Japanese people are “nice”
Part 5 Japanese Culture Series
In Japan the concept of Amae, or depending on the benevolence of others, strongly permeates society. This assumption of benevolence, as well as a strong sense of harmony, helps to form part of the distinct Japanese culture. Because Japanese people are strongly communal there exists strong bonds as well as certain expectations within certain groups in society. In America, there generally exists a similar sense of benevolence to others, but not to the extent that it impairs our desire to be independent, which is considered a great virtue in our society. However, in Japanese society, the group is vastly more important than the individual.
Desiring harmony can easily be misinterpreted as being nice.
For instance, in one’s family Amae is strong because it is assumed that a family member can depend on benevolence much in the way that a baby can rely on its mother’s care. A close inner group such as the family is expected to extend this benevolence to other family members. This can also work in the reverse to cause great guilt if a family member goes against the group’s wishes. For this reason, Japanese people often have a difficult time saying no. Because of the fear of breaking a bond, a no answer must be exhibited carefully.
How can Amae be an issue? Many young Japanese men growing up prefer the comfort of the family group over the rigorous demands of Japanese society. These issues, as well as others, have created a class of men known as “Hikikomori” who decide to stay at home and rely on their family to take care of them. This is a serious issue in Japan as about 2 million men are staying at home rather than contributing to society! Amae can also present issues for missionaries.
How can Amae be an issue in missionary work? Often times the Amae relationship is expected from a pastor to a church member, which can greatly increase the amount of time he is to spend on shepherding and therefore limit time for other responsibilities. Because of this expectation evangelism may be neglected not only due to time factors but also because of the difficulty it takes for new people becoming a part of the group. As missionaries, we will need prayer for how to balance our time spent helping both people in the church as well as those outside of the church. We will also need prayer to help people outside of the church transition into the church culture.