Research into the physiology of Judo movement has established that pulling in one’s chin helps the reflexes in a pulling action, whereas to reinforce a push it is helpful to thrust the chin out and forward. In Seoinage for instance, it is best to pull in the chin against one’s throat, whereas for Osotogari (when it is being made with a push) it is good to thrust forward the jaw. As a majority of Judo throws involve mainly a pulling action, many Judo experts habitually keep the chin pulled in.

Japanese people, in situations where an action may be made either by a pull or by a push, tend to use the former. It is well-known that Japanese carpenters are pulling a saw or plane towards them when they apply the cutting force, whereas the Western carpenters push it.

In writing in the traditional way, the Japanese brush is pulled in towards the body, but a Western writer tends to begin his line with the hand in front of the middle of the body, and write so that it gradually moves away. The slang English phrase for a purely clerical job is “pen pushing”. Today Japanese students are writing with pens in their note-books horizontally, and I have asked some of them whether they feel they are pulling the pen or pushing it. Most of them say they feel it is a pull. I have sometimes wondered whether this horizontal action of writing will eventually have some effect on the form of the kanji, which were developed in vertical writing. So far I have not been successful in finding any research on the subject, but one might

imagine that the kana at least will change form considerably as the generations go by.

Our present Western numbers came from India, where the writing was left to right, through the Arab-dominated Middle East where it was right to left, finally to Europe where it was again left to right. The form of the numbers changed considerably, but someone who is not familiar with anything except the present Western digits finds he can recognize more of the original Indian numbers than he can of the intermediate forms written by the Arabs. For instance the original Indian form of the figure for two was 2, which changed in the Arabic script (written is from right to left) to p, but which when it got through to Europe changed to 2, reverting almost to its original form.

The numerals are thus considerably different in form when written by European pen pushers writing from left to right, from what they are when written in the Middle East in the Arabic script from right to left. In this script the writer generally begins well to the right of the body and brings his hand towards the centre, in a pull. Some examples of Persian artistic calligraphy have a marked downward slope, showing that it is a pulling action.

Another indication of the Japanese preference for a pull is in everyday expressions. A very energetic man is called Go-in or a man with a strong pull, but this has to be translated as a man with plenty of push. In English a “pull” means some rather underhand influence which secures special treatment. The “pull” is perhaps through family connections. To use it is generally thought of as rather discreditable. Of course Japanese do use the word “push” sometimes in the sense of strong energetic effort, just as in English we have the occasional phrase “a long pull” meaning a sustained effort. But in general my impression is that Japanese are a people of pull and my own people have a preference for push.

One can see this in strip cartoons—when Japanese is resolute or angry, he pulls his jaw in, whereas the Englishman is shown thrusting it strongly forward. The caricature shows the difference particularly forcibly.

There is a famous humorous story about a director who was to make a speech to the new recruits of a big company. (This does happen in Britain, though not nearly so much as in Japan.) As he went into the hall he noticed on the swing door the big notice PUSH, and the thought occurred to him that he could make dramatic use of this in his speech. “In this company” he began, “there is only one way to succeed, and it is … .” he flung out his arm in  a flamboyant gesture towards the swing door”

what you see written there! ” The whole audience turned and to their amazement (and amusement) saw in great letters on the door: PULL.

© Trevor Leggett

This was taken from Trevor Leggett’s book “The British and the Japanese” published in 1976


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