Mottainai (もったいない or 勿体無い) is a term of Japanese origin that has been used by environmentalists. The term in Japanese conveys a sense of regret over waste; the exclamation "Mottainai!" can translate as "What a waste!" Japanese environmentalists have used the term to encourage people to "reduce, reuse and recycle", and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai used the term at the United Nations as a slogan to promote environmental protection.
Etymology, usage, and translationEdit
Kōjien lists three definitions for the word mottainai (classical Japanese terminal form mottainashi): (1) inexpedient or reprehensible towards a god, buddha, noble or the like; (2) awe-inspiring and unmerited/undeserved, used to express thanks; (3) an expression of regret at the full value of something not being put to good use. In contemporary Japanese, it is most commonly used to indicate that something is being discarded needlessly, or to express regret at such a fact. Kōhei Hasegawa, then a professor at Nagano University, commented that the definition given last in Kōjien was the one used most frequently by modern Japanese. The second sense is seen in Japanese newspapers when they defer to members of the imperial family as having been present at such-and-such an event, not necessarily implying wastefulness but rather gratitude or awe. Daigenkai gives a similar ordering of these definitions. Hasegawa traces this to a historical semantic shift in which the original meaning, the one given a (1) in Kōjien, became less prominent. Citing the Kyoto University Japanese literature scholar Kōshin Noma, Hasegawa states that the word originated as slang in the Kamakura period, and that by the mid 15th century had perhaps already acquired the meanings of (2) and (3). Two frequently-cited early examples of usages of mottainashi, both given in both Kōjien and Daigenkai, are the Genpei Jōsuiki and the Taiheiki. A form of the word, motaina (モタイナ) appears in the late-14th or early-15th century Noh play Aritōshi, apparently in a sense close to (1).
The word nai in mottainai resembles a Japanese negative ("there is no mottai"), but may have originally been used as an emphatic ("tremendous mottai"). Mottai itself is a noun appearing as such in, for example, the dictionary Gagaku-shū, which dates to 1444. Daigenkai gives buttai as an alternate reading of the word, and it appears written with the kanji 勿躰, 物體, 勿體, 物体, or 勿体. It means (i) the shape/form of a thing or (ii) something that is, or the fact of being, impressive or imposing (モノモノシキコト monomonoshiki koto). The compound that is pronounced as mottai in Japanese appears in Sino-Japanese dictionaries as a Chinese word in a sense similar to (ii), but mottainashi does not, as it is an indigenous Japanese word.
The 18th-century Kokugaku philologist Motoori Norinaga, in the preface to his 1798 treatise Tamaarare('Ice Crystals (like)Jewels':玉あられ) designed to stir people up from their sleepy acquiescence in acquired customs that were not authentically native, was critical of the use of the word to express gratitude, as he felt its use for such a purpose (along with those of kajikenashi and osoreōi) was vitiated by its ultimate derivation from imitating forms of Chinese rhetoric and greetings. In his 1934 essay Nihon-seishin to Bukkyō, the Buddhologist Katō Totsudō (加藤咄堂:1870-1949} included the "aversion to wastefulness" (mottainai) in a putative series of what he considered to be "core Japanese personality traits".
Mottainai originated as a Buddhist term, though this fact is not common knowledge even in Japan.[dubious ] Eiko Maruko Siniawer said that Yamaori Tetsuo, a scholar of religion and professor emeritus at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, felt mottainai to be "inseparable from Buddhist ideas about the transience and evanescence of life".[dubious ] The word later become connected to the Shinto concept that all objects have souls.[dubious ]
Mottainai in contemporary Japanese refers both to physical waste and to wasteful action. MacQuillan and Preston propose a more elaborate translation that conveys a sense of value and worthiness as "do not destroy (or lay waste to) that which is worthy".
Modern Japanese environmentalismEdit
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 PET 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 as follows:
|“||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.||”|
At the Opening Ceremony of the Science and Technology in Society Forum in 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stated: "In Japan, there has long been a spirit characterized by the word mottainai, which could be translated as 'don't waste what is valuable'."
Use by Wangari MaathaiEdit
Dr. Maathai, brandishing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word MOTTAINAI, explained that the meaning of the term mottainai encompasses the four Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle and repair ... [and] made the case that we should all use limited resources effectively and share them fairly if we are to avert wars arising from disputes over natural resources.
Maathai has worked to popularize the word mottainai in places outside Japan. At the 2009 United Nations Summit on Climate Change, she said, "Even at personal level, we can all reduce, re-use and recycle, what is embraced as Mottainai in Japan, a concept that also calls us to express gratitude, to respect and to avoid wastage."
- Hasegawa 1983, p. 25.
- Hasegawa 1983, p. 26.
- Hasegawa 1983, pp. 26–27.
- Hasegawa 1983, p. 27.
- Hasegawa 1983, pp. 25–26.
- Hasegawa 1983, p. 28.
- Markus Rüttermann, "So That We Can Study Letter-Writing": The Concept of Epistolary Etiquette in Premodern Japan, Journal of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2006 18,1 pp.57-128,86.
- Chūō Bukkyō 1934 18/3 pp.1-12,11-12 cited in Ives below.
- Christopher Ives, vThe Mobilization of Doctrine: Buddhist Contributions to Imperial Ideology in Modern Japan, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26, 1/2 Spring 1999 pp.83-106,90:'Katō Totsudō also identifies purportedly core Japanese personality traits of aversion to wastefulness (mottainai: 勿体無い), gratitude (arigatai: 有難い) and sympathy (ki no doku: 気の毒) with the Three Mental Attitudes of laity set forth in the Upāsaka–śīla sūtra the mind of poverty (hinkyūshin:貧窮心) the mind of requiring blessings (hōonshin:報恩心) and the mind of merit (kudokushin:功徳心).'
- Sato, Yuriko (2017). "Mottainai: a Japanese sense of anima mundi". Journal of Analytical Psychology. 62 (1): 147–154.
- Maruko Siniawer, Eiko (2014). "'Affluence of the Heart': Wastefulness and the Search for Meaning in Millennial Japan". The Journal of Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press, Association for Asian Studies. 73 (1): 165–186. doi:10.1017/S0021911813001745. JSTOR 43553399. citing Yamaori Tetsuo. 2006. "Nihonjin wa ima, donna kachi o shinrai subeki ka" [What kind of values should Japanese trust in now] (interview). Bōsei 37(7):11–18.
- Alan G. MacQuillan; Ashley L. Preston (1998). Globally and Locally: Seeking a Middle Path to Sustainable Development. University Press of America. p. 157. ISBN 978-0761811268.
- Chiba, Hitoshi (November 2002). "Restyling Japan: Revival of the "Mottainai" Spirit". Look Japan. Archived from the original on April 5, 2004. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- "Speeches and Statements by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi". japan.kantei.go.jp.
- Sasaki, Mizue (7–9 November 2005). Perspectives of language: cultural differences and universality in Japanese (PDF). Paris: UNESCO. pp. 124–125.
- Iwatsuki, Kunio (2008). Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, with Reference to the Japanese Spirit of Worshipping Nature (in "Conserving Nature, A Japanese Perspective") (PDF). Biodiversity Network Japan. pp. 4–11. ISBN 978-4-9901743-1-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 9, 2015. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
- "Statement by Prof. W. Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate, on behalf of Civil Society" (PDF). United Nations. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-01. Retrieved 24 February 2018. Cited in Maruko Siniawer, 2014, p. 177.