THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 48-62
Freud and Lacan on Japan Freud was born when Japan was still in its pre-Meiji isolation from the outside world, and during his younger days, information on Japan remained scarce. It is therefore hard to imagine that he encountered discourses that would have aroused his interest in the island nation. Nonetheless, Freud touches briefly on Japan in Totem and Taboo.
In this work, Freud cites Frazer’s quotation of Kaempfer’s 1727 description of the Mikado as an example of how outrageous taboos have been imposed on kings. Freud reproduces and comments on Kaempfer’s description as follows:
…”The idea”, writes Frazer, “that early kingdoms are despotisms in which the people exist only for the sovereign, is wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are considering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them exists only for the subjects; his life is only valuable so long as he discharges the duties of his position by ordering the course of nature for his people’s benefit. . . “An account written more than two hundred years ago reports that the Mikado… “thinks it would be very prejudicial to his dignity and holiness to touch the ground with his feet; for this reason, when he intends to go anywhere, he must be carried thither on men’s shoulders. Much less will they suffer that he should expose his sacred person to the open air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on his head. There is such a holiness ascribed to all parts of …