The Concept of Omoiyari (Altruistic Sensitivity) in Japanese Relational Communication

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Intercultural Communication Studies XV: 1 2006

Hara

The Concept of Omoiyari (Altruistic Sensitivity) in Japanese Relational Communication Kazuya Hara, Meikai University, Japan Abstract It is essential to explore Japanese concepts in Japanese languages as intellectual tools for future studies in Asia. In order to develop Asian theories of communication, therefore, Asian communication scholars ought to engage in this important task. This paper presents such an attempt by conceptualizing the concept of omoiyari for a Japanese theory of relational communication. In social psychology, the Japanese concept of omoiyari has been examined in terms of altruism, sympathy, empathy, and prosocial behavior, and a variety of cognitive models of prosocial behavior arousal have been proposed. In the field of communication studies, however, the concept of omoiyari has not attracted much scholarly attention, although aspects of harmonius Japanese communication are well documented. By synthesizing the relevant literature on omoiyari across disciplines, then, this paper formulates a definition of omoiyari for Japanese communication research, lays out its basic assumptions, and characterizes it in light of four major semantic areas of omoiyari: (1) prayer, (2) encouragement, (3) help, and (4) support. Introduction “Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you.” --a saying reflecting omoiyari When Japanese people feel another’s kindness toward them and see someone’s warm-hearted feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, they appreciate that person’s omoiyari. The primary meaning of omoiyari is “an individual’s sensitivity to imagine another’s feelings and personal affairs, including his or her circumstances” (Shinmura, 1991, p. 387, translated by Hara). Omoiyari has attracted non-Japanese scholars’ attention as one of the most important ideas in Japanese cultural value and communication (e.g., Lebra, 1976; Travis, 1998; Wierzbicka, 1997). The word omoiyari is often seen on signs bearing a school motto and at police stations. In many surveys of public opinion, Japanese people have listed omoiyari as a key concept on which they put high value. Although omoiyari -based behavior and activity are seen across cultures, Japanese people are the ones who put the highest value on omoiyari all over the world (Kikuchi, 1988; Akanuma, 2004). This humane omoiyari concept has been emphasized in moral education at schools in Japan as the guiding principle to communicate with others (Ito, 1998a; 1998b). In educational psychology in Japan, the importance of omoiyari has been emphasized with its developmental views of children (e.g., Kikuchi, 1988). Recent inhumane crimes such as ill-treatment bullying or indiscriminate murder on the street are caused by the lack of omoiyari, and the importance of omoiyari has undergone a reevaluation in terms of education in the schools (Kanno, 1988). Psychological aspects of omoiyari such as empathy and sympathy have been studied, 24

Intercultural Communication Studies XV: 1 2006

Hara

and its behavior has been studied as prosocial behavior, altruistic behavior, and helping behavior in social psychology (e.g., Harada, 1991; Kikuchi, 1998; Matsui, 1991). Although the term “omoiyari behavior” is not generally used as a technical term in social psychology (Matsui, 1991), the titles of several studies on these concepts are comprehensively translated into Japanese using the word omoiyari (e.g., Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989; Hoffman, 2001; Jones, 1993). Additionally, cultural psychologists Uchida and Kitayama (2001) developed a measurement scale of omoiyari from the viewpoint of sympathy. In the field of communication studies, although aspects of harmonious communication have been well-researched, only a few studies have focused on omoiyari as an important factor of Japanese harmonious communication. For example, Donahue (1998) argues that omoiyari is a psychological factor in Japanese indirect communication. In health...
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