Amae – 甘え

Amae (甘え) is a Japanese concept/word that is used to describe people’s behavior when you desire to be loved, you desire someone to take care of you, when you want unconsciously to be depending on another person (your parents, your wife/husband or even your boss) with a certain meaning of submission. For example, a person with lots of amae would be the one who is capricious so he/she gets the attention from other people, children are the best example of amae behavior, always aiming for pamper from their parents.

There is amae everywhere in the world, but it is interesting that in the Japanese language there is a concrete word to describe it, there is even a verb amaeru that means “depend on the benevolence of others”. It happens that in Japan the amae phenomenon is very exaggerated and you find 40 years old women who act like a 15 years old girl. Japanese men like girls with childish faces, they expect childish behavior from women, they like them submissive; they usually prefer this prototype, known as “kawai”, than an elegant, beautiful woman with a strong character. Here in Japan, men/boyfriends/husbands like to be the protectors of their women, it seems they don’t like to feel that the women is the one with the control over them (Even though reality is that women are over men everywhere in the world, just joking 😉 )

A universal example of Amae is the guy who carries the girl’s books at the university, she could carry the books without problems but she likes someone to care about her and the man likes to feel he is useful. Another example is the capricious way to behave when you want your protector to allow you to do something, for example, when a little boy is acting as he is tired when he doesn’t want to do whatever his mother told him to do. Those are pretty normal examples, we can see them everywhere in the world. But in Japan you can see more exaggerated amae behaviors, a girl who is working with me explains me at lunch time how much she would like our boss to be her big brother, so he could take care of her, someone like our boss would be her ideal brother. I don’t know any western girl with these types of fantasies, but I know many Japanese girls with similar ones. If you think about it, Japanese culture is full of Amae, take any Shojo manga you like and remember how the main characters behave, Japanese pop music seems to be composed by 15 years old adolescents, Japanese girl voices in films/cms/tv are extremely high-pitched and even in Japanese porn movies submission is always there.

An example of amae coming from men would be when the husband arrives home drunk and the woman instead of scolding him, she just helps him to undress and go to bed. This is pretty normal in Japanese dramas.

Amae plays a fundamental rol in a collectivist society where individualism is not well seen and people likes the group to have the power. Amae helps in the process of creating harmonius interconnections inside the family, in the companies and between friends. Japanese do not usually confront each other, it is very difficult to see Japanese people arguing. Amae is one of the tools to keep the harmony, the peace, the wa 和 in the Japanese society.

If you liked his post about amae, the book The Anatomy of Dependence is an excellent book and it’s written by the one who made the term amae popular among the psychologists community during the 70s.

14 Comments
  • towb

    June 7, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Nice post! I’ll read the book.

    Most Japanese I know are exchange students, and none of them act amae (around me). I do know some amae westerners (they don’t seem cute, just…weak), all of them lacking higher education. I wonder if there’s a connection.

  • Anonymous

    July 2, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Don’t you mean kawaii instead of kawai?

  • […] This phenomenon was first identified in Japan, but it’s spreading to other societies where high competitiveness rules the system like Korea. Korea is a country where everyone “fights” in order to be accepted in the best universities, and once you enter in a good university your life is solved because you will be hired by a “good” company when you graduate. Psychologists studying the “hikikomori” phenomenon blame “super-capitalism” and a extreme meritocratic education system as the root of the problem. But why there are not “hikikomori” in the USA? Maybe because there is an excess of amae in Japan, would a family in the USA pamper their children to stay at home 24 hours a day during months? I don’t think so. […]

  • Neil Duckett

    February 13, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Very interesting read indeed ….. and i see this in every girl i know here.

  • Ikuto

    February 21, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I like my Japanese girls submissive, and with the whole “kawaii” factor built into them.

    @ anonymous
    Does it matter, dude? He made a typo so don’t go trying to make it like your all that by correcting him. I bet that’s the only Japanese word you know. I don’t know if it makes you feel special or whatever. Nothing personal it just irritates me when people do those things.

  • Ka-IBIGAN-Tunai

    February 23, 2008 at 2:42 am

    For them it is a healthy lifestyle, thats the secret of there long youthfulness and beauty, I love them

  • neocoyo

    February 24, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    thats why id prefer a japanese chick to that of the girls in the UK

  • Rick

    April 8, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I’ve always wondered why my wife sometimes acts so childish. She’s native Japanese living in Texas. Now, due to this blog post, I understand her actions a little better. I’ll go find that book..

    Thanks

  • hm.....

    May 11, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    sorry but one aspect of amae sounds a little creepy to me…submissive women? And men actually liking that???? This is where the whole “asian fetish” comes in…..yes I am a women.

    I think America was similar to that in like the 40s and 50s (dont know about Europe)…then women who didn’t like that (known as feminists) and spoke up against that and wanted women to become more than that.

    In Japan apparently (dunno about the rest of Asia) this is heavily integrated into their society. I’m not really trying to bad mouth their culture, but I am allowed to look into culture and voice my opinion.

  • Earl Goodman III

    June 8, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    While Dr. Doi does give great insight into the way in which participants in Japanese society relate to one another in his works, please keep in mind that they are a bit outdated and that he also happens to propound a particular world view of the uniqueness of “The Japanese”, which is a source of criticism by Western and Japanese intellectuals alike. (ie. The Japanese experience of nature as something uniquely Japanese).

    If you are reading or have read the work cited above, I suggest you also read the following:

    The Anatomy of Self: The Individual Versus Society (Doi) (http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Self-Individual-Versus-Society/dp/4770027796)

    Japanese Patterns of Behavior (East West Center Book) (Lebra)
    (http://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Patterns-Behavior-East-Center/dp/0824804600/ref=pd_sim_b_title_2)

  • Jeannette

    February 25, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I love Takeo Doi! x)

  • aboctok

    January 3, 2010 at 3:58 am

    Interesting… I am on this page because a consistent aspect of my girlfriend’s behaviour led me to google . What a surprise—turns out it’s a phenomenon!

  • aboctok

    January 3, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Irritating! Sorry people… In attempting clarity, I had inserted the arguments of my previously-mentioned google search between ‘markers’… which turned out to be interpreted as markup language and simply ignored, and dumped from my previous comment. It should have read something like:

    I am on this page because a consistent aspect of my girlfriend’s behaviour led me to google ‘ “japanese girls” maturity ‘.

  • locohama

    May 6, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Wow, now i get it! I thought it was something like this, but I thought it was more at pedophilia than big brother because of it’s overuse in porn.Thanks for the enlightening post!