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Friday, July 12, 2013

Love in Japan

The word "love" in the Japanese language is "ai," pronounced like "eye." Contrary to what Westerners sometimes think, love is just as alive and well in Japan as it is, say, in the Mediterranean and people do things just as crazy for it here as they do there.

Yet, Japan is still basically a very traditional society, and love has therefore often been treated here as something impossible and unattainable because of status or fate.

Unlike the word "love" in English, the Japanese word "ai" is not used as a synonym for "like very much" - you will never hear anyone saying in Japanese that they "ai" carrot cake, or sumo, or manga, or the Tokyo Skytree by night. The word in that case is "daisuki," literally "like very much."

"Daisuki" is to like very much, "suki" is to like. And, actually, these words are used much more often in common parlance than the word "ai" to express affection for things and people. Even lovers are more likely to say "suki" or "daisuki" to each other than "ai shiteru."

There is a lot of Japanese art dedicated to love, whether tending towards the carnal or the spiritual. The Edo period had its erotic shunga prints depicting semi-naked lovers in the throes of it. There is no shortage of love as a theme when it comes to the Japanese cinema. And Japanese literature, like literature anywhere, has kept the flame of love burning throughout the ages, starting with what is recognized as the world's first true novel, the Tale of Genji, back in the eleventh century, whose starting point is an emperor's undying affection for a (later deceased) concubine.

Some other more modern classics of Japanese literature that investigate the theme of love are Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari, which is about sacrificial love, centered around a mountain man and a geisha, Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio, a love story involving a declining aristocratic family and a nouveau riche one in Japan's Taisho era, and Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki, about the reminiscences of a man on the exploits of his youth in his difficult search for true love.

Read reviews of these Japanese novels about love.

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