Meiwaku: The Threat to Japanese Harmony

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
4 min readMar 13, 2024

--

In February 2021, a Japanese website raised criticism: its principle was that users could submit meiwaku noise information about their neighborhood. Most of the time, users complained about the sounds of children playing, and the word “meiwaku” was heavily used in the comments.

“Meiwaku” can be translated in several ways: trouble, annoyance, annoying. In Japanese, spam mail is called meiwaku mail, and the same term applies to spam phone calls. The word’s meaning is strong, and I believe “nuisance” is probably the closest word in English for meiwaku.

Even if people’s behaviors have become more individualistic, especially in big cities, a major aspect of Japanese culture is that the group comes before the individual. Harmony inside the group, and society in general, should be maintained as much as possible. This leads to nice and enjoyable practices such as exchanging gifts with your neighbors to maintain good relationships. However, this can also be a difficulty, especially as a foreigner, when you want to express your individuality without breaking the harmony. And one of the worst things you could do to break the harmony is to be, or to cause, meiwaku. It is also one of the worst things you can be called without it being a dirty word; it means your counterpart is really angry and you have repeatedly made major harmony-breaking mistakes.

Avoiding causing meiwaku to others is one of the bases of Japanese politeness in public spaces: you should not disturb others. For example, Japanese people…

--

--

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.