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Beg Your Indulgence

The Japanese social concept of amae goes global

2:34pm, June 20, 2004

In private conversations, native Japanese people often regale one another with tales of tactless, even tasteless, encounters that fall under the heading of the Japanese term amae (pronounced "a-mah-yeh"). Amae also encompasses sweet moments between parents and children or between lovers. In Japan, people know when interactions move into the realm of amae, even though they'd be hard pressed to define it. Psychologists are, however, beginning to scrutinize such interactions. They roughly define amae as a person's expectation that another person will indulge him or her and the obligation of the second person to do so, whether or not he or she wants to. Both the researchers and people who grew up in Japan recognize that amae is double-edged: It can serve important and beneficial social roles, but it also can go sour.

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