Japan is a island nation on the Pacific Ocean along the coast of mainland in Asia. Famous for its richness and exoticness, Japan’s culture cannot be summarized in a single article. It is extremely diverse – Japan is made up of more than 6,900 islands, and yet there is one thing which unites them all i.e. the culture of Japan. No matter wherever you go in the country, there are certain etiquettes, traditions, and customs which are uniform throughout the islands.

Enryo in Japanese culture

Japan’s culture has altered so much since the prehistoric days, but the root of every single tradition is the same. The Jomon period is country’s contemporary modern culture which introduced new things into the way of living. This culture is influenced by that of Asia, UK, and USA. Moreover, one may see influence of Chinese dynasties which is very prominent in Japanese culture. For almost 220 years, Japanese people remained isolated and unconnected from the rest of the globe due to a military feud in the Edo period. But when they emerged again, they made sure that their lifestyle become one of the most widely known and prominent cultures of the world.

Some important terms of Japanese culture

Japanese culture entail some major and prominent concepts and phenomenon. These concepts are a core part of their tradition and everyday lives. The multifaceted and diverse qualities of Japanese culture make it one of the most forthcoming and continuously developing cultures of the world. Some of the note-worthy terms of Japanese culture are:

Gaman: This concept teaches us patience, self-control, tolerance, and calmness. The main gist of Gaman is accepting all the lemons that life gives you. Whether it is a good day or a bad day, one should always welcome it with open arms and try to learn from it.

Amae: This concept highlights the importance of co-dependency of two people. It is mainly focused on the relationships like mentor-student, student-teacher, or father-con. But it can also be applied to more intimate and marital relationships. It emphasizes on the belief that dependence should be replaced with interdependence.

Enryo: In this article we will be shedding light particularly on a unique concept entailed by Japanese culture. It is call ‘Enryo’. We will carry out a historic analysis of its belief system and will explain how this phenomenon penetrates into the life of a common Japanese person. This concept teaches mannerly restraint and discourages having too much audacity and nerve in one’s self.

What is Enryo?

According to Japanese authentic dictionaries and belief system, the word Enryo means “restraining one’s actions and words with other people”. In Japan, it is important to avoid too much informality and openness because it is considered rude. Enryo is definitely required among strangers or among people who do not know each other very well, but there is no need of it one you are with your best friends.  We have curated some of the most unique and interesting insights regarding this concept. So keep reading and prepare to get amazed!

Enryo comes as a very basic and fundamental part of Japanese etiquettes. Below we present a brief and easy to understand breakdown of Enryo rules which are needed to be followed:

  1. Not using cellphones or any other gadget in public transport.
  2. Refraining from throwing trash in a single big bag.
  3. One of the recent rules is restraining from lighting a cigarette anywhere.

There are many more rules in addition to the ones we just mentioned. Enryo is basically a central idea of Japanese culture where people try avoiding conflicts with each other by self-restraining and self-controlling practices. This sounds like a very wise concept. Japanese culture has an ability to teach you some awe-inspiring life lessons and etiquettes and Enryo is surely one of them. Enryo is a very historic concept and has made its way into not only actions and words of native people but also into their attire, languages, and cuisines.

History of Enryo

The Enryo concept dates back to the medieval age of Japanese culture. The polite refusal, restraint, or modesty slipped into Japanese way of living very early and hence, shaped the people of Japan in such a united and distinctive manner as we see them today.

Believe it or not, Enryo is automatically a part of every person’s life whether they are Japanese or not. Here is an example to elaborate the fact:

Suppose you received a call from your dermatologist, and she explains your diagnostics report which just came in. She even gives you a prescription. Now you have been wondering from sometime about a different aspect of your disease, but while on a phone call you feel hesitant to ask more about it, because you think that the information she gave is enough. Deep down you want to know and clarify more but you decide you will do it later. This is a very common example of Enryo. The feeling you just had to not burden your doctor with more questions is Enryo.

Proper use of Enryo

There are certain affirmative and negative terms which are used to properly communicate whilst abiding by the rules of Enryo. For example, taberu is a Japanese word used to ask someone to eat. This word is widely used for guests. In return, as a courtesy to politely refuse, tabe-nai and tabe-nakatta are used. But there are some words which are offensive like nai and nakatta. These words are not only negative, but also there are some negative connotations attached to them.

Enryo opens up a lot of options for accepting and declining invitations and requests. For example it makes very easy for Japanese to accept invitations to parties while being in limits of Enryo. Enryo lets them to accept the invite by making them not do something else.

use of Enryo

Enryo Shimasu

You may be wondering that how one regretfully decline an offer. Enryo-Shimasu is the ultimate denial. It allows the person to show that they likes the offer and it was tempting but as courtesy they regretfully deny it. This term is worth mastering.

Go Enryo Kudasai

The next important term is for requesting something, which in English language translates as ‘Please’. Go-enryo Kudasai is the term that is used for this purpose. It allows the speaker to speak in a higher nature to respectfully ask someone to refrain from doing something. The Enryo concept is not unrelated or strange to English language. Simple saying ‘no, thank you’ and ‘please’ is a way of applying Enryo.

Communication with Enryo

Enryo is a social control which keeps people from overly imposing, demanding, or expecting from others. Common phrases and actions which elaborate this concept include everyday actions and routine phrases such as when a guest refuses a second serving of food. In return, the host knows that deep down the guest likes that certain dish, so they insist a bit. And even when the guest accepts, they do not eat more than a bite or two to avoid portrayal of greediness. Secondly, when someone accepts something of lesser value despite of having choices in Enryo.

Do’s and Don’ts regarding Enryo

There are some actions which are preferred over others in Japanese concept of Enryo. They extend to broader horizons because the common gist of respect and courtesy is uniform throughout the culture.

Do’s of Enryo

  • Use flattery and expression of being tempted before you reject an offer. Be flattering while complimenting as well, but do not pass on insincere compliments.
  • Try not to compliment profusely to one person or they may feel extremely noticed and a humble denial may make them feel embarrassing.
  • Try to add a lot of reassurance in conversations. Whether you are a host or the guest, make sure the person in next you knows you are grateful and happy with the offer.
  • In Japanese culture, apologizing and excusing is very common. Even if you were not rude or did not do anything offensive, being sorry can make you seem very pleasing and respectful.
  • Go overboard with modesty and humbleness. Even if someone is complimenting you try to lightly disagree with them.
  • When your host offers you the second slice of cake again and again. Accept it but do eat more than one or two bites. This is a common Enryo.
  • Be cordial at all times even to a stranger in bus, or your mother. Cordialness is admired and makes a person very respectful and modest.
Do’s of Enryo

Do not’s of Enryo

  • Extensive use of Enryo Shimasu can be harmful for personal and intimate relationships. People who feel close to you may feel distant and discourages to open up and talk to you.
  • Excessive use of Enryo is bad too. If you deny too much or stay distant and unacceptable to the offers made to you, people will start assuming their versions of reasons about you and may start drifting away.
  • Never be blunt. Especially about delicate topics. Although being honest is one of the most appreciated qualities in Japanese culture, but direct delivery of negative news or blatant communication is not preferred.
  • Raising voice or temper is very much disliked.
  • Do not be overly critical and think before pointing out mistakes and defects in something or someone.

From the examples stated above, it goes without saying that over usage of anything is harmful. So is the case with Enryo. Too much of it will cause distant relationships. People will not be able to understand and love each other unconditionally if they over-practice Enryo. Hence, it is very important to maintain a balance to avoid issues in relationships.

Conclusion

Almost all the concepts and traditions of Japanese culture are unique and very logical. The overall culture teaches peace, harmony, respect, patience, and calmness. The most basic act of bowing down when you meet someone is an ultimate example of giving respect to each other. Enryo adds more elegance and grace into the mannerisms. It is very soulful and it makes people care for each other and show grace and respect. It communicates self-control, self-sacrifice, and modesty. Although it feels like the denial is a way of being egoistical and rude, but in actual it removes the feeling of being superior and individualistic.