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Man with a Mission

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-04-10

Dr. Masaharu Matayoshi is a man with a mission. The former bio-medical engineer turned psychotherapist is redefining the application of "mother-child relationships" to match the culture and psyche of Japanese society. Although no stranger to psychology, Matayoshi's research - an extension of the work done by Sigmund Freud and Abraham Maslow - is catching the attention of some brave new minds in Japan's growing field of psychoanalysis.

Born in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1947, Matayoshi received his degree of Medical Science in Bio-Medical Engineering from the University of Tokyo's Faculty of Medicine in 1980. He then worked as a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia from 1980 to 1982, and became a certified clinical psychotherapist in 1997. His switch from the field of bio-medical engineering to psychology came after realizing there was a lack of treatment for patients suffering from psychological problems he had come in contact with.

"As a bio-chemical engineer I wanted to provide people with a comfortable life, but I saw that many patients were in fact uncomfortable," recalled Matayoshi. "I was creating machines to help diagnose diseases, but I saw there was not much care being given afterwards to the patient's mental state, so I thought it necessary to do more research in the area of psychology."

Despite having been awarded in 1978 for research into bio-medical engineering, Matayoshi began to delve deeper into the world of psychoanalysis. He became especially intrigued by the role of shamanism in Okinawan culture and how it dealt with the mental state of the Okinawan people.

Matayoshi then worked for two years with the late Professor Koichi Ogino of Keio University, who provided him with his first real academic observations in Okinawan ancestor worship. He has since published numerous books on the subject, and is an expert on the intricacies of Okinawan religion. His book, "The World of the Spirit and Yuta," is used as a guide for teaching Okinawan Ancestor Worship at the University of Maryland Okinawa, and he is expecting another book co-written in English with Dr. Joyce Trafton to be published soon.

After studying and observing many spiritual customs of the Okinawan shaman, Matayoshi felt most anthropological research done on Okinawan culture failed to recognize the significance of ancestor worship and the Okinawan people. On a much broader scale, he believed studies concerning the psychological understanding of all Japanese people in general had been inadequate. His dedication to the study of Okinawan culture and religion, coupled with his research into psychoanalysis, helped him realize the need for a new approach to analyzing the psyche of the Japanese people.

"I thought there was a mistake being made by Japanese psychologists in trying to apply western theory to the Japanese mind; the lifestyles between Japanese and westerners are so different," he explained.

Matayoshi interviewed more than 10,000 people in order to gain a deeper perspective of the way the Japanese mind works. He then expanded on theories developed by Freud and Maslow and tied them together with his own insights into the Japanese social structure. The results of 20 years of research have been published in his new book titled "The Correct Bond Between Mother and Child Can Heal Mental Diseases."

The theories developed by Matayoshi center around the essence of child rearing by Japanese mothers and its affect on behavior. The words "amae" and "amayakashi", which explain this early relationship, are the basis of Matayoshi's work. It takes into account the tendency for Japanese mothers to "over-care" for a child, causing the child to often become spoilt and selfish. By applying Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs Theory" and theories developed by Freud to the child rearing customs of Japanese mothers, Matayoshi was able to explain different behavior patterns of Japanese society.

"My work has two main goals: the first is to offer a reason why people behave a certain way. By understanding people's behavior, we can develop better human relationships," explained Matayoshi.

He concluded his second goal by stating: "Because the development of transportation, many people of different cultures are able to communicate with each other. But to have good communication, there must also be a good understanding of each other's cultures."

Matayoshi's work is now being scrutinized by many in his profession. He has been invited by educators and various medical associations to over 190 different speaking engagements. Pre-school teachers have particularly shown interest in his theories.

Like psychoanalysts before him, Matayoshi will be attracting many supporters and critics. More importantly, he has ignited the spark that may revolutionize the way modern psychology is practiced in Japan.

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