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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Tadanobu Tsunoda


Tadanobu Tsunoda, MD, 79, is the author of "The Japanese Brain" (now in its 38th Japanese edition), and the inventor of the Tsunoda Key Tapping Machine. He developed this simple analog system in the 1960s, and claims it is still the most accurate machine in the world for measuring the brainstem's switch mechanism, which determines which side of the brain processes sounds. He first presented his findings about connections between the brain, language and culture to an international audience at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Meetings of Experts on the Concept of Race in History, held in Montreal in 1978. Still researching, he is as mesmerized by the beauty of the brain as ever.

Tadanobu Tsunoda
Tadanobu Tsunoda

The brain is like a computer, and only the operating system matters. We initialize the brain with language, which is exactly like using an operating system such as Windows or Macintosh. I found that a brain formatted with Japanese or any of the Polynesian languages reacts differently from other brains.

DNA has nothing to do with it. Left-brain dominance is seen in all people who learn Japanese or a Polynesian language between the ages of 6 and 9, regardless of race, nationality or ethnic background. Any language learned before age 6 or after age 9 makes no difference to the brain's switch mechanism.

Japanese and Polynesians are similar because we give meaning to vowels. We have lots of syllables which are only vowels, and they are processed as words.

Japanese communication is more of an exchange of feelings than of information. Our conversation is more like animal sounds, like two birds singing to each other. Ours is not as logical a language as others.

Old-fashioned analog technology can delve into the center of the human being. My analog machine looks too old and ratty, so young scientists don't want to learn how to use it, no matter how accurate it is. I hope to teach it to some of them before I die.

I learn new things every day. I have done experiments with over 1,000 people, meeting with each person many times -- some for over 40 years.

We had NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) before, too, we just didn't talk about them. They were called iso-ro-, and they were freeloaders, living off family and friends.

It's boring to meet scientists because so few do unusual, weird research. They just want to get funds and sponsorship from the government or the private sector, so they focus on the same topics as other scientists around the world.

Studying too much disturbs the brain. I have examined kids around exam time, and their brains were all tilting to one side, to the left. Once they stop cramming for exams, their brain balances back toward the right. But for those kids who are always at cram schools, their brains get fixed in the wrong spot and I fear that in the future they won't be able to create anything new.

Japanese-language brains get tired easily. They hear all natural sounds, from birds singing to raindrops, from howling wind to laughter and cries, in the left hemisphere. Apart from Polynesians, everyone else in the world processes them in the right hemisphere. So we use the left brain way too much.

Listening to Western instrumental music is excellent for tired Japanese. This is because we process it in our right hemisphere, creating a balance to our overused left side. However, neither Western music played by Japanese instruments nor Japanese traditional music are good for relaxing the Japanese mind, because they are processed by the left hemisphere. Even more fascinating is that Chinese musical instruments are processed the same way as Western ones and, therefore, provide relief to the exhausted Japanese brain.

Creative work is hard, and it is especially difficult for the Japanese. Creation is centered in the cores of the right and left hemispheres. The Japanese-language brain is too left-sided, which has a powerful and negative influence on creativity.

The Japanese-language brain confuses logic and emotions. When some Japanese, mostly from the so-called rightwing, hear my theories, they think it is good news for Japan, as if I were saying that the Japanese were special people. I have never thought that, and I have never said or written such things. Ironically, leftwing Japanese also misunderstand my theory, because for them it sounds like I am saying Japanese are unique, and leftwingers hate any idea that might differentiate them from others.

We are singers: No wonder we developed the karaoke machine.

Japanese are wasting their money and time learning foreign languages. It is inefficient and confusing for Japanese children to try a foreign tongue before the brainstem's switching mechanism is completed at about age 9. The best time to start is about age 10 to 12. Still, Japanese should master foreign languages from conversation first, not reading and writing as they are taught.

Animal experiments do not help our understanding of humans. So how come they are still being conducted?

Even cheap food is delicious in Japan. We can eat so well on a shoestring budget, which is good because I need to save money for my research.

If the big one hits Tokyo, I am ready. My lab is supported by a base of 60 poles, each 3 meters tall, firmly held in concrete.

Cooking is the greatest experiment. Since my 70th birthday, I have lived alone in my lab. My wife works and stays near her clinic, so we see each other once a week or so. I never cooked before we separated, but since then it has been nothing but an adventure. I love hunting for fresh ingredients. My favorite combination for miso soup is potatoes, carrots and onions, without any tofu. I make a killer kinpira gobo- (chopped burdock root), too, and my sweet black beans for new year are the best.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html


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