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Amae is simply defined as the feeling of pleasurable dependence on another person but there is more to it. I'm including an example sentence for the sake of showing how the word can be used but this is not the only situation that amae can be observed.

In a romantic relationship, the woman will mostly feel _______ for the man who supports her.

Amae (甘え) is a word from Japanese; and it obviously has a cultural and historical significance in Japan (which is the usual case) but the concept is not unknown to Western cultures. It is often mentioned as untranslatable but here is an explanation from kirainet.com:

Amae (甘え) is a Japanese concept/word that is used to describe people’s behavior when you desire to be loved, you desire someone to take care of you, when you want unconsciously to be depending on another person (your parents, your wife/husband or even your boss) with a certain meaning of submission. For example, a person with lots of amae would be the one who is capricious so he/she gets the attention from other people, children are the best example of amae behavior, always aiming for pamper from their parents.

There are extensive studies on this concept and there are translations of this word considered as not a good equivalent. Japanese psychiatrist, Takeo Doi, claims that there isn't any equivalent of this term and it is unique to Japanese culture; but the following excerpt is from an article that compares amae in Japan and United States.

Doi defined Amae as the ability “to depend and presume upon another’s love or bask in another’s indulgence” (1992, p. 8) and called Amae “a key concept for the understanding not only of the psychological makeup of the individual Japanese but of the structure of Japanese society as a whole” (1973, p. 28).

Although Amae is a common word in the Japanese language, it has no exact equivalent in English. Some translations are “whining,” “sulking,” “coaxing,” “pouting,” “wheedling,” “being spoiled or pampered” (Johnson, 1993) and “cherishment” (Young-Bruehl & Bethelard, 2000), but none of these translations fully conveys the meaning of the complex phenomenon of Amae. For one thing, almost all of these terms have negative connotations in English, but Amae does not ordinarily elicit disapproval in Japan.

Doi took the lack of an English translation of the word Amae and the complexity of the concept as evidence that Amae is unique and central to Japanese culture, but he provided no empirical data to support this claim. The lack of English translation and the difficulty in defining the concept may be an indication that Amae is more salient and more frequently experienced in Japan, but they do not rule out the possibility that it exists in non-Japanese cultures.

Amae in Japan and the United States: An Exploration of a “Culturally Unique” Emotion by Yu Niiya and Phoebe C. Ellsworth (University of Michigan), Susumu Yamaguchi (University of Tokyo) / http://sitemaker.umich.edu

There is a lot to read and write about this concept but if we put the cultural differences aside, what would be an equivalent of amae in English and Western cultures?


Trust comes to mind but amae can be as strong as an indulgent love and as delicate as an infantile dependency. Thus, trust can be the basis of the amae relation but not the concept itself. Amae satisfies the subconscious desire for unconditional acceptance in a positive way but it is doesn't indicate submission alone.

  • 1
    Well, the French call it jouissance and the verb is jouir de, which poorly translated means enjoyment by a person of a thing or another person, and well translated is only slang in English: to get off on. However, the drawback is that to get off on is not delicate. Jouissance is somewhat more delicate and is also a legal word to enjoy: enjoy a right to privacy, for example. – Lambie Apr 24 '18 at 16:00

11 Answers 11

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I've never heard of amae before, but from the context that the OP provides in the question, it sounds as though any English translation of the word would have to be tailored to the specific context in which the word arises.

One aspect of the term appears to be a sense of protectedness that might be well-represented by the word coziness. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) offers two relevant definitions of the adjective cozy:

1 a : enjoying or affording warmth and ease : SNUG b : marked by or providing contentment or comfort

That feeling, it seems, comes at the cost of being the less powerful figure in the relationship, which is captured by the word subordination. Consequently, one way to fill in the blank in the example sentence presented in the original sentence is as follows:

In a romantic relationship, the woman will mostly feel cozy subordination to the man who supports her.

On the other hand, the person who feels amae may also feel thoroughly indulged by the other person, which may spark both impulsive and inconstant behavior and an intermittent sense of gratitude for the other's attentions. The most suitable adjective for the unpredictable component of amae may be capricious, which the Eleventh Collegiate defines as

governed or characterized by caprice : IMPULSIVE, UNPREDICTABLE

Paired with the sense of gratitude, this yields a second version of the fill-in-the-blank sentence:

In a romantic relationship, the woman will mostly feel capricious gratitude for the man who supports her.

The only thing missing from the description of amae above is any sense of deep affection for the other person. The one with amae to some extent plays the role of a spoiled pet, whom the master (or mistress) must strive to placate through all its inexplicable moods and wandering enthusiasms. The word is fascinating, but the social relation that it implies seems quite flawed.

  • This is a great answer from someone who heard amae for the first time. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:11
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To expect indulgence would come fairly close.

A banal example: I ask my independent adult son to stop and buy a loaf of fresh bread before coming over to dinner. Due to our close rapport, I don't see this as being an unreasonable request even though I am perfectly capable of going down to the shops and buying the bread myself. It is because I am confident that he cares for me I assume my request will be granted. By saving me the bother of going out, he will make me happy. He goes the extra mile to please me. Some might accuse me of being lazy, spoilt or demanding but if the request is casual and not wholly unreasonable then I would call my son's behaviour as being indulgent.

On the other hand, some might call my request as asking for a favour: an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual. We do this all the time with our friends, colleagues and relatives. When the favour is granted, we might experience a warm glow of gratitude. Perhaps in the future that same person might ask us an indulgence which we will gladly concede, it's all a question of give-and-take.

  1. go the extra mile to make more effort than is expected of you
  2. indulgence the state of being indulgent; tolerance: they treated their grandchildren with fond indulgence.
  3. give-and-take mutual concessions, shared benefits, and cooperation
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    Good try, but nobody outside a costume drama would say they "expect indulgence." – Robusto Apr 1 '15 at 11:34
  • Nice example! Indulgent love comes close also. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:05
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Yearning/longing for attention/love and basking in it

seems to me a good description.

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    Nice! This could be the summary of the concept. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:15
  • @ermanen Appreciated. – Marius Hancu Apr 2 '15 at 1:49
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Another term with few negative connotations that stretches to satisfy the categories of familial, romantic, and workplace would be Adulatory, or someone exhibiting Adulation, which is a good term for children looking to please parents, or someone looking to please a romantic interest they see as more than a peer. And Adulation is the best one-word "feeling of pleasurable dependence on another" that I can think of. You would not think that a child being adultory toward a parent or a employee being adultory towards a supervisor as something untoward.

For non-romantic relationships like employee-supervisor there's also Ingratiating, which is not a compliment. However it's more of a personality trait than adulatory, which is usually seen as specific to one relationship. Same with idolize.

It is difficult, to come up with a term that carries no negative connotations. There are myriad that are negative. Codependent. Attention seeking. Brown-noser. Ass-kisser. Mama's boy. Teacher's pet. Obsequious. All of those are more specific to romatic relationships, or familial relationships, or workplace relationships. There are few succinct ways to describe "eager to please" coupled with "subservient" across all of those that would not describe a person negatively.

  • You came up with nice equivalents and even in different contexts. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:14
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Translating cultural phrases always intrigues me. I wonder if there is a systematic approach. So we are looking for a term that would describe

  1. a desire to be loved

  2. dependence or submission

  3. a pleasurable or "sweet" experience

  4. some degree of caprice or playfulness

  5. all but without negative connotation

From ermanen's observation, many English words that satisfy 2. would violate 5. possibly due to cultural difference. Perhaps we could start from a word that would satisfy both 2. and 5 . and expand from there.

Perhaps docile

Ready to accept control or instruction; submissive; obedient

I haven't detected any negative connotation in the word.

In a romantic relationship, the woman will mostly feel blissfully docile to the man who supports her.

"blissful" would season the sentence with some "pleasurable experience".

Then we have to decide whether a "dependence need" implies 1. a desire to be loved. "Emotional dependence" might, but it might carry a negative tone such as in the modern usage of the word needy.

Wanting or needing affection, attention, or reassurance, especially to an excessive degree.

But I would concede that it is not as negative as fawn on (that often describes a dog) and other related words in the Synonym Discussion of FAWN that have "abjectly" in their definitions.

As mentioned by ermanen, in Doi's book "The Anatomy of 甘え", amae (甘え) also has a connotation of "helplessness" and "immaturity". Instead of expanding our so called axiomatic requirements, I would like to take the liberty of condensing 4.,"capricious, playful, helpless and premature", into the word childish.

Thus, instead of using "like a spoiled child", which we would like to avoid, perhaps we can say "like a needy child".

Finally

In a romantic relationship, the woman would mostly feel blissfully docile to the man who supports her like a needy child.

This would be "an English equivalent". Of course there are many other solutions. But is there a single English word that encompasses all the required meanings above? This is the general question that always intrigues me -- how do we prove or disprove that such a single word exists?

  • Brilliant! You tried your best to give all the details. I really liked "blissfully docile" also. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:12
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I've always thought the word for this was needy (or neediness).

needy
2. Wanting or needing affection, attention, or reassurance, especially to an excessive degree.

Note that the verb form (甘える, amaeru) means to behave like a spoiled child.

  • This really comes close a single word. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:09
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It is quite difficult to find a perfect equivalent of Amae, however I would like to add some information that will help you understand what the key conception of Amae is.

In the first place, you need to distinguish Amae proposed by Doi from Amae in usual use. He used the word in the title of his book The Structure of 'Amae.' (The English title: The Anatomy of Dependence) As you see, he put Amae in parentheses in order to tell that the meaning is different from the 'Amae' used commonly by Japanese.

According to a Japanese dictionary, Amae means an act or character of [1] wanting something from or sticking to someone, trying to be loved by them, [2] depending too much on someone's kindness, behaving selfishly. These are the meanings of Amae we Japanese use usually.

EX.) When a child asks their parents to buy a toy, you will find the child's Amae in this situation. They may whine, wheedle, and coax. Also, they may pout if their request is turned down.

On the other hand, Amae used by Doi has different meanings from those mentioned above. It is difficult to express it in one or two words in English. He says that it is a specific form of relationship in which you expect others to understand what you think or what you want without speaking about it to them clearly. This concept is quite difficult to understand even to Japanese.

EX.) When a child is taken to a shop, he takes a casual look at what he wants in front of his mother, expecting her to understand his feeling. Then mother herself comes close to a toy department and asks him about what he wants. In this case, the child himself does not speak about his request but expects his mother to guess his feelings.

This indeed is Amae expressed by Doi. Japanese tend to not convey their feelings, thoughts or opinions, because they think that they should guess it from the situation, atmosphere, facial expressions and so on, without asking. Doi realised that this character is unique to Japanese after he went to study in the U.S, where people express their opinion clearly.

  • Hi Tom! I really appreciate your answer; and as you are Japanese and you are familiar with Western cultures, you are the best person to answer these kind of questions. +1 – ermanen Apr 2 '15 at 1:09
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Though not as well read on the subject as the posters here, I wondered if an English word approximating amae would be "Home". I refer not to the physical location but the experience of home where we feel known, significant, same as, and so forth. Also in the experience of "home" we find solace; rest and peace.

Lastly, I wonder if the Western fierce negative connotation imposed upon the concept of dependence and defining of independence as "normal" and the "goal" of human growth and development is market driven.

This article and comments are appreciated, thank you all

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Takeo Noi's book on Amae has been translated in English with the title "The Anatomy of Dependence" - I am citing this to provide more background, but also to suggest that you could just go for:

In a romantic relationship, the woman will mostly feel dependence for the man who supports her.

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As a Japanese I would say, Tom's answer is close: but it is not perfect. I'm almost feeling fed up with seeing wrong explanations about this word in psychology textbook in America, etc..so I wish to add something. - Tom is quoting Japanese dictionary as follows:

               *******************************************

("According to a Japanese dictionary, Amae means an act or character of [1] wanting something from or sticking to someone, trying to be loved by them, [2] depending too much on someone's kindness, behaving selfishly. These are the meanings of Amae we Japanese use usually.

EX.) When a child asks their parents to buy a toy, you will find the child's Amae in this situation. They may whine, wheedle, and coax. Also, they may pout if their request is turned down.

On the other hand, Amae used by Doi has different meanings from those mentioned above. It is difficult to express it in one or two words in English. He says that it is a specific form of relationship in which you expect others to understand what you think or what you want without speaking about it to them clearly. This concept is quite difficult to understand even to Japanese."..)

             ***************************************

-- However I would like to add some comments to the above- .. While tom said " Amae used by Doi has different meanings from those mentioned above." it is correct. First of all, Doi is talking mainly about grow-up person(adult)'s paradoxical behaviors/attitudes of "amae".. in various social scenes. It's nothing special to Japanese society but it exists universally!!(I think.) It's not about "amae" of woman (..with her lover or husband) or children (..with their moms/dads) who are officially-approved guardian to them (to be stickingly tried to be sweetly loved..etc.); but it's rather, mainly about men in the society- or- for example, certain "corporation" "public agency" "business entity" can become subject to be talking about (as having such a sweet indulgent expectation or dependence to/from other beings..etc.) It is precisely, a paradoxical meaning, other than simple..standard meaning of amae of women/children. It is the word which tries to debunk (a kind of) hidden social psychology which is supposed to be ubiquitous anywhere. For (banal) example..if a gov't agency has been dependent on particular private sector company (as a bidder; although, being against law) to make contract for public project every year, because they're indulging in some kind of interlocking govt/private business relations..then you'd say there must be a "structure of amae" between these entities(or between their personnel); But of course, you can also use the word "amae" everywhere..such as teacher and pupil, etc. (mainly about disciplined society where usually there should not be lax atmosphere..[or lax..personal preference, etc..]); for example, "The veteran train operator made a fatal mistake and caused train clash because of his (quite insignificant..) carelessness..because of his over-confidence.. having a psychological "amae" with himself. with his own super career as a train operator with his 30-year of experience..) etc.(in this case, we say "he was having "amae" and "gouman" ("sweet-self indulgence" and "hubris") with himself - with his own sense of self as an experienced train operator..) [the word Amae is simply the transformation of Amai adjective/ simply, means "sweet" as palete- which can be also freely used as some metaphoric meanings..though). And Amaeru is a verb: (meaning, something like "behaving(playing) sweet" ) this verb turned out to be a noun amae. Thus, Amae is about a person's act or behavior]

For example, there is also an expression "amae-gokoro" (amae-leaned mind, amae psychology) (while "k[g]okoro" means "mind").. which is also, often used in similar way. If you joined volleyball team in a college and trained yourself everyday without having rest for 3 years..then, you gradually start feeling slight "amae-gokoro" to yourself as an excuse for yourself to having a rest(with your self-acknowledged super stoicism..,)and, one day you finally take a rest for yourself, etc. - But..it is somewhat close to the usage of original meaning, not completely paradoxical usage of "amae," which Doi discussed though.

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I think amae is a feeling of center of attention, feeling appreciated and noticed in a good way? I actually went through similar experiences myself...i know in Japan culture they take their time with steps to reach up to a certain level of admiration towards others. But that also depends on the deeds you done as well when growing up in adulthood. I would say amae is feeling that sense of comfort and assurance although it is not expected? Well I never expected any amae from anyone but if you are dependent on a family member because of the bond it becomes a habit as well. Hard to explain indeed. But in my situation i have a bit more dependence , it was the same for me as growing up.

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