Prohibitions and Taboos in Japanese and Western Culture
This presentation will concentrate on prohibition as represented in the myths and folk tales of Europe and Japan and in particular upon the theme known as “the forbidden look”1. From an analysis of these myths and folk tales, I will attempt to clarify the objects and significance of taboo as found in European and Japanese culture from a comparative psychological perspective.
After I had been living in Japan for about one year I came across the well known Japanese story called Snow woman (Yukionna) in one of the manga (comic books) so popular in Japan. The plot of this short comic story was identical to that of the well known folk tale excepting the fact that it had been reset in modern Japan. The heroes of the story, in the original an old wood cutter-and his apprentice, were restyled as a departmental chief and a young employee of a Tokyo based Forestry company. Using this idea as basis, the version of Snow Woman as recorded by the Japanalogist Lafcardio Hearn, can, with minor modification, be modernised in the following way.
The Snow Woman Today
The head of the general affairs department of X Corp. and his eighteen year old underling, Yamashita, drove to inspect a forest in Niigata prefecture. On their way home a snow storm blew up and soon their car was unable to continue along the mountain road. With no means of calling for help, they were left with no option but to take shelter in a hut beside the road. The hut had no stove nor hearth. The departmental chief and Yamashita bolted fast the door, and lay down to rest. After a while they were sound asleep.
Yamashita awoke when a flake of snow fell upon his cheek. By the light of the moon, scattered by the falling snow, the figure of a beautiful woman - perfectly white from head to toe - could be seen bending low over the old man. She blew onto the his face - her breath was like a stream of glittering white smoke. Then turning to Yamashita, she bent down low over him. Yamashita tried to scream but to no avail; his voice failed him. The white woman stared at him for a while and then said in a whisper
“I was about to do to you as I did to him. But you are so very young... and such a pretty boy eh, Yamashita? No, I will not kill you, not tonight anyway. But if you ever say a word of what happen here tonight, even to your own mother, then I will kill you. Heed my warning well, Yamashita.” Saying this, the woman disappeared.
The next morning when the rescuers arrived at the hut they found Yamashita asleep beside the corpse of the departmental chief. The cause of death was hypothermia. Yamashita was taken to Tokyo and remained in hospital for some time. He was deeply shocked by the events of that night but did not say a word about it to anyone.
When Yamashita had recovered he returned to his work in the company. Each morning he travelled to the centre of Tokyo, each night he returned to his home in the suburbs which he shared with his mother, a widow.
One year in winter Yamashita started up a conversation with a pretty, young girl who happen to be sharing the same train. Her name was Yuki (“snow”) and she had come to Tokyo in search of work. Yamashita and Yuki got along famously and within two or three months and a few dates, Yuki agreed to be Yamashita’s bride.
Yuki was an excellent housewife. Even after she had raised given birth to three children, she still looked as young as the day Yamashita had met her. One night, coming home late from work, Yamashita stared at Yuki who was reading a magazine2 and said,
“Many years ago I met a woman - a beautiful, pale woman - who looked just like you look now.” Without looking up from her magazine Yuki replied.
“Is that so? Do tell me more about her, please.”
Yamashita recounted the events of that fateful night spent in the little hut during the snow storm, how he had seen the white woman, how the his boss had died. Finally he said,
“That woman was terrifying, really terrifying. But whether what I saw was a ‘snow woman’ or merely a dream, that I do not know.”
Yuki threw down her magazine and leapt up. Bending over her seated husband, she screeched into his face.
“That was me, me! And I said then, that if you told any one about that night, I would kill you. If it were not for the children asleep in the next room, I would kill you right here and now. Look after those children well and send them to top class universities3. If anything happens to the children, I will keep my promise and take your life!”
Even as she spoke, Yuki’s voice grew fainter and her form turned to mist. Then, she disappeared, never to be seen again.
The reason why I have given this tale in modernised form is partly in an attempt to convey its timeless appeal. But partly also to describe how I understood this folk tale at the time when I first read it. That was in 1989 when the Japanese economic bubble was about to burst. In the same year “death from overwork” and a small, cute female cartoon character called “Chibimarukochan” where in fashion. I had just finished a home stay with a Japanese family. The father of that home was a doctor and, after getting up at 7 and going for a jog, he would set off to work not to return to the house until after 9 at night. While his life style was nothing like as harsh as that of a Tokyo based company employee, coming from a country where people are inclined to work much shorter hours, I was surprised and impressed by his attitude towards his work. There were genuine reasons however, why he had to work so very hard. His eldest son was attending an expensive private medical university and his eldest daughter was about embark upon a period of study in the United States. And, as is normal in a Japanese family, both his children, who were in their mid 20’s were still living off the family funds. Again, this fathers commitment to the welfare of his children was much greater than I had ever witnessed in the Britain, the country of my birth. But, what struck me as being most peculiar about that household was the elegance and, I have no other word for it, perfection of the mother of the house. While she must have been in her fifties she looked younger than many Western women of forty. When she addressed her husband, she used formal Japanese (as in the story above).
When I first arrived in Japan, I was intrigued and surprised by the extreme elegance or rather “cuteness”4 of Japanese women. But after having been in Japan for about a year, I found that this folk tale gave a form to, a growing sense of ambivalence that I was feeling towards Japanese women. The superficial message that I gained, or read into, this story at the time was, while Japanese women often very “cute”, there is often also a concealed or repressed, and thus slightly disturbing aspect about to their nature. Or so it seemed at that time to me.
I will now consider some of the other prohibitions, to be found in Japanese Folklore and mythology. While the above was intended as a trivial introduction to this topic I shall argue, following Osamu Kitayama that virtually all the prohibitions to be found in Japanese folklore focus on an ambivalent attitude to towards ‘the feminine’, female sexuality and motherhood.
The Forbidden Look in Japanese Mythology and Folklore.
As we saw in the case of The Snow Woman, one of the characteristics of Japanese Folklore and Mythology lies in the fact that, in virtually all cases, it is a female who is represented as the prohibitor; the agent of prohibition. In contrast to the Snow Woman tale however, the majority of these prohibition take the form of a prohibition upon regarding something - a forbidden look - placed by the wife of the male hero of the story. There follows a representative selection of these ‘forbidden look’ episodes beginning with the two ‘forbidden looks’ described in the Japanese book of myth, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, 712 AD).
Izanagi’s Visit to the Underworld.
This myth which describes the birth of Japan begins with a graphic description of sex between the primal male deity, Izanagi and the primal female deity Izanami. Izanami then gives birth to the Islands and numerous gods of Japan. But when she gives birth to the fire god, Izanami’s vagina is burnt and she dies. Mourning the loss of his wife, Izanagi decides to visit her in the under world. Arriving at the gate of the palace in the underworld, Izanagi invites Izanami to return to the land of the living, shouting to her from beyond the door. Izanami asks Izanagi to wait while she consults the god of the underworld and adds “Do not look at me”. After being made to wait for a very long time, Izanagi lights a torch and peering into the palace of the underworld, sees the rotting corpse of his wife. Gods of lightening seethe out from her vagina, while maggots infest her throat. Terrified, Izanami takes flight. Shamed and angered, Izanami pursues him but she is eventually blocked within the under world by Izanagi who places a giant stone at its entrance. From each side of this giant stone, Izanami and Izanagi exchange “words of divorce”. Izanami says “If you block me in the under world ,I will kill one thousand of your people each day”. Izanagi replies, “If you do that, I will build one thousand five hundred parturition houses (“ubuya”; huts where Japanese women were sent to give birth)”. Returning to the land of the living Izanagi is able to give birth to the most important of the Japanese Gods, including the sun goddess, at which he is very pleased.
This myth is extremely important in that, like “the fall” in the old testament of the bible, it explains the origin of human birth and death. At first sight it would seem that what is forbidden in this myth is looking upon the image of death but, as Kitayama argues, that which is prohibited is a vision of birth and death and the (perhaps forced) relationship between the two. Birth is the cause of Izanami’s death , due to the wound to her vagina, and it is her vagina which figures prominently in the vision that Izanagi finds so terrifying. Furthermore, when the pathway to the world of death is sealed and Izanami responds by stating her intention to cause human death, Izanagi replies, not simply with the promise of birth, but with a promise of birth within parturition houses, i.e. concealed birth, birth separated off from the world of mundane life. I will return to the issue of parturition houses later.
Yamasachihiko (Hoorinomikoto) and Toyotamahime (The lord of Mountain Produce and the princess of Eternal Jewels)
Princess Toyotama, pregnant by Lord Yamasachi who had departed from her land beneath the sea, visits him in the Middle Country (Japan = dry land) and asks that he build her a “parturition house” because she is about to give birth. Saying that “when we, from other lands, give birth we return to our original (genuine) form”, she asks Lord Yamasachi not to look at her when she is giving birth. Before Lord Yamasachi can complete the construction of the parturition house, the princess enters labour. Unable to curb his curiosity, Lord Yamasachi breaks the princess’s prohibition and peers into the parturition house. There he sees that Princess Toyotama has turned, or returned, to the form of a crocodile (or shark) writhing in child birth. Lord Yamasachi is filled with fear and surprise. Princess Toyotama is deeply ashamed and leaving her child on the land, returns to her land in (or beneath)the sea, blocking the pathway as she leaves.
This myth explains the separation of the land and the sea5. The parturition house that Toyotama asks to be built is an ineffective prevention against being seen while in labour. That which is prohibited is of course, looking at the heroine giving birth.
Turning to prohibitions that are found in the folk tales of Japan, tales very similar to the one above are found in variety and abundance. Some examples follow.
The Snake Wife.
The structure of the snake wife, a tale found throughout Japan can represented as follows.
1) The hero helps a snake that is being victimised by children
2) A beautiful woman visit the hero and becomes his wife.
3) The wife says “do not look into this room while I am giving birth” but
the hero looks and sees that his wife has turned into a giant snake giving birth to (human) children.
Or 3) The wife says do not look into this room but, the hero looks and sees a snake breast feeding human children.
4) The wife leaves one of her eye balls with the hero and says “bring up the children with this”
5) The wife (snake) leaves.
The first part of this story is often considered to be a late addition reflecting the influence of Confucianism. The fourth part of the story is sometimes omitted. In some variations the story develops further with the hero asking for the snake’s other eye ball etc.
The forbidden look in this tale again represents a prohibition upon the hero against seeing his wife in child birth or breast feeding.
The Crane Wife.
The Crane Wife is another famous tale found widespread in Japan. The structure of the plot is:
1) The hero saves a crane.
2) The crane takes the form of a woman and becomes the hero’s bride.
3) The crane wife weaves cloth and selling this the hero becomes rich.
4) Despite the fact that the crane wife forbade him from looking at her while she is weaving, the hero looks and sees his wife, returned to her form as a crane, weaving cloth from her breast feathers.
5) The crane wife flies away, never to be seen again.
As mentioned above, the first part of this story is considered to be a late addition. In this tale the hero is prohibited from looking at his wife weaving. The prohibition of the crane wife creating wealth from her breast feathers is, reminiscent of the snake wife breast feeding her children and can be take to be a prohibition against regarding the productivity of women. It is worth drawing attention to the fact that in some versions of the tale, the crane wife is seen to be hurting her breast and undergoing self sacrifice in her productive labours.
In addition to the above many other folk tales presenting variants of these same theme can be found. In The Fish Wife and Toad Wife tales, when the hero sees his wife making miso soup (soya bean curd soup) he sees that she is making it by excreting some thing from her “bottom” into the bowl. The fish/toad wife, who has been seen in her real form, leaves the husband as before. In this case as well, it is looking at the productive activity of the wife that is some thing which either is, or should be, prohibited. Again, viewing this scene causes the separation of the couple. The excretion of miso soup can again be considered to represent feminine productivity, i.e. birth.
These folk tales have the following points in common. The wife creates wealth or children from out of her body but when the hero looks or peeps at her during this act, she returns to the other world from which she came. The animal wife appears and, taking the form of a human, she marries the human hero but when the prohibition upon looking at her original form is broken, the couple separate forever. The heterogeneity of the animal wife (or wife of a completely different nature) remains hidden until the final climax of the story. During the middle part of the narrative the human forms taken by the Snow Woman, the Crane wife etc are often described as being an ideal wife. In other words, while creating wealth and being extremely good housewives they are concealing a terrifying animal nature. In this way, a central theme of these tales is the beautiful and the terrible two aspects of womanhood - the ambivalence of the feminine and or the ambivalent attitude of the hero.
Osamu Kitayama argues that the content of the scene that is prohibited within these tale of the ‘forbidden look’ focuses upon central aspects of the mother child relation i.e. child birth and breast feeding. He also relates that this scene can be viewed as a blinding “biological revelation” of motherhood. The productivity of the crane wife and the fish wife can also be interpreted as an allegory of female productivity i.e. birth. The scene that the snow woman forbids the hero to relate is one in which she kills an adult man and spares a “cute boy”. When she appears for the second at the end of the story she says that but for the existence of the children she would kill the hero, now perhaps a middle aged man. In either case, she places much greater value on the life of children than adult men . This attitude too can be interpreted as a representation of another facet of motherhood that can appear terrifying to men.
As Kitayama argues, the heterogeneity of the animal and other-worldly wives seen in these myths and tales, irrespective of whether it is placed under prohibition or not, represents the heterogeneity of the opposite sex. If so, I think it can be argued that: that which is prohibited within these Japanese myths and tales is confronting the most heterogeneous aspect of femininity - motherhood - which males, in the story at least, find the most difficult aspect to identify with.
The forbidden Look in Western Myth and Folklore.
I will now introduce some of the prohibition themes found in western mythology and folklore. The prohibition theme found expressed in the first three is not “do not look” but “do not become able to see”. The most obvious difference, however between the following and the previous Japanese tales is that it is male characters rather than female characters who prohibit.
The Fall of Man in the Old Testament of the Bible.
My summary of this myth is as follows.
Adam and Eve, the first couple, live in paradise. From the moment that Eve is created from the rib of Adam, humans are separated from their parents become one flesh with their wives. The human and his wife are naked but they do not feel ashamed. Eve is tempted by the serpent into eating the forbidden fruit which she gives to Adam which he eats as well. Both Adam and Eve then become aware of good and evil and their eyes become open to the fact that they are naked. God asks “How did you know that you were naked” and when their deed is revealed, as punishment, woman is made to serve man and suffer the pains of childbirth, the man is made to work, suffer and die.
That which is prohibited by this male God is effectively: the knowledge of good and evil and the ability to see that one is naked or, in particular, the ability to see external sex organs. Of the two prohibited outcomes, the second is recounted in greater detail. It is a woman who breaks the prohibition. The prohibited and prohibitor are separated eternally.
This tale, related by the Grimｍs, is famous even in Japan. My summary of is as follows.
The princess marries Blue Beard. After a short while Blue Beard says that he is going on a trip. Before he leaves he says to the princess
“I will be away for a while. I am going to leave you with the keys to the treasure chambers of the castle. Of the twelve chambers, you may open all except the last. You must promise not to open the door to the twelfth room otherwise I cannot leave the keys with you at all”
The princess promises and receives the twelve keys. While Blue Beard is away, the princess opens the treasure chambers in turn finding more and more magnificent treasure in each. After opening the eleventh chamber she cannot suppress her curiosity and opens the twelfth chamber. But to her horror is not treasure but the dead blood stained bodies of Blue Beard’s previous wives. Just then, Blue beard returns. From the blood stain on the twelfth key, Blue Beard realises the princess’ crime is attempts to kill her but the princess is saved by another man.”
In this story Blue Beards prohibition would prevent the princess from looking into the room which contains the dead bodies of his previous wives. There are perhaps two elements to the horror of this prohibited chamber: the fact that Blue Beard is a murderer and the fact that he has had several previous wives. The prohibitor is a male. The prohibition breaker is female. The two part after the prohibition is broken.
Cherry of Zenna
This is one of the many stories found in English folklore telling of encounters with fairies. The gentleman in this story is one of these creatures from another world. The climax of the story is the violation of a prohibition.
Cherry sets out from her village in search of work and soon meets a splendid “gentleman”. The gentleman says that he just happens to be seeking a girl like Cherry and invites her back to his mansion to take care of his son. The mansion is like a palace. The gentleman lives with his son and an old woman. Cherry looks after the gentleman’s son and helps him plant seeds in the garden. After planting each row of seeds the gentleman gives Cherry a kiss at which she is very pleased.
The gentleman orders Cherry to put water from the fountain in the garden into his son’s eyes but he says, “What ever you do, do not put water from the fountain into your own eyes.”
While the Gentleman is away, however, Cherry breaks this prohibition and becomes able to see many things that she could not see before including the fact that the gentleman is meeting his previous wife who he also kisses. When the gentleman next goes to kiss Cherry, she turns him away saying, “Go and kiss that other woman”. The Gentleman realises what Cherry has done. He sends her back to her village. Cherry never sees the Gentleman again.
As in Blue Beard, the prohibition in Cherry of Zenna is against the ability to see the gentleman’s previous wife but, further, an explicitly sexual element is added. As before, the prohibitor is a man, the prohibition breaker a woman and when the prohibition is broken the two part. There were no prohibitions placed by women in any of the tales recorded in a large two volume compendium of British folklore that I consulted.
Psyche and Eros
The Greek myth concerning the marriage of Psyche and Eros is unlike the previous three tales, from outside of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and exhibits certain structural dissimilarities when compared to those above. It too, however, centers around the prohibition of Male.
Psyche is lifted up by the wind god and taken to a valley where she enters a palace. Inside the palace all sorts of delicious foods are laid out for her. When it gets dark, however, Psyche becomes scared when she hears the beating of wings in the darkness. From out of the darkness Psyche hears a beautiful male voice say
“If you marry me I will give you every thing inside this palace. But one thing I ask of you is that you never look at me and never try to find out who I am”.
Psyche agrees and her mysterious lover comes to visit her every night. But when Psyche’s sisters say to her “Your lover is probably a snake” she takes a lamp and a knife and goes to where her sleeping lover lies. There she sees not a snake, but the beautiful Eros (the god of sexual love).
Psyche is surprised and drops hot oil onto Eros’s shoulder. Eros awakes and with a look of reproach flies off into the distance.
In all of the first three tales a male forbids that a female takes a an action which enables her to see something in some way unpleasant (shameful, frightening, inducive of jealousy). In this way the prohibition is not “do not look”, but “do not gain sight”. The final myth is a little different. The prohibition is a forbidden look as was the case in the Japanese tales. The female psyche, experiences no disgust at the sight of Eros. In most respects the structure of these narratives mirrors the Japanese tales given above. When the prohibiting male finds out that the female has broken his prohibition causes their separation. The prohibiting Male is “other worldly”, heterogeneous. The two folk tales, Blue Beard and Cherry of Zenna and perhaps the final myth, share the ambivalent depiction of the male protagonist. All, like the female prohibitors in the Japanese myths, provide their counter parts with tremendous wealth.
There remains the question of what is being prohibited. Hayao Kawai interprets the myth of the fall in the following way. Eve sees “the most disgusting aspect of the male” that part which would “devalue the patriarchal principle” that the myth propounds. I am basically in agreement with his position but rather than “disgusting”, which can not be applied to the depiction of Eros, I find the notion of heterogeneity more persuasive. I propose that that which is being prohibited here is the confrontation with the most heterogeneous and from a feminine perspective unidentifiable aspect of male sexuality i.e. the extremes of sexuality, in the coital, sense itself. Eros is the personification of sexual love. Blue Beard and the Gentleman in Cherry of Zenna prohibit confrontation with the fact of their previous wives. The Judaeo-Christian God prohibits the awareness of external sexual organs, the objects of the coital sexual drive.
From a comparative perspective then, it would seem that, the prohibitions in Japanese myths attempt to prevent confrontation with the most heterogeneous aspects of the female sex, while the prohibitions represented in the western myths and folk tales attempt to prevent confrontation with the most heterogeneous aspects of the male sex.
I will now trace out some of the ways in which attitudes towards childbirth and coital sex and are reversed in Japanese and Western religion and culture.
Sex in Japanese Religion and Mythology.
In Japanese Mythology the sexual act is described in concrete and graphic detail. Male Gods “stuff it in”(sashifusagu) and “stick it up” (kumido ni okosu). The First translator of the Kojiki Myth Basil Hall Chamberlain wrote in his preface, “The whole range of literature might perhaps be ransacked in vain for a parallel to the naïve filthiness of the passage forming sect. IV (that describing the marriage of Izanagi and Izanami) of the following translation”.
In Japanese folk religion, Shrine Shinto, stone and wooden Phalli are erected as object of worship in shrines all over Japan to this day. According to the renowned historian Itsuko Takamure, sex formed a part of the religious festivals in the village or her birth at the end of the last century. She writes in one of her poems,
On the night of festival promiscuity. While the men draw lots to decide their partner, the women do their make up”. This kind of festival is seldom documented in the writings of mainstream ethnographers such a Kunio Yanagida but the other social anthropologists such as Keituke Akamatu relate such sexual “sexually promiscuous” festivals, which too place well into this century, in great detail.
It would be wrong however to assume that the Japanese posses a “promiscuous” sexual morality. Sex formed a part of religion. Sex was treated as something sacred and was controlled within the frame works of folk religion and the village community. Thus sex was, and is, prohibited in Japan, in that there were times and places - certain festivals, certain buildings - in which sex could be performed but it was not tabooed in the sense that it was not suppressed from consciousness or related to notions of defilement.
Child birth and Menstruation in Japanese Religion.
Childbirth and Menstruation, termed “the red filthiness” was subject to severe concealment and Taboo. Ernest Sato writing in 1898 reports that “women, when about to become mothers, were formerly driven out to huts on the mountain side, and according to native writers, left to shift for themselves, the result not infrequently being the death of the new born infant or if it survived the rude circumstance under which it first saw the light, seeds of disease were sown which clung to it though out its after life”6. These huts,or “parturition houses” (ubuya), are the same as that found in the excerpts from the myth. Traditionally women in rural villages were required to spend not only childbirth but also the entire menstruation period in isolation. Due to the sense of defilement surrounding Japanese women, they are seldom allowed behind the counters of Sushi restaurants, or onto the Sumo Dojo (ring).
Sex in Judaeo-Christian Religion
As we have already seen, the old testament of the bible begins with the concealment of the genitals. In the new testament, Jesus Christ is reported to have said: “He who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye offends you pluck it out.”(Matt. 5.27). The strength of the taboos concerning sex in the West are so well know that they need hardly be pointed out.
Birth in the Judaeo-Christian religion.
In the way that sex was regarded as a sacred act suitable to be performed in Japanese religious festivals so child birth has an un-tabooed and sacred place particularly in the Catholic Christian tradition. The Images of breast feeding, which we found prohibited in Japanese folk tales, in the form of painting of the Virgin Mary adorn the walls of Christian Churches.
If I have time I would like to include some observations on the ways in which these mythic and religious taboos persist in modern Japan and the West.
E.g. “Ramaz Divource”. Japanese fathers present at the birth of their child are, like the heros in myth, afterwards some times unable to maintain a relationship with their wives.
Finally I will attempt to explain these reversals from a psychoanalytical point of view.
Osamu Kitayama interprets the “forbidden look” tales in the following two ways. Firstly from the point of the woman, the animal who is rudely observed is used to represent the repressed and self sacrificing nature of women hood under the social constraints placed in Japan. Secondly, from the point of view of the male, the terrible image of the animal wife etc. represents the conflict between the idealised memory of the mother and the raw actually of motherhood. I would like to support the former view but question whether the second goes far enough. Why should it be that the males in the “forbidden look” tales find the reality of motherhood so terrible? Why should confrontation with this image have such a profound effect if is merely highlights the conflict between reality and a memory? Again, why should the image of breast feeding be purged from that of the ideal mother? I would suggest that the first interpretation of the “forbidden look”, which is a look of self realisation, can be applied to the male case as well. Except who the point of view of the male, rather than representing what the male onlooker is, the forbidden drives home to him what he is not.
I would like to propose the explanatory notion that the Super ego or Internalised other of the Japanese is based upon, not the father but the mother. Looking upon the actuality of motherhood the male realises, with terror, that that with which he has been attempting to identify himself is that which he can never be.
1 “Mirunanokin”, translated by Osamu Kitayama as “The prohibition of ‘don’t look’”.
2 In the original Yuki was doing some needle work. This needle work theme can be found in other Japanese myths such as that of the sun goddess and is similar to the weaving found in “the Crane Wife” described below.
3 There was of course no reference to universities in the original, solely the demand that the hero looked after the children.
4 There is what could be called a ‘cult of the cute’ in Japan. “Kawaii” meaning cute, or pretty in a childlike way, is probably the highest accolade that one can give a woman and is often used to praise men. A derogatory usage of the word “cute” is not found in Japan.
5 The distinction between land and sea finds considerable emphasis within the Japanese cultural, cognitive framework. While, for a large part of their history, the Japanese avoided eating the meat of land mammals, they take pride in eating the flesh of raw and live fish and the Japanese ate the flesh of whales and dolphins until quite recently. In other words it would seem that creatures from the sea are traditionally conceived as being radically different from creatures from the land. Again, when Japanese speak of going abroad, they say they are “going beyond the sea” (kaigairyoukou) and the fact that Japan is surrounded by sea plays a major role in the cognitive foundation of Japanese isolationism; to be surrounded by sea would seem to entail radical separation (much more so, in my view, than is supposed by inhabitants of another “island nation”, the British for instance).
6 Quoted in Basil Hall Chamberlain Trans. Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters, The translators preface to the 1919 edition, Tokyo, Tuttle, 1982. p. xxxviii.