Posts Tagged ‘japanology’

Flexible Focus #23: Manners make the man

by William Reed on October 14, 2010

An intriguing way to experience flexible focus is through time travel, in whatever way you can. The cinema easily transports us to other places and times, and for an hour or so we are able to experience life from a completely different point of view. Whereas Science Fiction takes us into the future, and Fantasy takes us out of time altogether; Time Travel films have an interesting way of helping us visit the past. One of my favorites is Kate and Leopold (2001), starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, in which a man living in the 1870s is transported through a time tunnel to modern day New York. The contrast in cultures shows what we have lost or forgotten over the last century in our rush to modernize everything.

This corresponds to just after the end of the Edo Period (1603~1868) in Japan, an extended period of seclusion from the outside world, in which many aspects of Japanese culture and manners were highly developed and became deeply rooted. Many of them persisted well into the 20th Century, and though they are but shadows of their original form, sometimes they live just beneath the surface, as if they had just grown dormant.

There is a quiet but vital movement today to bring Edo Manners back, as an indigenous way of repairing the damage that seems to be unraveling many fine features of Japanese culture.

Manners in Japan used to be the core of communication. Measured in body language, good manners revealed character. A person’s posture (shisei) was considered synonymous with his or her attitude and upbringing.

Today a more casual attitude prevails, and this has led to a deterioration of manners once taken for granted. Lack of consideration for others results in get out of my way behavior. In small ways it shows when young people sit in the Silver Seat while old people stand. In larger ways it manifests in the increase in corporate and political scandals, and in the rising rate of violent crime.

Koshikawa Reiko is the founder of the NPO Edo Shigusa (, and the author of many books, including a Manga version, Edo Shigusa Nyūmon (Manga-ban), published in 2007 by Sangokan. Her books and lectures contend that Edo manners are a fundamental but endangered aspect of Japanese social behavior, and show many examples contrasting traditional manners with modern behavior.

Eight of my favorite Edo Shigusa

Edo Shigusa goes far beyond etiquette. It shows how to live with respect, culture, and style. In Edo Shigusa, we find many words worth keeping.

Act now, think on your feet (Soku Jikkō)

Japanese have a traditional distaste for talk in the form of excuse making. People were told that in problem solving it was more important to be hands on than to talk on. This is basis of kaizen, or continuous improvement, in which you think as you work, and make improvements as you go.

Use your sixth sense (Kan)

Much effort was made to refine the senses and develop the ability to intuit what was going on, rather than waiting to be told. This led to exceptional development in many aspects of culture and craftsmanship.

Answer with one yes (‘‘Hai!’’ wa ichido kiri)

It was considered important to answer immediately, and with a single yes, to show that you were fully attentive and ready to act. To say yes twice was considered flippant and rude, as in ‘‘Yeah, yeah. What do you want?’’

Pretend not to notice (Toki ni wa, mite minai furi)

If it spared a person’s dignity or gave them a chance to avoid embarrassment, it was sometimes considered best to pretend you didn’t notice. Helping a person save face led to loyalty and trust.

View the positive side of things (Yō ni toraete)

In Edo culture complainers were thought to be energy drainers. It was not only more pleasant to be around people who were positive, it was more energizing and productive too.

Don’t cross your arms or legs (Udekumi Ashikumi shigusa)

Crossed arms were considered to be a sign of stubborness or a closed mind, while crossed legs showed a lack of respect. In both cases, crossing your limbs also made you less ready for action, and more vulnerable to injury or attack. In less casual times, bad posture showed bad attitude.

Don’t cut across in front of people (Yokogiri shigusa)

In pedestrian traffic it was considered rude to cut across in front of someone. Even today, many Japanese signal with their hand before crossing in front of you.

Be polite in momentary encounters (Sokunoma tsukiai)

Edo was crowded and busy. Daily life included many brief encounters with people characterized by greetings, which were the lubrication of communication. In brief encounters, a smile, a polite word, a gesture of kindness can go a long way.

To start integrating these Edo Manners in your life, you can download the EDO SHIGUSA MANDALA, and begin making notes on what it means to you, how people respond to you differently, and how the Edo Shigusa Way works as well for us today.

On Tuesday, August 4, 2009, Reiko Koshikawa did a presentation at the Hotel Kabuki, in San Francisco, sponsored by the Japan Society, Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Japan Airlines, and others. The pamphlet created for this presentation is a treasure, containing fascinating definitions of many Edo Shigusa terms, in categories including the Edo outlook on humanity, view of the world, thoughtfulness, manners, taboos, and the Edo outlook on work. Download the Edo Shigusa Piazza Pamphlet, and enjoy a view of world that has much to teach our own. You can select the most meaningful Edo Shigusa for you, and create your own Mandala chart as a reminder to work on practicing it in your life.

Edo Shigusa is about consideration for others, having a positive attitude, and showing respect in body language and behavior. Many of the lessons from Edo Shigusa make good sense to us today. We learn this behavior by watching others. But as Fred Astaire said, the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.

Flexible Focus #14: Japan Photo Safari

by William Reed on August 12, 2010

Although the technology of photography was initially introduced from outside Japan, the Photo History of Japan tells a story that led to cutting edge technology and consummate quality. Moreover, the country itself is extremely photogenic, with its collage of ancient and modern character, and its artistic and natural treasures.

When photography was first introduced to Japan, some samurai disliked having their picture taken. As in other traditional cultures undergoing modernization, they had the impression that their soul was being captured in the image. Others took to it readily as a means of leaving portraits for posterity, or to increase their recognition.

Ultimately photography flourished in Japan, a perfect combination of the Japanese preference for visual imagery and their skills in technology and craftsmanship. Garden parks today are filled with amateur photographers who pride themselves on their photos of flowers in season.

Every mobile phone in Japan comes with a built-in camera that takes high-quality pictures, that people send and share on the Internet.

The technical and quality advances in cameras and photography in the last decade or so are remarkable, when you look at the difference in photo albums created not so long ago. However, a great camera still does not guarantee a great picture. Photography remains a fine art.

A master of visual haiku

While there are many excellent Japanese photographers, my favorite photographer of Japanese subjects is actually a French resident of Japan, David Michaud, who has a website and a book branded under the name of Le Japon. Although his website and blog are written in French, his photography shows views of Japanese life are vivid and original.

In a word, I would call them visual haiku. David’s photos capture the essential qualities of the living moment. His subjects encompass a wide range, facial expressions, hands of craftsmen, the seasons, Japanese architecture, urban life, and Japanese food, often capturing objects and angles that Japanese would overlook or take for granted. His Tokyo Safari website contains an extraordinary video montage traveling through Tokyo’s urban landscape. This website has literally attracted hundreds of people to travel to Japan to participate in David’s Tokyo Safari Tours, which show the city off the beaten path, and leads to highly appealing discoveries evident in his photographic work.

As an initial guide to some of the many sites of David Michaud, I have created a downloadable PDF Mandala Chart called JAPAN PHOTO SAFARI.

A perfect tool for flexible focus

One of the greatest tools and technologies for flexible focus is the camera. It is hard to imagine any instrument which can transport us so vividly to any location on earth, from undersea to outer space. Images can be transmitted instantly around the globe, viewed on smart phones or large screens, printed on all kinds of surfaces and films, with equipment that fits in the palm of your hand.

Most cameras now come with some degree of zoom focus, and really good cameras can capture a detail and leave the surroundings slightly out of focus. This creates depth and interest beyond what you find in an ordinary photo with everything in focus.

Many digital cameras today are equipped with cross hair displays which frame the picture in thirds, like a Mandala Chart. The Rule of Thirds suggests that for balance in composition, subjects should be centered on the intersections of these lines rather than in the center. Photoshop even has a Golden Section Plugin that creates a layer with Golden Sections, Spirals, and Triangles, as well as an overlay for the Rule of Thirds to assist in photo composition. And these proportions have been used by artists and architects since they were first discovered by the ancient Greeks.

Using photos in the Mandala Chart

The frames in the Mandala Chart can just as easily contain text, as illustrations or pictures. If you have a word processing or presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint, then you can easily create a 9-frame Mandala Chart matrix, and insert photos into the frames. You could insert a photo into the central frame to represent the theme of the Mandala Chart, or you could insert photos into one or more of the surrounding frames.

Use your imagination and make your Mandala Charts more interesting to look at and talk about. A picture indeed is worth a thousand words.

Photography can give you more flexible focus through new ways of looking at things. Like travel, photography of distant lands and foreign cultures can open your mind to new possibilities. Why not start with Japan? Take advantage of the time we live in and the technology we have to create new windows on your world

Flexible Focus #9: The magic of mindset

by William Reed on July 8, 2010

The word mindset often refers to a frame of mind, a point of view, a perspective that is single or fixed, and not flexible in focus. The question to ask is whether a singular mindset helps us or harms us?

Having a point of view enables us to be very clear on where we stand. The disadvantage is that once we gain a clear viewpoint, there is a tendency to believe that our point of view is the only one that is right. This is not a light matter. Differences and inflexibility over point of view can put people on the warpath.

Flexible focus changes your point of view

Two friends were walking on a busy summer New York Avenue. One was an entomologist, an expert who was able to identify insects by sound and shape, even on a busy urban street. The entomologist astonished his friend by hearing and pointing out insects along the street, despite the clamorous sounds of people and traffic. His friend asked, “How can you possibly hear such small sounds with all of this traffic noise?” The entomologist removed a coin from his pocket and dropped it on the street, which instantly turned all heads. “We notice,” he replied, “the things which interest us.”

A mindset is a mental filter, predisposed to select certain types of information and shut out the rest. The more knowledge or interest you have in a subject, the more you are able to see and find things which are related to it. A mindset can work for us if we need to specialize, or against us if we sacrifice flexibility, the ability to change points of view. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Flexible focus gives you a strategic advantage

Miyamoto Musashi (武蔵 1584~1645) was a master swordsman, painter, and philosopher. Fighting more than 60 duels from the age of 13 to 30, he was an undefeated samurai. His book on strategy and swordsmanship, The Book of Five Rings, is a classic of martial arts literature from Japan and is still quite popular today.

Musashi’s most famous duel took place on Ganryu Island on the 13th of April 1612, and was fought against Sasaki Kōjirō, The Demon of the Western Provinces. This duel has been immortalized in film and literature. Musashi combined courage with unconventional strategy to defeat his hot-headed opponent. Musashi gained the advantage in three ways: psychologically upsetting his opponent by deliberately arriving two hours after the appointed time; choosing a wooden oar as his weapon against Kōjirō’s long sword; and running to position himself with the sun at his back, thereby blinding his opponent at a critical moment.

The first character in Musashi’s name (武) is also the character for Bu in Budō (武道)meaning martial arts. It appears in the illustration here eclipsing the rays of the sun, exactly as Musashi did in his duel with Kōjirō.

Flexible focus opens your eyes

A classical optical illusion is the Rabbit-Duck, which appears as both a rabbit facing right, or a duck facing left, depending on how you look at it. Even more surprising is the animated optical illusion of the dancing girl, who appears to be turning clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which leg you focus on.

Dutch artist M.C. Escher took optical illusions to a level of artistic perfection. Optical illusions remind us that things are not always exactly as they seem. A slight shift in perspective produces a completely different picture.

Just as our eyes play tricks on our visual perception, our mind also plays tricks on our mental perception of people, places, and phenomena. The Buddhists go so far as to say that the world we see is void of fixed forms, and modern physicists agree.

Flexible focus lets you frame and reframe

If you get too caught up in the illusions, then the world appears as unreal as a house of mirrors, which indeed it is to the person who plays a passive role in life. When you realize that you can also shape, imagine, and influence what you see, then the game changes and the real fun begins.

As long as you accept your assumptions and believe that everything is just as it appears, you will miss the opportunity to make new discoveries and to shape your circumstances. This takes practice, and a good way to start is by framing and reframing the things you see using the Mandala Chart.

To assist in framing and reframing a question or problem, try downloading the Magic of Mindset Mandala as a reminder and worksheet for the following questions.

  1. Metaphor. What is this situation most like? What can the problem be compared to?
  2. Game Changer. What strategy can I use to change the situation?
  3. Second Opinion. Who else can I ask that can give me informed or expert advice?
  4. Sleep on it. Gain a fresh perspective by getting away from the problem for a while.
  5. Win/Win Solution. What would help all parties?
  6. Mastermind. What help can I get from mentors or books?
  7. Ask Better Questions. Reframe the problem by asking new and better questions.
  8. Empty Your Cup. If your cup is full of opinions and prior knowledge, you may have no room for anything new.

Remember Musashi and see if you can reframe the situation, put the sun at your back, and find a winning strategy. Have fun learning the art of flexible focus, and make magic with your mindset.