Top Story: 22. May 2009
Talk about Love
By Editor in Chief, Jaakko Saari
Until 19th century the word "love" did not exist in Japan. In fact, the concept of love is still hard to grasp within Japanese culture. Love is fundamentally a western word.
The common word in Chinese alphabet is 愛, "ai", which means "to be fond" of or "love". Another word 恋 "koi" means "heart/emotions", "heart in turmoil with feelings of confusion", "longing for", or "to be anxious for". 恋人 "koibito" means a lover. But until 19th century in Japan, there was no word for love in Japanese language. Of course the feeling existed, but words, as we know are strongly linked to cultural phenomena. We must assume that the "love" in Japan before the meiji restoration was from a different culture.
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Japanese people don't usually say "I love you". When expressing romantic love, young Japanese might say "anata no koto daisuki" which means "I like you". Such verbal expressions of affection are rarely used in Japanese daily life. If Japanese person feels the affection towards someone, he or she is rather likely to show it by action. If love is brought up in easy, daily conversation, usually one might assume that the love is not sincere expression.
Japanese couples don't usually kiss or hold hands in public. Couples don't actually usually show any sign of affection towards each other when other people are around. Complaining about each other is much more common (perhaps that could be expression of love?).
But what are the roots of the "love" in Japan? Some said that the word was brought to Japan by novels from abroad. Many believe it might be true. Bible, for example teaches that one should love God and love the virtue, and that one should continue to pursue the virtue throughout our life. New Testament's fundamental teaching is that God loves mankind and that his love is neverending and that everyone are good enough to receive it. Even if one commits a terrible sin, it is possible to receive absolution, ultimate forgiveness and love from God.
Japanese Buddhism says that there is no such thing as love. It does not define love on basis that one could give or receive love. None of Ten Precepts of Shinto mentions that gods would love, or be particularly interested of human beings. They do mention obligations towards one's ancestors, profound goodness of the gods, and purity of body and mind. If man is endowed with true purity of heart, he can attain communion with the Divine. The shinto teaches that one should love one's gods and expect nothing, except personal purity in return. There is shinto saying "A single sincere prayer moves heaven", which also refers that the direction is opposite from Christianity.
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In past, Japanese marriages were usually arranged, in tradition called omiai. The tradition still prevails in some places, especially in the country side of Japan. In past, a couple did not build their marriage on the basis of "love" but on the basis of respecting the tradition, and continuation of a family line. People had strong sense of duty and obligation toward's one's family, ancestors and gods of nature. That "love" towards one's surrounding world, would not particularly entail oneself.
It seems that the meaning English sentence "I love you" is impossible to understand from old Japanese perspective. I believe that in old time in Japan, "I love you" would have been rude thing to say. Practical matters were so much more important in that time, when families had to keep their tradition and follow social rules. "I love you" in past would have showed no consideration towards another person, or surrounding culture or people. I cannot believe it would have made anyone happy.
Perhaps, love in old Japanese thinking means simply to exist. By meeting or living with someone, we respect (and love?) that person and the surrounding people merely by existing in the nearby vicinity. Showing personal affection would be unnecessary.
However, if modern "institutionalization of love" in Japan is based on western values of what love should be, it's a terrible thing. The word love is used in advertisement campaigns in Japan, for example in Valentine's day in Japan. People are expected follow media's example and spend their money on expensive chocolate, every February.
I hope that love could regain it's spiritual value in modern Japanese life.
Love is what keeps the world go round.
Who cares in which forms it appears.
OKAY, I DO!
I want people to feel free to express in every way!
How about, in this time of disaster, No. 7-1411, by an unknown author
My harsh translation:
To hear their darling's voice,
Till their black hair turns grey,
How happy those people must be.