Aggression and the Intermediates in the Japanese Psyche

Takao Oda
Tokyo, Japan
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists

It has been especially difficult for the Japanese people to live through their own aggression after World War Two. The Japanese people had suffered from their own aggression during the war and have been suffering from it even until now. This is the cultural background of analytical work with our clients in Japan. Cultural aspects may be directly and indirectly connected with clinical issues.

A special type of social phobia, taijin kyofusho, or fear of eye-to-eye confrontation, is common in Japanese society. Japanese clients who have a fear of eye-to-eye confrontation may develop persistent and excessive fears of giving offense to others (Frances, 1994), and may also develop excessive fears of receiving offense from others in social situations. This cultural and clinical phenomenon is related to the aggression problems in the Japanese culture. Those clients who are suffering from taijin kyofusho and Japanese people in general may have difficulties in psychically experiencing their own aggression. Consequently, their aggression tends to be directed toward themselves. They experience their aggression as self-punishment. We may call this tendency in the Japanese psyche “culture of self-punishment.”

We have archetypal opposites in aggression toward others and aggression toward ourselves. Japanese people may be suffering not only from archetypal opposites of aggression and self-punishment, but also the opposites of female and male. I will discuss how Japanese people have been suffering from pathological dichotomy between aggression and self-punishment, and between female and male, and I will also illustrate how we are able to solve these problems using the analytical process of a clinical case.

The Intermediates between Opposites

In describing the therapeutic process of the clinical case, I will discuss how Japanese people would overcome this pathology of archetypal dichotomy. Pathology of archetypal dichotomy will be healed through experiencing the intermediates between opposites. I think that alchemy, functioning as the intermediates, served in the cultural tradition of medieval Europe to heal psychic dissociation or splitting. Symbolism of alchemy is also the transformation process which occurs in the intermediate realm between adept and soror; analyst and client. C.G. Jung devoted more than thirty years to studying psychological aspects of alchemy.

But there is no alchemical tradition in the Japanese society. However, there are some sorts of cultural contrivances, which function as the intermediates between archetypal opposites. Concerning aggression and self-punishment there is a cultural contrivance, which functions as the intermediates between social and anti-social, or between normal citizens and criminals. It is the world of yakuza or noble gangsters. Concerning sexuality there is another cultural contrivance: traditional kabuki and modern Takaraduka theater plays function as the intermediates between female and male, and they heal archetypal dichotomy of sexuality.

Cultural Contrivances of the Intermediates in Japan

Toshio Kawatake (2003) studies history and the beauty of kabuki. In 1603 Okuni, who had been a shrine maiden of Izumo Shinto Shrine, began to play kabuki dance in Kyoto. This female performer, Okuni, is considered to be the creator of the four-hundred-year history of kabuki play. Okuni played male roles in the early history of kabuki. Later the Edo regime prohibited female and young male performers from playing in kabuki in order not to corrupt public morals. It allowed only adult male performers to play in kabuki. Therefore male actors, onnagata, play female roles in kabuki plays; onnagata actor is a female and male symbolically although he is neither ordinarily male nor female. On the other hand an otokoyaku is an actress playing male roles in modern Takaraduka Theater plays; otakoyaku is a male and female symbolically although she is neither ordinarily female nor male. yakuza, onnagata and otokoyaku are the intermediates; yakuza are the ones between the social and anti-social; Onnagata and otokoyaku are the intermediates between female and male symbolically.

It is important for us as analysts to endure and contain the ambivalence and vagueness of the intermediates when we treat our clients who have been suffering from pathology of archetypal opposites. It is also crucial for analysts to consider the intermediate realm of our own culture to be the psychotherapeutic space between analysts and clients. In the Japanese culture the intermediates such as yakuza, onnagata and otokoyaku function as the “enlarged therapeutic space.” (Oda, 2004) Furthermore, living through the cultural intermediates ensures client and analyst keeping a proper distance between each other, and from the troubles of transference and countertransference. It facilitates the constellation of the alchemical vessel or psychotherapeutic container.

A Case of Social Phobia and the Image of yakuza Figures

I will illustrate the foregoing points with case material. A middle-aged woman has been suffering from social phobia and depersonalization with suicidal ideas for more than thirty years since her late puberty. The client has had to close her eyes in trains because she fears that eye-to-eye confrontation with others, especially with men, will give offense to them. She has developed excessive fears of looking at the crotch of men because that looking will let her imagine male sexuality, and because she will rest her gaze on that part against her own will. In analytical sessions the client repeatedly talked about her fearful father although he was already dead. The client’s father served his time in the army at prison camp for foreign soldiers during World War II. Father appeared as dreadful and barbarous Japanese army soldiers with a close crop in the client’s imagination, although he was kind and warm to foreign soldiers in reality.

For three years after the beginning of analysis with this client, the client’s father continued to appear as dreadful images of Japanese army soldiers in her imagination and dreams. Eight months after beginning the analysis, however, yakuza figures, which live in the intermediate territory between social and anti-social, began to appear as her father images in her dreams and imagination. A yakuza figure with a close crop appeared in the following dream. He was cruel and fearful but kind to this client although she did not know the reason why. At the same time I as her analyst spontaneously imagined my own father as a fearful and warm army soldier. And I faced the destructive and constructive aspects of Japanese army during World War II. The yakuza figures as the intermediates between social and anti-social, and between analyst and client, appeared as follows.

Dream 1: It was dark at night. A group of women including myself were at a sloping road. An unknown male yakuza figure with a close crop and his two men came to us. They looked very cruel; they might have murdered someone somewhere. The yakuza figure ordered us to take jackets off and dance. We women began to run away with a flashlight and food. The yakuza figure was fearful and cruel, but it seemed that he was kind to me.

yakuza, or noble gangster, is in between social and anti-social. In the Japanese culture the principle of yakuza is that one sides with the weak and crushes the strong, and values justice above life, although they gamble and are aggressive. The groups of yakuza strive against each other. They sometimes wound or kill members of other groups; they may commit crimes. Their culture is closely related to aggression and dispute. However, yakuza does have not only destructive but also creative and humane characters as I have mentioned above.

Transformation of Dreadful Japanese Army Soldiers

It is said that analysts should have solved their own parents’ problems before they become analyst. It is true and not true. We have to continuously face the relationship with our inner parents, even after finishing our training course. I was confronted spontaneously with the images of Japanese army soldiers in my imagination as my fearful father on the personal and collective level, while I was analyzing this client. This client’s confrontation with her father and my confrontation with my own father are independent from each other. However, they would have been indirectly related to each other underneath the ordinary analyst-client relationship.

As I mentioned above, eight months after beginning of this analysis with me, yakuza figures began to appear in the client’s imagination and dreams (cf. Dream 1). yakuza figures as this client’s father image continuously appeared after that. At the same time I spontaneously imagined yakuza figures such as Shimiduno Jirocho in historical narrative and naniwabushi, a type of narrative ballad, in the analytical sessions. This client faced yakuza figures as the intermediates between social and anti-social, between the cruel and normal. Facing the yakuza figures in the client’s psyche, the images of barbarous and dreadful Japanese army soldiers began to transform into more humane images. We see transformation of the images of Japanese army soldiers in the following dream of which the client dreamt one year and three months after beginning of analysis.

Dream 2: I was in a dark cave. At the entrance of the cave there was a wooden fence of latticework. A well-built Japanese army soldier with a close crop was squatting down at the dark place inside the cave. I was rubbing salt in the naked back of the army soldier. He did not get angry although I thought he would get furious at me. I did not know why he was so quiet.

Associations: It should be that the salt makes the skin smart. The soldier might feel well being rubbed on his back with salt. I have heard that taking a bath after rubbing the skin with salt would make us healthy. The images of Japanese army soldiers have changed from cruel to humane. My attitude toward soldiers has also changed from timid to brave. I was trying to soothe and to take care of the soldier. In this dream the client expressed her anger to the soldier figure. And she was taking care of the soldier. The client was confronting her fearful inner father who appeared as a barbarous Japanese army soldier. Not only this client, but also many Japanese people, had to confront images of the barbarous and aggressive Japanese army soldiers as the dreadful inner father. For the first time this client was able to express her aggressive emotions to her inner aggressive male figures. Here the client is getting over the collective self-punishment problem in the Japanese psyche. This was a turning point in the client’s overcoming her social phobia problem. It was crucial for this client to face yakuza figures as the intermediates in her psyche in order to overcome the dreadful Japanese army soldiers as her father figures, her self-punishment, and fears of offensive eye-to-eye confrontation with men. In the first half of the client’s analysis with me she had to face the yakuza figures as the representative of both aggression and humanity. yakuza images have facilitated the client to overcome her negative father complex.

A Chronic Groupie of otakoyaku Actress

Three years after beginning the client’s analysis with me no army soldiers or yakuza figures appeared in her spontaneous images and dreams any more. At this stage of analysis, the client had recovered from depersonalization and suicidal ideas. However, she was still suffering from her fear of offensive eye-to-eye confrontation with men.

The client became a chronic groupie of otakoyaku actress who plays male roles in Takaraduka Theater plays. This client continued to be a chronic groupie of otakoyaku for two and a half years. In this second half of this therapy the client had to face inner male figures as foreign and a different culture, including sexuality. The client was suffering from pathology of dichotomy between female and male. Japan has cultural contrivances which function as the intermediates between opposite sexes. The culture of otakoyaku functions as the intermediates between female and male. It was crucial for the client to communicate with the intermediates between female and male in order to have eye-to-eye confrontation with men, or face the opposite sexuality.

We may consider that this client was acting out her communication with the intermediates between female and male when she became a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku actress. However, I think that it was too difficult for this client to face the intermediates between female and male only within the analytical sessions. It was necessary for this client to utilize her communication with the otakoyaku actress who is a female but who plays male roles as the intermediates between female and male. This client told me that it was difficult for her to project her inner psyche to me as a male analyst because projecting her transference emotions directly to me would hinder her from developing a therapeutic relationship. I will call this image of cultural contrivances as the intermediates the “enlarged therapeutic space.” (Oda. 2004) When we treat our clients psychotherapeutically it is necessary for analysts to utilize not only ordinarily analytical space but also the enlarged therapeutic space, which comes from the cultural contrivances as the intermediates.

When this client acted out her transference emotions toward me in her conduct as a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku star, the client’s husband and children could endure her conduct. If the client’s acting out was within endurable limits it would be useful for analysts and clients to utilize not only ordinary but also cultural and enlarged therapeutic space in order to facilitate analytical process. This client’s living through the cultural intermediates – yakuza figures and also otakoyaku actress – have facilitated confrontation with her self-punishment and male sexuality.

The Intermediates between Female and Male

Three years and two months after beginning of this therapy, the client dreamt the following dream. The otakoyaku star in the dream is different from the actress of whom the client is a chronic groupie. However the otakoyaku figure in the dream would symbolically represent the same actress whom the client was following as a chronic groupie and the intermediates between female and male.

Dream 3: Several colleagues and I came to near Takaraduka Theater. We were at a restaurant. There we met an actress, a veteran otakoyaku star. Only the otakoyaku star and I were there before I knew. The otakoyaku star approached me and said that I would be changed if I would become fond of Takaraduka Theater plays. The star’s breasts were close to me.

Associations: In this dream my hurt was too full for words. Now I am crazy about the otakoyaku star of which I am a chronic groupie. I feel strange because I only think of her. I am out of touch with reality when I think of other things. When I see you in my sessions I cannot feel realistic. I cannot face and accept inner masculine images in my psyche maybe because of my negative father images. May I expect that Takarazuka Theater plays would heal my psychic wounds?

In this dream the veteran otakoyaku actress, which would also represent the intermediates between female and male, approached the client and told her the possibility of healing in a sort of intimate atmosphere. It seems that this client’s psyche knows the psychic value of her becoming a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku star. The client told me that it would be harmful not only for her but also for me if she would directly project her transference emotions to me.

Consequently, otakoyaku of the Takarazuka Theater plays symbolically means not only the intermediates between female and male but also the intermediates between client and analyst. We know that the client’s becoming a chronic groupie of otakoyaku star would help the client and analyst to keep a proper psychic distance from each other. At the same time the client’s becoming a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku star may have facilitated constellation of the enlarged therapeutic space, which would contain both herself and me as her analyst. yakuza and otakoyaku as the intermediates will help us to keep a proper distance between the client and myself, and to facilitate the constellation of analytical space, the therapeutic vessel.

“You Should Assimilate the Content of Fantasy”

The client has been a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku actress for two and a half years. Four years and seven months after the beginning of the analysis the client told me that she would not come to be analyzed with me for four weeks because she would follow the otakoyaku star’s performances in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. I felt angry within my psyche because she will not come to be analyzed with me for four weeks, and because she would follow the otakoyaku star for such a long time. Consequently I told the client: “It would be desirable that you would be able to assimilate the content of fantasy into your dreams.” I wanted to tell the client in a metaphorical way that it would be desirable for her to integrate the content of her fantasy concerning being a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku actress into her psyche.

Four weeks later the client came back to her analysis with me. She followed the star in those three cities on schedule. I was astonished that her fears of eye-to-eye confrontation with men had disappeared during these four weeks. The client talked about the moment in which those symptoms disappeared as follows:

The same night when the otakoyaku star finished her stages I went to Takaraduka where the star had been living before. I could see no one at Takaraduka Bridge because it was late at night and furthermore a typhoon was approaching. I felt very lonely and sad although I was in the same town in which the actress had resided. It seemed that I had come to my senses. I felt that I was not possessed by the star’s mana any more.

The next day I got on a train after watching a revue at Takaraduka Theater in which the actress used to play revues. It seemed that I was saying good-by to the theater when the train was leaving. At that moment I looked at a man who was sitting on a seat opposite. However, against all expectations, I did not have any fears of eye-toeye confrontation with the man. It was really an impressive moment; fears of eye-to-eye confrontation with men had disappeared when I was leaving Takarazuka Theater and the city. When I told you that I would be away for four weeks because of following the otakoyaku star you looked angry and told me that it would be desirable for me to assimilate the content of fantasy into my dreams. You drove a wedge in my psyche; it seems that the otakoyaku star has become an ordinary actress now. If I lost the otakoyaku star, the actress who play male roles, and if I lost everything about her in my fantasy, I should feel sad and lonely.

How Has the Client Been Healed?

The client had been a chronic groupie of the otakoyaku actress for two years and a half. When the client awoke from being a chronic groupie of the actress her fear of eye-to-eye confrontation especially to men had disappeared. I would like to discuss how the client had been healed from cultural and psychotherapeutic aspects.

First, I think that it was crucial for me as an analyst to understand not only the client’s individual but also collective or cultural psyche. The client had to confront “barbarous and fearful Japanese army soldiers” as her personal and collective father images in the first half of this therapy. It is necessary not only for the client but also ordinary Japanese people to confront inner barbarous and fearful Japanese army soldiers as their father images. These common images of barbarous and fearful Japanese soldiers would be related to what we Japanese people are suffering from our own inner aggression and self-punishment.

This client was afraid of giving offensive eye-to-eye confrontation to others, especially to men. It was very difficult for her to face her own aggression and to conquer self-punishment. For more than thirty years it was too fearful for the client to face dreadful army soldiers not only because her personal experiences with her father but also because we Japanese people blamed the Japanese army and ourselves for our miseries during and after World War II. Consequently it was necessary for the client and me as her analyst to live through our inner aggression, and to overcome our culture of self-punishment. On the personal level the client and I faced barbarous and fearful army soldiers as our inner aggressive fathers. On the collective level the client and I also confronted our own inner aggression in the images of dreadful Japanese army soldiers and self-punishment as fear of giving offense to others.

It was essential for the client to communicate with yakuza figures as the intermediate culture between dreadful army soldiers and normal citizens. The client told me that her father used to fight against others and to gamble, but that he as an army soldier sided with the weak; he was kind to foreign prisoners of war at a prison camp during World War II, and he bought beautiful balls for her at festivals in her childhood. The client’s father became less aggressive, and became kind and warm in her imagination. Her father’s images were both destructive and humane like yakuza figures. I as a Japanese analyst was familiar with the culture of yakuza from my childhood. In the analytical sessions with this client my favorite yakuza figures, such as Shimiduno Jirocho, spontaneously and occasionally appeared in my imagination, especially in the first half of this therapy. Communicating with the world of yakuza was helpful for the client in order to overcome fear of eye-to-eye confrontation and the mentality of self-punishment.

Wounding and Healing of the Japanese Psyche

As I mentioned above, this client told me that it would be harmful not only for her but also for me if she would directly express her transference emotions to me. The client experienced her attachment to the otakoyaku star of Takaraduka Theater plays in her fantasies and conduct as a chronic groupie. The client’s living through the fantasy and conduct of otakoyaku star, which is the intermediate figure between female and male, has helped the client to psychically communicate with the opposite sex and to overcome fears of eye- to-eye confrontation with men. This stage was the essential one in this client’s recovering process. As the client’s analyst I occasionally watched the same otakoyaku actress on television.

Today we do not have alchemy as one of intermediate culture any more. Furthermore, there is no alchemical tradition in Japan. However, yakuza, kabuki and Takaraduka Theater plays are our cultures, which function as the intermediates between the archetypal opposites. The client has experienced yakuza and otakoyaku as the intermediate cultures, which are not intrusive to her psyche. These cultural contrivances also function as therapeutic vessels between analyst and client like alchemical containers. It is important not only for clients but also for analysts to live through the intermediates between the opposites.

The Japanese psyche has been suffering from its inner aggression and self-punishment since World War II on the collective level. We have to face our own inner aggression in order to conquer this culture of self-punishment. The client could not live through her own aggression against men because she had a fearful father in a culture of self-punishment. Living through the culture of yakuza as the intermediates between barbarous army soldiers and normal citizens in her fantasies the client has considerably overcome the crude aggression of her inner father.

The archetypal and mythological personification of yakuza is Susanowo, who intrudes into the sacred rice field and the sacred weaving house, and is a cultural hero at the same time in the Japanese mythology. The client has confronted not only her individual fearful father problem but also the collective self-punishment and inner aggression problems in the Japanese psyche. Mythological personification of otakoyaku is the Sun-goddess Amaterasu I have described Amaterasu as the intermediates between female and male in the Japanese psyche more in details in my book (Oda, 2004).


The culture of yakuza is a contrivance which will heal pathology of dichotomy in the Japanese psyche. Another cultural contrivance is otakoyaku of Takaraduka Theater plays. The client had to face the intermediate culture between female and male in order to overcome her fear of own offensive eye-to-eye confrontation with men in the second half of this analysis. It was too offensive and intrusive for the client to directly face men in order to conquer her fear of eye-to-eye confrontation with them. The client spontaneously began to follow an otakoyaku star as a chronic groupie. I as her analyst have realized that the client’s conduct would be helpful for her. We can see that the client has psychically experienced imaginative activities of the intermediates between female and male, while she has been following the otakoyaku actress as a chronic groupie.

As an analyst I tried to keep a proper distance between the client and myself. As I mentioned above, the client told me that she projected transference emotions to the otakoyaku star instead of me. The client experienced intimate emotions toward the otakoyaku actress, which symbolize the intermediates between female and male, in her fantasies. It is crucial that we keep proper distance between our clients and us. At the same time, it is meaningful for our clients and us to communicate with the contrivances of intermediate cultures in our fantasies. When we analysts keep a proper distance between our clients and ourselves the intermediate cultures such as yakuza and otakoyaku will function as analytical vessels and will facilitate clients’ transformation process.

I think that not only clients’ analytical hours with an analyst but also their everyday life is essential in order to facilitate their analytical process. Everyday reality is grounded on our “living mythology” (Oda. 2004), or culture in society. It is important for analyst and client to live through the contrivances of intermediate cultures in order to overcome their difficulties. Cultural contrivances of the intermediates such as yakuza and otakoyaku between archetypal opposites function as the therapeutic space between analyst and client. Clients’ and analyst’s living through the intermediate cultures in their everyday life and also in their imagination is parallel to experiencing the intermediates as a therapeutic vessel in analytical hours. When analyst and client live through the intermediate cultures the constellation of an analytical vessel will be facilitated.


  • Frances, A., Pincus, H.A., First, M.B. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Kawatake, T. (2003). “History and beauty in kabuki,” in Exhibition of Kabuki Four Hundred Years. (In Japanese). Tokyo: Kyodo Press.
  • Oda, T. (2004). Psychotherapy and Japanese Psyche. (In Japanese). Tokyo: Baifukan Publishers.