According to the prestigious Japanese dictionary Kojien, the word mottainai (pronounced moat-tie-nigh) is most commonly used to express a feeling of regret when something is put to waste without deriving its value. In contemporary Japanese, mottainai is most commonly used to indicate that something is being discarded needlessly, or to express regret at such a fact.

The idea of mottainai emphasizes the appreciation toward food and the understanding of its finiteness. The idea of mottainai seemed to guide the participants’ behavior in various everyday situations and facilitated precision in consuming ingredients fully.The idea of mottainai emphasizes the appreciation toward food and the understanding of its finiteness. The idea of mottainai seemed to guide the participants’ behavior in various everyday situations and facilitated precision in consuming ingredients fully.

The origin of Mottainai is in Japanese Buddhism. In Shinto animism, it is taught mottainai has ties with Shinto; the idea that all objects have a spirit—or kami. The idea that we are part of nature and should maintain a harmonious relationship with nature is a deep part of Japanese psychology.

In November 2002, the English-language, Japan-based magazine Look Japan ran a cover story entitled “Restyling Japan: Revival of the ‘Mottainai’ Spirit”, documenting the motivation amongst volunteers in a “toy hospital” in Japan to “develop in children the habit of looking after their possessions”, the re-emergence of repair shops specializing in repairing household appliances or children’s clothes, the recycling of plastic bottles and other materials, the collection of waste edible oil, and more generally the efforts to stop the trend of throwing away everything that can no longer be used, i.e. the efforts of reviving “the spirit of mottainai“.

In that context, Hitoshi Chiba, the author, described mottainai …

“We often hear in Japan the expression ‘mottainai’, which loosely means ‘wasteful’ but in its full sense conveys a feeling of awe and appreciation for the gifts of nature or the sincere conduct of other people. There is a trait among Japanese people to try to use something for its entire effective life or continue to use it by repairing it. In this caring culture, people will endeavor to find new homes for possessions they no longer need. The ‘mottainai’ principle extends to the dinner table, where many consider it rude to leave even a single grain of rice in the bowl. The concern is that this traditional trait may be lost.”

 


 


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