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Freud, Lacan and Japan

Issue 34, Summer 2005, Pages 48 - 62


FREUD, LACAN AND JAPAN[1]

Kazushige Shingu


Freud and Lacan on Japan

Freud was born when Japan was still in its pre-Meiji isolation from the outside world, and during his younger days, information on Japan remained scarce. It is therefore hard to imagine that he encountered discourses that would have aroused his interest in the island nation. Nonetheless, Freud touches briefly on Japan in Totem and Taboo .

In this work, Freud cites Frazer's quotation of Kaempfer's 1727 description of the Mikado as an example of how outrageous taboos have been imposed on kings. Freud reproduces and comments on Kaempfer's description as follows:

. . . "The idea", writes Frazer, "that early kingdoms are despotisms in which the people exist only for the sovereign, is wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are considering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them exists only for the subjects; his life is only valuable so long as he discharges the duties of his position by ordering the course of nature for his people's benefit. . . "An account written more than two hundred years ago reports that the Mikado... "thinks it would be very prejudicial to his dignity and holiness to touch the ground with his feet; for this reason, when he intends to go anywhere, he must be carried thither on men's shoulders. Much less will they suffer that he should expose his sacred person to the open air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on his head. There is such a holiness ascribed to all parts of his body that he dares to cut off neither his hair, nor his beard, nor his nails. However, lest he should grow too dirty, they may clean him in the night when he is asleep; because, they say, that which is taken from his body at that time hath been stolen from him and that such a theft doth not prejudice his holiness or dignity. In ancient times he was obliged to sit on the throne for some hours every morning, with the imperial crown on his head, but to sit altogether like a statue, without stirring either hands or feet, head or eyes, nor indeed any part of his body, because, by this means, it was thought that he could preserve peace and tranquillity in his empire; for if, unfortunately, he turned himself on one side or the other, or if he looked a good while towards any part of his dominions, it was apprehended that war, famine, fire, or some other great misfortune was near at hand to desolate the country."

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