Language is a Concept: Giri-Obligation

Oct 28, 2020Blog, Culture, Language Study

Language is a Concept: Giri-Obligation

Understanding concept of “gi”, is to gain an understanding into the Japanese way.

All languages are a reflection of the emotional, spiritual and intellectual characteristics of the people who created them. One could say language is embedded into the speakers DNA.

In essence, all languages are social concepts.

The older, more structured and more exclusive a society and its language, the more expressions and terms it has that are embodied with cultural nuances which fundamentally control the attitudes and behaviour of the people.

Confucianism was infused into Japan early in its history, and Confucius philosophy exerted a profound influence on Japanese culture, and does so up until this very day.

Among the most important tenants of Confucius philosophy are the obligations children owe to their parents, the young owe to their elders, students owe to their teacher, and that all people owe to their superiors.

These obligations are natural and inherent. One is born into them as a result of one’s automatic relationship with ones parents, elders, teachers, bosses, in what is know as a “tate shakai”, which is defined as: a society in which vertical relationships are regarded as supremely important.

The natural obligations are mandated by number of powerful social, economic and political sanctions, resulting in them becoming so deeply embedded in the Japanese culture they were never called into question. You could almost say that adhering to these tenants is now burned into the DNA of the Japanese.

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Interestingly, the most powerful of these sanctions is shame (understand about shame and being ostracized in Japanese society here).

Over time the Japanese became so sensitive about being shamed and avoiding shame became an overriding principle in their behavior; so powerful that many Japanese historically choose death, and often the death of their families as well, over shame.

These ancient set of obligations that Confucius prescribed for people have now diminished somewhat in modern day Japan, but they still hold strong roots in this society and one can see these protocols in place, both social and professional.

When dealing in Japanese society on any level one must always be cautious about putting you counterpart in a position where they would feel shame.

Moreover, one can have a deeper insight into the Japanese society, when one has a good understanding of giri, or obligation, and all that entails here in this complex and vertical society.

Responsibility and Obligation