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The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century and Watsuji Tetsurō’s Ethics



According to some thinkers, in the 21st century, the Japanese society is facing a crisis of values. The postmodern approach to the individual and society may be one of the causes of this problem. In this point of view, an inadequate grasp of the relationship between the individual and the society seems to play an important role. The problem of this relationship was elaborated by the early 20th century philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō who endeavoured to re-define the role of an individual in the society. This paper attempts to examine the contemporary problem of Japanese identity from the perspective of Watsuji’s conception of interpersonal relationships.
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century and
Watsuji Tetsurō’s Ethics
According to some thinkers, in the 21st century, the Japanese society is facing a crisis of
values. The postmodern approach to the individual and society may be one of the causes of
this problem. In this point of view, an inadequate grasp of the relationship between the
individual and the society seems to play an important role. The problem of this relationship
was elaborated by the early 20th century philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō who endeavoured to
re-define the role of an individual in the society. This paper attempts to examine the
contemporary problem of Japanese identity from the perspective of Watsuji’s conception
of interpersonal relationships.
Keywords: ethics in Japan, contemporary Japanese society, individual and society,
emptiness, betweenness
Po mnenju nekaterih mislecov se japonska družba v 21. stoletju sooča s krizo vrednot.
Postmodernistični pristop do posameznika in družbe je lahko eden izmed razlogov za ta
problem. V tem vidiku neustrezen pristop k odnosom med posameznikom in družbo igra
pomembno vlogo. O problemu tega odnosa je razpravljal Watsuji Tetsurō, filozof iz
zgodnjega 20. stoletja, ki si je prizadeval, da bi redefiniral vlogo posameznika v družbi. Ta
članek tako raziskuje sodobne probleme japonske identitete iz perspektive Watsujijevega
pojmovanja medosebnih odnosov.
Ključne besede: etika na Japonskem, sodobna japonska družba, posameznik in družba,
praznost, vmesnost
* Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ, PhD student, Charles University, Praga, Czech Republic.
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
In the 21st century, it seems that Japanese society is facing a phenomenon that
some may consider as a crisis of values. Some scholars would argue that it
emerged from a postmodern approach to the individual and the society. It is
arguable if it is the major cause for the contempory crisis of values in Japanese
society. There is an on-going public debate on the value system of the Japanese in
mass media. However, the debate itself is not of my concern in this paper. I am
working on the assumption that the value crisis is present in the contemporary
Japanese society and I will solely focus on an ethical aspect of this crisis. By an
ethical aspect I mean the relationship between the individual and the society, a
major pillar of Watsuji Tetsus thought, which I consider particularly topical
here. The findings of my paper are predominantly based on a qualitative textual
analysis of Watsujis work Ethics which points to a crucial aspect of the problem
of Japanese identity from a philosophical perspective which I consider to be up to
date in many ways.
Causes, Symptoms and Consequences
Since the postwar period, the emphasis of the Japanese value system successively
shifted from communitarianism to individualism (Oyama 1990). The
individualism in the original sense of the word is based on a balance between
individual rights for liberty, equality, and public responsibilities. However, in the
case of Japan, it seems that in the postwar pursuit of denouncing the
totalitarianism, the Japanese over-emphasized freedom and right of self-
determination of the individual and equality.
This kind of individualistic approach was accompanied with the neoliberalism
focused rather on the individual, and the society was regarded as derived.
However, that approach proved to be non-functional, because it ended in
overemphasizing the individual’s definition of his own values at the expense of
social ones. Instead of the integration of the individual into the society, it
apparently led to a disintegration of social solidarity and weakened an affinity with
the community, which was considered as secondary to the autonomy of
1 This paper is partially based on remarks originally presented at the 5th International Symposium of
Young Researchers held at the Autonomous University of Barcelona on 4th July 2014. I am greatly
indebted to Dr. Blai Guarné Cabello for discussion about some relevant points of Watsuji Tetsurō’s
ethical thought and the identity of Japanese.
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
independent and free individuals who are brought together conditionally on their
own terms. Accordingly, the community was regarded as a hindrance in living as
one sees fit and the individual was regarded as the one who independently decided
his preference to remain or not to remain within its framework. As a result, the
individualism and neoliberalism tended to be misunderstood, leading to a
misconception that individuals are free to do almost anything as long as it does not
violate a law or offend others (Kobayashi 2000).
However, it should be definitely mentioned that the inclination to this kind of
individualism that became rampant in Japanese society found its expression on the
right of self-determination and development of political participation as well, as
evident especially in the 60’s and 70’s. Nevertheless, this rather positive transition
was accompanied with the aggressive asserting of egoistic interests, the gradual
dissolution of local communities, the increasing number of nuclear families,
single-parent families and divorces in a way remarkably similar to Europe and the
United States, not to mention the feeling of alienation from the society (e.g.
hikikomori 引き籠り) and the alarming number of violent misbehaviour cases at
Japanese schools.
Furthermore, during the 60’s and 70’s in Japan, there was a substantial
increase of the so-called new religions which continues until the present day
(Kisala 2006). This social phenomenon is one of the significant responses to the
crisis of spiritual identity. The new religions such as Buddhist-based Sōka Gakkai
(創価学会), Risshō Kōseikai (立正佼成会), or Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan (佛所
) aspire to saturate the contemporary search for values with the
resurrection of past assurances in the context of present-day social issues by means
of attempting to draw upon tradition and yet remain relevant and to date. Although
they share a certain stress on identification with the community, they deal with the
identity of the individual, at the same time.
The membership in community is critically important to the individual in
Japan (Carter 2013, 138). The individual tends to be seen as having no importance
outside his group or community identifications. However, given that a group or
society that does not provide individual with assurance and sense of security, not
to mention self-realization and self-fulfillment, there is no way to guarantee good-
working social relations.
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
Generally speaking, the social constraints imposed on individuals by the
traditional structures were liberated and obviously, the Japanese, traditionally
profoundly influenced by the principle of self-restraint and dissolving the ego into
the group, are inclined to lose a sense of devotion to the social structures to which
they belong, as elsewhere in other modern societies. The contradiction between
individual and social interests imposes an excessive strain on every individual and,
naturally, the whole society. I assume that this kind of conception of interpersonal
relationships hinders the awareness of a person’s identity and also the adequate
ethical relationships. The confusion of approach to other people is a timeless issue
which certainly cannot be definitively untangled. However, for those who are
engaged in contemporary Japanese society research, Watsuji´s conception brings a
very inspirational outlook which may open new perspectives on variety of issues
related to Japanese identity.
Watsuji’s View of Human and Social Relations
Watsuji Tetsurō (和辻哲郎, 1889–1960), together with Nishida Kitarō (西田幾多
, 18701945) were the two most seminal thinkers of a reflective phase of
Japanese philosophy. Both of them were strongly influenced by phenomenology
and well versed in various writings of Western philosophers. To a great extent,
both of them, like many other Japanese intellectuals at that time, had tried to
develop and articulate a synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. While Nishida
is credited with having introduced phenomenology to Japan, Watsuji contributed
to the intercultural dialogue by elaborating phenomenology into a systematic study
of ethics.2 His quest for a phenomenology, Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintō-
based interpretation of Japanese society is accompanied with a harsh criticism of
Western individualism, that has become predominant at that time in Japan.
Watsuji’s philosophy strives to articulate a more comprehensive view of
humanity and the human relations grounded in the grasp of contradiction between
the individual and the society. In his point of view, the individuality of human
cannot be considered alone, isolated from sociality, because any individuality is
inevitably immersed in the world, which is always shared, whether as a shared
time or as a shared space. The individual isolated from the context of society or
2 Whereas Nishida employed phenomenology to elaborate the original concept of pure experience
(junsui keiken 純粋経験), Watsuji applied phenomenology to ontology and Japanese intellectual
tradition-based ethical system.
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
community of other individuals, is actually a non-existing abstraction. That is
because such a consideration of human is only temporal, but not spatial as well.
Provided that people are mere individuals, the ethics would also be only a matter
of individual consciousness. However, since there is no nakama ()3 to relate to
ethically, then there is nothing ethical there in Japanese sense of the word:
The locus of ethical problems lies not in the consciousness of the isolated
individual, but precisely in the in-betweenness of person and person. Because
of this, ethics is the study of ningen. (Watsuji 2007, 20)
Since Watsuji radically disapproves a purely individualistic assumption of social
human being of Western individualism and expresses his viewpoint on humans as
essentially social, his ethics is sometimes labelled as communitarian. However,
such a sweeping generalisation is the very source of misconceptions about
Watsuji’s ethical system. In fact, his ethical system is not communitarian as it is
not liberal.
Communitarian social theory contends that the identity of individual is not
independent of society and must be understood within a given social context. The
individual independence and autonomy, then, is not a social concern. To this
extent Watsuji’s viewpoint could be considered communitarian, but here should be
mentioned that Watsuji also draws on Buddhist metaphysics manifested in the
Japanese language. Specifically, it is his understanding of humanity as the so-
called movement of double negation.4 Since we, human beings, are both
individuals and yet we are involved in groups or communities to fulfil our
individual role in fact means to negate our social involvement. On the other hand,
to fulfil our social role means to renounce a great part of our individuality in order
to emphasize and confirm our group membership.
Such an act of double distancing either from our individuality or our sociality, is,
simply put, the negation of negation or the movement of double negation. In the
movement of double negation, the distance between self and other disappears and
3 Nakama () originally meant “companion”, “fellow”, and “circle of friends”. It is the initial
character of compound word rinri (倫理) which means “ethics” or “morals”. (see Watsuji 2007, 21)
4 The society emerges from negating the individual and consequently the individual emerges from
negating the society. This movement of double negation establishes provisionally (until another act
of negation) both the society and the individual.
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
their mutual negation results in absolute emptiness. The term emptiness (śūnyatā,
) implies that neither the individual nor the society has actual intrinsic
identity. The identity exists only potentially. Instead of identity, there is just pure
potentiality. This way the emptiness could be conceived as an empty space open to
any imposition, any possibility. The moment that the choice is made or imposition
is realized, a myriad of other possibilities no longer exists and a myriad of new
possibilities emerges.
As Robert E. Carter explains in the English translation of Ethics (Rinrigaku
理学), according to Buddhist teaching, “everything is deprived of its substantiality,
nothing exists independently, everything is related to everything else, nothing
ranks as a first cause, and even the self is but a delusory construction (Carter
1996, 350). Even the emptiness itself is empty, which means that it lacks a
concrete identity. The emptiness has no distinctive features, it has no attributes, it
changes persistently into countless alterations. It is impossible even to define the
emptiness as a “summary” of both the negation of the individual and the negation
of the society. Every effort to define the emptiness fails because rationality is
unable to describe something utterly irrational. However, the negation of what
originally is negative gives rise to the provisional identity or also, to be precise,
the non-identity, which is ever-changing by means of contradiction. In other words,
since the emptiness is the very foundation of our individual and social identity, the
identity itself is finally self-contradictory (Carter 1996, 348).
In a purely Buddhist approach, from the dualistic nature of human being, from
our intrinsic emptiness, a constant tension emerges. The tension between
individuality and sociality establishes impermanent and changeable character of
human being. Ignoring or denying this dharma only leads to attachment (e.g. to
things or life) and suffering. The ever-changing character of human being is
underlied by the emptiness as the matrix that grounds all distinctions. The
emptiness here serves as the background to all foregrounds (Miyagawa 2008, 208
9). In everydayness of life, such a feature is represented by the so called
“betweenness” (aidagara 間柄) between us, a permanently emptying relational
space in which both good and evil only exist as possibilities. In other words, the
emptiness represented by betweenness between us is itself empty, yet it makes
possible all kinds of social relationships and distinctive features of these as well.
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
Watsuji’s Ethics, published in several volumes from 1937 to 1949, to a great
extent challenges inherently Western conceptions of the relationship between the
individual and the society. In the first part of the book Watsuji focuses on re-
thinking the ontological foundation of human existence. Beginning with a critique
of modern ethics as a “problem of individual consciousness only” (Watsuji 2007,
9), he asserts that the concept of the individual is but one moment of human
existence and therefore should not be understood as “totality of human” (Watsuji
2007, 19). Furthermore, he considers the individuality of humans to be merely an
abstracted view of the human nature as an isolated ego. Similarly, sociality, as
well as individuality, is merely one aspect of human being. However, society is
only a society when comprising of individuals. Neither the individual nor the
community is able to exist independently (Watsuji 2007, 154). On the other hand,
the individual is only an individual in relation to other individuals recognizing his
otherness. Generally speaking, neither the individual nor the society exists
separated from the other. Ultimately, a human consists of individuality and
sociality, so he necessarily cannot be independent of interpersonal relationships in
society. Ethics, then, is the study of human interactions with others.
According to Watsuji, humanity is constituted neither by individuals nor by
society, but rather in the dialectical movement between the two. The existence of
the individual is embedded within the social web of betweenness. When referring
to actual human being, betweenness is the network of relationships that embeds
humanity in sociality. It embeds human in his social meaning (such as being an
inhabitant of a certain state or a member of a certain church). However, as already
mentioned above, it must be asserted again, that the crux of betweenness as a
foundation of both the individual and the social character of human being is not
just an obligation to the community, but a “double negation, of both the
individual and the society. Betweenness within society becomes evident in
language as a means of communication and general sharing (Watsuji 2007, 58).
Living in the same betweenness ensures us that when we come into conflict, we
share the same desire to reach a compromising solution (Carter 2013, 142). To a
great extent, the betweenness determines the everyday being in the world as a
common sense, but also is determined by the people within it. Betweenness as a
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
common sense is an expression of social climate, which reciprocally determines
and is determined by history and environmental conditions (Watsuji 2007, 78).5
Movement of Double Negation
As individuals, no matter how we try to extricate from it, we are never separated
from social relationships. We share a common language, tools, a cultural heritage.
We are even born in this world already within a network of relationships as family
members. And last but not least, we become members of various groups on our
own initiative. We attend lectures at schools, work in companies and we join
sports clubs. As individuals, we voluntarily attend the group and this way negate
our individuality or negate the group by choosing not to attend them.
This is precisely the notion of movement of double negation put into practice
of everydayness. For example, one personally, as an individual, dislikes a big
family party, but since one is not only an individual, but a brother, mother-in-law,
nephew or granddaughter, attends the party and shares a festive time with his
relatives. When one, for example, loses touch with his family or his job, insisting
on an assumption that he is an independent individual, he renounces a very
important part of his social bonds. On the other hand, when one as a member of
society neglects his own creativity and blindly supports viewpoints and deeds of
others, one renounces individuality. This is precisely the moment when dialectics
between the individual and the society is instantly stuck and ceases. The
individualism interrupts and this way prevents the individual from being an active
part of the whole which is based on active individuals. In a broad sense not only
individualism, but also the other extreme, totalitarianism, interrupts dialectic of
mutual negation, and ultimately silences the dialogue between the individual and
the society. That is why it must be emphasized again and again that neither social
relationships nor individuality is superior to the other.
Such an utterly Buddhist idea of middle path void of all extremes is, according
to Watsuji, the very essence of humanity, which is selfless, empty and embedded
within the social web of betweenness. The more relationships we make, the more
the space between extends. On one hand, our social aspect unfolds, on the other
hand, our individual aspect unfolds as well. To be a human means constantly to
shift between being an individual and being a member of the greater whole such as
5 For further reference see Watsuji 2011.
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
family, community, church, or state (Watsuji 2007, 1389). The individuality does
not exist without the whole from which it separates and against which it
demarcates itself. And conversely, the society does not exist without being
consisted of active individuals. The individuality emerges from negating the
totality and vice versa.
Self, Other, and (non-)Duality
The basis of real unity is neither the community, nor the individual, it is the mutual
relation between them. The more the individual fulfills himself in the society, the
more can the society achieve an ethical unity (Couteau 2006, 283). This works on
an assumption that the betweenness is the very foundation of human relationships
and that the structure of human (ningen 人間) is equally individual and social. It is
expressed in the original meaning of compound ningen as “being individual(hito
) and “being between” (aida ) in conjunction. Thus, ningen refers to the social
orientation of a human being and consequently to the individuality of human being.
Hence, the above mentioned clearly shows that the “between” is not a space
between two mutually independent entities, which belong to certain hierarchy, but
ultimately is the space of mutual relationship (Mochizuki 2006, 48).
There is another very important remark on the space between individual and
social being that should be pointed out here. The space is also an arena of
interacting with others and as such, it both joins and separates us. In the mutual
interaction, the community on one hand and the individuality on the other takes its
shape. On one hand, in a community, the identity of self disappears, on the other,
as individuality, social impositions disappear. Both the social and individual
identity as separate entities fade away, both subsume into the non-duality. In the
space of non-duality, there is no distance between self and other and the
betweenness shrinks to nothingness. As a result of this non-duality, the most
distinctive characteristic of human beings is benevolence.
However, the fact that being human means being benevolent does not mean
that there should not appear problems and contradictions in our mutual
relationships. On the contrary, there is a myriad of problems in interpersonal
relationships we have to deal with. The problems that unavoidably arise when one
human relates to another, require at least a decent sense of appropriate attitude.
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
Along with the sense of appropriate attitude, there are also expectations and
principles that are required for human beings living in any community.
As the space of betweenness persistently shrinks and extends, the ethics of
relationships emerging between people develops accordingly. A human
renouncing social relationships, in this regard, is not considered as an individual, it
is not even a human being. It is because since there is no space to relate to other
humans and there is no way for him to engage in the dialectic of his own
individual and social aspects which evolves and cultivates not only his sociality,
but also his individuality. That person is not a complex being, he lacks the crucial
aspects of humanity, so he is––in simple terms––inhumane. Any community (e.g.
a family or a church) as a whole develops together with its elements, the
individuals, whose relationships give rise to it. This way continual disintegration
of community (as a whole) leads to its subsequent restoration. In other words,
duality brings about non-duality and non-duality brings about duality. Hence, true
ethics, according to Watsuji, is a return to an authentic unity through an initial
contradiction within the self, and between the self and the other in the betweenness.
The awareness of the mutual interconnection of everything blurs the borderlines of
separation and former duality of self-other disappears in non-duality. Here
becomes clear how significant the dialogue between the individual and the society
is. An incessant movement of the dialectic between the individual and the society
returns humans back to themselves (Mochizuki, 2006, 4950).
An Interpretation of Watsuji’s Ethics in the Context of Value
Crisis of Japanese Society
The afore mentioned outline of relation between humanity, betweenness and
emptiness implies that, in Watsuji’s terms, the dialogue between individuality and
sociality, that is supposed to occur incessantly in betweenness, falls silent. Or, to
be more illustrative, the individual unable to put up with a social pressure to
integrate into society who finally resigns on himself or the society, brings about
the cessation of dialogue (Couteau 2006, 2856). The society composed of
resigned individuals certainly is unwilling to comply with common interest and
also ends silent towards the individual. Without even a slightest hint of a response,
there is no relationship. In Watsuji’s point of view, the ethical system, establishing
itself in dialogue, is a fundamental law of human existence. What is more, for him
it is the very quintessence of human existence in the world (Watsuji 2007, 22).
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
That is why our attitude to this principle matters when attempting to find our own
identity and restore the disintegrated relationships in society.
In ethical social relations, the crucial value is a responsibility, whereas an
individualistic approach (which, according to Watsuji, barely has anything to do
with humanity) asserts freedom and right to self-determination. To establish
harmony (wa ) between those is presumably a solid basis for functional social
relationships. Even though the crucial individual and social values are
contradictory, yet in a dynamic nature of their mutual negation, in the “space” of
emptiness, the dialectic relationship emerges. After all, to paraphrase Watsuji, the
ethics is all about the dialogue between the individual and the society. Dialogue
progresses only in dialectic and vice versa.
Following the red thread running through the ethical system of Watsuji, we
come to figure out that his way of grasping the ethics is far from examining
whether the Japanese act ethically or not. Rather, he analyses their way of thinking
and acting and reveals their ethical characteristics. Hence, Watsuji’s study of
ethics does not concern the ethical “ought” as frequently seen in the “Western”
approach, but the actual way of thinking and acting. His ethics refers to a system
of relations that are important for a proper interpersonal association, including
some sense of the appropriate attitudes to embody in dealing with others.
Watsuji’s ethical thought as a complex synthesis of Shintō, Buddhism and
Confucianism, is not interested in theoretical ethical ideals or individual moral
consciousness. The sphere of interest for Watsuji was the actual subjective way of
human existence (Miyagawa 2008, 222). That is also why he tried to examine the
conditions of human being in the network of betweenness and did not separate the
individual and social aspect of human being.
Presently it may seem to us that there comes a time when “ought” becomes
required to some extent. The crisis of values is the cardinal problem of any
postmodern society worldwide and Japan is not an exception. However, when
trying to deal with the problem, no matter how large scale it is, we should always
keep in mind that what works in a certain milieu, it might not necessarily work in
another one. It surely does not mean that the principles and rules of community
and society have been forgotten and left for good and the Japanese are unable to
bring them back or recreate them without any imperative. On the contrary, if
Watsujis deductions of ontological foundation of human being were true, then the
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
appropriate individual and social settings must be able to reset at anytime and any
As we have already become acquainted with the crucial point of Watsuji’s
ethics, which is that neither individuality nor social relationships is superior to the
other, we should be aware of what the actual ethical conduct means for him. The
true ethical conduct primarily aims to the achievement of relative harmony.
Harmony is the key achievement of community in shintoistic point of view. Shintō,
the indigenous religion of Japan, is based on harmony, a spirit of thankfulness and
sincere effort. To lack any of these qualities is unacceptable and shameful. To lack
these qualities means to risk losing face in front of the whole community one
belongs to, and for Japanese, that is the worst failure of all. The key to achieving
harmony lies in humans themselves, in their ability to be trustworthy and truthful
(Couteau 2006, 286). However, this is impossible without having a kokoro (),
which is a crucial personality trait in Japanese society. The word kokoro is usually
translated as “heart and mind”. It implies that the mind and heart (body) are united.
To put it starkly, notion of kokoro suggests, on one hand, that human reason
should be compassionate and, on the other hand, that human feelings should be
reasonable. A person who expresses his own kokoro is trustworthy and truthful, he
is a person with whom another person does not have to hesitate to enter into an
intimate relationship. A person with kokoro is someone with no ulterior motive
who displays a unity of his acting and feeling, reason and feeling and, naturally,
body and mind.
Trust and truth that serve as a root to benevolence in human kokoro, have the
critical importance in all positive ethical human relationships. The virtue of
sincerity (makoto ) serves as the foundation of trustworthiness, truthfulness and
honesty. To be sincere means that a person will act as he says he will act. Hence,
that person is perceived as one that can be counted on to deliver to his word.
Furhermore, it connotes a recognition of one’s intrinsic agenda that one attempts
to express in one’s behaviour and acting. In any community and society, sincerity
reveals an attitude of mutual trust as an integral part of what is already embedded
in the betweenness of interpersonal relationships (Carter 2013, 1456).
The betweenness is not only the space where human beings meet each other, it
is an apparent empty space profoundly etched by cultural tradition. As we are born
into the world, we are not tabula rasa, for we have already been influenced by
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
climate and culture through the experience of our mothers. As we grow old, we
encounter our family, other relatives, schoolmates, weather changes, cultural
customs and many other stimuli. The exposure which occurs in such an encounter
teaches us much about relationship strategy, drawing on the centuries of previous
experience which is inevitably included in the betweenness. To be aware of the
betweenness between humans and the mistakes that we made in our past
relationships, helps us to figure out possibilities for resolving current issues with
others as they arise (Carter 2013, 143).
Watsuji’s ethical system, even though it is very complex and profoundly
elaborated, harbours some very important contradictions that every interpreter of
his work should pay attention to and that should be definitely mentioned here.
Undoubtedly, Watsuji’s work defends Japanese culture as well as the emperor so it
is not surprising that he is frequently criticized as a reactionary. Thinkers such as
Sakai Naoki harshly criticize Watsuji’s concept of “being on good terms
(nakayoshi 仲良し)” within the society: “Watsuji proposes a kind of ethics whose
central guiding principle is to be on good terms with others: It is a kind of ethics
that permits one to neglect other social and ethical concerns in order to remain on
good terms with others.” (Sakai 1991, 175) Also, Watsuji seems to underline the
social aspect of existence to an extent that he considers a nation to be the apex of
ethical being (Yoshizawa 2006, 3734).
Moreover, he seems to overemphasize confidence in the community or the
society as a whole, in spite of the fact that it does not consist solely of ethically
acting persons. Behind the cover-up of so called “public welfare”, there could be a
hidden manipulation. In any society, there is always a threat of abuse of authority
under the false pretext of “socially convenient” that results in an unethical acting.
Also, Watsuji seems to underestimate the problem of responsibility. In words of
Jeffrey Wu: “... In the end, Watsuji seems to have been oblivious to the possibility
that the community could also betray the individual, which was the case for many
in the context of total war.” (Wu 2001, 101)6
6 For further reference considering critical views on Watsuji see Bellah 1965; Bernier 2006; La Fleur
2001; Mayeda 2006; Nagami 1981; Sakai 1991.
Kristýna VOJTÍŠKOVÁ: The Crisis of Japanese Identity in the 21st Century
Despite the fact that Watsuji never promoted or defended totalitarianism, his
reliance on nakayoshi, self-sacrifice and social unity as ethical values remarkably
resonates with the official rhetoric that was used in Japan of thirties. However, we
should be very careful when attempting to interpret Watsuji’s ethical system in
term of politics. It would also be short-sighted to denounce it as a whole because
of that.
From a philosophical perspective, Watsuji’s ethics is an inspirational
contribution to find a new intellectual ground of self-comprehension and re-
definition of social and individual identity in Japanese society. It is a theoretical
challenge to understand oneself better and to set conditions of new initiation of
dialogue based on the middle path between the liberal and the communitarian
attitude, between the individualism and the totalitarianism. Nevertheless, the
actual application depends purely on the individuals who consciously decide to
apply such a middle path of benevolence, trustworthiness, truthfulness and
sincerity. In other words, it requires kokoro displaying the humanity and reflecting
the humanity of others in betweenness (Couteau 2006, 287).
In the end, Watsuji’s thought is imbued with the Buddhist notion of emptiness
and maintainance of harmony between individuality and sociality. There certainly
is no room for the egoistic approach or pure altruism in the betweenness between
humans. The emptiness provides humans with empty selves that fills in mutual
interaction and then empty again and again. Now, in a disagreement or argument,
there are no selves to be offended. The striving to win in a quarrel or humiliating
our opponent in a fight is only a matter of ego. In the relationships, the individual
ego should be suspended because it hinders the achievement of consensus or
agreement. Without any consensus or agreement, there is no way to become a
functional and effective community and society.
As we share the same betweenness, it is in our interest to strive for a positive
resolution of our conflicts, disagreements and quarrels without passion for winning
at all cost. The sincere display of kokoro consolidates our truthfulness and
trustworthiness in the eyes of others and ourselves. This sincerity leads to group
harmony. Trustworthiness and truthfulness are not mere theoretical demands, but
are to be found in the actual actions through and by which they are connected to
one another. Even those who act in such a way as to seemingly reject the
truthfulness or trustworthiness, those who lie, offend, break promises, and do harm
to others nevertheless inevitably rely on the expectation that others act truthfully
Asian Studies III (XIX), 1 (2015), pp. 129144
and do not figure out their hidden intention. So in the end, every social interaction
is based on the trusting relationships that we can rely on (Yoshizawa 2006, 218).
A group, community or society (on a larger scale) which provides its members
with a strong sense of belonging by means of trusting relationships on one hand
and a forum for self-realization and personal fulfilment of kokoro on the other, is
supposed to meet the needs of anyone anywhere in the world.
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Full-text available
In 1959, Lao Sze-Kwang (勞思光 1927-2012), the well-known Chinese Kantian philosopher and the author of the New Edition of the History of Chinese Philosophy, published the book On Existentialist Philosophy introducing existential philosophers to the Chinese readers. Nevertheless, this paper argues that Lao has misinterpreted Kierkegaard's ultimate philosophical problem of "how to become a Christian" as a question of virtue completion, because he fails to acknowledge Kierkegaard's distinctions among aesthetic passion, moral passion and religious passion. By clarifying Lao's misinterpretation of Kierkegaard's philosophy, this paper argues that Lao's trichotomy of the self fails to acknowledge the independence of religiousness from morality and aesthetics.
Full-text available
Watsuji Tetsurō's idea of aidagara (間柄, often translated as 'betweenness') is an essential concept in his ningen rinrigaku with a robust Confucian heritage as he begins his reflection on aidagara from Mencius' concept of gorin or five relationships; it seems that Watsuji tries to reinterpret gorin. However, unlike Yangmingism and the twentieth-century Chinese New Confucianism, Watsuji does not emphasise individual subjectivity; instead, in both Rinrigaku and Fūdo, Watsuji reduces individual self into aidagara and aidagara into the Buddhist notion of Kū. Based upon Mou Zongsan's moral metaphysics, this paper argues that Watsuji's ningen rinrigaku fails to provide a consistent interpretation of Mencius' teaching of gorin. According to Mou, an individual's subjectivity whose mind nature is granted by Heaven precedes and produces mutual relationships among human beings; but the idea of Heaven is omitted in Watsuji's anti-Neo-Confucian understanding of Mencius. Instead, Watsuji that the individual's moral consciousness arises from aidagara, which is the negations of self and others, while the notion of self-negation contradicts with Mencius 7A. However, instead of accusing Watsuji of misunderstanding Mencius, this paper suggests one may understand Watsuji's ningen rinrigaku as non-Confucian ethics instead of a consistent interpretation of Mencius. 撰要 「間柄」是和辻哲郎的人間倫理學中深受儒學影響的重要概念。他對間柄的 反思始於孟子的五倫概念;故此,和辻似乎嘗試重新詮釋五倫。然而,與陽明學 及二十世紀中國新儒家相反,和辻並不強調個人主體性;反之,在 《人間倫理學》 及《風土》裡,和辻把個人主體還原成間柄,又將間柄歸於佛教「空」的概念。 根據牟宗三的道德形而上學,本文認為和辻的人間倫理學無法為孟子之五倫 提供一致的詮釋。根據牟宗三,個人主體所具有天賦之心性乃先於並生出人倫關 係。然而,「天」的概念卻不見於和辻對《孟子》的反理學詮釋。和辻認為個人 道德意識緣起於作為對自我與他者否定之間柄,可是自我否定之主張卻與 《孟子. 盡心上》的說法相違。然而,本文指出,除了批評和辻曲解《孟子》以外,讀者 或可理解和辻的人間倫理學為一非儒學的新倫理學,而非對孟子的一致詮釋。 試 用 版 D r a f t O n l y-P l e a s e Q u o t e f r o m t h e J o u r n a l
Twenty-five years ago, Christians, Ferré, and Fackler’s (1983) Good News: Social Ethics and the Press proposed the then-radical notion of communitarianism as an alternative moral philosophy for media ethics. This article evaluates communitarianism as a media ethic, but not only according to the work already done by Christians and colleagues. Instead, this article extends the communitarian ideal by connecting it, in a new way, to notions espoused a half century earlier by Tetsuro Watsuji, a Japanese philosopher whose prescriptions of ethics in Rinrigaku in 1937 have been largely ignored by media scholars.
Etude de la relation dialectique entre spatialite et temporalite dans les philosophies morales de Nishida Kitaro et Watsuji Tetsuro, representants de l'ecole de Kyoto. Mesurant l'influence de la phenomenologie existentielle du premier sur la conception de la conscience du second, l'A. montre que Watsuji depasse l'heritage de Heidegger en developpant les deux aspects, individuel et social, de l'existence humaine.
Although various dimensions of values have been advanced, this paper proposes a three-fold value typology, using individual, collective and universal value orientations. In post-war Japan, a profound change in values from the collective orientation to individual orientation has occurred. It is suggested that the causes of this change are: 1) democracy imported from Western countries; 2) the development of an affluent society as a result of economic growth; and 3) social changes, like urbanisation and the nuclearisation of the family. On the other hand, in the 1980s there was a growth in the awareness of the universal orientation, involving the relative priority that a person gives to general human happiness over the individual's own happiness if there is a competitive relation between the two. Although people who hold a universal orientation and behave accordingly are still in a minority, the universal orientation will become more widespread in future society and it is therefore important to pay particular attention to it.
It has become customary among many Western scholars to consider Japan as part of an East Asian cultural area, or as a participant in Chinese or Sinic civilization. In a general conception of Asian culture viewed as consisting of East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern cultural areas dominated by Chinese, Indian, and Islamic civilizations respectively, it seems obvious that Japan belongs in the first category. Yet most Japanese scholars use another classification which would divide Asian culture into four areas: Islamic, Indian, Chinese, and—as a separate category on the same level as the other three—Japanese. Without denying the close relation to China, the Japanese scholar is apt to emphasize the unique configuration of Japanese culture which makes it in some sense sui generis . This is only one among many manifestations of the widespread feeling in Japan that Japanese culture is “unique,” and “different.” This sense of Japan's uniqueness may give rise to pride, sorrow, or a feeling of loneliness; but that it is shared by Japanese with otherwise quite varying views is itself a fact of significance.