Directors: Antonio M. Battro, Kurt W. Fischer and Fernando Vidal
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
The brain, soul, and madness of the modern Japanese: Analysis of psychiatric case histories in Tokyo c1925-1945
The brain has replaced other organs or substances to become the major or the only seat of the personality. In Europe the rise of the brain started during the early modern period. It took place in Japan in the late nineteenth century, when Western medicine and medical worldview were imported and the brain started to replace the stomach as the major bodily site of the personality. The brain’s claim of the personality was only partial, however: some aspects of the personality were attributed to the functions of the brain and others were attributed to those of other organs. This was partly because of the popular dichotomy of mental faculties into the Western and the Japanese: the modern Japanese liked the idea of getting Westernized in some mental aspects and retaining the Japanese core in their personalities, which led to the idea of dual bodily seats for different functions. Another reason is the strong connection between religions and the body parts: Buddhism, Shintoism, and newly formed religions, as well as Christianity, flourished in modern Japan and articulated the meanings of the parts and organs of the body in various ways. Modern Japanese were thus going through a transformation of the somatic map of the personalities due to the complex and changing arrangements of medicine, westernization, modernization and religion.
This paper will explore how this moving new cartography of the mind and the body was lived by the Japanese, through the examination of the patients’ narratives in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo c.1925-1945. Psychiatric narratives are one of the most intriguing archives to examine people’s ideas about one’s body and the mind and his paper attempts to illustrate the somatic placement of personalities in the past.