The Religious Concept of the Word MOTTAINAI

Recently, the Japanese word MOTTAINAI has been paid attention by foreign countries.  This is because the word can be useful to emphasize the importance of reusing resources and prevention of environment.  We can’t translate this word completely in English, but I dare to say it means that we should be careful about the things which are still too good or useful to be wasted or thrown away.

In my childhood, my family and people around me always told me that I shouldn’t forget feelings of thanks.  For example, I should eat every last grain of rice in the bowl, thinking that all the people related to a food.  Even in a drop of water, the Japanese believe in spirits of nature and many deities.  Some Japanese think God dwells in various kinds of things.  Then I would like to refer to the Japanese faith in eight million deities.  Eight million means an infinite number in Japan.  We Japanese have been taught gods exist for everything.

While foreigners are interested in the word MOTTAINAI, the Japanese seem to gradually make little of it these days.  The Japanese tend to waste more things than the old days.  Indeed, the problem of disposing waste materials has become serious in Japan.  Recycling resources such as plastics, empty cans and bottles are widely collected at many places in Japan.  Practicing recycle is very important, but furthermore, we should bear the real meanings of the word MOTTAINAI.  It means we must be more attached to everything around us, because all the things have each spirit of their own in Japanese traditional believes.

by Sakiko   Maruyama

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4 thoughts on “The Religious Concept of the Word MOTTAINAI

  1. I thought this was a very interesting blog, and I totally agree with the author that nowadays, Japanese people feel less guilty about throwing things away. It is not only materials that we throw away, but all the food that is being wasted in Japan is tremendous. We rely 60 percent of our food from foreign countries, yet, we waste about two rice balls per person every single day. I think all the variety of food choices on the shelves of the supermarkets, and the low awareness of international problems on food shortages cause problems like this. As the author said, it is important to recycle, but we need to reconsider the word “Mottainai” by thinking about all the things we throw away everyday.

  2. I was also thinking that the meaning of words are changing as time past. I really like the word “be attached” which you chose for “mottainai”. It dose not mean just “do not waste”. I am not sure other language user understand meaning of mottainai correctly. Because that the word “mottainai” is special word only in Japanese means that the idea of “mottainai” is also special idea only in Japan. It is really hard to explain the real idea of mottainai for other language users.

  3. Japanese do not waste the necessities because Japanese people had tended to believe that gods dwell in any kinds of materials in the earth. I feel like it was more religious perspective. Nowadays, we still use the word ‘mottainai’ because not waste the food or keep taking care of what we have has been the norm, which is derived from that religious notion. It is amazing that we still use that word and apply it to our daily life. I heard that in China, you should not eat everything on the plates for the meal, because you would be seen as if you are still hungry if you ate all. On the other hand, in Japan, you should eat everything on the plates for the meal because it is our social norm. If we are not follow that, we will be looked so rude.
    By thinking about this mysterious but powerful word ‘mottainai’, I notice that religion is deeply connected to our current norm. I hope this idea will spread to the all over the world as soon as possible so that we will not waste necessities anymore, which leads to stop one of the causes of the global warming.

  4. In this article the explanation of the ward MOTTAINAI is so plain.
    I als think modern Japanese is forgetting this ward. Japanese dump the food of 19400000t. On the other hand, 5 million or more persons die in one year.
    To solve this inconsistency, we should remember this ward.

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