Japan’s culture – Amae

I’m minoring in East Asian Studies (as well as Japanese) – probably the only senior doing so, actually.  To do this I had to take three separate Japanese culture/society classes, one in Japan and two here at school.  That one was even offered last quarter was somewhat of a fluke (if fortunate for me, since it got me the minor).

Anyway, I’d like to share one of the most foreign-seeming yet familiar aspects of the culture: Amae.  The dictionary I have says it means “depending on others’ kindness”, but it’s a bit more complex than that.  The word contains the kanji for “sweet”, but the actual concept involves showing one’s weakness to others.  From what I recall, this means showing some sort of flaw in one’s personality to others, and to depend on them in that regard.  To have amae for someone is to sort of entrust them with the knowledge of this weakness.  This can mean simply revealing some sort of vice or even a bad habit.  It’s not an entirely foreign idea; we only show our worst parts to those we trust.  Amae is sometimes it is something harmful to others as well; the most extreme example we learned was a husband beating his wife: the wife can, in some way, see this as an expression of his love for her, as he is revealing a weakness in his soul (the fact that he beats his wife).  I very much doubt it is seen as a positive thing to others; this is just an example I remembered.  Something to think about.

I may do a little bit on tatemae and honne (one subject, two words) later.  Could be an interesting topic with the way anonymity works on the internet.

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