ImPermanence Production



Radical Empathy and Japanese Omoiyari


It was the first decent summer day today after the extremely hot 40 days in a row in Japan.  My dad, the younger brother and nephews, we arrived at the local Kappou Izakaya 'Ajikura'.  The restaurant owned by the school friend of the younger brother offered excellent quality of sashimi, Japanese amberjack, scallop, tuna with delicate and mastery cut vegetables to complete the dish.

As we were enjoying the dinner together, I asked one question about the friendship between my father (69 y/o, Japanese male) and his friend (76 y/o, Japanese male), and he replied that he had no idea why his friend became upset about him. I asked if he (my father) had no clue how it happened and the reason why he got angry with my father. He said no, but after a while he started talking about the story.  It was all about misunderstanding and miscommunication between them around the tiny stuff at the village meeting a year ago!!

This reminded me of 'radical empathy'.

Radical (adjective)
1. (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.

2. characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive.

Empathy (noun)
1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

In Japanese, we have a similar word '思いやりomoi-yari' and the word came from the two words; '思い omoi (thought)'  and '遣りyari (to give / to apportion)'.   Japanese are taught and educated to use or at least to try to execute '思いやり' in not only on the special occasions but in everyday life since childhood.  The '思いやり' is quite often very subtle, non-verbal and static from one side, while the others sense or acknowledge such energy of  '思いやり'.   Here, there are much traffic of non-verbal communications going on constantly in the Japanese society among two persons, groups and communities, however, it is quite hard to get it if you are non-Japanese.  

While the urgent needs of 'radical empathy' in the western world is called for, it is urgent need of  radical empathy in Japan is, as far as I feel, required as well.  Both needs for it sits at very extremely opposite spectrum, however, there is the same that Japanese also make an effort to create a decent balance in communication for healthy and breathable society.

Going back to my father's story, I suggested that he would mention how he was feeling and his perspective to his friend, and vice versa, so both can see the mutual standing points. Not surprisingly, he said 'no need'.  Now the questions have been thrown back to myself.

- who is to be blamed or not to be blamed
- how much of cultural, individual, historical contexts needs to be taken into consideration