Amae: 6 types of the Japanese concept of need and love

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Amae: when it comes to this concept, we discover that the Japanese people are distant people, that don’t really show their emotions and appreciation inside the family. Throughout my college years, I have also studied the Japanese culture and anthropological aspects of the Japanese family. I have concluded that children grow up lacking love and appreciation. I have recently discovered that Japanese society has a concept of the need for this kind of affection, appreciation, and link with their closed ones. Let’s explore together this concept and its shades!

Definition of the concept amae

The concept is hard to define because it is an umbrella-word for many behaviors. For example, the psychoanalyst Takeo Doi considers this concept is present in the relationship of child-mother; and can become a trauma in the child’s adult life. Many psychologists, for example, Kazuko Behrens or Yasuhito Taketomo, believe that amae is expressed through many other circumstances.


As for its form, the concept is derived from the adjective “Amai”, meaning sweet, and can be viewed as a sweet attitude towards someone. Another form of amae is the verb “amaeru” meaning “depending on someone’s benevolence”.

Amae in adulthood v.s. in childhood
As Takeo Doi affirms, this need starts at 8-9 months old, in infancy. In that stage, the behavior comprises the baby’s need for physical affection from the caretaker, being called the affective. The concept changes its form depending on the stage of the child. In the stage of 6-7 years old, the child learns social rules and starts discovering the world outside his family. Then it is the stage of the reciprocal when the child spends time with other children, and they do certain favors for each other.

“Once in a while, my son pretends to sit on my lap; if i tried to hug him he’d run away. i think he wants to amaeru… My daughter, i don’t see her too often these days, but still she seddenly comes to me and pushes her body against me. I think this is amae (tokyo female).” 

Behrens, Kazuko. “A multifaced view of the concept of amae”

In adulthood, depending on the type of relationship, there are 2 types of amae: experienced in intimate relationships and non-intimate relationships. In an intimate relationship, there is affective, the need for cuddling and physical touch; manipulative, meaning that the man can expect from his partner the same favors that his mother used to offer; and another type is the reciprocal, found in the platonic adult relationships.

Reciprocal amae:

“My friend and i are very close but we are so differrent in every aspect… i have a key to her apartament and to her car. when I need a car, i usually just use her car. She often invites me for dinner… and I always amaeru for that. (san Francisco bay are female)”

Behrens, Kazuko. “A multifaced view of the concept of amae”

 

In non-intimate relationships, there is an obligatory type experienced in the work environment. For example, because the boss asked a worker to do a task, that cannot be declined because of his position. Another form is presumptive, in the situation where the person receiving something offered for the first time refuses to be accepted the second time offered. In Japanese culture, they consider the decline of the first offer to be more polite.

Considering these aspects, we can conclude by saying that the concept is widely spread in the psychology of Japanese society. It has various meanings and Japanese people experience it in many environments. The Japanese people tend to be more distant and to read more carefully the subtitles of any situation, thus the concept of need-love is deep in their behavior.

Although this is a concept developed from infancy, it is present in all stages of life and can be considered a traumatic experience from various points of view. Also, amae is a concept that can’t be found in other cultures and it is hard for non-Japanese people to see all the faces of this concept of need and love.

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