A Dialogue

 Makoto Nakada - Rafael Capurro

Makoto Nakada - Rafael Capurro


The following text is a dialogue between Makato Nakada (Research Group on the Information Society, University of Tsukuba, Japan) and Rafael Capurro on intercultural information ethics. It was the basis for a common publication "The Public / Private Debate. A Contribution to Intercultural Information Ethics" in: Rocci Luppicini and Rebecca Adell (Eds.): Handbook of Research in Technoethics, Hershey PA: IGI Global (2009), 339-353.

A former dialogue was published as two separate articles in the journal Ethics and Information Technology:
- Makoto Nakada and Takanori Tamura: Japanese conceptions of privacy: An intercultural perspective. In: Ethics and Information Technology, 2005, 7: 27-36.

- Rafael Capurro: Privacy. An Intercultural Perspective. In: Ethics and Information Technology, 2005, 7: 37-46.

See also here.



1. On Information and Imagination
2. On the "Unmarked Space"
3. The Public/Private Debate




Dear Nakada,

I read the article "Information" by Shunya Yoshimi (Yoshimi 2006). He describes the origin of the word jouhou in Japanese where jou means mind or soul (but also condition, appearance, pity, sympathy...) and hou means retaliation, reporting, secret relations. Jouhou was during the war something similar to what the Germans called Propaganda Ministry. This analysis is fine but too much based on a word and not on the phenomenon itself. Apparently it was Fukuzawa Yukichi, the founder of  Keio University, who invented the concept of information technology in 1879 as related to steam locomotive, telegraph, printing press and post office.

I think it is important to have a historical perspective in information ethics in order to see how in different societies the power on the distribution of messages (as well as on their storage etc.) was conceived and to explore if there were scientists or philosophers observing critically the moral rules underlying such processes. It would be interesting to know, for instance, if such texts exist in the Japanese tradition that would belong to the history of Japanese information ethics.

kind regards,


Dear Rafael,

Yoshimi's analysis on jouhou (= information) on the basis of division of jouhou into two parts, jou and hou seems to be somewhat superficial. In the Meiji Era, the modernization period in Japan in the late 19th century, when a lot of new terms and concepts were imported from European countries and North America, the scholars struggled to invent new Japanese words to translate those new imported ones. Jouhou is among these new invented words. According to some authors the word jouhou was used as Japanese translation of several different imported terms such as renseignement, intelligence, Nachricht. The combination of jou and hou seems to have been a result of a rather arbitrary choice. In addition, the usage of jouhou at the beginning of the Meiji Era was mainly confined to the military terminology. This means that the concept of  jouhou of the Meiji Era seems to have little in common  with the usage of jouhou today. It seems that the use of this term today is directly dependent upon the use of the terms information or information society in US as well as in Europe in the 1970's and 1980's.
I am not sure whether Fukuzawa Yukichi invented the concept of information technology in 1879. It seems that he merely stressed the importance of new technology, together with steam locomotive, the telegraph, printing press and post office, in order to improve the political and social systems of Japan at the beginning of modernization. I think that the remark on Fukuzawa Yukichi as the inventor of  the idea of  information technology is a doubtful interpretation, although such an interpretation can be found even in the formal address of the president of a certain university in Japan.

Concerning the Japanese tradition of information ethics, it is very clear that there is no history of information ethics in our cultural tradition. Japan was a feudalistic and 'backward' country in many respects before the beginning of the Meiji Era. We had no newspapers, no periodical magazines, no legislature, no democracy, no freedom of speech as well as no information ethics (probably) before the Meiji Era.

But at the same time, this does not  mean that we had no tradition of freedom of thought before the Meiji Era. It seems that at least during the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868) some kind of freedom of thought or the equality of 'inner minds' emerged among the people. For example many dominant scholars as well as well-known artists of the Tokugawa Era came from the lower class. In fact, Motoori Norinaga the founder of Kokugaku (koku means 'country' or 'this country' = Japan', gaku means 'science') came from the scholarly tradition of 'critical' interpretation of the ancient Chinese texts. He practiced medicine in addition to being a scholar although he did not belong to the ruling class.

I learned relevant views on 'information' and 'information society' from some Japanese scholars who are deeply interested in Japanese traditional culture and art such as Hideo Kobayashi or Bin Kimura. For example, Hideo Kobayashi stresses the concept of pattern or style of works of art as a source of their symbolic meaning. Kobayashi's remark reminds me some discussions on the concept of imagination and particularly on Kant's conception of Einbildungskraft. Also Bin Kimura insists on the importance of imagination. In addition, Hideo Kobayashi remarks somewhere that some dimension of reality can only be understood on the basis of a face-to-face dialogue such as the dialogue between Confucius and his disciples. To put it another way, meaning arises 'in-between' human beings. Kobayashi also says that when human minds are mainly governed by intelligence this impels us to forget "hidden but important meanings" of this world. I could get an important suggestion from Kobayashi's remark on this point, including suggestions about understanding of metaphors, poetry, dramas as well as the paradigmatic aspects of language use and understanding.

best regards,



Dear Nakada,

I see... we are starting an interesting dialogue again! As I was talking about jouhou I was just citing the ideas by Shunya Yoshimi, not my own views on this matter. Unfortunately I don't understand Japanese.

Concerning the non-existence of information ethics in Japan before the Meiji era. I think that we have different views on what information ethics is about. You seem to suggest that information ethics is the thematization of freedom of speech and the like. In this case it is clear that this mainly happens in the modern era (although we have also the tradition in ancient Greece). But I think this is a very restricted view of information ethics. In my view, every human society organizes according to (moral) rules the way in which information or messages are distributed, accessed, forbidden etc. In this sense there is always an information morality, i.e. a stock of living rules also in pre-modern societies.

The question is then how far there is also a reflection (in form of texts and/or oral tradition) on such rules, independently of the view if these texts are "modern" or "critical" or not as seen from Modern times. If you take for instance the tradition of indirect speech in Buddhism as I tried to analyse it in my Berlin paper (Capurro 2006), then it is clear that some thoughts of Confucius, Lao Tse, Zhuang Tse etc. on the norms that regulate the way people communicate in a society belong to the history of information ethics, although this was not seen as such until now. I agree with you that this kind of archaeological work is not an easy task!

kind regards,



Dear Rafael,

I don't think that Yoshimi's views on Japanese concepts of information are the same as yours.

I read carefully your article, "Towards an ontological foundation of information ethics" today (Capurro 2006a). I could learn many things including the difference between digital ontology and digital metaphysics. Fundamentally I agree with your views on digital ontology that seems to be apart form the views of Floridi who is unaware of the difference between digital ontology and digital metaphysics. But one thing is still unclear (this is not a criticism but a question that rises in my mind strongly stimulated by your interesting and important argument): how is the relation between different kinds of things or meanings such as meanings related to history, culture, (different) media, forms (or styles) of expression, imagination, bodies that 'meet together' or 'have relations with each other' within the 'unmarked space' or openness to Being.

According to Kurt Goldstein ("Der Aufbau des Organismus") and Merleau-Ponty (he cited Goldstein's views in his "Phénoménologie de la perception"), the patient of aphasia and agnosia whom Goldstein and Merleau-Ponty analyzed in their books, was unable to do many things such as to to imitate soldiers' salute, to understand metaphors, to understand verbal order and to obey the order, for example, to touch some part of his body by obeying someone else's verbal command, to take a walk without particular purpose, to classify things with abstract rules. I wonder whether this case means the possibility of changes of or in the 'unmarked space'. Or is my understanding of the 'unmarked space' inadequate?

According to the Japanese psychiatrist Takeshi Utsumi, who follows the tradition of S. Freud, mental patients of schizophrenia can't relate things, for example their experiences in two separate points of time, the present and the past. According to Utsumi, for 'normal' people the meanings of things are written in two different points of time. To put this in another way, if one is not schizophrenic, one can see things from two different time perspectives. Utsumi says that one's subjectivity lies in this divided space between the present and the past. I would like to know whether this present-past time space in our minds has something in common with the "unmarked space".

The Japanese dramatist Masakazu Yamazaki says that the dramas or religious ceremonies begin within the vacuum between the stimulus and the response and the Japanese philosopher Gen Kida relates Heidegger's openness to Being to Uexkuell's discussions on "Umwelt." This seems to be the case also with regard to cultural differences as well as to the influence of the media.

Most of TV CM in Japan today (perhaps in Germany too) rarely compel people to understand the contents of TV CM in a specific way. What the producers and senders of CM do, is to provide people with the half-digested sources, for example 'faces of famous actresses' or 'pictures of a bottle of perfume of a famous brand' within  the 'space of metaphorical combination of matters,' i.e., the space where people metaphorically combine things presented in CM together. People are not forced to understand the meanings of CM in a way intended by the senders and producers but once they are interested in the things presented in CM, they are involved in the process of completing half-constructed structure of this CM or half-digested meanings. People can interpret und understand the meanings of this CM in different ways as they wish but at the same time their interpretation and understanding occur only within the space of metaphorical understanding presented by TV or CM senders. Of course, these are nothing but temporary speculations at the present time.

I am very interested in your discussion about the 'unmarked space'. What I want to do is to know the possibility to relate the discussions on 'unmarked space' with the problems addressed during my lectures and talks with my students.

best regards,


Dear Nakada,
thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. Yes, Floridi is unaware of the difference between ontology and metaphysics. His short remark on Heidegger is wrong (Capurro 2006a). It shows that he did not really understand him. Let me make two short comments on your questions.
The first one concerns the relation of different kinds of meanings within the "unmarked space", a concept created by the British mathematician George Spencer Brown. According to Spencer Brown, the "unmarked space" makes possible the difference between "operation" and "observation" (Spencer Brown 1973). This is a key concept in the thought of Niklas Luhmann. In  my  paper I write:

"Following a recent interpretation, Heidegger's concept of Being can be understood as equivalent to the unmarked space as conceived by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann who follows Spencer Brown (Luhmann 1987; Jahraus 2004, 236-240). In the moment of observation, which is a timely condition, the observer necessarily "forgets" the origin of  her difference. In the case of metaphysics which operates with the difference "essence" (what is) and "existence" (that is) this forgetfulness concerns Being itself." (Capurro 2006a)

I think that we have to distinguish the ontic from the ontological level. At the ontic level we presuppose the unmarked space and don't care about the difference between Being and beings or about the "unmarked space" as such. This means that the understanding of Being is implicitly fixed. At the ontologic level we ask explicitly the question of Being  In fact it is Being that is giving itself to us and we are the ones who are, so to speak, put inside the question about 'what is 'is'?' (not only about 'what is?')
The second question you raise concerning Freud and Heidegger was one concern for many years of a dialogue between Heidegger and the Swiss Psychiatrist Medard Boss
who founded the School of Daseinsanalyse. You can find a picture (if I may say) of the unmarked space as opposed the usual (Cartesian) view of inter-subjectivity in this paper on the work of Medard Boss as well as in my book "Hermeneutik der Fachinformation" (Capurro 1986). Boss wrote his book "Foundations of medicine and psychology" (Boss 1971) together with Heidegger and Heidegger gave during many years seminars to Boss' students in Zollikon/Switzerland ("Zollikoner Seminare") (Boss 1987).
The cases you refer to can be analyzed either at an ontic level, considering, as Boss does, that in schizophrenia there is only a closed space and no openness and difference between past-present-future, i.e., no unmarked space. The only space they are open to is a marked or fixed space (space-time). The other cases you refer to, address qualitative different kinds of phenomena and can be analyzed also at an ontic (also genetic) level as changes in the structure of what constitutes Dasein at the ontologic level. Heidegger himself refers several times to Uexkuell.
Finally concerning your remarks on TV and marketing strategies: this presupposes indeed that people are open to several possibilities. Heidegger himself once draw a picture of "Dasein" by painting several half-circles that can find in the "Zollikoner Seminare." This means that we are open to different horizons of understanding. Marketing people don't care about this, of course, but they presuppose it.
Some media theorists like Friedrich Kittler argue that the materiality of media itself is already something anti-hermeneutic. See the article by Mark Hansen (University of Chicago) in the Sage Publication we talked about. I also think that there is a level of material/technical complexity beyond our hermeneutic efforts (Capurro 1995) or that there is a tension or "transduction". This is the term Hansen uses, following the French theorist Gilbert Simondon which refers to a relation "in which the relation itself holds primacy over the terms related" (p. 299). Hansen also refers to the "pre-programmed" consciousness through digital (mass) media (and cinema). My impression is that Hansen, following also German theorist Stiegler and older critics of media like Adorno and Benjamin, accentuates too much the role of mass media of 20th century and does not take into account the new kind of mobile and interactive media. Being-in-the-internet does  not mean necessarily to become part of the information "Gestell," to use Heidegger’s term which does not seem fully appropriate with regard to the phenomenon of interactive media. The question is then how far does the "unmarked space" appears within such media like in the case of an e-mail exchange such as this one but also within a chat room or different kinds of communities, blogs etc. There is a lot of stuff to discuss.

kind regards,


Dear Rafael,

Yes, there is a lot of stuff to discuss!

I've read Gion Condrau "Daseinanalytic Psychology" following your advice. In contrast to the scientific approach, the phenomenological or existential analytical approach emphasizes a simple experience of the perceived phenomena. But so far as my personal experience is concerned, I often feel that I have difficulty  understanding or seeing the phenomena in the minds of my younger students. I can understand them only after critically (and at the same time sympathetically) interpreting or analyzing the presuppositions  of the phenomena in their minds; the structures of dramas or TV programs they are consuming, their orientation to friendship, or their attitudes towards 'Seken' and so on.

Now in Japan  it is a  new fashion to consume only limited parts of characters of animation or personality as playing some role in imaginative (or virtual) world; the ears of characters remind us of a girl like a cat, a costume of 'maid' looks like a maid in the 19th century in old England etc. We call those parts Zokusei (originally, 'demographic variables' or 'attributes'). Someone says that fragments of imaginative characters are floating around everywhere in Japan. I'd like to continue this speculation or personal analysis, but it will take a little time.

best regards,



Dear Nakada,

I will give a talk on our common thoughts at the University of Pittsburgh. This is my presentation (PowerPoint). Let me know your views.

kind regards,


Dear Rafael,

I have read your presentation. I found it very interesting and challenging. 'Challenging' means that your presentation seems to be something that will make your 'Western' audience(s) reconsider the meanings of privacy and autonomous individuality in the Western tradition. I think that there is nothing to add to your presentation.

But there are some points I'd like to ask you about some time when you have enough free time.

"Networked individualities" is one of those points. In your presentation there is no detailed explanation about this matter. I know this is not the central theme of this presentation, but this seems to be a very important phenomenon. Are "networked individualities" different from traditional autonomous type of individualities in Western culture(s)? If so, in what respect?  I've been thinking of this problem recently because something related to 'networked Aida' seems to exert influence upon Japanese people living in the Information era. This is the theme of Takanori Tamura's doctoral paper which I'm reading now as his adviser and 'judge'.

Second, is there any hidden or covert (or overt) tradition in modern Western culture(s) that leads people to seek for different types of individuality; for example, a discontinuous type, depending upon situations and contexts like the Japanese type in some ways? As Erich Fromm clearly explained in his books (for example, "Escape from freedom"), the minds of people in modern Western countries (at least after the breakdown of medieval culture when people were tied closely by strong human relations) are characterized by their fear of freedom and loneliness. In the case of Germany before and during the previous world war, according to Fromm, this tendency lead (partly or mainly) to the 'success' of fascism. Even in other Western countries, the dilemma deriving from the burden of freedom and at the same time yearning to gain self-identity (sense of uniqueness and originality of one's own presence in this world) continued (or continues) to characterize people's inner minds. I believe that this kind of dilemma characterizes Japanese minds of today too. Some students in my class at the University of Tsukuba told me the other day that "Japanese 'I'" expressed in Japanese popular songs means something between I and we; ambiguous position or state of self-identity. You mentioned in your presentation that it's difficult to know 'what is public?' and 'what is private?' This is also the question presented by Daniel Bell in his book "The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism." It seems to me that there are many aspects that we have to take into consideration when we deal with privacy and individualism.

These are some of matters that came to my mind after reading your presentation. It suggests to me (and probably the audience in Pittsburgh too) something very important and serious beyond the mere comparison of concepts of privacy and individualism between the 'Far-East' and the 'Far-West'.

best regards,


Dear Nakada
thanks for your friendly comments and your suggestions for further thinking. Yes, it is my intention to "challenge" my US audience in some way. I am probably exaggerating a little bit Western individuality We have also a strong social oriented tradition. This is due, as in the case of Hannah Arendt, to the experiences of World War II, i.e., with the totalitarian influence of the state. Arendt separates sharply both spheres, namely the one of politics looking for freedom and having to do with language and the other concerning the "private," the house, reproduction and economy. This is the antique Aristotelian division and I do not think that this is feasible today, not only because the economy is part of politics (probably too strong nowadays...) but also because a strong separation leads to non acceptable positions. Arendt for instance defended the right of white people not to accept blacks in the schools of Little Rock and she changed her mind as a black leader explained to her that this was not just a "privacy" problem but a problem of justice. Of course, she was not a fascist, but her strong rejection of fascism with the totalitarian view of private life lead to this too.
With regard to "networked individualities," in my article in the journal "Ethics and Information Technology" I wrote:
"In fact, I believe that today we are transforming the concepts of autonomy and individuality into what we could paradoxically call networked individualities. Our being-in-the-world-with-others is basically a being-in-the-networked-world. The ethics of informational autonomy is being conceived as an ethics of knowledge sharing. The principle of solidarity is not to be separated from the principle of autonomy." I say "paradoxically" because this concept is somehow an oxymoron, i.e., the two terms contradict themselves or seem to be contradictory. Coming from Heidegger, "being-with-others" is an original or ontological dimension of human existence prior to the modern idea of an "individual" separated from the "outside world" (Descartes). Due to global networking, the modern subject conceived as an autonomous individual is changing. But the fact of being networked is, I think, no enough to describe the present (and future) world shaped by information technology. In the present discussion there is also the concept of "multitude" (Hardt/Negri) coming from post-marxist thinking, as well as the concept of "network cultures" (Geert Lovink). We are looking for appropriate concepts to describe what seems to me "new" particularly on the basis of IT. There is a tension between our world openness and the ontic ways of being technically networked, the former being condition of possibility of the latter. "Networked Aida" is also a good concept I think. What is being networked: the individuals or their in-between? If it is the in-between this means that the technical network is just one possible "mark" of the "unmarked space" we share.
The question of discontinuous individualities has been discussed within the post-modern debate particularly in French thought (Foucault, Derrida etc.). The subject is a modern invention probably due to the loss of a "firm foundation" (Descartes "fundamentum inconcussum veritatis") in Christianity. This was Heidegger's point too, a little bit too strong in his early years and too much "existentialist" or, to put it in aesthetic terms, "expressionist". The "burden of freedom" is mitigated by institutions as stressed by Gehlen, but also by traditions and "original myths" that, according to Egyptologist Jan Assmann, give a society a "mythopoietical" force. Such "myths" are a real  historical fact inscribed in the memory of a society giving this society a direction for action. Probably we still rely on the "myth" of the autonomous individual as arising from the French Revolution. There is, as you say, a view of the originality of the self that is probably too much overemphasized, because originality can only be stated on the basis of some common ground. Looking alone for identity and uniqueness seems to be a problem because we live in a world that is much of the kind of "we are all equal" not in the moral sense, but in the banality that we use similar clothes, cars etc.

If we put this in the context of the discussion about private/public we have a similar problem. There is a kind of dissolution of the traditional private sphere as described symptomatically by Warren and Brandeis in their seminal paper "The Right to Privacy" published in 1890. Today, people want to make public many of the things that not long ago were considered as private. Of course, the main point is the consent but it seems as if (many?) people don't even care too much about it, particularly with regard to what politics is doing with their data. We have a new global situation that cannot be solved on the basis of modern political philosophy as far as it is nation oriented. But we have also a universal as well as an international tradition of political thinking for instance in Kant or today in the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" that have roots for instance in Greek sophists like Antiphon the Athenian (480 BC) (Capurro 2007).

Information technology has brought not just technical changes that influence the new definition (where to draw the line?) of what is public and what is private, also with regard to different kinds of "housing" if I may use this metaphor
is it just a metaphor? for ethics. This is why I start with this in my Pittsburgh presentation. Yes, to follow your thinking at the end, I think that beyond the purely empirical / legal discussion on privacy and also beyond the purely analytical or conceptual discussion we have to address the more fundamental question of "live stiles" or "housing" in the world. Late Heidegger thematized this question also. The world or our small earth seems to become more and more an unpleasant place to live in.

kind regards,


Dear Rafael

Thank you so much for your detailed explanations on privacy and networked individualities. Your explanations are very useful to me in order to understand the foci of many problems I'm struggling with these days.

Your remarks on networked individualities remind me the importance of Mixi that is a very popular form of communication for Japanese youth these days. Mixi is a typical type of SNS (social networking service). One of the most remarkable characters of Mixi is the way of limitation of access to one's blog-like diary; the author of that diary can decide the range of readers, i.e., who can read his/her diary. In addition, affiliation of Mixi is permitted only by introduction through one of the old members. These conditions of affiliation and permission of access to one's diary characterize the communication done within this networked community, particularly with regard to limitation of anonymity.

When I was talking about this problem with one of my students the other day, I suddenly realized something important with Mixi's blog-like diaries, namely what stimulates the readers' interests (at least partly) rests upon some kind of Musi (= denial of self, denial of egocentric self). I used to think that some kinds of narcissism influences the contents and ways of description of Mixi's blog-like diaries but I found (or interpreted) that the majority of the authors in Mixi's blog-like diaries as well as majority of authors of diaries or blogs in our country (I don't know the situations of blog writers in other countries) is trying to make the contents of their blogs 'transparent' or 'pure,' i.e., free from one's arbitrary interpretation or free from egocentric views on  things they encounter in everyday's life in spite of the fact that these diaries or blogs are filled with the authors' personal experiences. In this respect, Japanese blogs (including Mixi's blog-like diaries) is a certain kind of continuation of Japanese novels that I discussed in my(our) paper on Japanese privacy (Nakada/Tamura 2005).

But some paradox or contradiction is present here too. As I described above, I feel that some kind of purity or atmosphere like Musi is present within Japanese blogs (including Mixi's blog-like diaries), but at the same time this Musi appears to be closely tied with (or to be 'invaded' by) commercialism in several aspects. First, Mixi itself is managed by a commercialized company; Mixi is a kind of business. Secondly, the members of Mixi can share the personal reviews of books, movies or music and they can also order these reviews or personal comments of books, movies or music through Amazon or similar companies. In addition, the authors of these blogs (including Mixi's blog-like diaries) seem to borrow (or share) 'the key concepts used in the central points of their description' or 'the ways of narrating one's experiences' from commercialized popular songs for the young generation. "Look at me! I am here!":  this phrase is a kind of cliché used within Japanese popular songs ('J-pop'). One of the most popular themes appearing in J-pop is a combination of a feeling of 'disappearance of one's original or genuine/authentic place,' in other words, a loss of one's clear and firm self-identity as well as a feeling leading to sharing 'pity' or 'sorrow' resting upon this loss or disappearance of authentic self/place with the majority of other (young) people. "Look at me! I am here!" is often used within J-pop to express this kind of combined feelings. It seems as if the majority of the authors of blogs (including Mixi's blog-like diaries) are influenced by the 'popular' theme of commercialized 'popular' songs.

We (I and my graduate students at University of Tsukuba) are now reading a paper about 'responsible technology' by John W. Murphy et al. ("Fundamentals of a Responsible Technology"). This paper begins with a passage cited from Heidegger's work which refers to technology as a mode of revealing the truth. But under the circumstances of pervasion of networked individualities or 'networked Aida' as an important communication tool, technology is, ironically revealing the connections of 'ways of self-understanding,' 'ways of self-presentation,' 'ways of sharing meanings of experiences with one's friends,' 'ways of gaining the 'customers' of commodities (commercialized goods) by the commercialized companies or advertisers.' These connections can't be separated form one another. This phenomenon seems to be one of the most urgent problems of information ethics just as you pointed out in your previous mail. These problems are the subjects of my lectures of this year too.

Best regards,


Dear Nakada,
I see a kind of contradiction in the way Japanese youth behave. On the one hand they have the possibility of limitation of access and this means of drawing the line between public and private, but on the other hand you write that they look for more transparency. It seems to me that this transparency is 'just' for the community and belongs to the private sphere of the group. Or did I misunderstand your description? 

It is also difficult to distinguish between what is 'denial of self' and what is pure narcissism ("Look at me! I am here!"). The fact that Mixi is a business makes things more complex because, as you describe in our paper, this would be part of Shakai although diaries are part of Seken (are they?) and the drive for "pure transparent" and "self-less" being is somehow "strange" and related to Ikai (also because of the opposition between transparent/non transparent or pure/non pure. All this seems to point at least implicitly to the 'strange' world of Ikai. Is this correct?
My explanation of what you describe is that Japanese youth is at the crossroads of the three dimensions you analized in your paper. Blogs as aida or open space "in-between" are experienced at the same time (!) from the perspective of Shakai, i.e., applying the difference private/public, but also from the perspective of Seken: "Look at me! I am here!" which does not mean necessarily narcissism but just the presentation of a "mask" within the community of weak or networked selves and finally, the strange desire for purity and Musi.
Concerning Heidegger on technology as 'un-concealing' (or 'unveiling') (a-letheia): Modern technology 'un-conceals' a different possibility of our relation to the world that was not previously there as in the case of, say, medieval technique. Heidegger calls this new kind of technological relation between man and world a 'challenging' one  ("herausforderndes Entbergen") in which everything becomes an object capable of being manipulated or 'posted' ("Stellen") by the subject.
I agree with you that modern information technology is deeply ambiguous (contrary to what Heidegger thought) since it un-conceals a "weak" or "networked" subject which is at the same time an object of all kind of 'relations' and (commercial) exchanges. It is a commodified subject but also a subject that re-presents himself/herself in an open space of relations. This space is different (but not opposed) to the political space as thematized by Hannah Arendt who strongly separates, as we already discussed, between the private (oikos) and the public (agora) spheres. The agora is the place where we can 'frankly' and 'direct' speak to each other, what the Greeks called parrhesia (or "freedom of speech"). I see this kind of parrhesiastic relation as opposed to the tradition of 'indirect speech' in the "Far East." Probably you in Japan have to deal with a crossing of direct and indirect speech in the Shakai and Seken/Ikai technological spaces. But this is just a conjecture. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and let us continue this amazing and un-conceiling dialogue.
kind regards,


Dear Rafael,

Your questions about the distinction between 'denial of self and narcissism,' 'transparent /non transparent,' 'meanings of diary,' 'Ikai' are very difficult for me (and probably for most of Japanese too) and at the same time very worthy to be thought about, because phenomena happening in our society and culture are not clear for ourselves in many regards. The following is my tentative interpretation of these matters. I need more material
  for example, on the distinction between indirect and direct speech ("Rede") or on networked individualities and the like as well as more time to think deeper about these matters.

You write::
<I see a kind of contradiction in the way Japanese youth behave: on the one hand they have the possibility of limitation of access and this means of drawing the line between public and private….>

In this case, I think Mixi is a fundamentally (or only superficially?) contradictory sphere of publicness and privacy. But it seems as if the participants of Mixi regard the interaction done in Mixi as something friendly. And this friendliness has several levels according to the range of publication of one's own 'private information' such as occupation, affiliation (university or company and so on), or contents of a diary. In addition, some of my students say that Mixi is the place of human interaction depending upon zokusei. Zokusei originally means 'attribute' or 'demographic variables,' such as age, gender or occupation. When the Japanese youth uses this word zokusei, it means 'personality,' 'hobby,' 'favorite singers' or stars' as well as something strange such as 'female students with glasses' or 'girls with maid-like-costume' and so on. Mixi is the place where people meet new friends but people meet new friends partly or mainly according to zokusei: 'which singer do you like?,' 'what hobby do you have?,' 'where are you born and brought up?' Therefore I (we) have to struggle with a difficult problem, namely is Mixi a place where friendly interaction depends on zokusei ('pubic sphere') or on 'private sphere'? In a way, Mixi is a place of warm friendship and at the same time of standardized human interaction strongly affected by stereotyped classification of persons or zokusei.

I admit that my explanation is a little bit confusing, but I think that this is partly due to the different meanings of 'public sphere' for Japanese people. One of my students in my class at the University of Tsukuba who comes from Mexico told me the other day that for Mexican people 'public sphere' means a 'place where people can talk freely, and frankly about many things and where they can 'enjoy' even political talking.' This is a surprising thing for us, because for us the public sphere is never a place where we can freely, frankly, and enjoyably talk about many things including political matters. Rather the public sphere is a place where we have to, or ought talk about many things. In other words, the public sphere is a place full of obligatory public speech or conversation.

Most of my graduate and undergraduate students agree with this interpretation. Then where can we frankly and honestly talk about many things?  I think that the private sphere is the place for such free, sincere speech. But according to my impression, this private sphere is not my personal private sphere but 'our' private sphere. So "Look at me! I am here!" means "Look! you and I are here! We are here, aren't we?" This  private sphere is a place of 'in-between' in a fundamental point, because we are here inside this place and within this place we are not isolated from each other and perhaps even from polytheistic gods. To put this another way, for the inhabitants of this place (our private sphere) Shakai is outside this inner place, i.e., 'our private sphere'. Seken seems to be this inner place for us; a place from which we can see the outer world of Shakai or pubic sphere. But what is Ikai? Ikai is outside our private sphere but at the same time Ikai is a place where some fundamental meanings come from. For example, freedom of Seken or our private sphere is characterized by distance from pressure of Shakai or public sphere or from formalized human relations, but freedom of Ikai is more likely to be characterized by a distance from the standardized views on 'what is normal or abnormal' or 'what is acceptable or unacceptable' of Seken or Shakai.

A famous Japanese critic once wrote in his essay about Yasujiro Ozu's films that the typical scene in Ozu's films
close fiends or family members talk to each other sitting in Tatami room with some kinds of 'restrained sorrow coming from sense of this transitory world' can be understood as  the scene watched by god(s) who are lying in front of the people appearing in that scene. This interpretation is very interesting; within this 'our inner world,' within our private sphere, gods are co-inhabitants too.

If my interpretation about 'our private sphere' or 'our inner place' is correct or acceptable, I believe that 'purity' or 'transparence' of communication within Mixi is more understandable. 'Purity' or 'transparence' seem to be fundamental requirements of successful communication and self-presentation. Blogs or diaries seem to be written to satisfy two purposes, namely to interpret various phenomena within Seken or Shakai from one's own personal point of view indorsed by one's own personal experience and sense of ethics and beauty, and to share this interpretation with other people within 'our private sphere' or 'our inner world.' But, as I said before, blogs or Mixi as 'our private sphere' or 'our inner world' are a narrower place than Seken whose inhabitants are not confined to a limited range of people with certain kinds of qualifications or zokusei.

In other words, someone who can do 'pure' or 'transparent' communication within Mixi is someone who can share his interpretation of things with other inhabitants of 'our private sphere' or 'our inner world.' Under such situations, 'pure' or 'transparent' communication may be not influenced by formal opinions that are popular in Shakai nor by one's own isolated prejudices or self-righteous attitude.

You  write:
<My explanation of what you describe is that Japanese youth is at the crossroads of the three dimensions you analized in your paper. Blogs as aida or open space "in between" are experienced at the same time (!) from the perspective of Shakai, i.e., applying the difference private/public, but also from the perspective of Seken: "Look at me! I am here!" which does not mean necessarily narcissism but just the presentation of a "mask" within the community of "weak" or networked "selves" and finally, the "strange" desire for purity and musi...

Many things are not clear for me and maybe for other inhabitants of 'our private world' either. So honestly speaking, I can't answer your question, 'whether Japanese youth is at the crossroads of three dimensions, Shakai, Seken, Ikai or not at present. But it seems that blogs as Aida or networked 'in-between' appear to be place(s) from which people can see phenomena in Shakai or Seken (Seken as 'broader inner world'); from the inside of the networked inner world as a 'narrower inner world' sustained by Mixi or blogs. If my interpretation is correct, Ikai is probably invisible from the inside of the networked 'in-between' or networked Aida, because strangeness or conflict is excluded from these networked 'in-between' or networked Aida. In this sense, 'purity 'or musi within Mixi or blog-sharing world may be narrowed in accord with the narrowness of human relations within these networked inner world(s).

Best regards,

P.S.: We (I and my students) are still talking about Heidegger's explanation of technology as ways of revealing. And Floridi's explanation about 'philosophy of information' is also one of our recent topics in our classes. The latter is confusing; what does 'information' mean for Floridi? and what is philosophy of information?


Dear Nakada,

finally I find some time to continue our dialogue.

Your thinking shows clearly the theoretical and practical relevance of our dialogue. "The human soul is unfanthomable" ('die menschliche Seele ist unergründlich') which could be understood as: it is impenetrable ('unerforschlich'). We never come to an end trying to fathom it.

The English verb (and noun) 'fathom' ('unfathom' being the antonym) refers to a spatial dimension: 'capable of being sounded or measured' as well as to a linguistic one: 'capable of being penetrated or comprehended' (synonym: 'comprehensible').

As a verb it can be intransitive and means 'to take soundings' or 'make a probe,' and transitive: 'to measure by a sounding line' or 'to penetrate and come to understand'. Both meanings, 'capable of being comprehended' and 'capable of being sounded or measured' are interwinned and refer eventually to 'fathom' as a unit of length equal to 6 feet (1.83 meters) used principally in the measurement and specification of marine depths. This is some information I could find on this term in online sources such as

The Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it like this:

"fathom: old English measure of length, now standardized at 6 feet (1.83 metre), which has long been used as a nautical unit of depth. The longest of many units derived from an anatomical measurement, the fathom originated as the distance from the middle fingertip of one hand to the middle fingertip of the other hand of a large man holding his arms fully extended. The name comes from the Old English faedm or faethm, meaning outstreched arms."

In my personal body this measure is 1.87 metre! What I think is worth to think about is not just the curious origin of a word, its etymology, but the fact that this word has been used in different but related semantic fields or "Sprachspielen" (Wittgenstein). What is the measure we take in order to measure ourselves? Primarily it is our physical measure like in the famous picture by Leonardo da Vinci called "The Vitruvian Man" (1492):

Vitruvian Man 


But we are dealing with what we could call the fathom paradox, i.e., the paradox that our bodily measure proves to be inadequate with regard to our 'animated' body. Aristotle says that our soul is "in some way everything" ("he psyche ta onta pos esti panta" De Anima 431 b 21, in the Latin version "anima quodammodo omnia"). It is like taking a unit of 6 feet when trying to take a measure of the depth in the middle of the See of Japan or of the Atlantic Ocean. Do you have in your tradition such paradoxical visualization of ourselves that turn out to show how unfanthomable we are? Humanism turns to be an inadequate to measure ourselves. Nietzsche looked for the "Übermensch" not the 'super man' but a figure of humankind beyond bourgeois society. Freud questioned consciousness as measure of the unconscious, Heidegger questioned beings as a measure of Being, Wittgenstein questioned language as a measure of ethics. We become human when we do not restrict ourselves to an apparent human measure, or, to put it with Augustine, when we become a problem to ourselves:

"factus sum mihi terra difficultatis et sudoris nimii. neque enim nunc scrutamur plagas caeli, aut siderum intervalla demetimur, vel terrae liberamenta quaerimus: ego sum, qui memini, ego animus. non ita mirum, si a me longe est quidquid ego non sum: Quid autem propinquius me ipso mihi? et ecce memoriae meae vis non comprehenditur a me, cum ipsum me non dicam praeter illam.quid enim dicturus sum, quando mihi certum est meminisse me oblivionem?" (Confessiones, Liber X, Caput 16)

"I have become  a troublesome field that requires hard labor and heavy sweat. For we are not now searching out the tracts of heaven, or measuring the distances of the stars or inquiring about the weight of the earth. It is I myself - I, the mind - who remember. This is not much to marvel at, if what I myself am is not far from me. And what is nearer to me than myself? For see, I am not able to comprehend the force of my own memory, though I could not even call my own name without it. But what shall I say, when it is clear to me that I remember forgetfulness?"
Source of English translation (by Albert C. Outler, Professor of Theology, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas):

This problem is evident when we deal with our 'soul' in the a digital context where two unfanthomable fields interact. The Internet being something like a collective memory is at the same time a place of social forgetfullness at the very moment in which we try to capture everything what is relevant out there. What is nearer to us today as the Internet? We are not able to understand what happens to us when we remember or inscribe ourselves in the Internet in a different way as when we did it with classic media. In some way our media are like our souls, they are in some way everything and this is the reason why it is so difficult to deal with them although or rather because they are so near to us. This is not a plea for irrationalism or fatalism but an effort to face this unfanthomable dimension. Why should it be less difficult to understand our technology that is part of ourselves than to understand the "tracts of heaven or measuring the distances of the stars or inquiring about the weight of the earth"?  What is the place of memory and forgetfulness in Japanese society today? Is there a self-less memory? What is the place of memory in Buddhism? Is ZEN meditation a place of forgetfulness in the sense of a deep memory?

We could try to think about the public/private difference spheres within the framework of memory and forgetfulness. To remember within the framework of Mixi is not of the same kind as to remember within a stereotype framework or zokusei. When we discuss about public data in the West we as about what the state or the economy want to know about us and how fare we are able to delete such data from their memory. Beate Rössler calls this "informational privacy" ("informationale Privatheit") (Rössler 2001). She makes a distinction between "local", "decisional" and "informational" privacy where "local" privacy concerns the physical space which we consider our own, and "decisional" privacy relates to the right we have not being determined by others in our decisions.

The meaning of the public sphere as seen by your student from Mexico has its origin in the concept of free speech or parrhesia in Ancient Greece, which was a prerrogative of Athenian men do speak freely in the agora as the political place and opposite to the private place of the house (oikos). It seems to me that Ikai is a place beyond the norm in the sense the Dionysian world, following Nietzsche, is beyond the norm of the Apolinean. In the West the gods seem to be gone but they are also still out there in the public sphere. Our political parties refer to them even in their names (like CDU = Christlich-Demokratische Union). The gods are guarant for what happens after death and thus related to what you say concerning "this transitory world". But I guess that the meaning of "transitory world" is very different from a Buddhist than from a Christian point of view.

Purity or transparency of communication is a difficult concept because it deals with an unfanthomable dimension of the human soul. It seems to me as is we can get some kind of transparency or purity, to put it in a nautical framework remembering the 'original' use of 'fathom', when we deal with very low water or in the shore of the see. But as soon as we start swimming or sailing ahead, this transparency or purity proves to be an illusion at least as far as we use our common human eyes and not some technological device that allows us to go deeper and see parts of the unseen. This is also what happens when we start communicating our personal experiences as if (!) they were pure or transparent or, as you say, not influenced by our prejudices. As we know from hermeneutics, there is no view of ourselves without pre-judices or "Vor-Urteile" as Gadamer used to say. There is no such a think as total transparency or total understanding or a system-independent observer, to use the terminology of Niklas Luhmann.  

kind regards


Dear Rafael,

Your detailed mail about 'fathom' or differences of privacy and public between different cultures is very  difficult and also very informative. I need time to understand your mail. But even the exchange of ideas about these problems is very interesting. It is my impression that the distance between our cultures is 'more far' than I expected. We don't know even the 'true' meaning of 'public' with regard to 'freedom'. But this ignorance is also a good motive for my lectures.

best regards,


Dear Nakada,

Please take a look at the contribution by Torill Mortensen & Jill Walker (2002): "Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool" (pdf)

kind regards


Dear Rafael,

Thank you for your information on this interesting paper. It is my personal impression that the majority of Japanese scholars tend to focus on the concept of public sphere rather than on the tension between the private and the public spheres particularly when they refer to Habermas. I have found the following passages very interesting. I wonder whether this is also the case in Germany as Walker and Mortenson suggest. And I also wonder how different the tension between the private and the public in Western culture(s) is from the tension between the private and the public in Japan.

It seems that there are many interesting topics we should think about, like for instance:
p.9: In the public sphere of acclamation and performance, the real tension between the private and the public is gone
p.9: The salon existed on the borderline between the private and the public
p.10: This new medium of personal expression (blog) is another expansion of the public sphere into the private.
p.10: In some manner, the writer is putting his or her daily experiences into a larger context, discussing micro events in relation to the wider universe of events.

best regards,


Dear Nakada,

This is going to be a long mail! Walker and Mortenson understand blogs ”on this border between what’s private and what’s public, and often we see that they disappear deep into the private sphere and reveal far too much information about the writer. When a blog is good, it contains a tension between the two spheres, as delicate a balancing act as the conversation of any experienced guest of the French salons of the 19th century.” (p. 256-267). This remark is followed by a discussion of Habermas’ “Theory of the Public Sphere” (Habermas 1990). As the authors rightly remark, Habermas criticized mass media from the point of view of the “ideal of a rational discourse”. Salons and coffee-houses seem near to this ideal although not all social classes were included.

Following this analysis there are two kinds of public spheres, namely “the public sphere of public authority” and “the public sphere of political and cultural discourse” also called “the public sphere of civil society”. This last one is being colonised, according to Habermas, by mass media consumerism and the marketing of new stars who want to present themselves instead of participating in the public discourse. As a result,  as Walker and Mortenson state, “the real tension between the private and the public is gone” (ibid. p. 257) The salon was a manifestation of this tension. Its (ideal) Habermasian characteristics of an authentic discourse-oriented public sphere (of civil society) were: 1) the disregard of status, 2) the problematization of what had not been questioned, and 3) the principle of the public as inclusive. The authors follow: “Weblogs stand where the salon did: between private and public”. (ibid. 258).

Habermas is interested in these two kinds of public spheres and not so much, as you rightly remark, on the private sphere as such or on the tension or difference between the public and the private spheres. He questions the colonialization of the public sphere of civil society not of the private sphere as such. His book is on the transformation of the public sphere as arising from the private sphere or civil society, not the transformation of the private sphere as such through its tension with the public sphere(s). His analysis of Kant (Habermas, op.cit. 178-195) is oriented toward a view in which Kant’s “public use” (“öffentlicher Gebrauch”) of reason is transformed by Habermas into a public sphere of political discourse”.

Kant thought of it as the use scientists make of their thinking without taking into account the constraints of the public sphere (politics, military, religion) in which we are embedded. This restricted use of reason due to the different kinds of official positions was called by Kant, in opposition to the terminology we use today, the “private use” (“Privatgebrauch”) of reason. Habermas is seeking for a kind of hybrid public sphere that would mediate between politics and (private) morality. Kant conceives this mediation without such a hybrid sphere. According to what Kant writes in  „Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (“Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?”) (Kant 1975a) as well as in „What does it mean to orientate oneself in one’s thinking?” (“Was heißt: sich im Denken orientieren?) (Kant 1975) he hopes that there will be an indirect influence of reasoning on the public sphere. The impact of this mediation is dependent from the freedom of scientists to communicate. This freedom is itself dependent on a universal medium such as printing and a free access to it. The public sphere Kant is envisaging is the one of scientific criticism and the potential universality of a “reading public” (“Lesewelt”). Criticism and not consensus is the main characteristic of this rational sphere. With regard to it the public sphere of public authority is a ‘private’ one, i.e., a sphere that restricts the use of reason due to the constraints of the profession hold in society. There is a tension between the “the tendency and the profession of free thinking” (“den Hand und Beruf zum freien Denken”), the “freedom to act” (“Freiheit zu handeln”) and the “general principles of government” (“die Grundsätze der Regierung”) (Kant 1975a, 61). But the goal of the process of Enlightenment is not to achieve some kind of ideal sphere of public policy through a Habermasian free discourse but to transform the public sphere in such a  way that it allows citizens to communicate in the sphere which is really public, i.e., universal, namely, the scientific one. In other words, I think that Kant puts the public sphere of scientific reason over the sphere of public policy while Habermas is interested in an empirical mediation of reason within the sphere of public policy. This is why his view is a hybrid or empirical-transcendental one. It is essentially non-Kantian. I agree with you, that the discussions on Habermas mostly do not place emphasis on the tension between the public and the private spheres just because Habermas does not see this difference as an essential one. The result is a one-sided view of the public sphere idealized in such a way that its present formation is considered as a perverted version of this (Platonic) ideal.

A more clear analysis of the historical rise of the tension between the public and the private spheres is given by Hannah Arendt (1983). According to Arendt the sphere of privacy as a “sphere of intimacy” (“eine Sphäre der Intimität”) arises (in Western civilization) in Modernity (Arendt, op.cit. 38). In Antiquity, privacy was seen as a situation of deprivation of political activities that were considered as the highest ones. We do not “hear” any more this meaning of privacy because modern individualism brought a positive valuation of the private sphere. This conception of privacy was not in tension with the public sphere but with the social one. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the first one to conceive a theory of privacy as intimacy. Rousseau’s fight was not against the government but against society that was supposed to deteriorate human hearts. Society and the “intimacy of heart” are much more difficult to determine than the political sphere because they are more “subjective”. Modern individuality is born out of this romantic rebellion of the hearts against society.

The political principle of social equality that conceives the nation as built by equal individuals is less important in this regard than the view of society as a big family that arises as a substitute of the family that came into decline. The conception of equality refers now to a situation in which there is a despotic power, the one of the family head, under which all members are “equal”. The problem is, according to Arendt, that this monarchic principle turns out to be substituted by “nobody” in the case of the economic sphere as well as in the salons of the “fine society”. But this transformation was by no way less despotic since “nobody” could be identified as the incarnation of the family head or, to put it paradoxically, “nobody” was a neutral or non-personal incarnation of such a head. A special form of this despotism of “nobody” is bureaucracy. Society excludes “action” (“das Handeln”) and allows only “behaviour” (“das Sich-Verhalten”) according to rules that prohibit spontaneous actions as well as high achievements. For Rousseau the salons were a typical situation in which the norms of the aristocratic society were no less homogenizing than the class society of the 19th century or today’s mass society. This kind of modern egalitarianism or conformism is essentially different from the Greek conception of the “equals” (“homoioi”) as belonging to the sphere of the polis in which the agonistic principle was the basic rule. The rise of modern equalitarian society is followed by the rise of economics (“Nationalökonomie”) and statistics.

Arendt describes the development of modern society as a process in which people are substituted by bureaucracy or the “domination of nobody” (“die Herrschaft des Niemand”) (op.cit. 45). Modern society has a tendency to expand into the sphere of private household (“der private Haushaltsbereich”). This leads to the paradox that although there is a positive view of this sphere with regard to Antiquity, society as representing the unity of humankind tends to dominate it. At the very moment in which we become aware of the unity of humankind as a condition for saving humanity, this awareness becomes itself a danger. The family as the unity that guaranteed in ancient times the material basis for the preservation of society is substituted by the society of labour (“Arbeitsgesellschaft”). The introduction of labour into the public sphere changed the conception of routine work and lead to the one of progress that Arendt characterizes as an “unnatural growth of the natural” (“das unnatürliche Anwachsen des Natürlichen”) (ibid. 48). It began with the division of labor, leaving aside the perspective of quality (“Vortrefflichkeit”). Society become more a more a matter of “social engineering” and the “public realm” or “public space” (“der öffentliche Raum”) disappears.

Arendt defines “public realm” as “the common” (“das Gemeinsame). “Public” has two different meanings. Firstly it refers to what everybody can see and hear from what comes out of other’s intimate life, his/her feelings. There are some kind of things, such as love as distinct from friendship, that, following Arendt, are not appropriate to appear in such a brightness. One reason for this is that relevant criteria might completely differ. Its appearance in the public sphere does not mean that they cease to be of private nature as is the case of the “worldless” experience of love but also of the “small things” of everyday life. And vice versa: the decline of the public realm might lead to a retreat into the intimate sphere of “the own four walls” (“in den eigenen vier Wänden”) (Arendt, op.cit. 51). But even if this retreat or flight is a social phenomenon it has not the possibility of creating a “public realm.”

The second meaning of “public” is the world itself as it concerns what is common to all of us and different from the place we call our “private property” (“Privateigentum”). The common world is not identical with the Earth or nature as a whole. It is the world as a product of human interactions or of what is “in-between" us. It is the world in which we live together and in which things are literally between us, connecting and separating us from each other at the same time.

It is easy to see the influence of Heidegger’s “In-der-Welt-sein” in this second meaning of “public”. “In-der-Welt-sein” means being public in an ontological or structural sense. We, humans, are structurally worldly or public beings sharing together a common world of meaning or an open semantic and pragmatic network “in-between” us. A mass society is, according to Arendt, not difficult to tolerate because there are too many people but because it has a tendency to even physically discard what is “in-between” us. Arendt refers to a spiritist session in which the table around which people are sitting seems to disappear (Arendt, op.cit. 52). This example makes clear how important the question of media for any human society is, as highlighted by Kant with regard to printing as a universal medium of censorship free dissemination of “public reason.” Habermas has a spiritist tendency when he advocates in favor of a pure or ideal face-to-face communication as the authentic medium of the sphere of public policy. Arendt describes some cases of “worldless” societies, like Christian monks, in which the “public realm” is substituted by the “world” of “brotherly love.” Worldlessness has a tendency to master the political sphere as in the case after the decline of the Roman Empire.

The opposite alternative is one in which the world as a source of sensual pleasure is overestimated. But in any case, according to Arendt, the existence of a “public space” in the world is dependent upon the transformation of objects into a “world of things” (“Dingwelt”) that connects and separates us at the same time. This common world is shared by human generations that are born, live and die, giving the commonality of the world a kind of “earthly immortality” (“irdische Unsterblichkeit”) as it survives the life of individuals allowing them to remain in the world after their death (Arendt, op.cit. 54). The striving for “earthly immortality” becomes weaker in Modernity, no less than the one for “metaphysical” immortality that is replaced by social reputation. According to Arendt the private sphere of the family can never become a substitute for the richness of perspectives and positions that each one of us take in the public sphere although the private sphere can become so rich and intense that it shines through or back into the public one. This conception of the tension between the public and the private is, I think, deeply rooted in the Greek distinction between oikos and polis but conceived from a modern perspective. An authentic human society as distinct from an authoritarian or a mass society is characterized by the tension between the sameness of common things to which we refer as well as from the different perspectives we take with regard to them. Both examples of social deterioration are understood as “radical phenomena of privatization” (“radikalen Phänomen der Privatisierung”) in which people do not want to hear from each other or to see each other and try to escape into our isolated subjectivities (Arendt, op.cit. 57).

This is why Arendt characterizes the concept of privacy as a kind of negation or “being robbed” (“Beraubungen”) of what is common. In the case of mass society this leads to a destruction of the tension between the public and the private spheres. Karl Marx’ utopia about the disappearance of the sphere of the public (state) policy means a view of the public sphere as a big private sphere or a big family ending in totalitarian bureaucracy. In other words, the decline of the public sphere means a “radical danger of privacy” (“radikalen Bedrohung des Privaten”) (Arendt, op.cit. 59). An authentic public sphere is essentially concerned, following Arendt, with the care for privacy. This means that there is a concept of privacy that is not characterized by the dimension of negation but as an original value. Private property understood as the place we take in the world (“der angestammte Platz in der Welt”) or the “household” is something to be delimitated by the public (political) sphere through “fences and borders”, i.e., by laws, aiming in Ancient Greece at the same time the constitution of the public sphere of the polis as well as the protection of the oikos. The private sphere was not just for the sake of the public but it had its own dignity: the free man was the one who owned private property that allowed him also a public service. But private property was not, according to Arendt, sacrosanct and it was considered as a sphere of necessity or non-liberty. Modernity will change this perspective by making the process of capital accumulation an end in itself. In the very moment in which the private sphere is not considered only as a private affair any more, modern society is born.

Arendt interpretation of the structural change of the public sphere coincides in this point with Habermas’ view: the public sphere arises from the interest of the owners of private property aiming at increment their capital. The public sphere of the state policy should act in favor of this new public sphere of capital owners. There is a tension between these two spheres. I think that the institution of the salons is situated between them and not between the private and the public (political) sphere, although it was located in the sphere of the private household. The problem is, according to Arendt,  that the birth of the public sphere of capital owners in Modernity rooted in private interests and was not able to constitute a common realm but, much worse, it lead to the deprivation of property to the majority of the population. Private property (“Privatbesitz”) become a social affair. What is dangerous is not, according to Arendt, the transformation of private property into a realm of the public sphere but the threatening of privacy (“Privateigentum”) as the sphere in which human beings are rooted in the world. This process starts with the transformation of what is most originally private, namely, the own body, into a “labor force”.

Today, under the conditions of the global digital network we call the internet, the body is reduced to digital data and loses radically its world place becoming part of the public economic and political spheres. What is lost are the “specific non-negative meanings of the private sphere” (die spezifisch nicht-privativen Charaktere des Privaten”) (Arendt, op.cit. 67) as they are, firstly, the “small peace of world” (“das kleine Stück Welt”) that being a part of the shared world, we need for everyday life and, second, the “concealment” (“Verborgenheit”) of the “own four walls” where we can retire from the public sphere as the place were we can be seen and heard. The final question concerning the difference between the public and the private sphere is the, for Arendt, a question of what kind of things belong to the one or the other (Arendt, op.cit. 67-69). What can we learn from  our discussion? I see the following  open questions:

1. How far is this analysis by Hannah Arendt similar or dissimilar to the development of the Japanese society with regard to the private/public difference?

2. How far is the tension between the two publish spheres, namely the political and the economic one, similar (or not) in the "Far East" and the "Far West" (to use the terminology of the French sinologist Francois Jullien).

3. How far are blogs an expansion of the private sphere as described by Hannah Arendt, or one more step towards its dissolution?

4. And finally, how fare are blogs "between private and public" (Mortensen/Walker) as well as between the political and the economic spheres, building a kind of third public sphere different form the mass media

In view of Arendt’s analysis I think it is wrong to see the salons as in-between the public and the private sphere following Habermas’ interpretation. Blogs, correspondingly, look like salons – do they really? – but they belong to the public realm or, more precisely, they are between the public sphere of public authority and the public sphere of political, cultural and economic discourse even if what is being said comes from the private sphere of intimacy it does not belong any more to it at the very moment as it inters the public sphere(s) appearing in the public digital network. It is not “between the private and the public” no less than the salons did. In fact, the salons were situated physically within the real of the private sphere or within the “own four walls”. Blogs appear from the very beginning in the decontextualized and worldless digital medium. Even if a blog looks like a private diary, it is, as you write, another expansion of the public political and economic spheres into the private one, i.e., a threatening of privacy or “Privateigentum” (not: “Privatbesitz) as a sphere with its own dignity.

I wonder how do you translate this complex Western experience into the threefold Japanese world of Shakai, Seken and Ikai as well as with regard to Aida and Musi. Is there something like a positive sense of the private sphere or oikos as described by Arendt? And if not, what kind of tension is there between public and private? Only at the level of Shakai or society, if I may translate it like this? In this case, the concept of privacy would relate to a kind of intimacy that does not exist in Japanese culture or that is viewed as a negative value. And what is the relation of this view of the tension between the public and the private sphere from the point of view of Ohyake and Watakusi? Is Ohyake related to the original common realm as described by Arendt? If Watakusi has negative connotation this would correspond in some way to the first “negative” meaning of privacy as the place of necessity or non-freedom with regard to the polis. The other axis of the public/private difference as expressed with the loan word puraibashii seems to correspond to a more “positive” meaning of privacy. But given the fact this is a loan word to express something alien to Japanese culture, this positive meaning turns to be an imported one. It seems to me as if in the Japanese culture the view of the “public realm” as a positive and original experience is less political and, to put it in Arendt’s Heideggerian terms, more related to a pre-condition of the public (political and cultural) as well as private spheres. It could correspond to Ohyake but the tension is not with private individuality as in European Modernity but the sphere of Watakusi, intermixed, as you and Takanori Tamura (2005) write, with the puraibashii axis. But the protection of the private sphere is not grounded on an original positive meaning of the private sphere as stressed by Arendt. Japanese culture can interpret the danger of dissolution of the public/private difference from another authentic (Buddhist) perspective.

Sorry for the long mail.
kind regards


Dear Rafael,

I took me more than 10 days to write my answer to your latest detailed mail and my own views on 'pubic and privacy' because I had to read Arendt's book again and think deeply about your questions on the relations between 'Shakai-Seken-Ikai' and 'privacy-public.' The following is part of my answers to you questions as well as part of my views on 'public and privacy' in Japanese culture. I need more time to think of some of your questions.

I think that the public in Japanese culture is fundamentally a combination of different kinds of meanings. In Japanese, kou is equivalent to 'public'. But kou is also equivalent to ohyake. Therefore, kou has many different kinds of meanings. In addition, it's very rare even for scholars to distinguish two different kinds of public, 'the public realm in the authentic form' and 'the  public political and economic spheres as expansion of society or as the continuation of the place of necessity' which you and Arendt described in detail. As a result, kou or 'public' lies in confusion of various meanings:

(1) Something that doesn't belong to specific individuals or groups. In Japanese, kou is equivalent to 'public' in many respects. But kou is also equivalent to Ohyake. Therefore, kou has many different kinds of meanings. Kouen means 'public park'. Koukyou-yusou-kikan means 'public ways of transportation like trains, subways, buses and the like.

(2) Organizations that deal with politics or administration such as the state, the government, local self-government body.

(3) The imperial court or the shogunate government.

(4) Something official or formal. To bring something (news, information, knowledge, problems, one's views) from the inside(informal place) to the outside(formal place).

(5) Something impartial or unfair. As we discussed before, Watakusi is often regarded as something negative causing selfishness or egoism. Accordingly, in contrast to Watakusi, Ohyake is often highly evaluated in regard to fairness or impartiality.

Just as the case of 'public', Japanese Shakai is also a combination of different kinds of meanings which were imported from the modernized western culture(s).This means that a similar confusion or complicated meanings lie in the usage of the term Shakai. Or to put it in other words, the meanings of Shakai differ according to the references or theories one uses. If someone tries to stress the aspect of Shakai as civil society, he may be more conscious of the importance of improvement of people's political interests. If someone tries to consider the differences between Seken and Shakai (as I often do so), modernized, rational, democratic, individual-oriented aspects of Shakai are likely to be emphasized.

In spite of these complicated meanings of Shakai or 'public' in Japanese culture, I believe that something is similar both for ancient democratic Greece and feudalistic Japan (and perhaps in modernized Japan too) with regard to the tension between different realms of people's life. According to your and Arendt's explanations, the public might be less important without its tension between the private. Noriaki Ono, a Japanese scholar in political science who is interested in Arendt's works as well as in Heidegger, Husserl, and in Kant's "Einbildungskraft," insists that Arendt's works such as "The Life of Mind" or "The Human Condition" depend on the thought of (or sympathy for) 'in-between' which emphasizes relations or tensions between 'necessity and freedom', 'categories and senses (sensibility)', in particular, human relations as 'in-between'.

In my personal views, the meanings of Ohyake are different from the meanings of Watakusi and at the same time strangely enough (or as we might expect ) the meanings of Ohyake can't be divided from the meanings of Wataksi. As I said before, Watakusi is often regarded as something or some realm with negative meanings such as egoism, selfishness, unfairness. But on the other hand, in different situations, Watakusi is regarded as something leading to inner values or emotional meanings. Ronald, A. Morse insists that Kokugaku in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868) reflected two split aspects of people's life or minds (Ronald,A. Morse, 1974, The Search for Japan's national Character and Distinctiveness: Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) and the Folklore Movement.). Kokugaku is an indigenous discipline <a school of studies on Japanese indigenous history or culture> born in Tokugawa era. Kokugaku means ' a discipline of our own country'. Kokugaku's position lies in contrast with Kangaku which was imported from ancient China. Kan means ancient China. While people are (were) engaged in 'public' works or political activity as activity in Ohyake, their minds are (were) strongly influenced by normative values or stoic attitudes deriving from normative Confucianism or from Bushido (the morals of the samurai). On the other hand, while people are (were) engaged in non-political activities or 'private' (personal) works in the realm of Watskusi, their minds are (were) free from formal, normative values and they are (were) more interested in activities like writing and enjoying poems. In fact, almost all Japanese politicians belonging to the Samurai-class made it a  practice to write poems in various occasions, in particular at the end of their life. The following is one of the most famous poems written by a leading Kokugaku-scholar (Motoori Norinaga) in the Tokugawa era.

Indigenous genuine Japanese minds look like cherry blossoms in pure and beautiful mountains, gleaming in the rising sun-light.

It is my opinion that this kind of tension means little or nothing in Japanese modernized Shakai, although Shakai is within different kind of tension between Seken or Ikai on the other hand.

Arendt's explanation seems to be very important, especially when we try to find something lying in the basement of her discussions, for example, sympathy with 'in-between' or strong interests in 'relations between being (Being) and appearance' coming from her general interests in Kant's "Einbildungskraft" or German phenomenological existentialism (Ono, p.387). But at the same time, I feel that we have to add many things to her discussions. Or I think that we have to focus our minds on things not 'appearing' in her discussions.

First, is it true that the economic aspects of our society or 'life-world' are entirely or strongly influenced by the principles of 'necessity'? According to Georg Simmel's "Philosophie des Geldes" (1990), our economic system in the modern world is dependent upon money's power basically supported by important human values such as reliance, trust, honest, promises as well as human ability of interpreting money as a kind of means of metaphoric comparison. By using money we can change different kinds of things, for example, food and cloths, following a sort of indirect or abstract indexes of comparison. And as Jean Baudrillard or Jacques Lacan suggest, our desires of consumption of commodities lie beyond the direct desires of animals or values of direct usage, i.e., beyond the commodities related with meanings directed by social status, self-identification, human relations and the like.

Second, the meanings of intimacy are likely to differ in different cultures or societies. I had a chance the other say to talk about the meanings of intimacy or relations of friends with scholars of South Korea. When I told them that 'good ' friendship means an adequate balance between closeness and remoteness in Japan, they (Korean scholars) were surprised. They asked me: "Does friendship mean just closeness instead of balance between closeness and remoteness?" They insisted that at least in Korea friendship has nothing to do with remoteness. It is not unusual for us Japanese to experience this kind of cultural gaps between the Japanese culture and the Chinese culture as well as the Korean culture. Some of my students from China told me often that friends in China share many things food, cloths, personal privacies. As these cases suggest, I believe that the meanings of 'intimacy' differ in different situations or cultures. In a similar sense, 'compassion' used in Soraj Hongladarom's paper has some ambiguous meanings.

With regard to the relations between blogs and 'private-public' in Japan, I need some more time to interpret this complicated phenomenon.

Best regards,


Dear Nakada,

Just some comments to the contribution by Soraj Hongladarom (2007) before I come to your last mail.

Soraj suggests that there may be a possibility of a Buddhist foundation of privacy by becoming aware of the  parallelism between absolute and empirical reality or the "two truths" in Buddhism and the difference between phaenomenon vs noumenon in Kantian philosophy.  This parallelism was seen already by Schopenhauer. According to Soraj it is the phaenomenal self in Buddhism that is subject to care and therefore to privacy. But, as remarks, this has consequences:

- The non-existence of an absolute self in Buddhism is opposite to the existence of a noumenal self in Katianism

- The reduction to privacy at the empirical or phaenomenal level means indeed to blur the difference between core/instrumental values. All values become instrumental. This is, of course, not only contrary to what Moor (2002) and Moore (2003) say but also to the Kantian distinction between Dignity/”Würde” and Value/”Wert”.

- This means, finally, that there is an apparent coincidence based on the parallelism between the view of the empirical dimension of the self in Buddhism and the conception of the (phenomenal) self in Kantian philosophy.  This parallelism is seen as the common basis for the justification of privacy in the West and in Buddhism. But this coincidence leaves aside the basic consideration with regard to the noumenal dignity of the subject. As Soraj remarks, on this basis, there is no commonality. So, the deep reason(s) for protecting privacy are, I think, more contradictory than coincident.

- But, for pragmatic purposes – and in this sense I interpret also the Buddhist view of compassion – privacy becomes a way to reach the one reality in which it is not any more useful as there is no separation between subject and object. From a Western point of view I would say that privacy is a necessity because of the empirical condition in which the noumenal subject appears. Once this condition disappears, privacy also disappears but, hélàs, the real ground for its existence, namely the noumenal subject, remains forever.

I fully agree with Soraj's criticism of Moor's universal transcultural values although I admit that this argumentation might have a pragmatic sense as in the case for instance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I see no justification for such an apparently common sense list of values, beyond the fact that they prima facie are obvious, but rooted in different conceptual frameworks.

In other words, Moor “thinks in an abstract way” ("denkt abstrakt" Hegel).
I see a common ground in case we abandon Kantianism and turn back to Heidegger/Arendt as I suggested already. The ontological fundament, i.e., the positive meaning of privacy is our proper ("Eigen") Western being in the world as the place we share, our "Privateigentum" as different from "Privatbesitz" which is more economic. This spatial view is probably more accessible to the notion of “in-between” in Buddhism and does not require the metaphysical supposition of a noumenal subject.

Your views on the public/privacy difference in Japan are complex and fascinating. This is one reason why I am sceptic about quick or ‘wiki wiki’ view on a so-called global information ethics where such differences are either overseen or reduced to pragmatic solutions that may have importance in the political arena but do not bring forward the intercultural dialogue as we are envisaging it here.

Your quotation from Motoori Norinaga:

Indigenous genuine Japanese minds look like cherry blossoms in pure and beautiful mountains, gleaming in the rising sun-light.

reminds me about the book by Wolfgang Kemp “Von Gestalt gesteigert zu Gestalt. Hokusais 100 Ansichten des Fuji“ („Climbing from form to form. Hokusai’s 100 Views of Mount Fuji”) (Kemp 2006).



Kemp shows how important “the art of making lists” is for Japanese life and thinking. He calls this a kind of “mental jogging” or also an “ars inveniendi” on the basis of utamakura or ‘pillow keywords’ if I may translate it like this, that should help poets to free association following different kinds of relations such as poetic ones, as different from the mainly geographic mode of associations that is called makurakotoba (Kemp 2006, 16-199). Please, correct me if I am misunderstanding these concepts.

According to Kemp the hundred views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai are ordered according to two poles that are in permanent movement, namely Mount Fuji and the human world. I have the impression that what “genuine Japanese minds” look at when they think about authentic public sphere is this tension between Mount Fuji and the human world that cannot be translated into the Western abstract concepts of nature and humanity without giving up the specific sensory experience of Mount Fuji in all its unfanthomable dimensions that can only be perspectively grasped in paradoxical painting. Kemp writes that according to Hokusai, Mount Fuji thus collects “all walks of life” (Kemp 2006, 38). Maybe the difference between the West, if I may speak like this, and the Japanese view of ethics is the question, in Western terms, of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics. Japanese give the primacy to aesthetics as the framework for reflecting on human “walks of life.” Or, to put it less one-sided, they consider the tension or “in-between” Mount Fuji and the “walks of life” as an aesthetic-ethical challenge.

This is what Arendt perceives in Kant’s theory of judgement that she sees as complementary to his ethical theory. The “walks of life” concern, as you write, our “life world” and all kinds of media, particularly money, that is today on track with digital information. I think that Jacques Lacan’s view on human desire as different from animal instincts, is related to a dimension, namely “the real,” that is beyond human nature. Our desire ‘de-centres’ us from ourselves and our selves no less that Mount Fuji decentres and collects at the same time the “walks of life.” We can approach this ‘public sphere’ as opened by Mount Fuji only by making lists like the ones we are discussing now as well as the differences you talk about with regard to Japan and South-Korea. The ethical and aesthetical question is then what do we mean when we speak about “closeness” and “remoteness” between us? What is the dimension that allows us to come together without losing our selves and ourselves? Can there be closeness without remoteness? Can there be friendship without some feeling of foreignness or strangeness? Is friendship primarily a human-human category or does it relate originally to the tension between Mount Fuji and the life-world? I don't see a contradiction between the Japanese and the South-Korean views on friendship in case we consider them as a permanent movement, less as a balance because a balance suggests some kind of final or ideal stage that is opposite to the dao. The dao of friendship is no less rich than Hokusai’s 100 views of Mount Fuji.

kind regards


Dear Rafael,

What we have been talking about for almost half a year is likely to be centered around the problems about the "unmarked space" (understood at an ontological dimension) in the age of global networking. If we assume (or if we believe) that our positions are on the common ground of hermeneutical understanding, our discussions or our interpretations about these problems might be considered to be an approach to build a new kind of presuppositions required for overcoming the stable (or fixed) and ontic presuppositions of digital metaphysics. But in order to do so, I (we) have to overcome the difficult problems I (we) have been struggling with for a while: the relations between the
unmarked space’ and ‘networked Aida (in-between)’ as well as the unstable understanding about public-private in Western culture(s) and in Japanese culture. In addition, different phases of public-private problems in Shakai-Seken-Ikai-structures. The following is my tentative interpretation about these problems.

According to my own understanding, Musi and Aida related with Musi or Mu <Nothingness> (Aida is likely to be a space between an object and an object or between a person and a person. Therefore if we understand Aida as something like an ontic or concrete being or object, it appears to be meaningless. Bin Kimura says that Aida is something related to the predicates rather than the subjects. If we say that this flower is red, ‘red’ as the predicate provides the flower as the subject with the possibility of a subject. This kind of connection between the subjects and the predicates turns our sight to Aida (in-between). Jyunji Kinoshita, a well-known Japanese dramatist, insists that during the presentation of Noh-play of Japan we can experience the non-divided-subjects-predicates appearance and non-divided-subjects-objects situations or:


Noh-plays singers’ songs or verses symbolize pre-division of objects or aspects of this world.

My views on Aida are similar to those of Bin Kimura and Jyunji Konoshita in a way and different from them in another way namely concerning the differentiation of Aida. Their views on non-divided phases of objects and subjects are attractive but at the same time I think that some discussions about the possibilities of differentiation of Aida need to be added to Kimura’s or Kinoshita’s views.

As I said before, according to Kurt Goldstein ("Der Aufbau des Organismus", 1934) and Merleau-Ponty ("Phénoménologie de la perception" 1945), the patient of aphasia and agnosia whom Goldstein and Merleau-Ponty analyzed in their books was unable to do many things: to imitate soldiers’ salute, to understand metaphors, to understand verbal order and to obey the order (for example, to touch some part of his body by obeying someone else's verbal command), to take a walk without particular purpose, to classify things with abstract rules. Merleau-Ponty puts it into a different way. The person(s) suffering of such mental illnesses (agnosia, aphasia) lack(s) an ability of transformation of meanings coming from certain phases into different phases (for example, ‘the order from the other to touch your nose’ and ‘the intention to combine this order to his physical scheme’). If we can call this meta-phrases in which meanings from different phases can be related with one another ‘transcendent Aida’ or ‘meta-Aida’, the persons suffering of such mental illness might be diagnosed as ‘lack of meta-Aida.’

In fact, in one of his books, Bin Kimura insists that all kinds of mental illnesses are due to pathological situations of ‘common senses (sensus communis)’ or ‘imagination’ in Vico’s terminology. Following the discussions of Vico, ‘imagination’ refers to an ability to combine the objects together which lie in apart or separate places. In this point, Gen Kida’s remarks mentioned before provide us with a crucial suggestion with which we can compare the 'unmarked space' with Heidegger’s terminology and ‘meta-Aida’ in our terminology. Gen Kida points out that "die Welt" ("In-der-Welt-sein") interpreted by Heidegger is similar to or under the (direct or indirect) influence of Max Scheler’s concept of "Weltoffenheit". As we know, "Weltoffenheit" refers to the ability of human beings with which they can become free from the powers of biological environment or with which the minds of human beings can go beyond their narrow limited area(s). This "Weltoffenheit" builds a sharp contrast with "Umweltgebundenheit" as a way of life of creatures other than human beings. Kida summarizes the characteristics of "Weltoffenheit" as follows: Animals have no future or past. They have only the present time. On the one hand, the present time of human beings has some kind of difference or slippage which might be called ‘différance’ in Derrida’s terms. Within this slippage or difference, different phases called ‘future’ or ’past’ emerge. This meta-time <Zeitlichkeit> (Gen Kida insists that Heidegger’s "Zeitlichkeit" is similar to Scheler’s "Weltoffenheit" in fundamental aspects and that both "Zeitlichkeit" and  "Weltoffenheit" lie under the direct or indirect influence of Uexkuell's discussions on "Umwelt") gives human beings a way of living that is not limited to restricted phases of life or environmental structures. Human beings can live in different phases of life or of different environmental structures simultaneously and sometimes they create new phases of life or meanings by using the older phases. The possibility of these new phases of life or meanings characterizes the nature of Heidegger’s "Welt" or Scheler's "Weltoffenheit".

Kimura’s or Kinoshita’s views are attractive and in accordance with our Japanese expectancy  for the non-divided fundamental place related to Mu or Musi. But what about the possibilities of differentiation of this non-divided fundamental place or ‘meta-Aida’? What kind of useful suggestions can be emerge form Kimura’ s or Kinoshita’s views on ‘meta-Aida’? Are their views useful when we try to understand the problems and the phenomena related to networked Aida? We know that our minds can change with the process of interrelations between our minds and the environment. According to Piaget and Kohlberg, the minds of the people of so-called primitive cultures remain restricted to concrete or specified situations. Their minds cannot handle universal values not restricted by concrete or specified situations. Is Japanese Aida restricted to concrete or specified situations or not?

In the next step of consideration on the 'unmarked space' or ‘meta-Aida’, I think that we have to reconsider the possibilities of change of the 'unmarked space' or the possibilities of differentiation of ‘meta-Aida’ just as we did so at the beginning of our discussions.

In our Japanese culture, as I said before, Mu <Nothingness> or non-divided phases (of subject and object etc.) are often highly evaluated as a way of gaining the deeper meanings of things or the clear wisdom. Motoori Norinaga’s poem on cherry blossoms might be considered to be a symbolic expression of Japanese pure mind or clear wisdom not influenced by the borrowed analysing, pragmatical wisdom that can’t lead our minds to the deeper reality of this world consisting of non-departed phases such as non –divided phase of purity of  cherry  blossoms and clearness of human minds. Motoori Norinaga called this purity of idealized Japanese mind ‘Yamato-gokokoro’(=ancient and indigenous Japanese mind not influenced by Chinese minds).

But a fundamental doubt comes out of this very popular and standardized understanding of Mu<Nothingness>, after we become aware of the discussions of "Weltoffenheit" by Scheler or Merleau-Ponty (or Derrida?). I imagine that Mu is (has been) often or usually misunderstood as something or some phase of  'unmarked place' in an ontic way rather than in an ontological way. Now I remember clearly a Japanese critic, Hideo Kobayashi’s remarks on ‘common senses’ in ancient Chinese and Japanese terminology: ‘Common senses’ are not the stable and standardized types of knowledge or morals; rather they are the ability of utilizing the roles of living common senses or gaining the sources of knowledge and morals. Following this suggestion of Hideo Kobayashi, Mu or Musi might be called the ability of utilizing the roles of 'meta-Aida' or gaining the sources of knowledge and morals within meta-Aida.

The possibility of differentiation of the 'unmarked space', Aida or Mu, is likely to require us to direct our attention to distinguish the meanings of human relations or of relations between individuals and societies (Seken) as well as the meanings of the Internet. To put it in other words, the possibility of differentiation of the 'unmarked space', Aida, depending upon the different social-cultural situations, is another difficult and important problem.

In Japanese culture, as Table 1 shows, the position of individualism is not clear. Although the majority of Japanese scholars, educators, politicians or directors of big companies seem to believe in the power of individualism as effecting factors changing Japanese minds as well as Japanese democracy, ‘orientation to individualism’ has weak relations with political attitudes. On the contrary, (sympathy with) ‘scourge of heaven’, ‘belief in kindness’ and ‘destiny’ have strong or fairly strong relations with political attitudes. The same tendencies can be found in regard to ‘concerns for privacy problems’, ‘positive attitudes towards society’ or ‘positive attitudes towards family’ and the like. ‘Orientation to Individualismhas only limited relations with these concerns or attitudes.

Table 1.  Relations betweenpolitical attitudes’ and orientation to individualism’ as well as ‘Seken-related meanings’ (Data: 2006G)




‘Voters are powerless’




Sympathy with ‘Scourge of heaven’



Sympathy with ‘Belief in kindness’



Sympathy with ‘Destiny’



‘Orientation to Individualism



The figures in this table show correlation coefficients between ‘political    attitudes’ and ‘orientation to individualism’ as well as ‘Seken-related meanings.’
2) The figures are based on the results done by the author (Nakada) in 2006 in Japan(500 men and women in age of 20-49).

3) ‘
Scourge of heaven’ was measured by sympathy for the view, “The frequent occurrence of natural disasters is due to scourge of heaven.” ‘Belief in kindness’ and the others were measured likewise. ‘Belief in kindness’/ “Doing your best for other people is good for you.” ‘Destiny’/ “People have a certain destiny, no matter what form it takes.” ‘Orientation to Individualism’ was measured by sympathy for the view, “Decision depending upon one’s own views without relying on others’ opinions is the best way to do a good thing.”
4)  **=p<0.01, *=p<0.05, ns= non (statistically) significant

At the same time, Japanese people’s minds seem to range from ‘
necessity of information on privacy’ to ‘desire of revealing one’s own privacy’ in regard to views on privacy (Table 2). And this range of concerns for or views on privacy has a variety of relations with ‘individualism’ and ‘destiny’ (Table 3). It seems that the public-privacy problem in Japan cannot be divided from this kind of difficult positions of ‘privacy’ and ‘individualism’.

Table 2.  Attitudes towards various views on privacy



Detailed reports on victims of serious crimes like homicide including victims’ occupations, human relations, life history or personality which are sometimes   presented   in the newspapers or on the TV are important and necessary in some cases in order to know the meaning of the incidents.  (Necessity of information on privacy)


When the newspapers or TV reports on homicides, they should pay careful attention to privacy of victims in order not to violate it.(Necessity of protection of privacy)


­I sometimes feel that to have friends with whom we can talk together about our private life including memories of shame, sorrow or bad conscience would be a wonderful experience.(Desire of revealing one’s own privacy)


1) The percentages shown in this table are the added percentages of the respondents who said ‘strongly agree’ (or ‘strongly feel so’) and ‘somewhat agree’ (or ‘somewhat feel so’) to those views or ways of feeling cited in this table.

2) The figures of Table2 is based on the results of a research done by the author (Nakada) in 2005 in Japan(500 men and women in age of 20-49).

Table 3. 
Relations between ‘concerns for privacy’ and ‘orientation to individualism’ as well as ‘destiny’(2005G)


Orientation to individualism



Necessity of information on privacy



Necessity of protection of privacy



 Desire of revealing one’s own privacy



1) The figures in this table show correlation coefficients between ‘concerns for
violation of privacy’ and ‘orientation to individualism’ as well as ‘destiny.’

2) **=p<0.01, *=p<0.05, ns= non (statistically) significant

Some important aspects of Japanese culture, society or even Japanese minds are not clear for Japanese themselves. I believe that this is partly because of difficult positions with regard to ‘
unmarked space’ or meta-Aida and also partly because of difficult positions on ‘individualism’-‘privacy’ in Japanese culture (or in Japanese Aida). When we try to keep the public-privacy problem and the Shakai-Seken-Ikai problem away from the unmarked space’ or ‘meta-Aida’, the explanations or interpretations of these matters are less difficult.

Japanese public-privacy dichotomy is a combination of public-privacy concepts imported from modernized Western culture(s) with or without a variety of concepts of ‘public-privacy’ including those of Arendt or Habermas and Japanese indigenous dichotomy of Ohyake and Watakusi. While Shakai is dominated by imported ethical values or logical meanings such as ‘individualism’, ‘privacy’, ‘democracy’, Seken is the place of ethics, aesthetic values, views on life related to Japanese ethos, meanings related to Japanese pathos (pessimistic attitudes towards our destiny or powerlessness, this transitory world or combination of pessimistic and positive attitudes towards life in this transitory world). Ikai might be called the place where the existing values or the standardized meanings of Seken or Shakai are pulled back into a kind of chaos or freedom. The difficult problem arises when we try to consider the relations between these matters and the unmarked space’ or ‘meta-Aida’.

In order to express his experiences with Mount Fuji, Hokusai needed the hundred views of this mountain with a long list of makurakotoba. Our efforts to understand the meanings of Mu or ‘unmarked space’ in the age of networked Aida look like Hokusai’s efforts. We need our own hundred views.

Hareteyoshi kumoritemoyoshi fuji-no-yama
Motono sugataha kawarazarikeri

(by Yamaoka Tessyuu)

If it’s cloudy or sunny, Mt. Fuji is the same
The same as usual and beautiful

This poem seems to symbolize Japanese people’s belief in Mu or the beauty rooted in Mu. But as Kemp’s case clearly shows ("two poles in permanent movement"), without doubt, this kind of belief in Mu is not confined to Japanese. Our views on Mu might turn our sights to the different traditions of Mu in other cultural situations. And in fact this has been already tried by another participant in this dialogue (Rafael Capurro) by using the term "indirekte Rede."

We need our own hundred views on the differentiation of Aida in the age of networked Aida and also in the age of intercultural information ethics.

best regards,


Arendt, Hannah (1983). Vita activa oder Vom Tätigen Leben. München: Piper (engl. The Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press 1970).

Boss, Medard (1971). Grundriß der Medizin und der Psychologie. Huber: Bern.

Boss, Medard (1987). Ed. Zollikoner Seminare. Frankfurt a. Main.

Capurro, Rafael (1986). Hermeneutik der Fachinformation. Freiburg/München: Alber.

Capurro, Rafael (1995). Leben im Informationszeitalter. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Capurro, Rafael (2006). Ethik der Informationsgesellschaft. Ein interkultureller Versuch.

Capurro, Rafael (2006a). Towards an Ontological Foundation of Information Ethics.  In Ethics and Information Technology, Vol.8, Nr. 4, 2006, 157-186.
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Last update: August 25, 2017

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