omoiyari / 思いやり
If you look up the word “omoiyari” in a Japanese-English dictionary you will probably find the word “sympathy” or “consideration” listed as the primary definition, but the meaning truly goes deeper than that. It is a word comprised of two verbs: “omou” and “yaru.” The first verb means “to think or feel” and is used in many situations from expressing opinion to remembering times spent with people who are now gone. The second verb means “to do, to give, or to undertake.”
That second verb makes omoiyari an active word rather than a passive one. It implies an alignment of thought and emotion between people that impels movement, whether it is the donation of time, energy or money to a cause, or the sweeping of pebbles out of the street so the elderly lady who walks by every day doesn’t trip on them. Omoiyari is gallantry and compassion. It is making positive change because you understand another person’s position, because you can see things through another person’s eyes.
Omoiyari does not necessarily mean that you understand what another person is going through because you have experienced it yourself. Instead, it is the feeling that causes people to go and volunteer in disaster stricken areas. Omoiyari is the thing that made people write letters to complete strangers in Tohoku telling them not to give up hope.
It tells you something about the Japanese people that they have separate words for the kind of sympathy that leads to action and the kind of sympathy that expresses regret for being unable to do anything. (The latter kind of sympathy is “doujou” which is used, for example, in letters of condolence.)
yuzuriai / 譲り合い
The word “yuzuriai” is generally translated as “compromise.” The term itself is made up of two verbs: “yuzuru” and “au.” The first verb, “yuzuru,” implies a transfer of authority and responsibility. You pass on something you have earned, something you are entitled to, to someone else. It is used in many situations from giving up your seat on the train to a pregnant woman, to handing down clothing to a younger sibling, to allowing an opponent the floor in a debate. The second verb, “au,” speaks to things “fitting” either literally, like a pair of new shoes, or figuratively, like a new job suiting someone’s skill set and personality.
Taken together then, the word “yuzuriai” describes a situation in which people put their own egos in check to exchange ideas, experience, and resources for the betterment of all. The interesting thing in this case is that each member of the discussion comes to the table with some kind of authority and leaves having granted some of it to someone else. In the case of the Touhoku disaster, this can easily be seen in the relations between the Japanese and U.S. military forces. Each group believed they knew what needed to be done, and in what time frame. In order to work together for the people in the affected areas, each group agreed to listen to the other and cede authority to whomever had the greater knowledge and resources in a given situation.