What is Amae? - Doi's Definition & Concept

Instructor: Nicole Gaines

Nicole is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a master's degree in counseling.

In Japanese culture, Amae is a behavior described as gaining closeness through a parent-child like relationship. In this lesson, you will learn more about Amae, its origins and its cultural value.

Amae: A Definition

Have you ever begged or pleaded to get your Mom or Dad to do something for you that you just as easily could do yourself? Or maybe you have been out of your parents' home for too long to remember. In that case, have you ever tried to get your spouse, partner or even a competent friend to do something for you that you were perfectly capable of doing on your own? Chances are you have, and chances are you have taken part in a bit of amae.

So what is amae anyway? Not many people agree on the actual definition. However, amae has been described as a culturally ingrained dependence on authority figures. Others describe amae as indulgence and acceptance. The acceptance of inappropriate behavior is the biggest characteristic that defines the behavior of amae.

Takeo Doi first referenced amae in his 1971 best selling book, The Anatomy of Dependence. He was a respected professor and psychoanalyst at the University of Japan. His inspiration to write his book came from the culture shock he had experienced in 1950 when he came to the US to study psychiatry. From this culture shock, Doi began his investigation into the Japanese psyche. Doi saw amae as simply a request to be loved.

The Concept of Amae

According to Doi, the concept of amae is about being in harmony with others and being able to depend on them as a child could depend on their parents. His thought is that even though a child can act ridiculous, their parents would indulge them. This sense of a close intimate relationship is one that Doi holds up to be the most ideal and one in which amae is the secret ingredient.

The parent-child relationship was seen as the most ideal according to Doi.

This concept can be hard to wrap your mind around, so here are two different scenarios to help you to better distinguish amae. Let's imagine that you are the parent of a 12-year-old girl who wanted you to help tie her shoes. Her request is obviously inappropriate, as she's at an age where she should be able to do this herself. Now let's say that she had broken her hand and requested your help because she was having difficulty. The first scenario would be that of amae if you were to accept the indulgence as a parent, the second would be an example of an understandable need for dependence based on a disability.

Amae vs. Dependence

You might say, 'Oh, okay, so amae is dependence.' But really, it is a little more complicated than that. Let's try to unravel this complexity. The biggest difference between amae and dependence is based on control. Dependence is a complete release of one's control in life, whereas amae is the complete opposite. With amae, the person requesting the indulgence is trying to gain full control of their environment.

In classical dependence, the person gives control completely to someone they see as an authority figure. For instance, the most extreme example in psychology would be present in the Dependent Personality Disorder. Someone with this diagnosis would display submissive and clinging behaviors, completely under the control of their counterparts. However, in amae, the person making indulgent requests would be described as successful in gaining control over their environment and a person in an authority role.

Amae in Japanese Culture vs. Western Cultures

The Japanese culture values interpersonal harmony. They value harmony so much that Japanese have been known to say, 'Yes,' or nod in agreement even if they do not agree at all! That being said, it would go against their culture to dominate or show aggression towards others in an attempt to gain control.

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