Chris's Reviews > The Anatomy of Self

The Anatomy of Self by Takeo Doi
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Feb 09, 08

bookshelves: japan, culture, psychology
Read in June, 2006

Mmmm... Japanese psychology.

I'm not even sure where I got this book. Maybe I picked it up one time when I was living in a NOVA apartment, I don't know. All I know is, I was going through some books with the thoughts of selling them, and figured I could give this one a try. Maybe, I figured, it would give me some insights I could use.

And, in a way, it did.

Doi is a Japanese psychiatrist, who's made his career trying to figure out how the Japanese Mind works. In a country that is very reluctant to seek mental counseling (I read today that Eli Lilly decided not to sell Prozac here because there was "no market" for it), I imagine this was a daunting task.

His previous book deals with the concept of amae, which is kind of necessary to understand, because the rest of his theory rests on it. Amae is the condition of dependency and security that one has as an infant. In his view, we pretty much long to return to that state, where we can feel safe and provided for, but we have to live in a world that doesn't allow that. So, we have to make mental adjustments in order to live comfortably with other people, while at the same time maintaining our individual identity.

The Japanese have developed a very detailed psychological structure to illustrate this kind of self-division, and there's a whole lexicon of words to describe it. There's omote - the outside, the public - and ura - the back side, the private. There's tatemae - the attitude and personality that one shows to the world - and honne - the thoughts and feelings that are normally hidden.

Despite first appearances, Doi takes great pains to explain that there are no divisions involved in this situation. The tatemae is not a false face, and the honne is not the secret thoughts. Neither is "better" or "worse," the "true self" or the "mask." Instead, they are a construct that allows a person to maintain their identity while at the same time fostering a kind of substitute amae by contributing to a good and stable society.

Confused? Yeah, so was I. I kind of get it, because Doi uses fairly simple terms most of the time, and relates his concepts to concepts in Western psychology that mirror them. He uses a lot of literary examples, from Natsume Soseki's Botchan (which I now have to read again, having gained new insight) to Romeo and Juliet. The book is short, and includes an appendix with a couple of summaries of his work. He's able to lead you to a point where the stereotype of the "crafty Japanese" can be discarded, and the reader can start thinking more deeply about why Japanese people might behave the way they do, and how to best live in that society.

But, not having been born and raised a Japanese person, I don't think I'll ever completely "get it." I see some things a little more clearly, though. and that's pretty good....
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