Trivia: What is the meaning of 空気を読む (kūki wo yomu)?

Jul 06, 2020

Q.

What is the meaning of 空気を読む (kūki wo yomu) and why is it important in Japanese culture?

A.

In Japan, 空気を読む (kūki wo yomu) means to “read the air”. It is one of the first unspoken rules people learn when they start building a relationship with Japanese people.

Why? Well, the most important value to Japanese culture is to maintain group harmony; it is important to listen, see, hear, and sense what others are feeling before taking action. By doing so, one can avoid making other people feel uncomfortable, attacked, offended, or ashamed. It’s all about smoothening the conversation, with no trouble.

For example, even if you want to eat Italian food, if everyone else wants to eat Mexican food, you don’t disclose your opinion. Most of the time, it’s not so apparent. If you are being stared on a train with your legs crossed on a crowded train, that means to uncross your legs. It can seem passive-aggressive at times, but it comes from not wanting to be direct and hurt people’s feelings.

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