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Saturday, 6 March 2010

Amae dependent?

There is an emotion called 'amae', which is commonly understood in Japan as a kind of indulgent dependency that has its roots in the relationship of a mother to child. This has been described as in some ways unique to Japanese culture, and many experts have followed Japanese sociologist Takeo Doi is claiming that this means amae is unique to Japanese culture.

Obviously Japanese culture does not have the monopoly on love or dependence and a form of loving dependence could no doubt be found in other cultures, be it rooted in mother and son or daughter. The relationship between Italian boys and their mothers springs to mind here too. Indeed some sociologists have highlighted that (like Herman Smith and Takako Nomi) that amae may have close parallels with western mother-daughter relationships.

Doi did remind us that the richer more semantic readings of amae are uniquely Japanese. This may well be true, words and concepts may well have culturally specific connotations. Part of the joy of language and those who speak it is the creative response of the individual and their tongue to their environment.

But it is good to learn of such things. Like the pilots who learned to overcome their fear of transgressing authority without sacrificing their cultural identity (mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers' and spoken about below), it shows how our relationship to our emotions is a creative and flexible one. There may be common responses but their cultural moulding shows how we can take them in many different ways. The trick is to learn from the good ones and see what value we can glean from them or how they can be learned in different cultural contexts.

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