Giri: Moral Obligation

Japanese businessman talking to colleagues in business meeting, candid portrait
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It is not an easy task to translate (yet explain) Japanese morals and emotions. Giri, what this feature is based on, does not have a clear English translation. The birth of the concept of giri occurred during the feudal period in Japan and holds the highest regard in human relationships. A basic breakdown of the relationships is:

  • Master-subordinate
  • Parent-child
  • Husband-wife
  • Brothers-sisters
  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • Business associates

The most basic definition one can give giri is a debt of gratitude and a self-sacrificing pursuit of their happiness.

Everyday Examples

Everyday examples of giri can be found in social customs such as New Year's cards, gifts such as year-end presents. When one does act involuntarily to a person to whom one feels giri, one must not take into account one's own suffering when alleviating or helping another out of a difficult situation.

Giri's Presence in Japanese Business

Giri also has a strong presence in Japanese business. To a foreigner, it can be seen as irrational and against the principles of Western business, where one is intent on personal growth. The Japanese business perspective is not the pursuit of individual gain, but one of support and respect for human relationships. This leads to mutual support in the workplace instead of inter-office competition and mistrust of one's contemporaries.

The Downside

Giri does have its downside too. Organized crime, the yakuza, who are among the anti-modern and anti-rational nationalist in Japan, interpret giri to include acts of violence. This is, of course, giri taken to its furthest extreme and is not readily tolerated in Japan.

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Abe, Namiko. "Giri: Moral Obligation." ThoughtCo, Sep. 27, 2021, Abe, Namiko. (2021, September 27). Giri: Moral Obligation. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Giri: Moral Obligation." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).