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The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic

Takie Sugiyama Lebra

Publication Year: 2004

The self serves as a universally available, effective, and indispensable filter for making sense of the chaos of the world. In her latest book, Takie Lebra attempts a new understanding of the Japanese self through her unique use of cultural logic. She begins by presenting and elaborating on two models ("opposition logic" and "contingency logic") to examine concepts of self, Japanese and otherwise. Guided by these, she delves into the three layers of the Japanese self, focusing first on the social layer as located in four "zones"—omote (front), uchi (interior), ura (back), and soto (exterior)—and its shifts from zone to zone. New light is shed on these familiar linguistic and spatial categories by introducing the dimension of civility. The book expands the discussion in relation to larger constructions of the inner and cosmological self. Unlike the social self, which views itself in relation to the "other," the inner layer involves a reflexivity in which self communicates with self. While the social self engages in dialogue or trialogue, the inner self communicates through monologue or soliloquy. The cosmological layer, which centers around transcendental beliefs and fantasies, is examined and the analysis supplemented with comments on aesthetics. Throughout, Lebra applies her methodology to dozens of Japanese examples and makes relevant comparisons with North American culture and notions of self. Finally, she provides a spirited analysis of critiques of Nihonjinron to reinforce the relevancy of Japanese studies. This volume is the culmination of decades of thinking on self and social relations by one of the most influential scholars in the field. It will prove highly instructive to Japanese and non-Japanese readers alike in a range of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, and social psychology

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. ix-xxi

I left Japan when I was twenty-eight, an age at which I had become irreversibly Japanese. And yet, a typical expatriate, I was thoroughly alienated from my home country—perhaps, I now realize, in over-reaction to a still-lingering ambivalence. It was years before I regained a reasonable balance. ...


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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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1. Logical Models for Self Analysis: Opposition and Contingency

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pp. 1-36

The central subject of this book is (Japanese) self as understood in (Japanese) cultural perspective. The concept of culture, of course, is found not only in popular usage but also in many academic disciplines—just think of cultural psychology, cultural psychiatry, cultural geography, cultural sociology, and the like (Nader 2002, 444). ...

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2. Social Self in Front and Interior Zones: Omote and Uchi

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pp. 37-98

In the next four chapters I mobilize the logical scheme of opposition and contingency spelled out in chapter 1 to analyze various facets of self. Although both logical modes are relevant to each chapter, the binary and ternary modes of binding contingency most strongly motivate the social self (the subject of chapters 2 and 3), while the reflex-...

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3. Social Self in Back and Exterior Zones: Ura and Soto, Anomalous Counterparts to Omote and Uchi

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pp. 99-176

Having examined the normative zones, omote and uchi, and crossovers between them, we now switch to the lower half of the map depicted in Figure 3, the remaining social region: ura and soto. This region counters the norm of sociability and propriety, allowing the actor to ignore or violate omote rule-boundedness and uchi congeniality. ...

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4. The Inner, Reflexive Self: Interiority and Exteriority in Contingency

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pp. 177-223

The preceding two chapters have considered self in the social context, primarily in terms of its variability relative to shifting social spaces.Western readers might well be puzzled by this representation of Japanese self, which appears to lack a central, unified core. Along with the missing core is the apparent superficiality of Japanese self, which...

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5. Self in Cosmology and Aesthetics

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pp. 224-254

Thus far we have viewed self on a micro level. This last chapter expands the self onto a cosmological dimension. Cosmology provides a symbolic representation of self on the one hand, and a cultural guide for self-orientation on the other. In contrast to the social self, which is characterized by binding contingency, the cosmological self...

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Epilogue: In Defense of Japan Studies

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pp. 255-280

We are bombarded these days with critical refutations of “Japan studies,” or Nihonjinron (NJR)—a label that conjures up a ridiculous, exaggerated stereotype about the Japanese that no sensible person would like to be associated with. It is only natural that many Japan specialists preface their texts with a short critical commentary...


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pp. 281-296

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864798
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828400

Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 777464526
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Japanese Self in Cultural Logic

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Identity (Psychology) -- Japan.
  • National characteristics, Japanese.
  • Self-perception -- Japan.
  • Ethnology -- Japan.
  • Ethnopsychology -- Japan.
  • Japan -- Social life and customs.
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