Language is a Concept: Wa-Harmony

Sep 16, 2020Blog, Culture, Inspiration

Language is a concept: Wa-Harmony

Understanding concept of “wa”, 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.

The word “wa” (和) or harmony expresses an essential Shinto concept of harmony between humans, nature, and all things within nature.

This is what the Chinese called Japan long before the emergence of Japan as a unified country.

In the seventh century, Japan’s reigning imperial regent issued a series of edicts that can be though of as Japan’s first “constitution”. The first of these proclamations was that “wa” was to be the foundation of Japanese society.

While “wa” has traditionally been translated to English as “harmony”, it had a much deeper and indeed more profound meaning in the Japanese context. 

In short, it means not doing anything that causes friction or upsets people or nature. On the other hand, it encourages actively doing things that ensure and sustain peaceful, cooperative, and harmonious relationships.

In other words, “wa” means “Japanese style” harmony, not harmony in the western English sense of the word.

As is often the case with Japanese specific cultural words, there really is no translation.

One has to understand “wa” by feeling it in the air and in the ether of Japan.

During the 1960s and 70s Japan’s economy “wa”s growing in to the second largest economy in the world, and the Japanese attributed their amazing growth to the existence of “wa” in business, government, the education system, and throughout society.

Furthermore, all of Japan’s traditional arts and crafts, etiquette, formal speech, cultural practices, and so on, are infused with the essence of “wa” or, of Japanese style harmony. 

When one comes to understands “wa”, one can gain a much more meaningful experience, when visiting the Land Of The Rising Son. 

And based upon one’s deeper understanding of “wa”, one can then see different layers in the Japanese society with the all important social construct of “wa”, in so many aspects of the Japanese life.

Ask anyone who has been to Japan what they found intriguing and perhaps a little mysterious about Japan, and they will inevitable answer; the Japanese seem to have a harmonious and peaceful society, with polite and courteous people.

This is “wa”.