Japan's Frames of Meaning

Japan's Frames of Meaning: A Hermeneutics Reader

Michael F. Marra
Copyright Date: 2011
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    Japan's Frames of Meaning
    Book Description:

    In Japan’s Frames of Meaning, Michael Marra identifies interpretative concepts central to discussions of hermeneutical practices in Japan and presents English translations of works on basic hermeneutics by major Japanese thinkers. Discussions of Japanese thought tend to be centered on key Western terms in light of which Japanese texts are examined; alternatively, a few Buddhist concepts are presented as counterparts of these Western terms. Marra concentrates on Japanese philosophers and thinkers who have mediated these two extremes, bringing their knowledge of Western thought to bear on philosophical reinterpretations of Buddhist terms that are, thus, presented in secularized form. Marra focuses on categories relevant to the development of a history of Japanese hermeneutics, calling attention to concepts whose discussion sheds light on how Japanese thinkers have proceeded in making sense of their own culture. The terms are organized under three headings. The first deals with koto, which in Japanese means both "things" and "words." Koto is the center of a series of interesting compounds, such as kotodama (the spirit of words) and makoto (truth), that have shaped Japanese discourses on philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, and religion. Writings on koto by twentieth-century philosophers Watsuji Tetsuro (1889–1960) and Omori Shozo (1921–1997) and Edo-period scholar Fujitani Mitsue (1768–1823) are included. The second heading is dedicated to two well-known aesthetic categories, yugen and sabi, which point to notions of depth in physical space as well as in the space of interiority. The University of Kyoto aesthetician Ueda Juzo (1886–1973) guides the reader through a history of these concepts. In the third part of the book, notions of time in the form of ku (emptiness) and guzen (contingency) are examined through the work of Ueda’s colleagues at Kyoto, Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990) and Kuki Shuzo (1888–1941). Perceptive and erudite, Japan’s Frames of Meaning will become a landmark resource—in particular for the insights and provocations it offers to contemporary cross-cultural philosophical dialogue—for anyone interested in traditional and modern Japanese thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6076-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    This book is concerned with the complicated issue of interpretation of Japanese literary texts. By interpretation I mean a consistent effort to make sense of texts—in other words, continuous experimentations toward the construction and reconstruction of meaning. “To make sense” is an odd expression. “Sense” derives from the Latinsensus, which means perception, either aesthetic or emotional. If we want to attribute to this expression the meaning usually given to it (i.e., to explain rationally something that is ambiguously perceived by the senses), we should rather talk about “making sense of sense” and give sense a rational explanation. To...

  4. Things
    • chapter one Things and Words
      (pp. 3-50)

      An enquiry into how meaning is produced must begin from a consideration of the structure of a sentence at its most elementary level. When one thinks of the language employed in this essay, one begins with the basic sentence “A thing is . . . something” — a pattern that can be filled with infinite examples, such as “a rose is a flower.” Such a simple construct provides a large amount of information about the cultural context from which the sentence is born. First of all, the subject — the thing (the rose) — is defined by an attribute. In other words, the...

    • chapter two Koto “The Japanese Language and the Question of Philosophy,” by Watsuji Tetsurō (1889–1960)
      (pp. 51-91)

      In this essay I will attempt to consider from the perspective of intellectual history the interpretation of a fundamental aspect of the spiritual activity of an ethnicity via a specific language, Japanese. This enquiry is premised on the fact that an intellectually historical world that must be approached through understanding is expressed by a genuine language. Accordingly, as Humboldt has pointed out, the spiritual peculiarities of an ethnicity and linguistic formations are intimately connected – if one is given, the other can be sufficiently derived from it.¹ On this point I follow the detailed demonstration given by Professor Tanabe, whose clear...

    • chapter three Kotodama “An Essay on Kotodama: Words and ‘Things,’” by Ōmori Shōzō (1921–1997)
      (pp. 92-136)

      In many ethnicities, beginning with the Japanese, words possess a spiritual power, a power by which people believed things could be called into life. This spiritual power was not just limited to the words of a God who would say, “Let there be light,” in order to bring light to this world. Even the words of man were believed to possess such power. The word (koto 言) calls the thing (koto 事) into being. This power is thekotodama(spirit of words) hidden inside the word.

      This is considered a primitive belief that is not reflected in the contemporary world....

    • chapter four Makoto “An Essay on True Words,” (Makoto) by Fujitani Mitsue (1768–1823)
      (pp. 137-170)
      Fujiwara no Narimoto

      The following are the answers Narimoto gave some time ago to a friend who inquired about the way of poetry (kadō).

      You ask me how we should understand the way of poetry. Originally, a song (uta) was composed when good timing (jigi) should not be broken, and the heartless heart (hitaburugokoro) should not be restrained. It was a way to make whole these two distinctive moments — the merciless heart and good timing. Generally speaking, when one performs an action following his thoughts, a good outcome does not necessarily follow.¹ Therefore, with the help of the way of the Gods (Shintō),...

  5. Depth
    • chapter five Concealment and Brittleness
      (pp. 173-184)

      The compoundyūgen幽玄 (lit. depth and mystery) is made of two Chinese characters:means “faint, dim” and also “deep”;genindicates the black color, the color of heaven, something far away, something quiet, and an occult principle. We find the charactergenused in theDao de jing(Classic of the Way and Integrity) to describe the “Way”: “These two—the nameless and what is named—emerge from the same source yet are referred to differently. Together they are called obscure (Ch.xuan; Jpn.gen), the obscurest of the obscure, they are the swinging gateway of the manifold...

    • chapter six Yūgen, Sabi “Take, Sabi, and Yūgen in Japanese Short Poems,” (Tanka) by Ueda Juzō (1886–1973)
      (pp. 185-254)

      When we read this poem we think of the scene that is sung in the poem—we think of the white clouds rising over the waves that roll heavily and wobble in the vast expanse of the ocean, where not a single island can be seen. As I mentioned elsewhere, the representations of “things” (mono) that are expressed by words in poetry and other literary arts tend to be remarkably vague from a visual standpoint. Neither shape nor color ever comes out clearly. At the same time, however, no matter how vague it is from a visual point of view,...

  6. Being-Time
    • chapter seven Impermanence and Contingency
      (pp. 257-275)

      When it comes to philosophical, aesthetic, religious, and literary discussions of Japan, there is perhaps no category that has been the focus of more scholarly attention thanmujō(impermanence).¹ Discussions onmujōare based on a belief in the lack of any determined substance in the formation of reality and, as a result, the absence of any stable laws or necessity that would regulate daily life with the exception of the law of constant change.²Mujōhas become a catchphrase used to explain the psychology, the logic, and the sentiments of a nation and an ethnicity. This is not too...

    • chapter eight Kū “On Bashō,” by Nishitani Keiji (1900–1990)
      (pp. 276-297)

      The title of my essay is “On Basho,” but I must confess that I never studied Bashō in any depth.¹ It is definitely presumptuous of me to tackle this topic, as there are so many books on explanations and interpretations of chains of short poems (haikai) and individual seventeen-syllable-poems (haiku). It goes without saying that someone like me, who is not a specialist, carries little weight in such debates.

      And yet, despite the many people who have dealt with the ins and outs of Basho, we find in him a deeply developed sense of self-reflection as a poet in his...

    • chapter nine Gūzen “Contingency,” by Kuki Shūzō (1888–1941)
      (pp. 298-340)

      The concept known as “contingency” has a great significance for human existence. I indicated that existence, that is,ens realeorexistentia,is individual and temporal. Moreover, contingency is born out of the individual and the temporal. Contingency is the opposite of necessity. However, there are three kinds of contingencies: categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive.¹

      Categorical contingency accompaniesexistentia. Essence asessentiais something necessary. However,existentiacarries with itself contingent properties.

      Aristotle distinguished the “by itself” (kath’auto) from the “by accident” (kata sumbebekos). For example, man lives “by itself.” To be a living thing is the essence of man. However,...

  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. 341-342)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 343-412)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 413-420)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 421-432)
  11. Index of First Lines
    (pp. 433-436)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 437-444)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 445-448)