Aidagara

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Aidagara
Informal practice commonly found in Japan
Japan map.png
Map of Japan, where Aidagara commonly takes place.
Japan flag.png
Flag of Japan.
Entry written by Yoshimichi Sato.
Yoshimichi Sato is affiliated to Tohoku University.

Original text by Yoshimichi Sato

Aidagara is a Japanese term used generally to mean that a social relationship exists between two persons. However, the meaning of the relationship is actually rather more complex. Hamaguchi’s theory of methodological contextualism helps to explain the difference between aidagara and social relations (Hagaguchi 1985[1]). Methodological individualism, according to Hamaguchi, assumes that the boundary of an actor as an individual does not include his or her interaction with another actor. In other words, he or she can exist as a singular entity (see Figure 1). When he or she then interacts with another actor they get involved in social relations with the other actor.

Figure 1: Interaction between individuals. Source: Hamaguchi (1985: Figure 2).

Hamaguchi argues that methodological individualism cannot capture important characteristics of social relations in Japan and proposes using methodological contextualism instead. Methodological contextualism, in contrast to methodological individualism, assumes that the boundary of an actor covers his or her relations with another actor (see Figure 2 below). Such actors are called contextuals or relational actors in methodological contextualism. Contextuals, in contrast to individuals, cannot exist without their relationship with another actor, because the relationship is a part of his or her self. Furthermore, contextuals do not think that they can fully control their relationship with another actor, while individuals think that their relationship with another actor is in their full control.

Figure 2: Interaction between contextuals. Source: Hamaguchi (1985: Figure 3).

This relationship between contextuals is called aidagara in the Japanese cultural context. Then the difference between aidagara and social relations in methodological individualism becomes clear. A social relation is one between independent individuals, while aidagara is a kind of social system in which contextuals interact.

The most important characteristic of aidagara is that the Japanese do not think that aidagara between them is a result of their intention, because they do not think that they can control it. Rather, they think that it is created by a power beyond them, which they call en (Hamaguchi 1985[2]). En is thought to be an unobserved power that realises aidagara between people. Thus the Japanese use the word to positively interpret their new relationship with another person. For example, two Japanese business persons who encounter each other at a business meeting would say, ‘Koremo nanika no go-en desuraka kongotomo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.’ (En enabled us to get together, so let’s keep our good relations). En is also referred to in wedding ceremonies such as in ‘En ni megumarete kekkon surukotoni narimashita’. (Good en made us get married).

In contract situations, en is also used when a person does not want to maintain associations with another person. A business person who wants to sever his or her links with a potential business partner politely would say, ‘Go-en ga nakatta to iukotode.’ (We should not enter the business, because we do not share en). He or she implies that ending their association is not because of his or her intention, but because of the lack of en.

Thus aidagara is believed to be the embodiment of en, which the Japanese believe (or pretend to believe) that they cannot control. These characteristics are different from those of similar concepts such as guanxi and social capital. Guanxi is a Chinese word expressing social relationship. It was thought to exist only in China during and after the Cultural Revolution, but Lin (2001[3]) argues that it exists in other countries and at other time periods, implying that it is a general concept. He defines guanxi as follows (Lin 2001: 159[4]): ‘guanxi are enduring, sentimentally based instrumental relations that invoke private transactions of favors and public recognition of asymmetric exchanges’. What is important in this definition is that guanxi is instrumental. For example, if person A wants to conduct business in a city in China, he or she needs to find a person (person B) who has large social networks of locals in the city and needs to establish a relationship with him or her. If person A succeeds in establishing a relationship with person B, he or she may then utilise person B’s networks to conduct business. Person A, in this case, intends to establish a relationship with person B in the expectation of using the relationship as an instrument.

This makes guanxi different from aidagara. The Japanese do not believe that they can intentionally establish aidagara between themselves and another, acknowledging that it is not their personal intention but en that creates aidagara. As mentioned above, they refer to en intentionally only when they want to end their aidagara.

This difference is also found when aidagara is compared with social capital. Social capital is a technical term in social sciences expressing social relations (see Portes (1998[5]) for an excellent review of the concept.) Specialists in the study of social capital are roughly divided into two camps when it comes to how social capital is created among people. Some scholars such as Coleman (1988[6]) argue that social capital is a by-product of past interactions among people. For example, suppose that two close friends decide to be business partners and establish a new company. They did not become friends expecting that they would go into business together at some future time. Becoming good business partners, according to Coleman, is a by-product of their friendship. In contrast, other specialists in the study of social capital such as Burt (1995[7]), argue that social capital can intentionally be created. Japanese business people, for example, attend ‘business cards exchange’ parties (neishi kokankai in Japanese) to become acquainted with people in other industries, in the expectation of creating new business opportunities. Thus they intentionally try to create social capital. This second group of scholars investigates social capital as a tool with which actors try to realise a goal.

Although they share some common characteristics, aidagara and en differ from social capital in two ways. Firstly, aidagara is not necessarily a by-product of a relationship. As previously mentioned, two businesspersons meeting each other for the first time would believe their aidagara was established thanks to en. Furthermore it is important to note that aidaraga is not intentionally created. These differences make it challenging for outsiders who attempt to interpret relationships between Japanese people through the Western model of social capital, which does not work in the same way in Japanese society.

References and Bibliography

  1. 浜口恵俊. 1982. 『間人主義の社会 日本』. 東京: 東洋経済新報社.
  2. Hamaguchi, E. 1985. ‘A Contextual Model of the Japanese: Toward a Methodological Innovation in Japan Studies’, Journal of Japanese Studies 11(2): 289-321.

Notes

  1. Hamaguchi, E.1985. ‘A Contextual Model of the Japanese: Toward a Methodological Innovation in Japan Studies’, Journal of Japanese Studies 11(2): 289-321.
  2. Hamaguchi, E.1985. ‘A Contextual Model of the Japanese: Toward a Methodological Innovation in Japan Studies’, Journal of Japanese Studies 11(2): 289-321.
  3. Lin, N. 2001.‘Guanxi: A Conceptual Analysis’, in A. Y. So, N. Lin and D. Poston (eds.), The Chinese Triangle of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong: Comparative Institutional Analysis. Westport: Greenwood Press: 153-66.
  4. Lin, N. 2001.‘Guanxi: A Conceptual Analysis’, in A. Y. So, N. Lin and D. Poston (eds.), The Chinese Triangle of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong: Comparative Institutional Analysis. Westport: Greenwood Press: 153-66.
  5. Portes, A. 1998.‘Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology’, Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1-24.
  6. Coleman, J.S. 1988. ‘Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital’, American Journal of Sociology 94(Supplement): S95-S120.
  7. Burt, R. S. 1995. Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.