Japanese Culture's Social Traits in Language

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 8/16/2014

Professor Doi in his book "The anatomy of Independence" starts out by making a linguistic relativity hypothesis based observation that any word that exists in one language but cannot be expressed easily in others, refers to a phenomena which is culturally important in culture of the first language, but not so important in the culture of the others which lack a means of its expression. Quoting linguist Benjamin Whorf:
Every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but also analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasoning, and builds the house of his consciousness.
Amaeru is according to him is a word that cannot be directly translated into English. It means the need or desire to be loved. It denotes dependency needs.

Another word is Sumimasen or sumanai, which is according to him, a strange term as it encapsulates both gratitude and apology.  The derivation of sumimasen is to finish, to end, to be completed. In other words, the matter disputed is not ended because one has not done everything one should have done.  Thus it expresses a strong feeling of need to apologize for the other person.

The Japanese perspective on freedom comes in the word jiyuu. When the Japanese needed a word for the Western concept this is the one they choose.  Traditionally, Doi argues, this word has meant freedom in the sense of free to amaeru. It’s usage was within the context of the group.

In the Western sense, freedom has served as the basis for asserting individuality. In Japan, little value is attributed to the individual’s private realm as distinct from the group as a result you find the ambiguity and hesitation of self-expression is a common trait in the Japanese people. The reasons for a whole number of Japanese traits, mostly in terms of group harmony’ or a lack of individualism revolve around either a) rice agriculture being important in Japanese history or b) Japan’s geography forcing people to live close together.

Doi describes how the post-war removal of ideological restrictions (The introduction of American/Western concepts of freedom) didn't directly serve the cause of individualism, but by destroying the traditional channels of amae had contributed, if anything, to the spiritual and social confusion. Increasingly, young people are tempted to delay marriage – sometimes indefinitely – in order to enjoy the greater freedoms and higher disposable income associated with extended singlehood. This has led to some criticism of so-called parasite singles’, 20- and 30-somethings dedicated mainly to their own consumerist pleasures and vertical hierarchy.

Pre-marital sexual activity is the norm, and indeed many Japanese men and women seek extra-marital liaisons or relationships. Numerous telephone clubs’ exist, providing a means for men to contact available women, who may include high-school students or housewives: free tissue packets advertising these clubs are handed out to commuters at busy stations. A 1994 survey suggested that one in three teenage girls had contacted such clubs (McGregor,1996: 241). Compensated dating’, where a man provides money or gifts to a woman in exchange for dates or sexual favours, is relatively common. So called love hotels’, garish buildings renting rooms by the hour, are widespread throughout Japan, providing facilities for clandestine encounters.

Some thinkers such as Sartre, have held onto the idea of human freedom as the only absolute in the face of a superstructure in the process of collapse. He replies:
Yet where does this type of freedom lead?  Ultimately, it can only mean – if not the simple gratification of individual desires – solidarity with others through participation, in which the Western idea of freedom becomes ultimately something not so different from the Japanese.
Mono no aware is a Japanese term for "a gentle sadness toward the passing of things as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life". This feeling heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. The association of the cherry blossom with mono no aware dates back to 18th-century scholar Motoori Norinaga. The transience of the blossoms, the extreme beauty and quick death, has often been associated with mortality. The government even encouraged the people to believe that the souls of downed warriors were reincarnated in the blossoms. This term was coined in the 18th century by the Edo period Japanese cultural scholar Motoori Norinaga and was originally a concept used in his literary criticism of The Tale of Genji. Others have compared mono no aware to Virgils term lacrimae rerum in the Aeneid, Latin for "tears of things". The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.

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