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Ninjō (人情, "human emotion or compassion") in Japanese, is human feeling that complements and opposes the value of giri, or social obligation, within the Japanese worldview.[1] Broadly speaking, ninjō is said to be the human feeling that inescapably springs up in conflict with social obligation.[2] As ninjō is a culture-specific term, the validity or importance of this concept is subject to a wide range of viewpoints, inextricably tied into one's perspective on nihonjinron, which compares Japan with other cultures to establish what is unique about the country.[3]


Ninjō is roughly translated as "human feeling" or "emotion" and could also be interpreted as a specific aspect of these terms such as generosity or sympathy towards the weak.[4] The classic example of ninjō is that of a samurai who falls in love with an unacceptable partner (perhaps somebody of low social class or somebody of an enemy clan). As a loyal member of his clan, he then becomes torn between the obligation to his feudal lord and his personal feelings, with the only possible resolution being shinjū or double love-suicide. This demonstrates how giri is superior to ninjō in the Japanese worldview since the latter could weaken an individual's devotion to his duty.[5]

The correspondence to William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet or the Aeneid would be made by Japanese and non-Japanese alike. The question of whether modern Japanese still feel a greater sense of giri than their Western counterparts, and thus remain in some ineffable way psychologically closer to this sort of girininjo conflict is precisely where nihonjinron divides into the Japan-centric and Japan-skeptic camps.


  1. ^ Graham, Fiona (2005). Japanese Company in Crisis. Oxon: Routledge. p. 196. ISBN 0415346851.
  2. ^ Winkler, Lawrence (2016-08-03). Samurai Road. Bellatrix. ISBN 978-0-9916941-8-1.
  3. ^ Domingues, Virginia; Wu, David (2014). From Beijing to Port Moresby: The Politics of National Identity in Cultural Policies. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Publishers. p. 273. ISBN 9057005026.
  4. ^ Kaplan, David E.; Dubro, Alec (2003). Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-520-21561-3.
  5. ^ Sasaki, Masamichi S.; Suzuki, Tatsuzō (2002). Social Attitudes in Japan: Trends and Cross-National Perspectives. Leiden: BRILL. p. 125. ISBN 90-04-12532-9.