I’ve often tried to pin down the difference between the western and eastern mindsets. I’ve now found the simplest and best description of the difference. It wasn’t from a philosophy book, but rather a book on comics! Scott McCloud’s classic “Understanding Comics” has a section contrasting American and Japanese comics, which sums it all up.
He writes that in American comics, most transitions are action-to-action, like:
But in Japanese comics, most transitions are aspect-to-aspect, that is, they show different aspects of the same place or idea like:
McCloud writes that Japanese comics “emphasise being there over getting there”. This I think sums up the difference. The western mind focuses on “getting there”, while the eastern mind focuses on “being here”. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different.
Another way of looking at the difference is the Japanese emphasis on negative space or the omitted. It is viewed as being as important as what is included. In the West, only the positive or shown is emphasised. Take a look at the famous art-work “The Great Wave Off Kanag’awa” by Hokusai (1829):
Look at the negative space around the wave – if we turn it upside down:
We get another wave! So nature has its own yin (negative space) and yang (positive space).
Simply put, the western mind focuses on “getting there” and the “seen”, while the eastern mind focuses on “being here” and the “absent”. Enlightening, don’t you think?