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I think therefore I am

I guess it was sort of inevitable that as I watch more anime, I become more and more interested in Japanese culture. We usually take it as a simple matter of course that a person's culture shapes their worldview, but seldom do we really think about how pervasive that is. I figure it's mostly because we're all taught now to stress the similarity we share with our fellow men and if we're all the same, then it goes against the grain to talk about how much out cultural experiences make us different. If nothing else, just think about language. For all intents and purposes, language is thought and thought is language. It's very hard to think about something for which you have no semantic reference. It's like the equivalent of trying to describe the color red to a blind person.

What's interesting about Japanese is that there are far more shades of meaning in their language than exists with English, especially when it comes to relationships between people. In addition to just honorifics, many words have variations which denote status and referential meaning. Just reading about the sheer number of Japanese pronouns for I/me/you and when each can be used is pretty amazing. Just imagine if English had a dozen different variations of 'I', and each was only used in a certain circumstance and by certain individuals. No wonder Japanese is such a problematic language to translate. You must lose ridiculous amounts of content and shades of meaning even when you do a perfectly literal translation.

In addition, just think about what it must be like to think in a language that's so regimented with a place for every person and every person in their place. You might think it would produce a very rigid and hierarchically-inclined individual yet I'm also amazed at how seemingly flexible the language is. I've always heard that English is very freeform in our ability to come up with new words on the fly, but Japanese also seems to have a similar trait, but far more condensed. I've constantly run across Japanese words that are simply amalgamated contractions, which often makes it very difficult to find their meanings since it's beyond the scope of any dictionary. Almost all anime/book titles have a contracted form, for instance, with one example being SaiKano whose actual title is, Saishū Heiki Kanojo.

Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough about this, since I seriously doubt anyone is actually interested in the topic. One bit of interesting trivia is that I first became interested in this idea mostly because I was curious how much of the disconnect I felt with some Japanese products was idiosyncratic and how much of it was culturally based. You can't help but watch anime or read manga and have moments where you pause and wonder exactly what the hell the creator/author was thinking and whether you don't comprehend the thinking simply because you're a gaijin.

As an off-color example, here's something I found on a blog ages ago that I always meant to get around to sharing. It was a survey sent out to Japanese men to gauge what were their most popular fetishes. Here were the results normed to 100:

1 Skin between knee socks and skirt 100
2 Athletic thighs 89.5
3 Voice 75.4
4= Smell 70.2
4= Small breasts 70.2
6 Big bums 56.1
7 Lower lips 31.6
8 Small hands 28.1
9 Indent around collar bone 26.3
10 Upper lips 24.6
11 Firm upper arms 21.1
12= Blood vessels visible through white skin 19.3
12= White bits left after tanning 19.3
14 Droopy eyes 17.5
15 Earlobes 14.0
16= Broad shoulders 12.3
16= Wide forehead 12.3
18= Belly buttons 8.8
18= Excess hair 8.8
18= Single-folded eyelids 8.8

What I found hilarious about this is here I was, reading down the list and mentally nodding along. Well, I might not have shared that particular fetish myself, but I could certainly understand the motivation. It was around #10ish that I started to get a puzzled look on my face at some of the 'stranger' items on the list. I can't pretty much guarantee that if you surveyed 1000 american men, some of these items would be at the bottom of the list if they even appeared at all. I mean, excess hair? Wide foreheads? I just found the whole thing sorta funny.

Oh, and about #1, I'll be revisiting that in another entry. I actually ran across a lot of interesting information about it that I want to share but this has gone on long enough as it is. It's just funny how far memetic mutation can take something.


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In the darkness the trees are full of starlight
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