  6. #6
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by tasuki

    Japanese don't touch or kiss casually, almost don't gesticulate (while conversing in Japanese, mind you, hand movement is kept to a minimum compared to what I'm used to), do not overtly laugh (polite women hide their mouths when they do, though that's changing; but I've never seen a Japanese guffaw and turn red from laughing, which just one evening amongst friends back home will happen at least once), don't make sudden movements, and their faces are masks of expressionlessness that very rarely go beyond a smile or puzzled expression (they don't pout, frown, squint, make disgusted faces, bored faces...).
    Alrigt, Japanese don't touch or kiss, but that's not necessary to express raw emotions. What you cite are cultural differences. Japanese are more subtle and careful as not to shock other people, but I can assure you that they do shout and guffaw. Haven't you been to an Izakaya ? Ah yeah, you said if you exclude drunk men, but I have never seen as many drunken people as in Tokyo the evening. But you haven't lived in Tokyo if I remember well. Salarymen need to relieve their day stress by drinking, and though Japanese people's tolerance to alcohol may be lower than that of Westerners, they do drink a lot - but don't assume for their behaviour afterwards...

    Some Japanese are very expressionless, but most make bored or disgusted face, exclaim "sugoi" with deep feeling in their voice, women almost feel like crying when they say "kowai" and girls tap their feet when they say "kawaii" for anything (for this they are much more expressive than Western girls).

    Japanese sensitivity is different, but I found that the emotion in their voice (in Japanese only and when they are in a relax situation, not at work) exceed that of French, Spanish or American people. It's not because Japanese don't get violent, threaten or insult people that they are not expressive. I often find that it's easier for lots of Westerners or Middle-Eastern people to express their bad feelings, but can't express their positive emotions. Japanese do they opposite ; they keep the bad for themselves (except bullying grandmothers or male children), and exaggerate the positive ones (+ basic emotions like surprise, fear or approvement).

    But again, what you say isn't false. Japanese don't turn red from laughing, don't make sudden movement or rarely frown, but I wonder if that isn't for physiological reasons (what about people of Japanese, Korean or Chinese origin raised in Western countries ? Do they turn red or frown ?).

    What point was especially that Japanese language lacking nuances to express feelings and emotions (compared to English, which is quite rich, even by European standard), Japanese had to use music and exaggerated facial expressions and tones of voice to keep the audience interested on TV or in mangas. It doesn't mean it's natural, but they have to compensate for their language. Now I realised that t may justly be dued to the restriction of expressions in their culture (especially at work), or because of a natural lack of expressiveness, which ultimately affected the language itself. But they now have to compensate in the entertainment business and need to exaggerate everything to make it powerful enough emotionally (always using basic emotions like anger, fear, love, jealousy or amusement).

  7. #7
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by kirei_na_me

    On another note, when my husband and I started dating, he always held my hand in public, kissed me in public, put his arm around me, etc., because he said he felt he could do it more openly here than in Japan. Maybe around Tokyo, people do that, but my husband is more from the country, and to him, he didn't feel completely free to showing his affection in public at all, and was happy to do so here.
    Same for my wife. Well, now she doesn't mind showing affection in public, but it depends a bit on her mood. I've seen lots of Japanese teens holding hands, hugging or kissing in the street in Tokyo. The younger, the easier.

    Personally, it's the expressionlessness that is an ongoing problem for me. To me, the Japanese don't communicate at all. At least, not as far as I'm concerned. They might on a superficial level, but I think it is somewhat rare for them to have in depth conversations, and genuinely express themselves, and tell their true feelings. You know, how many times have I heard "well, I don't want to tell you about bad things" and stuff like that. They are constantly worrying about what the other person thinks. I mean, that's good sometimes, but sometimes, it just doesn't work and comes off as being phony.
    This is because Japanese can't express their negative feelings. They expect other people to understand. That's the tougher part and I also feel disconcenrted. It's important to see that if a Japanese doesn't express his/her feelings with some eagerness, they are not feeling vey positively about the situation. If you ask someone if they want to do something, they should almost applause your idea to show they agree. If they don't say anything and say "yes" in a covert voice, it almost certainly means "no". But it's not good in Japanese culture to express negative emotions, so that they just shut up and won't speak abou it even if you ask again and again how they feel about it. Silence means trouble, and it's up to the other party to find what is the problem and change the situation.

    Men have usually more difficult to express their feelings and easier to express logical ideas, but that's universal, not peculiar to Japan.

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    Regular Member Sekabin's Avatar
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    Hmm, a few of thoughts spring to mind. Firstly, we should be careful about generalising about a whole nation's peoples - there are surely *some* people who laugh, gufaw etc in certain circumstances, and others who don't. That's the same everywhere (but we knew that anyway )

    Secondly, it's often easy to 'read back' from a current cultural/linguistic form (eg manga, anime, tv) and construct a reasoning behind it, that may not be correct. There could be lots of reasons why there's particular music in anime/dramas that have nothing to do with people having difficulty in showing emotions for example. I don't know what they are of course!



    I'm not sure it's possible to compare the popularity of European literature in Japan and the popularity of Japanese literature in Europe... there's a power imbalance (and a historical one). Also, there's the availability (according to market?) of the translations of Japanese texts outside of Japan. For example, we can't say that just because there aren't that many University courses on Japanese literature around the world, as opposed to European literature, that it means that Japanese literature is somehow 'inferior'. We should remember that Japanese literature is definitely marginal, in terms of worldwide readership, but this reflects in no way on 'quality'.

    Finally, I'm not totally sure that English (*in use*) is as expressive in it's vocabularly as suggested. Young English people certainly don't say 'prodigious' at all (although I'm happy to read that someone does! )

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    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Originally posted by kirei_na_me

    On another note, when my husband and I started dating, he always held my hand in public, kissed me in public, put his arm around me, etc., because he said he felt he could do it more openly here than in Japan. Maybe around Tokyo, people do that, but my husband is more from the country, and to him, he didn't feel completely free to showing his affection in public at all, and was happy to do so here. [/B]
    I've also engaged in this quite a bit on the streets, buses, and botanical gardens of Tokyo, even with a married man, and was told it was not much of an issue as long as we had moved down the apartment steps and out of the neighbors range. But my own natural inclination is towards emotional reservation and outward inexpressiveness as well, so it's quite fun and bonding within that space to create even very silly or childish funny vocal and facial mannerisms with intimately close Japanese men in particular. They just have to be much more regulated facing crowds or bystanders in public spaces than I think much about here at home.

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    But my own natural inclination is towards emotional reservation and outward inexpressiveness as well, so it's quite fun and bonding within that space to create even very silly or childish funny vocal and facial mannerisms with intimately close Japanese men in particular. They just have to be much more regulated facing crowds or bystanders in public spaces than I think much about here at home.
    Yeah, you're right. I guess with the men in particular--especially the business types--they are expected to be a lot more reserved in that case. I think my husband believed himself to be coming out of his shell completely when he came here. In fact, I think his boss reprimanded him quite a few times for being too friendly! He absolutely hated the fact that my husband would smile when he interacted with his employees.

    I think people might be surprised that Japanese men can be very romantic and very doting and silly(without being intoxicated!). At least as far as mine is concerned. A few other foreigners that are either married or engaged to Japanese guys also say the same thing. I think they get a bad rap sometimes, but that might be for another thread... ;)

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    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo

    This is because Japanese can't express their negative feelings. They expect other people to understand. That's the tougher part and I also feel disconcenrted. It's important to see that if a Japanese doesn't express his/her feelings with some eagerness, they are not feeling vey positively about the situation. If you ask someone if they want to do something, they should almost applause your idea to show they agree. If they don't say anything and say "yes" in a covert voice, it almost certainly means "no".
    Although at the same time there can sometimes be something rather touching and dignified in these social rituals distancing yourself and other people from negative thoughts and feelings. My boyfriend, for instance, once admitted to feeling melancholy a lot of the time but quickly preempted any tenderness on my part by adding that he didn't really mind and in any case wasn't particularly looking to be happy. He also mentions in passing what seems like a very appropriate amount about feeling lonely, bored, worried etc. so I don't know if this is unusual or not.

    And in our case at least much the same dynamic holds sway comes to enthusiasm for a date or excursion. I might mention wanting to do something based on a guidebook description, he'll take a dispassionate look at it, we'll toss the idea around for a five or ten minutes, go on to other things and thirty or forty minutes later he asks out of the blue how long it will take me to get ready. I think that gestation period is built in to give the other person time to back out, or not give the impression he would be giving into a person of lower status or standing. Anyway, such a laid back approach has pretty much grown on me by now -- although I couldn't take it from someone with uninteresting or negligable opinions or who refused on principle to talk about anything personally unpleasant.
    Last edited by Elizabeth; Jul 26, 2003 at 10:15.

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    Silence means trouble, and it's up to the other party to find what is the problem and change the situation.
    Yes, I found out long ago that being married to a Japanese person meant being a mind reader...

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    Regular Member neko_girl22's Avatar
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    Yes, I found out long ago that being married to a Japanese person meant being a mind reader...
    haha...... that was me yesterday night........

    I don't have time to put my 2 cents in, but I'd just like to add my hubby is a mix of all the above - so it's really not a good idea to generalise....


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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Sekabin
    Hmm, a few of thoughts spring to mind. Firstly, we should be careful about generalising about a whole nation's peoples - there are surely *some* people who laugh, gufaw etc in certain circumstances, and others who don't. That's the same everywhere (but we knew that anyway )
    Of course, but we are looking for a trend, not something that applies to evrybody. Who would be follish enough to say to "everybody" behaves like this or like that ?

    I'm not sure it's possible to compare the popularity of European literature in Japan and the popularity of Japanese literature in Europe... there's a power imbalance (and a historical one).
    What about Russian literature ? We could only compare a single country at a time with Japan. Russia has a similar population to Japan, historically, it got it's first kingdom and capital (Kiev) at about the same time as Japan, and Japan had more colonial pretention than Russia (and defeated Russia in 1905). Where is the imbalance ? But still, whereas Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov or Gorky are world famous, no Japanese author really is at a comparable level.

    We should remember that Japanese literature is definitely marginal, in terms of worldwide readership, but this reflects in no way on 'quality'.
    That's a personal issue. But even inside Japan Western authors are more popular than Japanese ones (something that is not near to happen in France). Take Banana Yoshimoto or Haruki Murakami, they are some of the most famous contemporary writers, but my opinion after reading them is that they suck - what can be more banal really ?

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    Regular Member neko_girl22's Avatar
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    What about Mishima? My husband reads his novels Waaay too difficult for me, but I've heard he deals with deep issues etc. But, I didn't really read your post carefully, so perhaps you're not talking about contemporary works.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Yeah, Mishima would be ok, and so would Soseki, Kawabata or Oe, but they are the very few I can think of, and they are all rather contemporary (post-Meiji). It's only natural that modern Japan, which wants to excel in every field, should have a few good writers, but compared to the average in Europe or the US, they are still very few. Japan is not a literary country. That was my point. Language is't that important in Japan. Food, entertainment or business certainly are more. It's part of its cultural specialization. Every culture has its strength and weaknesses.

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    Regular Member neko_girl22's Avatar
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    Hi Maciamo

    Literature reflects the thinking and attitudes of the people and culture. Japanese traditional way of thinking about things is very different to western/european countries. So, they wont be able to relate to what's been written. E.g, Mishima writes about reincarnation and suicide to name but a few subjects - why would that be overly popular with someone who doesn't know anything about Japanese culture?

    I wont get too deep on this, I am no expert hehe

    but, with anything I don't believe in thinking what is popular or what the majority thinks is always the best.

  18. #18
    Regular Member Sekabin's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo
    Of course, but we are looking for a trend, not something that applies to evrybody. Who would be follish enough to say to "everybody" behaves like this or like that ?
    Quite a lot of people unfortunately! Have you seen the Japan Today site recently? ;)

    What about Russian literature ? We could only compare a single country at a time with Japan. Russia has a similar population to Japan, historically, it got it's first kingdom and capital (Kiev) at about the same time as Japan, and Japan had more colonial pretention than Russia (and defeated Russia in 1905). Where is the imbalance ? But still, whereas Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov or Gorky are world famous, no Japanese author really is at a comparable level.
    Ok, I see where you're going here, but let's remember that Russia is part of Europe, so Russian literature was widely read in European countries. Those authors are 'world famous', but where is the 'world'?

    That's a personal issue. But even inside Japan Western authors are more popular than Japanese ones (something that is not near to happen in France).
    Hmm... where did you get this assumption from? Of course as I don't live in Japan I can't say myself, but my partner says that Japanese people know Western literature because they are taught it at school or university, but not so many of them actually read it. At least, translations of Western 'high literature' don't sell very well. Maybe Briget Jones (the equivalent of Banana Yoshimoto?)...

    Sorry for taking this thread off topic! Let's get back to other things

  19. #19
    Regular Member Sekabin's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo
    Yeah, Mishima would be ok, and so would Soseki, Kawabata or Oe, but they are the very few I can think of, and they are all rather contemporary (post-Meiji). It's only natural that modern Japan, which wants to excel in every field, should have a few good writers, but compared to the average in Europe or the US, they are still very few. Japan is not a literary country. That was my point. Language is't that important in Japan. Food, entertainment or business certainly are more. It's part of its cultural specialization. Every culture has its strength and weaknesses.
    Ok, sorry but got to completely disagree with you here. This doesn't read like a 'trend' but an across the board assumption. We could say the same about all sorts of different countries.

    My partner suggests you read Shouno Yoriko's argument about junbungaku, or 'pure literature'. I haven't read it as I don't read Japanese, but apparently it deals with this topic well.


  20. #20
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Originally posted by nzueda
    Hi Maciamo

    Literature reflects the thinking and attitudes of the people and culture. Japanese traditional way of thinking about things is very different to western/european countries. So, they wont be able to relate to what's been written. E.g, Mishima writes about reincarnation and suicide to name but a few subjects - why would that be overly popular with someone who doesn't know anything about Japanese culture?
    Having to defend the world-class standing of Japanese literature is almost incomprehensible to me as well, nzueda.
    Not being intellectual is bad enough, now come to find out Japanese is also too weak and narrow a language to support great prose
    There is hope though. Even supposing there had been nothing but manga and anime after Tale of Genji, that would still be widely considered one of the two or three best novels ever penned. And if the gold-standard is European or American, the best-known post-Meiji writers, such as Tanizaki, Kawabata, Dazai, Mishima, Oe etc while not necessarily studying abroad or absorbing it as unconsciously as their pioneering predecessors Nagai, Ogai, and Soseki (without question a Meiji in spirit even in death two years later) have still almost without exception been grounded in Western influences before turning that over into more traditional, subjective or uniquely experimental Japanese forms. Whether the results will ever agree with the majority of the reading public or not. You may still be able to argue that Oe is the only great name to emerge in the last 30 or so years, since Mishima's death -- but this could be true of Japanese arts across the board, I'm not sure. And his dense style full of allusive, archaic expressions -- similar to Abe Kobo in that way -- is most likely just too difficult for the average person.

    It certainly does take a idiosyncratic sensibility to appreciate the more subtle, relatively nondescriptive ( I would even admit bland and repetitive as well in many cases, such as Shiga or some of Murakami) inward orientation of nearly all Japanese fiction & poetry (somehow they don't do so well in modern drama), though, as compared to those of the West (or probably Chinese in particular). And that would seem to be as good a truism as any to finally put to rest such a bizarre conversation......
    Last edited by Elizabeth; Jul 27, 2003 at 09:03.

  21. #21
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Dear Elizabeth,

    I don't pretend knowing all the Japanese literature, nor even that of any other country (that would be near impossible, especially at my age). What's more, I believe it's always better to read books in their original version to really understand them. A translation is another book. It has happened so many times that a writer unpopulat at home becomes very popular abroad or in a particular country, because the translation was better than the original. I read French author in French, Italian ones in Italian, do my best to read German ones in German, Spanish-speaking ones in Spanish, so as to be fair towars the author.
    Just as an example of how translation can influenced popularity, I've been wondering whether Banana Yoshimoto's Italian translators were so gifted, as she seems so popular in Italy, but otherwise moderately or not at all in other Western countries.

    Every people in every culture have different sensitivities and it's also possible that an author fits better in one specific culture than in another. Then, there are the personal tatses. If it was possible for someone to know all the major literary works in the world (and read them in original version), it would still be impossible to give a impartial view of the quality, since it depends so much of one's personality, sensitivity, experience of life, age, sex...

    All this to say that it is extremely difficult to assess how good some authors are, even more to compare whole countries with each others. Personally, I am more of a historian than a literati. That's why I am just overviewing here the number of prominent writers in each country/region through the history and assess their popularity by how famous they are world-wide, epecially outside their own country. Doing this, I found "Genji monogatari" to be the ultimate classic Japanese book (like Don Quixote in Spain, which also lacks world famous authors). After that, there is a long "blank", possibly because of the military regime since the Kamakura period that didn't see literature as an estimable form of art, and this lasted until the end of the Edo Shogunate. From Meiji onwards, Japan has not just Westernized and industrialized itslef, but it has seen a boom in virtually every field of knowledge and arts. I could call the Meiji-period the "golden age" of Japan (I am sure other people have said that before, though I don't know who). The military government of the 30's till the end of the war was not so propitious to literature, but a second golden age appeared in the 50's till the 70's or 80's. After that, Japan has past in post-modern pop culture and economic decline (probably not related though). Young generation speak completely differently of older ones, and often cannot understand each other anymore (because of katakana words, but also the change in society, values, etc.). If this period now is good for anime and manga, I find its literature quite boring and superficial (Murakami, Yoshimoto...).

    But of course, one more time, the 20th century is only a small part of history and the manga generation is only the end of the 20th century and after. If I compare Japan's lirerary tradition to that of individual European countries (I am not even taking America or Australia, as their history is too short), pre-Meiji Japan is a dwarf. Could it have a connection with the fact that writing came so late to Japan (5-6th cent. AD), then the use of kanji not being adequate to literature, they had to wait the development of kanas (like in Genji monogatari), then nothing till the restructuration of language and writing since Meiji (which is far from over, when we see the continual import of foreign words, year after year) ?

  22. #22
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Sekabin


    That's a personal issue. But even inside Japan Western authors are more popular than Japanese ones (something that is not near to happen in France).
    Hmm... where did you get this assumption from? Of course as I don't live in Japan I can't say myself, but my partner says that Japanese people know Western literature because they are taught it at school or university, but not so many of them actually read it. At least, translations of Western 'high literature' don't sell very well. Maybe Briget Jones (the equivalent of Banana Yoshimoto?)...
    If you consider the success of Harry Potter or the like in Japan, you'll understand what I mean. I also know lots of Japanese who read Western classics like Hugo's "Les Miserables", Jules Vernes' "Le tour du monde en 80 jours", Tolstoy's "War and Peace" or authors like Jane Austen, Baudelaire, Saint-xupery just because they prefer them to Japanese authors.

    Cinema is also related to literature. As a matter of fact, Hollywood films (including English ones like James Bond, Harry potter, Lord of the Rings or the Hugh Grant's) or occasionally French ones,(like "Taxi", "Amelie" or "Les Visiteurs" ) are more popular than Japanese films in Japan. As for writers, famous Japanese directors are so few that people usualy just know Kurosawa. I remind people here that Japan is a 127 mllion inhabitant country (twice more than the UK, France or Italy, or 25 times like Denmark or Ireland), which also happens to be the 2nd economic world power and is perceived by Westerners ad a country of culture and traditions. So it is normal to expect a lot in literature anc cinema from such a country, but it is not very developed in this respect compared to its size and economic importance.

    Am I wrong to conclude Japan is not a literary country ? I don't think all European countries are literary countries either. Interestingly, Italy, which I find so similar to Japan (which explains Yoshimoto's success there ?), also lacks in famous authors. Like Murasaki Shikibu, Italy's most famous writer is the medieval"Dante Alighieri" (1265-1321), whose Genji monogatari is the Divine Comedy, and though Italy has lots of writers, few are world famous. But the same is also true of Spain. Its all time most famous writer is "Cervantes", not exactly medieval (16th century), but also famous for one book, Don Quixote, which story is set in the middle ages.

    Very literary culture are the French, English and Russian speaking. Even in Celtic countries (Scotland, Wales and Ireland), famous writers wrote in English, not in Gaelic. So the language itslef might be more important than the rest of the culture. What else would explain the prominence writers in the UK, US, Australia or India, if not the bound of the English language. The most famous Indian writers like Rao, Naidu or Narayan all wrote in English. It's also interesting to note that even Japan's Natsume Soseki was an scholar of English literature.

    The particularity of Mishima and Dazai was that they came from privileged families and both wrote about suicide, which has made their popularity.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Jul 27, 2003 at 12:37.

  23. #23
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo

    I don't pretend knowing all the Japanese literature, nor even that of any other country (that would be near impossible, especially at my age). What's more, I believe it's always better to read books in their original version to really understand them. A translation is another book. It has happened so many times that a writer unpopulat at home becomes very popular abroad or in a particular country, because the translation was better than the original. I read French author in French, Italian ones in Italian, do my best to read German ones in German, Spanish-speaking ones in Spanish, so as to be fair towars the author.
    Just as an example of how translation can influenced popularity, I've been wondering whether Banana Yoshimoto's Italian translators were so gifted, as she seems so popular in Italy, but otherwise moderately or not at all in other Western countries.
    Yeah, it can be pretty disheartening at that moment when you begin to first notice the liberties that translations have to or anyway usually do take. As far as Japanese-English translators, quite often it is the lesser known ones that read most naturally, that are better crafted and carefully drawn, so it will be fun next time I'm in Japan to finally get a good selection of these in the original. Regarding the highs and lows of Snow Country in Japanese with Seidensticker's version, for instance, as that's what I'm working through at the moment: a few parts appear outright wrong or highly misleading, the dialogue is quite stiff, but most troublesome is probably the overall narrative where qualifiers and flourishes and impressions have been inserted at will (somehow, seemed as if it were, of course, something in her manner, etc) to compensate for the intonation and speech patterns that can never really be recaptured and just give it a more elegant flow in English. But which also has the effect of adding levels of abstraction and distance from the reader while the original (I'm fairly confident) would come across to a native reader as much more intimate and direct. Even his choice of verbs is a lot more standard and less colorful for some reason (when both would work equally well in English).
    I know of course it depends mostly on personal taste whether you'd be interested in what authors or types of books in the first place, but as far as I'm aware this is the most widely circulated version in the US so I can't help but think it must have had some marginal effect on Kawabata's standing or popularity here.


    Personally, I am more of a historian than a literati. That's why I am just overviewing here the number of prominent writers in each country/region through the history and assess their popularity by how famous they are world-wide, epecially outside their own country. Doing this, I found "Genji monogatari" to be the ultimate classic Japanese book (like Don Quixote in Spain, which also lacks world famous authors). After that, there is a long "blank", possibly because of the military regime since the Kamakura period that didn't see literature as an estimable form of art, and this lasted until the end of the Edo Shogunate.
    Obviously this is a continual development, but I've always understood it was actually during the Edo period that this literary revolution first began to take hold (at least the output then is much more well-documented, such as the beginnings of haiku, bunraku, kabuki, genroku, Ihara) when you have a nascent market economy, with a merchant middle class that makes literature more marketable, higher literacy rates, etc leading to a more formal publishing industry as well as other closely tied institutions, such as theater and art houses.

    As far as these "blank periods," undoubtedly there are a host of reasons and I've never really gotten a cohesive story on such an uneven development of the literature -- how widely brilliant productions could came along so occasionally but never followed through on or carried forward as a genre or school. Some factors that probably came into play, though, were as you say the late start of writing, and when kana was finally standardized in the 9th C of course it was thought only suitable for women (most of the best and extant writing is of so-called upper class courtiers, just below the highest ranking nobility, for the most part related to provinical administators or ladies in waiting) while the men labored under a Chinese prose that was by that time centuries old even in China. The lack of anything like a professional writing class, the tanka and uta, for instance, being so pro forma and integral to virtually all Heian courtier communication that even much of what's in Genji, the Tale of Ise, Tosa and Lady Sarashina's Diary etc is remarkably bland and unremarkable. Other reasons there wasn't more output during this time might have had to do with the emulatation of Chinese styles and forms that didn't fit Japanese, the mindboggling efforts put into retranscribing Chinese classic texts into Japanese (both before and after kana) and probably many other things as well.
    Then during the kamakura period, a lot of the handling (storage, copying, editing etc) of these classical manuscripts was done under subterfuge in Zen monastaries -- much of which was apparently misunderstood, lost or bungled in one way or another (such as Lady Sarashina's Diary, (As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams) which was only recovered and the textual confusion cleared up in the 18th C by great and laborious detective work).

    So.....taken from a couple of web sites, this is pretty much my thumbnail knowledge of the 10th-13th C major classical works as well. The following four hundred years, from the Ashikawa through Sengoku (Muromachi) and into 1688 with the start of the genroku I've never really come across anything on outside of collective endeavors such as Noh and renga.

    Mid-Heian (905-1000) Prose Literature

    A. Nikki "Diaries"

    1. Tosa nikki by Ki no Tsurayuki (assumed female identity)

    2. Kagero nikki (Gossamer Years)

    a. authoress identified as "mother of Fujiwara Michitsuna"

    b. laments her husband's infrequent visits

    3. Murasaki Shikibu nikki (Diary of Lady Murasaki)

    B. Monogatari "Novels"

    1. Taketori monogatari (Diary of a Bamboo Cutter)

    2. Ise monogatari (Tale of Ise, early 10th)

    a. based on poems of Ariwara no Narihira (825-80)

    b. narrative weaves the poems into fiction

    c. trivial content, but praised as a masterpiece

    3. Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji, ca. 1000)

    a. Murasaki Shikibu, a "lady-in-waiting"

    b. often praised as the greatest work of Japanese prose

    c. Genji monogatari emaki (Picture Scroll of the Genji)

    i. illustrations of court life, attire, architecture

    ii. classic expressions of Yamato-e (Japanese paintings)

    C. Zuihitsu "Miscellanies"

    1. Sei Shonagon's Makura no soshi (Pillow Book)


    before 1190 SankashE The Mountain Hut Collection (SaigyE

    1205 Shin kokin wakashE A New Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry

    1212 Hjki An Account of My Hut (Kamo no Chmei)
    ca. 1212 MumyshE A Nameless Selection (Kamo no Chmei)

    before 1219 Heike monogatari The Tale of the Heike

  24. #24
    Regular Member tasuki's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Maciamo
    Alrigt, Japanese don't touch or kiss, but that's not necessary to express raw emotions. What you cite are cultural differences. Japanese are more subtle and careful as not to shock other people, but I can assure you that they do shout and guffaw. Haven't you been to an Izakaya ? Ah yeah, you said if you exclude drunk men, but I have never seen as many drunken people as in Tokyo the evening. But you haven't lived in Tokyo if I remember well. Salarymen need to relieve their day stress by drinking, and though Japanese people's tolerance to alcohol may be lower than that of Westerners, they do drink a lot - but don't assume for their behaviour afterwards...
    Out of the close to six years I've been in this beautiful country I've spent time in the depths of Hokkaido, lived in Yamanashi, and have been living in Tokyo for three years, so yes I've been to izakayas, snacks, love hotels, etc... But I fail to see the point. Tokyo people aren't that different from people in the "countryside". You see a lot of drunken men in the same area in Japan because the bars and clubs are usually all concentrated in the same small area (Shinjuku: Kabukicho; out where I live it's around the station.) There aren't that many drunken men outside that, and besides, there are more than just drunken men.

    Some Japanese are very expressionless, but most make bored or disgusted face, exclaim "sugoi" with deep feeling in their voice, women almost feel like crying when they say "kowai" and girls tap their feet when they say "kawaii" for anything (for this they are much more expressive than Western girls).
    Ah, but the title of the thread is "Japanese express emotions by facial expressions and music rather than words". Now you're saying the exact opposite. While I agree with you on this point, any face devoid of expression can be taken as "bored", which most Japanese (especially on the Yamanote line at 8 in the morning) wear. Yes, Japanese express fear, tiredness, joy, pain, incomprehension, basically all the expressions that I would express with a face, a grunt, and maybe a swear (just speaking for myself) with words (kowai; aaa, tsukareta!; ureshiiiiiii!; itai!; sappari wakaranai...). All the feelings in their voices, can't take away the fact that they exclaim themselves with close to no feeling in their faces, making them, in my book, expressionless.

    Japanese sensitivity is different, but I found that the emotion in their voice (in Japanese only and when they are in a relax situation, not at work) exceed that of French, Spanish or American people. It's not because Japanese don't get violent, threaten or insult people that they are not expressive. I often find that it's easier for lots of Westerners or Middle-Eastern people to express their bad feelings, but can't express their positive emotions. Japanese do they opposite ; they keep the bad for themselves (except bullying grandmothers or male children), and exaggerate the positive ones (+ basic emotions like surprise, fear or approvement).
    While I would agree that's true for younger Japanese, I don't agree that's a rule. That's an opinion that entirely based on one's environment. On top of which the French and Spanish are reputed to be "passionate" people. The Japanese are not. When I was in the English teaching biz, I would have been inclined to agree with you. Now that I'm out amongst Japanese my own age and older, the working class and motor of Japanese society, I have to disagree. Heated conversations are much more common amongst foreigners, perhaps, as you say, because we're better at venting aggressivity than Japanese. But, that, to me, makes them even more expressionless. A healthy dose of "passion" in a conversation never hurt anyone, as long as everyone understand it's just that. So, to me, Japanese don't only bottle up the bad, they also bottle up the fire that can sweep through a group during a conversation, making it the more interesting (on top of which Japanese conversation customs are different, which doesn't help them express their feelings...)

    What point was especially that Japanese language lacking nuances to express feelings and emotions (compared to English, which is quite rich, even by European standard), Japanese had to use music and exaggerated facial expressions and tones of voice to keep the audience interested on TV or in mangas. It doesn't mean it's natural, but they have to compensate for their language. Now I realised that t may justly be dued to the restriction of expressions in their culture (especially at work), or because of a natural lack of expressiveness, which ultimately affected the language itself. But they now have to compensate in the entertainment business and need to exaggerate everything to make it powerful enough emotionally (always using basic emotions like anger, fear, love, jealousy or amusement).
    I fail to see your point. English speaking people despite the relative "wealth" of their language, express more through gesture and facial expression, while Japanese, with the relative "poverty" of their language, express their emotions more through language... This lack being exactly why they need to evercompensate in manga, anime, and other entertainment art forms. Anyway...

  25. #25
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Originally posted by tasuki
    There aren't that many drunken men outside that, and besides, there are more than just drunken men.
    I guess that's because I live in an area full of izakayas and restaurants, close to Japan's biggest business district (Nihombashi-Otemachi-Marunouchi-Ginza area).

    Some Japanese are very expressionless, but most make bored or disgusted face, exclaim "sugoi" with deep feeling in their voice, women almost feel like crying when they say "kowai" and girls tap their feet when they say "kawaii" for anything (for this they are much more expressive than Western girls).
    Ah, but the title of the thread is "Japanese express emotions by facial expressions and music rather than words". Now you're saying the exact opposite.
    Not at all. I think your reply is based on a misunderstanding. I had to keep my title short, but as I explained in the core text, I meant that Japanese use always the same words, and give nuances by gesturing (tapping their feet to show impatience, putting their hand in front of their mouth to express politeness, bowing to imlpy respect...) and tone of voice (all the varieties of sugoi, sugooooiiiii, suggoi, suge, sugenaa...) depending on the strength of their emotions. The facial expressions and music is of course for TV shows, dramas, anime and manga (how could they express themselves with music or exaggerated faces in everyday life ?).

    All the feelings in their voices, can't take away the fact that they exclaim themselves with close to no feeling in their faces, making them, in my book, expressionless.
    Expression is not only in the face. Don't always come back to the title, as it's for TV and mangas. In real life, expressions are in the voice and gesturing. Salarymen who want to express contenance and respect actually do it better than Westerners when they keep their face and voice serious or bow. That's a form of expression suitable for the situation, not expressionlessness. After work, they shout, guffaw and put their arms around each others neck as they are drunk. I find it expressive because I would never do such a thing, even drunk. It might be a cultural or educational matter, but I would always try to keep some dignity and respect for other people around, even when I party. So, in some way, I have more restrained and self-controll than the average Japanese (but it's probably true that my face is more expressive, though I don't consider it a part of my expression as it's not intentional or even conscious, while my choice of words is).

    On top of which the French and Spanish are reputed to be "passionate" people. The Japanese are not.
    ...
    Heated conversations are much more common amongst foreigners, perhaps, as you say, because we're better at venting aggressivity than Japanese. But, that, to me, makes them even more expressionless. A healthy dose of "passion" in a conversation never hurt anyone, as long as everyone understand it's just that.
    Don't confuse passion and emotions. Everybody has emotions, but passion depends on the personality or even situation, topic of conversation, etc.
    Japanese can be passionate and I have had passionate discussion about education, international and Japanese politics or economy, though it was not in order to prove the other wrong. Japanese don't like arguing. It's deeply rooted in the culture that people should avoid criticising or insulting others. But if you look at politicans at the Diet, they are actually more violent in their "passion" than in any Western country to the best of my knowledge. Where else can you see regularily MP's punching and tearing each other's hair if not in Japan ! Do you think it's due to the lack of strong verbal insults in the language ?

    IMO, Japanese are educated to be polite and respectful and therefore avoid heated debates whenever they can (politicians don't have the choice). When there is no other choice, even Japanese salarymen come more easily to blow than Western businesmen (or eductated people) would. In estern countries, it's lower-class, uneducated or "problematic" people who fight in public. I never would.

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