The Japanese subject and the unconscious (part 2).


In the first part of our exploration of the unconscious in Japan, we showed how Ogasawara’s conceptualization of the Japanese language failed to grasp how the dimension of lalangue truly functions within the Japanese language.

Our radically different understanding of the Japanese language also explains why both of us have a radical different position as psychoanalyst in our work with Japanese subjects. While Ogasawara has given up on the unconscious by stating that the Japanese language, due to its structural reliance on a master significance, plugs the hole of the unconscious, I, in my psychoanalytic work, keep on believing in the unconscious.

I argue, in contrast to Ogasawara, that the difficulty of enabling the Japanese subject to hear his own unconscious is a result of a societal context that fails to take the subject seriously. The Japanese Other, i.e. its discourses and its formalizing effect on relations, has a silencing effect on the Japanese subject and his unconscious (desire). There is, in my view, an irreducible tension between the Japanese subject, as born into the Other, and the Other, as the field where the subject needs to realize himself. The subject – and this is true for any kind of subject in whichever kind of society – does not fully fit the Other in which it needs to realize itself.

The problem with the notion of master-significance and the fiction of Japanese Newspeak.

Ogasawara’s notion of master-significanse means that “if you dwell[…] in Japanese […] you cannot say nor hear anything other than predetermined meaning” (Ogasawara, 2019b). In our view, one can only speak of master significance or master-meaning if we accept that such Herrenbedeuting, structured around conformity, is marked by a fundamental failure (Note 1). It fails to master language, and, more importantly, the subject. While the discourses, ideals, and norms of the Japanese Other of conformity play a central role in the way the subject subjectifies him/herself within the Other as language, the relation between him and this Other remains, at all times, problematic.

In fact, the presence of mental problems within Japanese society proofs not only that there is an attempt to inscribe the subject in the ‘master-meaning’ of the Other but also the failure of the master-meaning of the Other to do so. In other words, the so-called master-meaning structurally fails to plug the hole of the unconscious. While there may be certain discourses, ideals, and social norms predominant within Japanese society, the idea that these elements, by providing a predetermined meaning, structurally foreclose the possibility of subjectivity to appear is but an imaginary confabulation – Japanese language is, in short, far from being Orwellian Newspeak.

Even though our theoretical statement, i.e. mental problems reveal the failure of the ,aster-meaning of the Other, due to being grounded in the clinic, touches upon what the Japanese subject struggles with, this statement has limited value within the practice of psychoanalysis. The statement does little to help us to understand the particularity of the subject that addresses his speech to us. 

The difficulty of thinking in Japanese: a factcheck.

One effect of the need for a fixed predetermined meaning for Japanese to work as a language is, according to Ogasawara, that thinking in Japanese becomes difficult if not impossible – one is enslaved by the master-meaning of the Other. To proof his point, he invokes the current state of Japanese education. He states that, in Japan, “pupils and students are not encouraged to think by themselves but only to assume what is imposed and dictated to them as absolute norms and traditional standards” (Ogasawara, 2019a)”.

While Ogasawara’s statement is not really wrong, he ignores recent attempts to promote citizen education. Starting from 2016, when the voting age was lowered to 18 years old, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications started promoting ‘citizenship education’ at schools.

Yet, three elements have limited the success of these recent efforts. First of all, the Ministry’s focus is solely on raising voter turnout. Tsuyoshi Fujii rightly contends that Citizen education will be more effective when it is focused on enabling “students to obtain and analyze information by themselves, build their own opinions, and transmit and act on them as sovereign members of society” (Fujii, 2019). The second element that limits the success of these attempts concerns the fear at schools and prefectural assemblies to violate the principle of political neutrality. The third element that problematizes the implementation of this kind of education concerns the fact that teachers in their training do not receive the needed tools to teach in this education style – i.e. the style of active learning.

Bu while the implementation of citizen education is till marred by challenges, it is still a minimal attempt to make young subjects think and explore, for themselves, who they want to be within the Japanese Other and in which societal Other they want to life. The Japanese education system, while still highly focused on test-results – i.e. reproduction – is thus not only trying to encourage its young subjects to think for themselves, but also succeeds in booking some successes. In other words, with a different educational tactic, a Japanese person be encouraged to think for himself in Japanese.

This finding reveals that the current state of Japanese education is not caused by the so-called need for predetermined meaning for Japanese to function. And if, given the right educational approach, thinking in Japanese is very much possible, then Japanese, as language, cannot not that depended on a supposed oppressive master-meaning.

Ogasawara, furthermore, forgets that every language is marked by pre-existing meaning – meaning supported by the others that make out the Other as societal body. Every subject, in his coming-into-being, does so by subjectifying the signifiers and the associated meaning that comes from the Other. Yet, the Other as language is not complete. The Other that the subject needs to subjectify is very much like a sliding puzzle – Language is structurally marked by a hole, a (phallic) hole that allows creativity to burst forth.

The impact of the capitalistic discourse and the plight of psychoanalysis.

Another problem in Ogasawara’s theoretic device concerns the impoverishment of the clinic. The Japanese subject, if we understand it correctly, has only two ways of inscribing himself in the Japanese Other. Either he succumbs to the master-significance, becoming a ‘normal’ non-thinking robot or a nationalistic paranoiac, whatever this may mean, or, in an attempt to escape “the suffocating effect of the predominance of the master significance”, he becomes sexually perverse (Ogasawara, 2019a ).

There is thus no place for the autistic subject, the schizophrenic subject, the subject losing himself in substance-abuse, or any other kind of suffering subject (Note 2). The very existence of such a clinical variety within Japanese society is one of the strongest arguments against Ogasawara’s theoretical concoction.

Furthermore, Ogasawara’s elision of the addicted subject shows his ignorance of a special discourse in play within Japanese society: the capitalistic discourse. The suffering of the Japanese subject is thus not necessarily caused by a conflict between his subjective position and the ever threatening silencing of his/her subjectivity by the demands/ideal of the Other, but can also be caused the very effects that the capitalistic discourse has on subjectivity as such. The capitalistic discourse, ignoring “the things of love”, preoccupied with consumption, refuses castration, refuses to acknowledge that the object comes as an answer on a lack (Lacan, 2011 [1971-1972], 96). The exchange of the capitalistic object happens beyond the interaction between the subject and the Other (who is coupled with the object), beyond the bond that will give a particular colour to the subject’s subjectivity.

The capitalistic discourse does not only problematizes the coming-into-being of the subject, it also ‘colours’ the way one approaches the suffering object. The latter is evident in the way Japanese psychiatry generally deals with depression: a simple prescription of medication – and home-isolation (especially in the case of children and adolescents) – without any exploration of the dynamics underlying said depression. In other words, the gift of medication, the gift of an object to ‘solve’ the disease – and silence speech – replaces or effaces the exploration the subjective ground of the subject’s suffering.

What is the relation between the conflict between the subject and the Other and the impact of the capitalistic discourse on subjectivity? Does the former conflict not lead the subject to seek (and find) stopgaps in the consumable objects produced by the capitalistic discourse? Does the capitalistic discourse not intervene within the structural problematic relation between subject and the Japanese Other of conformity, complicating the subject’s ability to think himself from the sexual lack that marks his being and accepting the truth of the sexual non-relation? The phenomenon of host-bars and hostess clubs, in my opinion, illustrates this dynamic in a beautiful way – imaginary commodified relationships as a way to escape the truth of the sexual non-relation.

What position should the psychoanalyst take in relation to this complex societal situation? Is taking a subtle fatalistic position of cherishing the hope that more people will find a way to analytic sublimation sufficient? No, because this position evades the plight/responsibility of the psychoanalyst.

When, in 1968, Lacan formulates the following: “Je dis que la psychanalyse ne joue pas le jeu avec toi, qu’elle ne prend pas en charge ce dont pourtant auprès de toi elle se réclame“, he attempts to show that taking a passive position goes against the very responsibility that psychoanalysis has in relation to youth in particular and society in general (Lacan, 1968, p. 3). We should not wait on the side-lines hoping for change that will never come, we need to be an active force that, even if it is only from the fringes of the world of mental health, keeps on putting the question of subjectivity and the unconscious on the agenda. It is, in other words, the moral plight/responsibility of psychoanalysis to urge subjects to think themselves from the sexual lack that marks their being and confront them with the sexual non-relation; ‘I’ll n’y a pas de rapport sexual. 

The need for analytic listening and the importance of meeting the other as subject.

The Japanese subject is ever in danger, be it by the effects of capitalists discourse, effacing the dynamic between subject and Other, or by the threatening presence of the formalized/formalizing Other, which orders the subject to suppress himself as subject and conform himself to the imaginary dynamics of society. Given that the subject is ever in danger within Japanese society, psychoanalysis cannot sit back and relax but needs to fight, how difficult it may be, for the subject and the unconscious.

The Japanese subject, contrary to what one might think, needs psychoanalysis, but he doesn’t realize it. While one might think that the Japanese subject does not need psychoanalysis, because he has no demand for it, because he does not formulate a wish to analyzing himself, such reasoning fails to recognize that the true demand, more often than not, lies beyond the signifiers of the everyday discourse. The demand structures the symptom as such. The existence of the symptom, in other words, grounds the need for psychoanalysis in Japan. Only a psychoanalyst would go beyond the formulated demands and read the symptom as a demand as such. What the symptom demands is nothing other than to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be read as an attempt to solve a subjective problem.

That such an unformulated ‘demand’ exists is shown by the success Dr. Tamaki Saito has with the ‘Open Dialogue’ approach for those subjects who can be designated with the signifier hikikomori, for those subjects that have withdrawn from society for more than six months. In our view, the ‘hikikomori’ state is a symptom that is a message to the Other, first and foremost the parental Other.

While ‘Open Dialogue’ does not teach analytic listening to the parental others, the kind of listening does resemble analytic listening on one crucial point: the need for a receptive attitude that abstains from judgement and criticism. What makes this approach successful lies in the fact that it empties the parental other from the echo of the threatening and suffocating Other of conformity – the parental other cannot be the spokesman of the societal Other pregnant with norms and expectancies – and creates the necessary space and time for the suffering subject to make his subjectivity appear and be heard. The method, in short, allows parents to meet their son/daughter as subject.

The success of this method underlines three things. First, the suffering subject, even if he cannot formulate it directly, has a need to speak. Secondly, he can only assume this need to speak when the other meets him as ‘ear’. And lastly that the act of listening to the other’s subjectivity allows the symptom of hikikomori to disappear. The very fact that this method, which allows the suffering subject, by giving him time and space, to bring his subjectivity in play, has a positive effect on the wellbeing of certain suffering Japanese subjects underlines, once more, that that psychoanalysis, a practice structured by the act of analytic listening, would be beneficial to the subjective well-being of the Japanese subject.

Conclusion: the need for and failure of psychoanalysis in Japan.

If we cannot utilize the idea of a structural necessity of a predetermined meaning for Japanese language to explain why there is little need for psychoanalysis in Japan, how can we understand the lack of such a need?

Let us first underline that the question we pose is radically different from Ogasawara’s question. While Ogasawara tried to explain why Lacan said that he who dwells in Japanese language has no need to be psychoanalyzed, our question is why, given the demand that the symptom communicates, there is seemingly no need for Lacanian psychoanalysis. This question is, in fact, a non-question. Simply put, there are not a lot of Lacanian analysts in Japan. There is, in other words, a supply problem. The question that we thus need to pose is: why are there not more Lacanian psychoanalysts in Japan?

While we do not pretend that we are able to give a full answer to this question, we can nevertheless highlight two interrelated elements that are, in our view, not without effect on the ‘failure’ of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The first element concerns the “the historical dependance of Japanese psychoanalysis”, i.e. the JPS [Japanese Psychoanalytic society],” on the [psychoanalytic] institutions in the English-speaking world” – i.e. the IPA or as Lacan called it “la société d’as­sistance mutuelle contre le discours analytique” (Parker, 2008, p. 22; Lacan, 1973, p. 27). The dissemination of psychoanalysis in Japan via the USA (as well as the influence of the British (e.g. the Kleinian) school of psychoanalysis in more ‘recent’ years) means that Japanese psychoanalysis is moulded by a form of psychoanalysis, a kind of psychoanalysis that de-radicalized many of the Freudian truths.

The second element concerns the successful integration of psychoanalysis (as a strand) within medical psychiatry. While some might consider this integration as a success for psychoanalysis, the actual consequence of such ‘protective’ integration into the psychiatric field tends to put psychoanalysis as a radical practice for the subject in mortal danger. Yet – it has to be said – psychoanalysis is surviving in Japan. While the amount of those who are actually involved in whatever kind of psychoanalytic work remains small, psychoanalysis has, just like it has done in the western world, profoundly impacted Japanese culture.

These elements should not be thought of as insurmountable obstacles for Lacanian psychoanalysis. We should view these obstacles as the necessary conditions for a veritable Lacanian psychoanalytic praxis to be established in Japan. Psychoanalysis can, strictly speaking, only truly function from the position of failure, a failure of having failed to integrate itself into the dominant societal discourse. Whenever psychoanalysis succeeds in becoming part of the dominant discourse, it slowly transforms into something that is, strictly speaking, not psychoanalysis anymore. Psychoanalysis can, in other words, only retain its radicality if it functions from the margins of society. It can only function if the discourse that directs its clinic is not a valued discourse within the Other but the signifiers of the analysand.


Lacan, J. (1968). Introduction de Scilicet au titre de la Revue de l’école Freudienne de Paris. Scilicet 1. Paris. Editions de Seuil, p 3-13.

Lacan, J.(1973) Télévision. Paris: Seuil . p. 27

Uchida R. (23/09/2019). New approach for SHUT-INS in Japan. Website:

Ogasawara, L. (2019a). Why Lacan says : “no one who dwells in the Japanese language has a need to be psychoanalysed”. Website:

Ogasawara, L. (2019b). Orwellian Newspeak and Japanese Language. Website:

Fujii (2019). Citizenship education in Japan lags more than 40 years behind the world!? Website :

Parker, I. (2008). Japan in Analysis. Cultures of the Unconscious. Palgrave Macmillan: London.


Note 1: We should note that Ogasawara (2019b) states, in the same article where he contends that Japanese language cannot function without its master-significance, that the S1 is “what pretends to obturate […] (the hole) (but cannot really do so)”. With this statement, he does not only contradict himself, but also underlines that the master-meaning he speaks off is marked by its own failure.

Note 2: For those who are interested in the prevalence of Common Mental Disorders (CMD) in Japan can always consult the following webpage:,)%20in%20the%20WMHJ2%2C%20respectively.

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