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Amae (甘え) is a Japanese word coined from the verb amaeru by Takeo Doi to serve as a noun, which he then used as a keyword to unlock, analytically, the behavior of a person attempting to induce an authority figure, such as a parent, spouse, teacher or boss, to take care of him. The verb itself is rarely used of oneself, but rather is applied descriptively to the behaviour of other people. The person who is carrying out amae may beg or plead, or alternatively act selfishly and indulge while secure in the knowledge that the caregiver will forgive. The behavior of children towards their parents is perhaps the most common example of amae, but Takeo Doi argued that child-rearing practices in the Western world seek to stop this kind of dependence in children, whereas in Japan it persists into adulthood in all kinds of social relationships.[1]


In literary context

Doi, a Japanese psychoanalyst, developed this idea to explain and describe many kinds of Japanese behaviour. However, in his book The Anatomy of Dependence, first published in 1971, Doi states that amae is not just a Japanese phenomenon, but the Japanese are the only people who have an extensive vocabulary for describing it. The reason for this is that amae is a major factor in Japanese interaction and customs.[2]

Doi explains that amae is the noun form of amaeru, an intransitive verb which he defines as "to depend and presume upon another's benevolence." It indicates, for Doi, "helplessness and the desire to be loved." Amaeru can also be defined as "to wish to be loved," and denotes "dependency needs." Various bilingual dictionaries define amae as "to lean on a person's good will," "to act lovingly towards (as a much fondled child towards its parents)," "to take advantage of," "to behave like a spoiled child," "to trespass on," "to behave in a caressing manner towards a man," "to speak in a coquettish tone," "to encroach on (one's kindness, good nature, etc.)," and so on. Amae is, in essence, a request for indulgence of one's perceived needs.

Doi says,

"The psychological prototype of 'amae' lies in the psychology of the infant in its relationship to its mother; not a newborn infant, but an infant who has already realised that its mother exists independently of itself ... [A]s its mind develops it gradually realises that itself and its mother are independent existences, and comes to feel the mother as something indispensable to itself, it is the craving for close contact thus developed that constitutes, one might say, amae."[2]

According to Doi and others, in Japan the kind of relationship based on this prototype provides a model of human relationships in general, especially (though not exclusively) when one person is senior to another. As another writer puts it:

"He may be your father or your older brother or sister ... But he may just as well be your section head at the office, the leader of your local political faction, or simply a fellow struggler down life's byways who happened to be one or two years ahead of you at school or the university. The amae syndrome is pervasive in Japanese life."[3]

Amae may also be used to describe the behavior of a husband who comes home drunk and depends on his wife to get him ready for bed. In Japan, amae does have a connotation of immaturity, but it is also recognized as a key ingredient in loving relationships, perhaps more so than the notions of romance so common in the West.

Critical reception

A lengthy critique of Doi's work, which dismisses Doi's theory as merely another variety of nihonjinron, is Peter Dale's The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness.[4]

Doi's work has been hailed as a distinctive contribution to psychoanalysis by the American psychiatrist Frank Johnson, who has devoted a full book-length study to Doi, and to his critics.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Herman W Smith & Takako Nomi (2000). "Is amae the Key to Understanding Japanese Culture?". Electronic Journal of Sociology.  
  2. ^ a b Doi, Takeo (1981). The Anatomy of Dependence: The Key Analysis of Japanese Behavior. English trans. John Bester (2nd ed.). Tokyo: Kodansha International.  
  3. ^ Gibney, Frank (1975). Japan: The Fragile Superpower. Norton. ISBN 0-393-05530-2.  
  4. ^ Peter Dale, The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness, 1986 pp.116-175 Oxford London. Nissan Institute, Croom
  5. ^ Frank A.Johnson,Dependency and Japanese socialization: psychoanalytic and anthropological investigations into amae,1993 New York, New York University Press


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