ElAnt v1n6 - The Voice of Cicadas: Linguistic Uniqueness, Tsunoda Tananobu's Theory of the Japanese Brain, and Some Classical Perspectives

Volume 1, Number 6
November 1993


Peter Dale, 
email: c/o: ptoohey@metz.une.edu.au

Balla la vecchia quando canta la cicala (Popular saying in 

'The vigorous arraignment of folly is the most important work of 
intellectual public hygiene' (Anthony Quinton).

Martin Gardiner, the distinguished American essayist, spent over two decades riding shotgun on the journal Scientific American , firing round after round of polemical gunshot against crackpot theories and their hare-brained peddlers, who lay unweaying ambush at the slow caravans of knowledge. The provisory truths of a secular world test the patience of those ill at ease with the indeterminacies and uncertainties of life in a secular society, leaving ample scope for astute colporteurs of a visionary faith to prey on popular anxieties and expectations. It is a strong temptation for scholars to shy away from the distracting task of every now and then rolling up their sleeves to cleanse the Augean stables. Critical muck-raking devours energies better spent in the rarer atmospheres of high theory. But as Anthony Quinton justly remarks in a review of one of Gardner's books, 'it is a good thing that those capable of rationally critical thinking should abandon the mutual incivilities of schoarship for a period of community work now and then,' for civic tasks that consist in the 'work of garbage identification and disposal.'( 1 )

The scene of Japanese letters presents no exception to the rule. If anything, the duty of occasional iconoclasm is even more imperative on its small community of interpreters. The centrality of Japan to any understanding of modernity is indisputable. Politically and economically, it is inextricably woven into the fabric of international society. Yet it still remains something of a closed book, with only driblets of information trickling forth from what one writer, Umesao Tadao, has nicknamed a 'back-hole culture'.( 2 ) The consequent paucity of background detail, of contextual reference, available to the foreign generalist interested in Japanese instances impairs his ability to evaluate, in comprehensive fashion, the purport, status and cultural- ideological matrix of ideas filtering through to the outside world.

Imanishi Kinji's anti-Darwinian ethology, for example, was carefully incubated over two decades, gathering in the meantime influence and strength as a serious alternative to 'Western' science via both popular divulgation and the academic promotion of his disciplines in Japan. Ethnocentric, nationalist and cranky as it is, the ensemble of theories associated with his name only began to circulate abroad when cracks in Darwin's orthodoxy began to emerge in the West. Carefully groomed of its parochial idiosyncrasies, 'Imanishi theory' was then trotted out in international symposia to catch the revisionist tide. Fortunately, in this case, Beverly Halstead, Darwin's watchdog, happened to scent out the traces of a hoax, and snapping at the heels of Imanisi-ism, hounded the name off the pages of Nature .( 3 )

The metaphor used earlier of the caravans of knowledge assailed by snipers from the periphery may suggest to some the idea of an euro-centric verity under fire from heterodox marauders, intellectually quartered in the non-Western world. To the contrary, the caravanserie is multicultural, a waggon-train of peoples trekking over a vast landscape where passports and birth- certificates have no value, and whose single point of doctrinal convergence consists in a consensus that map-reading is best left to the literate, and scouting the terrain to experienced plainsmen. Japanese pioneers have long hitched their prairie schooners to the cavalcade; a good many of their free-riders however grumble about the foreign company and urge that the best way forward is to head their mule-train round and retrace their steps back east. Much of the argument goes over the heads of other trail-blazers - who fail to catch the drift of Suzuki Takao's fantasy of elephant walks or Umesao Tadao's oceanic nostalgia for the blue depths of cetacean life. Lacking a comprehensive guide for the perplexed, local cicerones do well to jot down notes from bits of overheard conversation, to keep the larger community abreast of dissent within the ranks.

It is not a matter of electing monitors, charged with slashing at each successive uprearing of the hydra-headed nihonjinron (discourses on Japanese society). The institution of an elect class of abrasive sentinels professionally dedicated to scannng the spoors of the cultural panorama for signs of suspect activity lends itself to obvious abuses. In a democracy of knowledge, all should be taught to equip themselves with sensitive antennae tuned to the standard frequency band over which ideological complexes are broadcast. It may make for a boring routine to flick regularly the switch from symphonic melodies over to channels that air the atonic hubbub of the nationalistic organ-grinder. But in Japan, many of the prima donnas that clog the atmosphere with their opinions happen to figure among the intellectually respectable and, like it or not, one must lend an ear to their disconcerting concerts.

Excoriating these dissonant interludes in the flow of orchestrated information circulating in Japan is conveniently swept under the carpet by the proven tactic of hailing any foreign reflection on the darker side of life as 'Japan bashing', a reproach that shields any prejudice from attack while rallying renewed interest in flagging ideas and their besieged proponents. Is it not therefore a more sensible tactic to turn a deaf ear to the quaint hodge-podge of clamorous misperceptions foisted on theJapanese public, in the expectation that their din will prove ephemeral? Experience suggests the contrary. Mori Ogai, reacting against an absurd Meiji conceit that foreigners hated the practice of nosepicking in Japan, ransacked the extensive archives of modern literature to elicit proof that the habit was equally diffused in the West. All he could come up with, however, in his hilarious account, entitled 'The great discovery', was a specimen culled from a Danish writer.( 4 ) The exception only proved the rule however, and while this particular fantasy appeared to have died an early death, it was resurrected in 1978. Kenmochi Takehiko, resurveying the issue with an acuity comparable to that of Carlo Ginsburg, with his famous study of the stemma nasoru in Piero della Francesca's paintings, nosed out a further example of the habit in Tolstoy's War and Peace .( 5 )

Why bring to notice, highlight, correct and occasionally mock such sophisticated trivia? Allow such rubbish to hang in the air too long, and one risks a kind of greenhouse effect, in which an atmosphere clogged with muggy cliches clutters out one's active right to breathe freely. Such talk does, furthermore, create social complexes which eventually make themselves felt in interactions with outsiders. What is the innocent Japanese abroad to do if he travels forearmed with the following exchange of 'information' in mind, from the lips of a specialist in Renaissance studies and a professor of medieval French society?

Kimura : 'The issue of smell which you have raised is, I agree, of vital importance. The olfactory world has been virtually neglected up until now in the field of the humanities and history. And yet, (smell) has surely exerted a considerable influence n national and regional lifestyles, on the way people think'.

Aida : 'The capacity to grasp things by means of the senses like that of smell has been effaced, and so words take their place. And yet, there is something phoney about the logos . In mixing with people, the senses play a greater role (than words). It's said that there are many people who strongly dislike entering rooms in Western hotels after Japanese (tourists) have stayed in them. It's not that we leave a dirty mess behind; it's just that, I believe, our excrement stinks. The excrement of Europeans doesn't smell all that much. And so, they're quite at ease with chamber pots in their rooms. The Japanese lack body smell, but their excrement is really on the nose, and penetrates the walls to linger there for two or three days.'( 6 )

This gives a new twist to the meaning of the phrase 'arguing a posteriori '. Westerners, in an old view, 'stink of butter' ( bata- kusai ), and Aida, to give him due credit, balances the equation. This is the sort of elaboration that a notice like hat concerning the sojourn of Charles II's court in Oxford during the Great Plague, where every corner of the colleges was left soiled with excrement,( 7 ) can have on the alchimical imagination of scholars of Aida's calibre, and the damage to the sensibiliies of those who know no better is impossible to calculate. The list of such niggling quibbes over putative differences is virtually endless. Much is harmless nitpicking by culture-cranks, like Suzuki Takao's famous cavilling at the idea that words for lip in Western languages mean something quite distinct from what the Japanese understand by their work kuchibiru .( 8 ) But it is altogether another matter when some whimsical brainstorm tickles the popular fancy, persuades the scholarly community, and is then packaged up for cultural export as a grand contribution to les sciences humaines . The Pons-Fleishman fraud lasted a few months until the scholarly community woke up to a scam that aimed to corner vast research funds by falsifying the data. In Japan, more than a decade has past since Tsunoda Tadanobu launched his brand of pseudo-science on the world and, at writing, despite numerous indications that his laboratory churns out fantasy as fact, the funds still roll in.

Foreign scholars have been much exercised unoda's perplexing theories. They bear all the hallmarks of the familiar hocus-pocus, once shorn of their woolly jargon. One is inevitably reminded of the pseudoscience the sniping Aristophanes attributed to Socrates, when he has Chaerophon ask the latter his opinion as to where gnats sing from, their backsides or their mouths ( Clouds 156 ff.). But, at the same time, few if any have the requisite qualifications of both neurological expertise and fluency in Japanese to assess the issues professionally. Of the several foreigners who have expressed serious doubts about his work,( 9 ) Tsunoda seems to have taken particular exception to my own brief comments, using them as a warning of the pitfalls which await amateurs daring to tread unwarily on the hallowed grounds of his high science. But it would be wrong to take seriously the hands off! warning which Tsunoda threatens his non-scientific readers with. There is ample evidence that Tsunoda's own ex cathedra pronouncements are so ill in keeping with what we undertake to be a scientific outlook, that the curious reader is justified in airing his suspicions.

Tsunoda ventured to reply to my own brief analysis ostensibly for two reasons. Foreign visitors to his laboratory pestered him to reply to the queries I raised in a previous book, ideas which they swallowed hook, line and sinker ( unomi ni suru ) without due regard for the decisive fact that he was a scientist, and his critic a mere humanist. Secondly, my criticisms happened to have reached the Japanese public inadvertently, when the editors of the popular middle-brow journal Chuo Koron had a section of that book translated in order to throw light on what they considered to be the secret, background source for Ian Buruma's attack on Umehara Takeshi.( 10 ) The chapters in question incidentally contained an aside on Tsunoda's ideas, and he felt obliged to write up a damage-control piece for the same journal which subsequently appeared under the heading, 'Clarifying misunderstandings about The Japanese Brain - A Refutation of Mr. P. Dale.'( 11 ).

What is striking about this article is that it has nothing at all to do with the declared intent of its introductory title. There is no endeavour to refute ( hanron ) the criticisms. Instead, we are given an ad hominem dismissal of a certain P. Dale, apparently someone trained in the social sciences who happens to have to his discredit 'a slightly outdated book' published in 1981, which is the source-book ( tanehon ) for the Japan-bashing community. The invention of a pseudo-Dale is in keeping with the nihonjinron preference for dealing with imaginary adversaries. But if the errors also demonstrate that he is lying when he claims to have read the said book, the real point of the exercise seems not so much that of responding to criticism as rather one of seizing yet one more opportunity to publicise the 'Tsunoda theory'. In short, what we are given are a few prefatory shots fired off randomly at foreign phantoms, and then an extended rehash of his all too familiar theorems aimed almost exclusively at a Japanese readership.

To anyone reading Tsunoda's work in the late 70s, his ideas must have appeared so improbable as not to warrant prolonged consideration. Tsunoda's theory of the uniqueness of the Japanese brain based, via the observation of cicadas, upon an 'empirical' investigation of neuro-linguistic phenomena, asserted an opposition between Japanese sensibility to nature's music and a comparable foreign obtuseness to music. The conclusions struck many as negligible. I must confess that this was my own impression, and that as I drafted my remarks on his thesis, I thought that the theory was so patently implausible that critical analysis was best kept to a minimum. Commonsense, when the word meant an ingrained scepticism about the irrational, would look after the rest. I had failed to appreciate, however, that joshiki constitutes a different kind of sensibility. Again, one shouldn't flog dead horses, especially those that are still-born. But as Koestler reminds us, the bodies of theories that we complacently believe dead and buried often display a vicious kick.( 12 ) Here I should like to integrate the bulk of my original material. After all, if the good doctor is wrong in believing that the earlier chapter was 'mainly devoted' to his theory, perhaps I should do him the justice this time round of marshalling all of the data at my disposal, and giving him the kind of bulky chapter he formerly hallucinated into ephemeral existence.

Tsunoda's theory claims for itself the status of science. The ideas he presents are invested with all of the impressive jargon and statistical tables of neurological research. The problem is that while on the one hand he appeals to the austere critria of science, on the other he insists that science is culture-bound. In his 'refutation', he dismisses my comments in the following manner:

Dissertations written by critics ( ronsha ) with a social science background are not infrequently thin on substantiating with facts the basis of their ideas, and are grounded in misunderstandings. There is no doubt that Mr. Dale's argument is rooted in that anticultural relativism which, from the latter half of the 70s, spread out from America. But where on earth is the reliable scientific basis grounded for this switch from a cultural relativism that, hitherto in the West, was tolerant of other countries, to anti- relativism? Do concrete scientific facts really exist to justify this regression to eurocentrism ( obei-chushinshugi )?( 13 )

This sits oddly with Tsunoda's habit of churning out articles and books for a popular audience that, by his standards, is incapable of exercising any critical judgement about them. If one is contemptuous of the intellectual abilities of literate nonscientists, it is surely pointless to write books directed at them, unless one's real intention is to cut a dashing figure with 'the masses' as a brilliant, but unfathomable paladin of the spirit working at the very cutting edges of human thought. The reference to anti-relativism grasps at straws. It draws on a paper by Aoki Tamotsu strategically printed after my own in the aforementioned edition of Chuo Koron , commissioned to contextualise my brand of criticism as symptomatic of some drift back into ethnocentrism in the West.( 14 ) Tsunoda fails to note the incongruity between his appeal to science, and his endorsement of cultural relativism. His appeal to science is rooted in a belief that it provides one with objective truth, while at the same time he can insist that truth is relative to time and place. Tsunoda will make it quite clear that the science he engages in is, somehow, universally valid but, at the same time, a product of the unique circumstances of Japanese culture.

Tsunoda's belief that his ideas are scientifically verifiable overlooks the problem that the theory itself rests on twin pillars of 'evidence' that have little to do with the delicate calibrations of his imposing array of laboratory instruments. One of these pillars consists in a cultural premiss, the other in a linguistic assumption. Both long antedate Tsunoda, and cannot be themselves verified since they belong to ideology. The first relates to hearsay concerning foreigners, the second to an old theory concerning the Japanese language.

Despite his appeal to science, Tsunoda draws on linguistic material which his own qualifications disqualify him from assessing professionally. He is quite open about this:

Since I have no specialised knowledge of language, I don't understand very well the linguistic significance of these phenomena. I would like to hear something about this from all of you, since there has been no response whatsoever from linguists themselves on this aspect.( 15 )

In this regard we should also note that Tsunoda is not, as he admits, a specialist on the brain, and that therefore his interpretations are not in any sense those of a trained neurologist.( 16 ) As to his bepuzzlement at the disinterest of linguists in his work, that probably owes much to the fact that his linguistic categories are unintelligible to professional students. When Tsunoda, for example, remarks that:

In Japanese, pure consonants are not used and thus words invariably end in vowels. That's the sort of peculiar language it is, and in this regard it differs profoundly from Western languages.( 17 )

The statement is unintelligible to a linguist, as is his frequent contrast between 'Japanese' and 'foreign' languages in terms of a putative opposition between 'vowel-centred speech' and 'consonant-based speech'. The silence of language specialists is due to the fact that such fanciful discriminations pertain to a dictionnaire des idees recues , to the province of a Bouvard rather than to the circle of Benveniste.

If we scrutinise the elements of Tsunoda's nuova scienza , to try and tease some semblance of meaning from his obiter dicta , we may gather that by foreign speech Tsunoda means 'Western' language, and specifically has in mind English. In his exposition, Japanese has a vocabulary composed of '(vowel+)consonant+vowel' (VCV). By stark contrast, 'Western' languages are classified as belonging to the type 'consonant+vowel+consonant' (CVC). This specious distinction defines as Japanese only the so-caled yamato kotoba , excluding that large part of the vocabulary derived from Chinese. The result is a taxonomic sleight-of-hand that can only be qualified as a kind of caesarean classification which ends up, linguistically, in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Tsunoda's analysis is putatively founded on the calibration of hemispheric differentiation in the reception of acoustic phenomena. But it should be noted that his distinction between foreign languages and Japanese is based on the written system, not on language as actually heard. What he appears to be trying to say may make sense if we are speaking of the abstract, theoretical forms of Indo-european roots. As Palmer puts it: 'no Indo- european roots begins with a vowel but they are all of the form CVC'. And again: 'every Indo-european root is triliteral of the type CVC'.( 18 )

But the data of descriptive linguistics tell quite a different story. unoda's definitions, Italian is both an Indo-european CVC language, and, at the same time, disconcertingly, a Japanese-type VCV language. For, on the one hand it is a Western language; and yet, on the other, a significant part of its basic vocabulary parallels the elemental CV pattern that Tsunoda claims to be distinctive to Japanese. Consider the following table of correspondences:

English		rose	dog	nose	wall	drink
Japanese	bara	inu	hana	kabe	nomu
Italian		rosa	cane	naso	muro	bere

unoda's criteria, we should expect Italians to react in a similar fashion to the Japanese. They do not, apparently, and thus we are warranted in suspecting that something must be askew in his model. The notion, central to his project, that Japanese, uniquely (though he admits Polynesian here), has a system of harmonious consonant-vowel alternations, in contrast to the consonant-cluttered languages elsewhere , is untenable. Taken as a whole, Japanese in no way violates the thesis proposed by Tubetzkoy that there is 'a natural asymmetry generally existing between vowels and consonants in terms of number of occurrences in any given system'.( 19 )

Crucial to Tsunoda's thesis is the belief that the Japanese display a peculiar affinity for the sounds of nature, especially insect music. In contrast, he asserts that 'Westerners are ignorant of the sounds made by insects'.( 20 ) This insect nationalism in Tsunoda must be scientifically grounded for he has repeatedly assured us that, unlike the airy-fairy graduates of non-science faculties, men like himself base their views on empirically verifiable facts. Mencius asserted that:

'The ears of men the world over bear a mutual resemblance'.( 21 )

Tsunoda's project is to challenge this universalist assumption by arguing they hear the world differently. And at first thought, this off-hand view may well appear to be vaguely plausible. Does not one of the early poems in the great Man'yoshu speakof central Japan as:

umashi kuni zo
Yamato no kuni wa.
It's a fine land indeed
the dragonfly island
the land of Yamato.(22)

Is it again wholly coincidental that Arthur Waley, in his translation of Genji monogatari , just happened to excise from his version precisely that chapter (38) known as Suzumushi or The Bell Cricket , as if tone-deaf or insouciant to the chirring encantment such creatures evoke in the Japanese? A classical text like the Tsutsumi Chunagon monogatari , we recall, has a fascinating chapter on a lady who loved insects. The deracinated Meiji japanophile Lafcadio Hearn was so delighted by the teeming vaiety of insects in his adopted country that he became a connoisseur of them and their music.( 23 ) Or is it just that Tsunoda's sentimental belief in a peculiar affective affinity between insects and the Japanese, and his consequent entomological nationalism, are simply a subliminal effect of the Japanese writing system itself? One of the graphs in Chinese of the cricket, namely kuo , happens to unite the character for insect, with that for country, suggesting to the naif an inherent nexus between the two.( 24 )

But before leaping to hasty conclusions, it is wiser to examine whatever evidence Tsunoda's writings themselves provide for his curious affirmation. We find that this belief is rooted in subjective experience, the result of a late summer night's saori :

It was just around the end of September, I think. On wrapping up my consultancy work, I happened to turn my attention to the garden and, as I did so, there were crickets there singing beautifully. Fond as I was of this, I listened to their music, which as really moving. I found it beautiful. Well, as night drew on and I set about my studies, I found that I was unable to work peacefully. Thinking this over, I realised that it was due to the crickets' music. A moment back I had been emotionally swayedby the beauty of the sound they made, but the instant I tried taking up my studies, I found great hindrances to thinking logically. There was something odd going on here, and at the time I couldn't fathom it. So I began recording the sounds of crickets and testing them on some Japanese. The result was that, remarkably enough, the singing voice of the crickets was received by thm in the linguistic hemisphere. Later, when I tried this out on Westerners, I found out that with them it was received in the musical side of the brain.( 25 )

Most of those who have been raised in the countryside will at least follow Tsunoda partially here. The deafening chorus of cicadas and crickets brim every angle and corner of the night, and this is true of Japan:

Shizukasa ya
iwa ni shimiiru
semi no koe
The silence;
The voice of the cicadas
penetrates the rocks.(26)

as it is true of say the Australian landscape where:

Behind the veil of burning silence bound vast life's innumerous 
busy littleness is hush'd in vague-conjectured blur of sound that 
dulls the brain with slumbrous weight, unless some dazzling 
puncture let the stridence throng in the cicada's torture point of 

The limpid concision of Basho's lines, taut with resonant suggestiveness, are a lesson in poetic technique from which Brennan, hampered by sub-Miltonic orchestrations and Tennysonian echoes, might have drawn useful instruction. Both counterpoint silence of the wall-like blur of voice coming from the cicada. What is revealing in Tsunoda's statement is the assumption that there should be a difference between the responses of Japanese and Westerners to cricket music.

Westerners are not only in Tsunoda's view deaf to such music, but they are also incapable, if we are to trust his laboratory studies, of distinguishing between the buzzing of flies and the sounds made by crickets.( 28 ) This is so implausible that it just come from a preconception. But which one? Is he perhaps unwittingly influenced by some obscure memory of Pinocchio smashing to smithereens the grillo parlante (talking cricket), symbol of the frail super-ego, in Collodi's classic? Probably not, for Tsunoda is apparently unfamiliar with any other literature than that pertaining to his own rigorous science, as we shall see. In any case, had he read Pinocchio in a Japanese version, chances are that the point would have eluded him. For pressure groups have succeeded in suppressing in the Japanese translations any passage injurious to what are taken to be proper national sensibilities.( 29 )

Or again, one might conjecture that Tsunoda is under the spell of the notorious axiom whereby what the Japanese do, ipso facto , cannot be practised in partibus infidelium . Japanese children trap cicadas with blobs of glue on sticks and, once caged, feed them through the bamboo struts, until these little creatures sing themselves to a shell.( 30 ) Ergo, Westerners mustn't share this hobby. True, anyone who has read the old Greek novel Daphnis and Chloe will recall the Mediterranean custom of fasioning insect cages from windlestraws. The entrapped insect, locust, cricket or cicada, sang lullabies that were deemed sufficiently musical to lull the listener to sleep.( 31 ) And again, anyone familiar with the Florentines (of which Collodi was one) will remember their passion for insects. They even celebrate a Festa del grillo where crickets, captured in a similar manner, are hung out in their cages on balconies and fed in order to see who will manage, in each quarter of the town, to keep their cricket chirring the longest. But folklore comparisons are untidy, and hardly the stuff for the hard grind of Tsunoda's empirical mill. He would no doubt dismiss such reports, because he can muster impressive testimonies from distinguished men of Japanese larning who, having travelled widely in the West, have furnished arguments which give the lie to such hearsay. It is well known to all readers of the nihonjinron that insects virtually do not exist in the West!

Here we are then, at last, in a position to see why Tsunoda ventures to make his extraordinary flights of entomological fantasy, and why his book Nihonjin no no ( The Japanese Brain ) created a flap - not unlike that which, from Aristotle onwards, he know that cicadas make by vibrating a thoracic membrane close to the wings. Briefly, the story of how the myth undergirding Tsunoda's premiss started up runs as follows. In 1928, the culture critic Watsuji Tetsuro was despatched on study- leave to Eurpe by his government, which desired him to come up with an ethical theory that might prove effective in persuading Showa youth to be more subdued about human rights than their elder peers had been in late Taisho times. He took up residence in Berlin, and towards the end of his first summer abroad, began to feel the strains of an overpowering nostalgia. In a letter to his wife, he wrote, undoubtedly in the throes of a deep sense of estrangement, that:

Here there are hardly any insects. In autumn you cannot hear the sound of them. Even in summer, cicadas aren't to be heard, and so I feel lonely ( sabishii ).( 32 )

Autumn in Berlin is a lonely place, with or without the company of insects, though it is rather striking that in his walks about the town, Watsuji never had the curiosity to ask locals why, in a city devoid of cicadas, residents had named one of theirstreets Zikadenweg . Some Japanese writers say autumn in Japan as the insects sing is still, for all that, intimate with the allusive tenor of solitude. As Kafka wrote:

The air bustles with cricket voice. The light from the lamp is unpleasantly limpid. Autumn, autumn. Chokichi felt, for the first time, that autumn really was, as people often said, a disagreeable season. He felt down to the very marrow of his bones tht is was unbearably lonely ( sabishikutte ).( 33 )

Whatever the case, on returning to Japan, Watsuji worked up his notes and, after several years, published a highly eccentric book on climate. In it, he made public the impression he had sketched out to his wife, and attempted to substantiate his ides with a rather rudimentary analysis of the relation of cultural style to natural milieu. Thus we read, in what purports to be a scientific treatise, the following elaborate variation on his Berlin outburst:

The mildness of nature in summer is due to nothing other than the lack of variation in humidity and heat during that period. This is the basic condition that ousted weeds from Europe and transformed its territorial reaches into pasture. At the same time it is also what has deprived European summers of what we consider to be the charms of summertime. For instance, such things as the bracing character of morning and evening, those cool breezes that riffle through to dispel the heat of day, or the voice o cicadas, the sound of insects, and such things as dewy grasses - all of these things are non-existent there. It is not only that this makes the eastern traveller accustomed to such sudden changes in the weather feel not quite satisfied by Europe's natur in summer. Given the lack of any great measure of dampness in the air and the slightness of changes in atmospheric temperature, the fact that one's feet aren't soaked by dew on the grass even when one goes out into the fields early in the morning, means that when night comes on, farmers can go back to their homes and leave their tools in the fields exposed to the elements . . . Likewise, the fact that one doesn't hear insects not only makes summer nights desolate: it also means that, generally speaking, inscts are few and far between, as are pests that prey on the produce of agriculture. I myself have walked in the Grunwald on the outskirts of Berlin and in the Thueringerwald near Weimar in search of insects, but in these woods and forests almost wholly diested of undergrowth, I didn't manage to discover as much as a single ant. All I saw was a species of moth, a number of them flying off in the same direction. To an eye accustomed to watching the activities of innumerable insects in the mountains over smmer, at first this was unbelievable. From the perspective of Japan, where the proliferation of insects after typhoons, flooding and droughts menaces agriculture, one can only say that this was a utopian countryside without peer.( 34 )

Solitude produces strange delusions and obsessions on occasion. Not many of us would waste out time on an excursion to Weimar, rich in Goethean associations, hunting up moths and ants over the floors of the contiguous forests. Germans indeed call pople who behave in this manner Waldheini (a wood-henry or nitwit). The logic of Watsuji's rustic speculations is equally disconcerting. On a couple of outings in two German cities, Watsuji, thinking rapidly on his feet, concludes after failing to note his beloved insects, that they don't exist in Germany. Germany is an integral part of Europe, and therefore insects mustn't thrive in Europe. Ergo, the Western European countryside is devoid of the music of cicadas and crickets. This is certainly a uniqe version of the syllogism, but opinion will no doubt vary in the future as to whether it exemplifies a power of intuitive insight into the world peculiar to the Japanese genius, or whether we are simply dealing with a sad case of obsession nurtured in the ivory towers of an excessively bookish education.

Not too bookish in all probability. To understand Watsuji's frame of mind, we should recall that he was, in all likelihood, influenced here by a vague recollection of the writings of Lafcadio Hearn. In some of his lectures at Tokyo University, Hearn had remarked on the apparent lack of interest in insects by modern Western poets, in contrast to the abundant number of poems dedicated to them in Japanese literature.( 35 ) He adduced various reasons to account for this: the ostensible indifference of Christianity to any life outside that of the mind, and the relative scarcity of singing insects in the English countryside,( 36 ) for example. Watsuji, and many others after him, have taken these essays to be definitive, while retaining from them a highly disorted memory of their arguments.

Watsuji's bookishness had its limits. While specialising in German literature, he seems to have had a highly selective acquaintance with its tradition. He had certainly read Goethe, as his writings show, but he would have saved Dr. Tsunoda, and by turns myself, a good deal of time had he spent his days in Weimar refreshing his mind with Faust instead of following in the tracks of unknown insects. For the orchestra in the Walpurgis Night's Dream for the marriage of Oberon and Titania boasts of ditinguished insect virtuosi among its players:

Fliegenschnauz und Mueckennas
Mit ihren Anverwandten,
Frosch im Laub und Grill im Gras,
Das sin die Musikanten!(37)

True, one example doesn't constitute a proof, and this, after all, is a 'literary' context, hardly the stuff to satisfy Tsunoda's scientific imagination. But Goethe was an eminent naturalist, and we find him writing of the pleasures of cricket song n a manner reminiscent of Tsunoda himself, even if less prosaically. Witness the following entry for September 11, 1786, in his Italienische Reise , coinciding with Watsuji's autumn:

When, immediately after sunset, the loud shrill of crickets is heard, I feel at home in the world, neither a stranger nor an exile . . . The bell-like tinkling noise the crickets make( 38 ) is delightful - penetrating yet harsh - and it sounds most amusing whensome impish boys try to outwhistle a field of such singers; they seem to stimulate each other.( 39 )

A closer parallel to the passages which, in Watsuji and Tsunoda, evoke the delight of insect music, would be difficult to find.

Watsuji's book became a modern Japanese classic, though interpretations differ as to whether it comes under the rubric of fiction or science. The prestige of his authority has had a tentacular reach, however, and much of the ad hoc opinionising he passed off as the result of a naturalist-phenomenological enquiry have entered the thickets to academic-popular belief. A fillip to this amateurish misapprehension on Watsuji's part was given by the entomologist Omachi Fumie, a son of the Meiji writer Omchi Keigetsu, famed for his coining of the term 'dangerous thought' ( kiken shiso ).

Omachi was one of Japan's foremost experts on crickets, to which he devoted a lifetime of study. In an otherwise delightful little volume entitled A Record of Crickets , issued on the eve of World War II, he opens his pages on what he calls the 'inect fiddlers' with these words:

When autumn comes into its own, it is a delight to the heart to listen to these little master musicians variously playing the kinds of music peculiar to them. When thinking over the fact that nowhere else in the world is there a country blessed to the degree that Japan is with insects endowed with a beautiful singing voice, I am always grateful for having been born in this fine country. And again, when consideing our brethren's refined national character from high antiquity down to the present day, with its deep fondness for these singing insects, I feel heartfeltly blessed to be one of them.( 40 )

The end of the war brought radical changes to Japan, but unfortunately it has proved easier to outgrow the burden of poverty than to extricate oneself from the toils of patriotic sentiment. Watsuji's fabrications, and Omachi's parish-pump entomology survived their times. We find the occidental insect- scarcity theory in contemporary scholars equally (un)familiar with the West, confirming Bacon's dictum that:

although our persons live in the view of heaven, yet out spirits are included in the caves of our own complexions and customs, which minister unto us infinite errors and vain opinions, if they not be recalled to examination.'( 41 )

In a rather malicious little mud-slinging tract called pretentiously Rationalism , a noted Japanese authority on the Renaissance, writing in 1966, trotted out Watsuji's ideas on these subjects as if they were, after three decades, part and parcel ofestablished wisdom.( 42 ) The oversight is even stranger when we consider that its author, Aida Yuji, must be well-versed in Italian and familiar with that country. We expect that at least here he would have pulled up his mentor by reminding him that in Ialian there even exists a special verb, frinire , to denote the cicada's singing. Indeed, a whole complex of terms link cicala (cicada) to both human speech ( cicalare, cicalata, cicaleccio, cicalio - terms expressed of frivolous blather or baroque dalectics) and acoustic noise ( cicalino, cigolare, cigolio ) used of intercoms, the crackling of green wood, or the rasping of metals).( 43 )

We can hardly expect Tsunoda, reliant as he is on hearsay in Japan, and immersed as he is in the arcane alchemy of insect audiology, to take a little time off to browse through Western literature, replete as it is with paeans to these musical creatures or to take a summer ramble through those parts of Europe where these chirring denizens of the temperate zones fret the airs. If the vulgarities of cinema could wrest him from his machines for a moment, he might learn something of the matter by watching aurel and Hardy's Swiss Miss , with its famous crickets' song, or Pasolini's Mamma Roma , where a young boy picks up his girlfriend for confusing cicada song with that of the cricket. Or even reflecting on the symbolism which opens and closes Bertolucci's The Last Emperor , which should have stirred some awareness in him of what a signal interest insects have evoked in Chinese civilisation: later historians even attributed the overrunning of the Sung empire by Mongols to a general's distraction over a cricket fight.( 44 ).

Well over a thousand years before a Japanese poet wrote the delightful lines:

taki mo todoro ni
naku semi no (semi = cicada)
koe wo shi kikeba
miyako shi omohoyu
When I hear the voice
of the singing cicadas (cicada = semi) by the rumbling 
washing over rock
I cannot but think of the city.(45)

Homer had occasion to sing in semi-comic vein of the elders of Troy in conference. They were:

elders retired from warfare, but now
dauntless orators, like cicadas
that, perched on a tree in the woods,
send forth their lilied voice.(46)

The brilliance of the metaphor, likening the quality of their song to the lily ( opa leirioessan ), has always puzzled the commentators, but no one doubts that it bears vivid testimony to the Greeks' delight in these harbingers of summer. Homer's near cotemporary Hesiod, in his poem The Works and Days likewise speaks of the time

when the golden thistle blooms, and
the echoing cicada, perched on a tree,
pours out his sweet-sharp song (liguren aoiden) thick and fast 
from under his wings
in the wilting heat of summertide.(47)

That we are not dealing with literary conceits, but popular culture, is confirmed by the frequent references to the cicada in the Aesopian tradition, and by such practices as the use of an hair- clasp with a cicada emblem among the Athenians as a badg of autochthony. To the Greeks we owe one of the finest poems ever dedicated to this mysterious creature, which in a rough translation, runs as follows:

EIS TETTIGA - (To the cicada)

Blessed are you, songster king
that on three-tops
sups on dew drops
and then begins to sing.
You are king -
for everything
you see afield
all that the woods yield 
is yours. Friends of the farm
for you do no harm;
man-honoured for the sweet
prophetic trill that greets
summertime.  Loved by the Muses,
by Apollo, who taught song's ruses.
Age will not wear
down this wise, earth-born songster.
Free of distress
with flesh that is bloodless,
closer to the gods than to man.(49)

The further you venture into the woods, the more logs you find, as the Russians say. The Greek tradition, particularly, in later pastoral verse, brims with celebrations of the cicada and the cricket. Hearn himself noted the Greek love of insects, tough the point has been overlooked. Latin literature, though not as rich, boasts of frequent references to their song. Vergil, describing the sweltering heat of summer, writes et cantu querulae rumpent arbusta cicadae (50) (and plaintive cicadas split the vine-groves with song), and again, in the Eclogues , we read at mecum raucis, tua dum vestigia lustro, sole sub ardenti resonant arbusta cicadis ( 51 ) (but with me as I scour the traces of your footsteps the vine-groves vibrate with rasping cicadas under the scorching sun). The lovelorn Corydon's querulous cries sound like cicada song - a contrast to Greek verse where the voice of this insect is likened to that of the melodious rhapsode.( 52 )

Modern literature is no less attentive. Byron writes of:

The shrill cicalas, people of the pine,
making their summer lives one ceaseless song.(53) 

The Great Spanish poet Antonio Machado in his Siesta 
describes their song with a striking image: 

y en el olmo la copla de marfil
de la verde cigarra late y suena.(54)
(and the ivory verse of the green cicada thrums with 
sound in the elm).

French verse, as again Hearn amply illustrated,( 55 ) has a fine range of poems on insects. To his list we might add this startling reference by Laforgue:

Beatifiques Venus
etalees et decouvrant vos gencives comme un regal et baillant des 
aisselles au soleil
dans l'assourdissement des cigales!(56)
(Beatific Venuses on display, flashing your gums like a treat 
and baring armpits to the sun amid deafening cicadas). 

After this Montale's lines come as sweet relief:

Osservare fra frondi il palpitare
lontano di scaglie di mare
mentre si levano tremuli scricchi
di cicale dai calvi picchi.(57)
(To gaze through leaves at the far-off pulsing of the scales of the 
sea, while quivering crickings of cicadas rise up from the bald 

Even in northerly Russia, the cicada makes itself heard through poets like Innokenty Annensky, author of a fine poem on anguish entitled Stal'nayatsikada or The Steel Cicada .( 58 )

The 'brittle noise of the crickets,'( 59 ) 'the platinum voice'( 60 ) of sunbeetles, the 'incessant zithering' of Cameroon cicadas,( 61 ) the 'cicada hours of afternoon so pregnant in their tedium' when in cypress hedges the 'cicadas charge the batteries o summer,' ( 62 ) 'the insects . . . hissing and murmuring in the honeyed forest of the grass,'( 63 ) the fields of rural Poland in Isaac Bashevis Singer's novels where grasshoppers are described as 'singing',( 64 ). Huxley's Byronian observation that 'outside in te pine trees the cicadas harped incessantly on the theme of their existence,'( 65 ) or the 'crickets in the field of Onondaga beating away like the night's loud pulse,'( 66 ) - such casual references stumbled across while drafting these notes makes the foreig reader of Tsunoda wonder whether scholars like Watsuji and Aida stop their ears when venturing abroad, like the crewmen of the Odyssey , to avoid succumbing to the seduction of these entomological sirens, or whether they skim such passages when duty beckons to ignore evidences that might disturb tenets of the national faith.

To recapitulate. One hundred years ago, a Westerner, Lafcadio Hearn, suggested that, compared particularly to English literature, the Japanese tradition was rich in poems celebrating insects. This was picked up some decades on by the philosopher Wasuji Tetsuro, who in turn developed a complex ecological theory, based on his experiences in Berlin, which elaborated this off-hand distinction into a generic contrast between the 'European' and the 'Japanese' experience of the seasons. Under the impetus of war fever, this then received the imprimatur of a distinguished naturalist, and, in the post-war period, the idea floated into the'commonsense' of perceptions about Japan's distinctive national character. In the mid-seventies, Tsunoda happens one evning to be distracted by the singing of crickets outside of his study-window, and, a hunch, unwittingly inspired by vague memories of commonplace chat about insects, prompts him to investigate 'empirically' the neuro-linguistic basis for this supposed opposition between his native sensibility and the obtuseness of foreigners to nature's music. The result is a full- fledged theory of 'the Japanese brain' which not only captures the popular imagination, and secures the researcher access to government fundin to advance his investigations, but also makes a splash abroad, where scientists begin to interrogate themselves on the possible ramification of Tsunoda's (startling) studies which imply that there is a great amount of environmental influence on the ontogeny of brain asymmetry and that the character of the language, itself, is a major factor in determining how the brain processes language.( 67 )

The story illustrates the mechanisms of atmosphere, how an off-the-cuff idea can, if left uncontroverted, slowly but ineluctably gather momentum and, once precipitated out of the muggy climate of cliches by the alembical dexterity of pseudo-scientist, gain acceptance as an empirically verified theory, which no amount of later exposure to the world, of literature or nature, can controvert or undermine.

Tsunoda's project requires sustenance from the ideological clutter of the past, with its improvised patch-work of makeshift concepts, because the science he is trained in cannot provide him with the nationalist verities he is addicted to. Despite th boast to be working at the forefront of science, he is actually diffident about it to the degree that such science is rooted in the originative tradition of Europe. In this project he succeeded in obtaining the endorsement of the Nobel Prize winner Yukaa Hideki who, in a round-table debate with Tsunoda, remarked that:

We have a way of learning adapted to thinking in accordance with a Japanese kind of brain ( Nihonryu no atama ) and I, for one, believe that creative work can be done using precisely this.( 68 )

In Tsunoda's view, the Japanese are endowed with 'brains like those of animals'( 69 ), and this remark shows he is riding a hobbyhorse mounted by earlier cavaliers of nationalism like Tokutomi Soho, noted for his similar view that 'the people of commoner sciety are responsible animals '.( 70 ) But science is wedded to the notion of progress, and Tsunoda demonstrates an advance on his predecessor, since unlike Tokutomi, he democratises the description to include himself. And in this assimilation of the Japanese to animals, Tsunoda is merely one of the latest of a long line of Japanese thinkers who would define the seminal characteristics of Japanese culture in terms of a kind of continuity in the very fabric and fibre of the human world there with the primitive natural state of instinctual life, common to the animal kingdom.

Most attempts to accelerate through the exit-ramp out and beyond modernity have a curious habit of ending up pranged in the bogs of premodernity. Tsunoda's project presents no exception to the tendency. The congruencies, no doubt inadvertent but imressive for all that, between his ideas and certain strains in 'Shintoist' thought have been remarked by others.( 71 ) Another useful comparison might be made with certain ideas about language promoted by Motoori Norinaga, one of the few nationalists in Japanese intellectual history of indisputable brilliance, who died in 1801, the same year in which the word sakoku 'closed country' was coined after the example of Kaempfer's description in his History of Japan ( 72 ), and, coincidentally, a mere year after the German nationalist Fichte had published his proposal of a Geschlossene Handelstaat , advocating a closed commercial state.

Motoori in his Kanji San'on ko argued that the Japanese language differed radically from foreign tongues. The classical speech of the imperial realm used only 50 syllabic sounds characterised by refined purity and correctness ( junsui seiga no oto ), sounds that faithfully represented the cosmic order. By contrast, foreign speech was pronounced with an hazy, impure burr ( moro to nigorite ).( 73 ) Motoori had stumbled upon a native, independent formulation of that cabbalistic linguistics which, in urope at that time, enjoyed considerable favour. This occult doctrine contrasted the Ursprache or originative speech of the divine, primordial world to the 'abrupt tumult of warring tongues'( 74 ) ensuing on the fall of Nimrod's ziggurat. In the hands of thinkers like Hamann, Herder and Fichte, this was elaborated into a supposed distinction between pure languages like German, and the miscegenated, unspiritual speech spoken by foreigners or barbarians.( 75 )

Motoori's distinction between the junsui seiga no oto of Japanese and the moro to nigorite sound of foreign languages strongly resembles Tsunoda's typology contrasting CV-type speech (distinctive to Japanese), and CVC languages (characteristic of virtually all foreign languages). Where they differ is that, whereas for Motoori, foreign, barbarian ( juteki , glossed by karabito , therefore reversing the Confucian moral topology to Japanese advantage) speech was like the chirping of birds, or compaable to the noises made by the myriad beasts of the animal kingdom( 76 ), for Tsunoda, it is precisely the opposite. For him, it is rather Japanese sound patterns which are assimilated to the sounds of the natural world ( shizen'on ), and, specifically to he cries of animals and the chirring of insects.( 77 )

We have unravelled only a few, bare skeins from a highly tangled code which exploits a minimal reason in order to defeat the claims of mind. To return to the examples cited earlier in this essay - Suzuki's distinguishing English lips from Japanese uchibiru , Aida's tortured fantasy about the olfactory qualities peculiar to Japanese excrement, and Kenmochi's revival of the old hare about Japanese nose-picking - these random texts display an apparently trivial, and yet constant, concern for the ostenible physical difference of the Japanese body and its perceptions. It is a preoccupation that intertwines with the cult of yamato kotoba as a kind of cosy nursery idiom predating the acquisition of the hard, reified idiom of Sino-Japanese at school, but also with such endemic concepts as kinship, and the silent reading of body cues as more communicative than language itself, endlessly encountered in Japanese writings. The body as refuge from thought, and in turn the codes of physical identity, sublimate the lost language or repressed idiom of an irrepressible consciousness, in metaphors and mythologies of instinctual being.

Tsunoda's expostulations belong to this genealogy of concepts of inferiority compensation. When the data for his brain theory no longer held up, Tsunoda endeavoured to explain the variation between his theory and the new facts in terms of vague cosmlogical influences. That too held little water. Instead of revising his ideas, Tsunoda adopted a different tack, switching his investigations from sound-perception to sex. His intent is to embark on a sexual nihonjinron , fully substantiated by the deicate calibrations of his laboratory machines.( 78 ) His initial results are, unsurprisingly, 'startling.' After subjecting both Western and Japanese masturbators to audial experiments 'over a long period', he has arrived at the provisory conclusion that nanism occidentalises the Japanese brain, fortunately only for a brief hour, or hour and a half.( 79 ) The implications of this whacky theory are not hard to read. Western civilisation's spiritual culture is based on onanistic indulgence, and the Japanese are tugged between two alternatives. If they wish to develop a competitive intellectual culture, they must yield to the temptations of self-abuse. If, on the other hand, they choose to remain faithful to their ancestral values, they must soberly abstain from the vice of Onan.

This insistent recourse to the carnal as metaphor for national identity as contrasted to the reified, disembodied discourse of the cosmopolitan world beyond allows of many interpretations, some of which are consonant with the visceral bias of 'postmodernity', with its nihilism of etiolated intellect. It is not, however, difficult to see the negative side: something of this prejudice for the material, with its hidden envy of the freedom of mind as essentially an alien attribute, desired and yet feared runs tacitly in the deeper tides of much Japanese discourse on culture. We detect something of the pathological cost in the curriculum of a refined intellectual like Sagawa Issei, who devoured the body of a Dutch girl, while studying in Paris. Aida, we recall, argued that there is, in comparison to the evidences of the senses, something phoney about the logos . Plato in his dialogue Phaedrus deploys a subtly improvised myth on the origins of the cicada to hint to the exuberantly intellectualist Phaedrus that the virtuosity of speech he acclaims is prey to vices unless conducted to a proper end. As a recent commentator puts it:

They (the cicadas) are sirens, whose seduction is in their voice; and it is the 'lazily relaxed mind' rather than the body of the hearer ( di'argiantes dianoias , 239a 3-4) that is sensitive to the seductive pleasure of language stripped down to a mantra's hum.( 80 )

The phoney logos which Aida deprecates, and which his fellow travellers likewise claim to eschew on their respective ways to the pristine Japanese Elysium devoid of articulate self- consciousness, is, paradoxically, precisely what they themselves produce unintendedly in their various mythologies of instinctive sensibility untrammelled by self-awareness. Tsunoda's absorption in the music of the cricket to the exclusion of thought, and his later endeavour to encode this experience in a scientific constructof Japanese neurological identity, falls into the trap long ago escried by Socrates, himself a connoisseur of cicadas.

To adopt works like those of Tsunoda as an aid to developing a new phenomenology of subject-object relations, while admitting by way of preface that his theory is embedded in the mainstream of nihonjinron ideology, simply begs the question.( 81 ) The primitive epistemology is part of Western intellectual history, the linguistic premises stem from an hermetic obscurantism whose reflexes may be traced in both Western and Japanese thought. What is the point of the outside world culling hints from charlatans like Tsunoda to rework the problematics of postmodernity when Tsunoda himself belongs to the eighteenth century and when indeed he himself avows that only people born in Japan can conduct his path-finding brand of science? For this is the implication of his recent message informing us in autobiographical vein (even if his words merely recycle Omachi's) that:

Blessed by the remarkably good fortune of being born in the special environment that is Japan, I have been able to carry out research which people from other cultural areas would have found impossible to undertake.( 82 )

The statement is all the more remarkable for the fact thatit is immediately followed by a disavowal that his work betrays any trace of value judgements.

A certain species of intellectual resembles the cicada. As the man in the street goes about his daily business, these sit on the lofty perches of society, and as 'communicators' busy themselves with what Umesao called the manufacturing of the spirit. The effect is that of chortling their private fantasies, while drowning out incidentally the voices that circulate below. Aelian, priest at the temple of the Goddess of the First Fruits of Spring in Palestrina, records a very old tradition about the cicada which runs as follows:

Among the peoples of Rhegium and Locri, there is an agreement that each may cross over and farm the land of the other. But the cicadas on each side, being of a different caste of mind, do not agree with this. The result is that the Locrian cicada is comletely mute in Rhegium, and that of Rhegium wholly deprived of voice in Locri.( 83 )

If in the vaunted age of internationalisation, kokusaika is not to turn out to be a symbolic means of achieving the goals of kokusuika , or the subordination of the world to Japanese nationalism, the semi ological ( semi is the cicada) world articulated by writers like Tsunoda must be unscrambled of its hieratic pretensions to uniqueness. As foreigners take up residence in Japan, and the Japanese increasingly move abroad, the resonant vibrato of droning nationalists threatens to play on the thn susceptibilities of many who find themselves ill-prepared by their culture for the challenges of difference. Here, as in the example from Locri and Rhegium, one can only augur than those who do move to and from Japan prove wiser than their respective 'cicadas'.


(1) Reviewing Martin Gardner's The Philosophical Scrivener , in TLS , Dec. 2, 1983, p. 1335.

(2) Umesao Tadao, Nihon to wa nani ka: kindai Nihon no keisei to hatten , Nihon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai, Tokyo 1986, pp. 24, 37-8, 50. The image reflects Hitler's definition of Japan as a 'moonshine culture' in Mein Kampf (a passage excised in wartime Jaanese versions).

(3) B. Halstead, 'Anti-Darwinian theory in Japan', in Nature , vol. 317, Oct. 17, pp. 587-8 (I owe this reference to the kindness of Prof. J.A.A. Stockwin). For a comprehensive account, see now B. Halstead, Imanishi Shinkaron Hihan no tabi , tr. A Nakyama and S. Sakuramachi, Tsukiji Shokan, Tokyo 1988 (I owe my copy of this work and several related articles, to the courtesy of Dr. Halstead.)

(4) Mori Ogai, 'Daihakken', first published in Kokoro no hana , June 1909. See now Ogai Zenshu , Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1936, vol 2., pp. 157-173. Mori overlooked the implicit reference to nose-picking in Gogol's Dead Souls (tr. R. McAndrew, Signet Boks, New York, 1964, p. 223) where the postmaster refuses to share his snuff because of worry about where others may have put their fingers! He might have satisfied himself on classical matters by consulting any reasonable Greek or Latin dictionary under koruza , muxa , apomusso , emungere , mucus . It is not of course the stuff of higher literature in the West, any more than it is in Eastern novels. Kafka in his diaries provides the exception, with his marvellous vignette of conversing with Rudolp Steiner while the great anthroposophist worked away at his nostrils (Max Brod, ed., The Diaries of Franza Kafka, 1910-1923 , tr. Joseph Kresh, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1964, p. 49). Most of us have forgotten Groucho Marx's punning line: 'That's a nice nose you've got, lady. Did you pick it yourself?' Afficionados of this rarefied lore should address themselves to Dr. James Jefferson of the University of Wisconsin, the leading world authority on what he prefers, euphemistically, to call rhinotillxomania (see The Sunday Times , London, 1991, November 24, p. 24).

(5) Kenmochi Takehiko, 'Ma' no Nihon bunka , Kodansha Gendai Shinsho, Tokyo 1978, pp. 68ff. Itasaka Gen, ex- professor at Harvard, has written a brief disquisition on the novelist Natsume Soseki's nose. He expresses his surprise that the great writer nver mentioned the smell of things during his sojourn in London, despite the fact that the city, then as now, overflows with the stench of unwashed armpits. He advises further research on the relationship between olfactory sensibility, literature and sexual repression. See his Nihongo yokocho , Kodansha Gakujutsu Bunko, Tokyo 1978, pp. 86-97.

(6) Aida Yuji, Honne no jidai , Kodansha, Tokyo 1981, pp. 72- 3. Compare the following: 'for ages before [Homer] you had immense quantities of human experience accumulating in men's bodies. The body itself was, and still is, an immense experience . . . It is quite inarticulate, and doesn't need to be articulate. But in bulk, and perhaps in significance, it far outweighs the scope of the written word. That, by comparison, is mostly trivial'. Whitehead in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead as recorded by Lucien Price, Mentor Books, New York, 1956, pp.152-3. On a defence of logos see Nakamura Yujiro, Mondaigun , Iwanami Shinsho 1988, pp. 1-13.

(7) Barrington Moore, Jr. Privacy: Studies in Social and Cultural History , Sharpe, New York 1977, pp. 77, 159.

(8) Suzuki Takao, Kotoba to bunka , Iwanami Shinsho, Tokyo 1973, pp. 40-6.

(9) For some reactions see J. Marshall Unger, The Fifth Generation Fallacy: Why Japan is Betting its Future on Artificial Intelligence , OUP, New York, 1987, pp. 83, 200 no. 4; Karel Van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Tasteless Nation , A.A. Knopf, New York, p. 265; Dale, The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness , Croom Helm, Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, London and Sydney, pp. 189-91; R. Gill, Han-nihonjinron , Kosakusha, Tokyo 1985, pp. 242- 54; Irmela Hijiya-Kirschneeit, Das Ende der Exotik: Essays zur Japanische Kultur und Gesellschaft der Gegenwart , Suhrkamp, Frakfurt, pp. 14f.; Nishiwaki Yasushi, 'Die japanische Sprache: ihr Einfluss auf die zerebrale Dominanz und einige Betrachtungen vom Standpunkt der Umschaeren-Mengenlehre,' in S. Linhart (ed.), Japan. Sprache, Kultur, Gesellschaft , Wien 1985, pp. 236-53.

(10) P. Dale, 'Nihon dokujisei no shinwa', Chuo Koron , Nov. 1987, pp. 80-103.

(11) Tsunoda Tadanobu, 'Nihonjin no no' e no gokai o toku. P. Dale shi e no hanron', in Chuo Koron , Feb., 1988, pp. 267- 73.

(12) A. Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine , Pan Books, London 1970 pp. 18-19; appendix 2, pp. 391.

(13) Tsunoda, 'Hanron', note 11, p. 267-8.

(14) Aoki Tamotsu, 'Bunka no hiteisei - han-sotaishugi jidai ni miru', Chuo Koron , Nov., 1987, pp. 104-125. See now his Bunka no hiteisei , Chuo Koronsha, 1988.

(15) Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , Shogakukan, Tokyo 1981, p. 58.

(16) Tsunoda, op. cit. note 15, pp. 7-8.

(17) Tsunoda, op. cit. note 15, pp. 60-1.

(18) L.R. Palmer, Descriptive and Comparative Linguistics: A Critical Introduction , Faber and Faber, London 1972 1978, pp. 220-1.

(19) C.A.M. Baltaxe, Foundations of Distinctive Feature Theory , University Park Press, Baltimore 1978, p. 93. With regard to the number of consonants Japanese lies in the middle range, with 20 voiced and unvoiced consonants (R.A. Miller, ed. Bernard loch on Japanese , Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1970, p. 148; compare W. Sydney Allen, Vox Graeca. The Pronunciation of Ancient Greek , 3rd ed., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987, p. 9).

(20) Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , op. cit. note 15, p. 83.

(21) Mencius VI, A. 7, 6.

(22) Man'yoshu , poem 2, attributed to the emperor Jomei (regnabat 629-642). The epithet akitsushima is explained from an incident in which the emperor Yuryaku was bitten by a gadfly which was in turn devoured by a dragonfly ( akitsu ) (like the manis snapping up the cicada in the Shan Mu section of the Chuang Tzu ). By a play on words, the locality called Autumn isle ( aki-tsu-shima ) became dragonfly island, namely akitsu- shima in honour of the avenging insect.

(23) Hirakawa Sukehiro, Koizumi Yakumo. Seio dasshutsu no yume , Shinchosha, Tokyo 1982, pp. 311ff.

(24) On the symbolism of the kuo-kuo see W. Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols , tr. G.L. Campbell, Routledge, London, New York 1986, pp. 66.

(25) Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , op. cit. note 15, pp. 62-3. See also Tsunoda Tadanobu, The Japanese Brain , tr. Yoshinori Oiwa, Taishukan, Tokyo 1985 p. 75.

(26) Oku no hosomichi in Basho Bunshu , Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei 46, Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo 1959, p. 87. I cite the translation by R.H. Blyth, Haiku vol. 3, Hokuseido Press, Tokyo 1952, p. 229. The same poem is also cited by D. Keene in a meditaton of urban noise in his Futatsu no bokokugo ni ikite , Asahi Sensho, Tokyo 1987, p. 94. Basho's poem is surely the occult source of John Updike's elusively seductive reference to the 'vast insensate chorus of changeless stone' in his novel, The Coup .

(27) C. Brennan, Selected Poems ed. A.R. Chisholm, Angus and Robinson Press, Sydney 1966, p. 28.

(28) Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , op. cit. note 15, p. 84.

(29) Cf. the Nagoya-based Pinokio o arau kai (Association for cleaning up Pinocchio). See Time , Jan. 10, 1977, p. 17.

(30) T. Morris-Suzuki, Showa: An Inside History of Hirohito's Japan , Athlone Press, London, p. 76.

(31) Longus, Daphnis and Chloe , Bk. 1.

(32) Watsuji Tetsuro, Tsuma Watsuji Teru e no tegami , vol. 1, Kodansha Gakujutsu Bunko, Tokyo 1977, p. 251 (dated Sept. 30, 1928).

(33) Nagai Kafu, Sumidagawa in Nagai Kafu shu , 1. Gendai Nihon Bungaku Taikei, 23 Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo 1969, p. 231.

(34) Watsuji Tetsuro, Fudo (1935), Iwanami Shoten rep. Tokyo, 1975, p.105. Watsuji here was undoubtedly influenced by the ideas of his colleague Dr. Tsuki who believed European soil was relatively weed-free. See Sakabe Megumi, Watsuji Tetsuro , Iwanmi Shoten, Tokyo 1986, p. 123.

(35) Lafcadio Hearn, Books and Habits , ed. J. Erskine, New York 921, pp. 159-203. See also his study 'Semi' in Shadowings , Little, Brown & Co., Boston 1901, p. 69-102.

(36) Hearn, op. cit. note 35, pp. 172.

(37) J. W. Goethe, Faust , Erster Teil, 11. 4251-4. In Philip Wayne's version ( Faust , pt. 1, Harmondsworth, London 1951, p. 182) this runs:

Nose of fly and snout of midge,
And kindred apparitions,
Cricket in grass and frog in sedge,
These same are our musicians.

(38) 'Das Glocken- und Schellengelaeute der Heuschrecken (ist allerliebst)'. J. W. Goethe, Italienische Reise , hrsg. Herbert von Einem, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Muenchen 1988, p. 26.

(39) J. W. Goethe, Italian Journey , trans. W.H. Auden and E. Mayer, Harmondsworth, London, 1970, p. 39.

(40) Omachi Fumie, Nihon Konchuki (1941), Kodansha Gakujutsu Bunko, Tokyo 1982, pp. 46-7. For his father's view of the Japanese see Tsukishima Kenzo, [Nihonjinron] no naka no Nihon , Dainihon Zusho, Tokyo 1984, pp. 241-46.

(41) Bacon, The Advancement of Learning , ed. G.W. Kitchin, G.M. Dent and Sons, London 1973, p. 134.

(42) Aida Yuji, Gorishugi (1966), Kodansha Gendai Shinsho, Tokyo 1973, p. 113.

(43) See for example the interesting note in Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone di Pensieri , ed. F. Flora, Mondadori, Milano 1937, p. 1540. So effective has this entomological indoctrination been that some learnedscholars, with years of experience abroad, sill considered the ability to appreciate insects sing as the badge of Japanese identity. See Itasaka Gen, Nihongo no hyojo , Kodansha, 1978, p. 150.

(44) Canetti, 'Kafka's Other Trial,' in F. Kafka, Letters to Felice , Penguin, Harmondsworth 1978, pp. 73-4.

(45) Man'yoshu , no. 3617. Cf. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land , 11.352-8. Insect poems in this anthology show a simple pleasure in their autumnal song. See H.C. McCullough, Brocade by Night , Stanford University Press, Stanford 1985, pp. 145-6.

(46) Homer, Iliad , 3: 150-2. See W.B. Stanford, 'The Lily Voice of the Cicadas ( Iliad 3. 152),' Phoenix . vol. 23, 1969, pp. 3-8.

(47) Hesiod, Works and Days , 11. 582-4.

(48) Esope, Favole , ed. G. Manganelli, E.C. Valli, 3rd ed. Rozzoli, Milano 1980 Nos. 85, 278, 335, 336; Phedro, Favole , ed. E. Mandruzzato, Rozzoli, Milano 1979 No. 59.

(49) T. Bergk, ed., Poetae Lyrici Graeci , Leipzig, London, rev. ed. 1853, p. 882. (50) Vergil, Georgics , 3: 328.

(51) Vergil, Eclogues , 2: 12-13.

(52) Omachi, Nihon Konchuki , ibid., p. 53, estimates that few modern Japanese take pleasure in cicada song. If this is true, then contemporary Japanese taste has shifted from a 'Greek' to a 'Roman' position.

(53) Don Juan , Canto 3, 106, 11. 1-2.

(54) A. Machado, Poesia , ed. O. Macri, Academia, Roma 1972, p. 224.

(55) Hearn, Books and Habits , op. cit note 35, 204-227.

(56) J. Laforgue, Poesies Completes , ed. P. Pia, Gallimard, Paris 1970, p. 290.

(57) E. Montale, Ossi di Seppia , Mondadori, Milano 1948, p. 48.

(58) D. Obolensky ed. The Penguin Book of Russian Verse , Penguin, Baltimore 1965, p. 226. Gogol has a deligtful passage describing the sweet, lulling effect uf myriad insect noises on the Cossacks. See his Taras Bulba in Nikolai Gogol, The Diary o a Madman , tr. Andrew R. McAndrew, Signet Books, New York, 1961, p. 116.

(59) G. Steiner, Anno Domini , Faber and Faber, London 1964, p. 27.

(60) L. van der Post, Yet Being Someone Other , Penguin, Harmondsworth 1984, p. 70.

(61) G. Durrell, Encounters with Animals , Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1963, p. 17.

(62) C. Connolly, Enemies of Promise , rev. ed. Andre Deutsch, London 1973, pp. 16, 256.

(63) I. Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat , Penguin, Harmondsworth 1972, p. 188.

(64) I.B. Singer, The Slave , Penguin, Harmondsworth 1974, pp. 19, 48, 70, 87, 105.

(65) A. Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza , Harmondsworth 1955, p. 232.

(66) E.L. Doctorow, Billy Bathgate , Macmillan, London 1989, p. 124.

(67) J. Dunaif-Hattis, Doubling the Brain , Peter Lang, New York, Berne Frankfurt am Main, 1984, p. 71.

(68) In Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , op. cit. note 15, p. 81.

(69) Tsunoda, op cit. note 15, p. 84. Cf. Herbert Spencer, widely read in Meiji Japan, was known for his view that 'the first requisite to any succes is to be a good animal', as cited by Lafcadio Hearn, April 17, 1893. See The Japanese Letters of Lafcdio Hearn , Little, Brown, & Co., Boston 1910, p. 85.

(70) Sekininteki no dobutsu , cited in E. Kinmonth, The Self- Made Man in Meiji Political Thought , University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981, p. 107. Curiously enough, Tokutomi's pejorative labelling, typical of the samurai outloo which considered the people as insects, worms or, at best, animals, has vanished from memory. Instead, Bhutto's catchprase about the Japanese being 'economic animals' has been seized on with alacrity as proof of foreign attitudes and now sticks in populr memory as a bitter 'Western' slur.

(71) H. Ooms, Tokugawa Ideology: Early Constructs 1570- 1680 , Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1985, p. 251 and n. 56.

(72) For details see Kobori Keiichiro, Sakoku no shiso , Chuko Shinsho, Tokyo 1974 passim, esp. pp. 58, 128ff.

(73) Motoori Norinaga Zenshu , Chikuma Shobo, Tokyo 1970 vol. 5, pp. 381ff, p. 382. See also R.A. Miller, The Japanese Language , University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1967, pp. 51-2 (and the paper cited there by McEwan). The text has been studied in rlation to the nihonjinron by R. Gill, Nihonjinron Tanken , TBS Britannica, Tokyo 1985, p. 77; and H.D. Harootunian, Things Seen and Unseen, Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawa Nativism , University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1988, pp. 56- 9.

(74) G. Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation , OUP, New York. p. 58.

(75) For a brief note see my The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness , op. cit note 9, pp. 82ff. The Fichtean distinction between 'living' and 'dead' languages is uncannily anticipated by Motoori in the same text (p. 388), where Japanese is an ikita kotoba i contrast to the shinda kotoba of foreign countries. This order of precise coincidence lends support for the view that nationalist thought is rooted in a common psychological problematic. Classicists will recall the Athenian view of barbarian language as sounding like the 'twittering of swallows' ( Frogs , 680).

(76) Motoori, Kanji San'on ko , pp. 386-7. For Motoori's view on the word semi , cicada, see now Shiraishi Dajohen, Nihongo hassojiten , Tokyodo Shuppan, 1972, p. 4. In Sir George Staunton's Description of a Journey in China and Tartary , it is reprted that members of Lord MacCartney's retinue in his 1793 embassy to China held the same view of the Chinese language.

(77) Tsunoda, Uno to Sano , op cit. note 15, p. 63.

(78) Tsunoda, op. cit. note 15, p. 105.

(79) Tsunoda, The Japanese Brain , op. cit. note 254, pp. 88ff. This research will probably not earn Tsunoda the Noble Prize for Medicine, but if sci-fi is ever included in the genre of serious literature, then he could well end upon the podium at Oslo

(80) G.R.F. Ferrari, Listening to the Cicadas: A Study of Plato's Phaedrus , Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1987, p. 28. The text in question is Plato's Phaedrus 259b5-d8. This passage exercised some influence on Mishima as Irmela Hijiya- Kirshnereit has shown. See her Was heisst: Japanische Literatur verstehen? Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1990, pp. 64ff.

(81) A. Berque, Vivre l'espace au Japon , Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1982, pp. 31-5.

(82) Tsunoda, 'Hanron', op. cit. note 11, p. 273.

(83) Aelian, De Natura Animalium , Lib. 5, 9. The cicada metaphor here is not arbitrary. Kimura Shosaburo, a nationalistic purveyor of cultural chitchat, is on record in the early eighties as advising the Japanese to speak up and not persist in the habit of reticence and equivocation whe dealing with foreigners. Specifically he wrote: 'reading means properly to speak up by raising one's voice to a high pitch, just like the cry of the cicadas' (in Kimura Shosaburo et al., Shin-nihonjinron , Tokyo, 1980, p. 53.

Peter Dale,
email: c/o: ptoohey@metz.une.edu.au

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due 
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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 6 - November 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606