I was thinking that it could be interesting for my followers to get a better grasp of Japanese culture through some purely Japanese terms which reflect the mentality of Japanese society. So my plan is basically to take each of these terms, dissect it to understand the meaning and explain how it penetrates the everyday life of Japanese people.
In this article I would like to examine the word kokorogamae「心構え」which is often times translated into English as “preparedness”, “readiness” or “frame of mind”. The voiced ending kamae is a verbal noun that means “stance”. The verb can be used as a command from karate instructor to make students get ready for their positions. Moreover, the term kokorogamae is very common in other martial arts (e.g. kendo, aikido) as well. The left part kokoro translates as “mind” or “one’s soul”. Actually, it means “heart” but since heart dwells in centre of the body and its function is vital for our existence, the concept of kokoro is much broader than that and therefore it exceeds the literal meaning.
The term kokorogamae probably origins from teaching of Zen Buddhism where body and mind are integrated and both need to be trained through physical exercise and meditation. From there comes the complementary term migamae「身構え」 which describes the posture of body and readiness for a fight when speaking of martial arts. If one does not have the right mental attitude, or kokoromae, it shows on the body posture, migamae.
In dojo, opponents bow as a sign of being fully prepared for the fight with both body and mind. Kokorogamae plays also an important role in Japanese traditional theatre like kabuki and noh where only little hand movement can express a great variety of emotions. For that reason, it is necessary for the actors to master their kokorogamae. The ordinary man in Japan also needs to have some sort of comprehensive mental preparation for many tasks throughout the day too. And he needs to prepare his mind not only to deal with everyday duties but also emergency cases. In Japan kokorogamae is naturally programmed by their culture and the Japanese are thought to absorb the “right attitude” for all kinds of situations as they grow up. This readiness is then tested for example on a job interview when they have to prove to be a good listener, humble, determined and cooperative.
I assume that lack of this concept in Western countries must be quite visible for Japanese encountering foreigners for the first time as we tend to go head-on. From my experience, I feel like we are (or at least I am) impatiently rushing to do things where the mind is still not yet. This concept is therefore good to understand whether you are doing business with Japanese counterparts who will definitely look for the “mental preparedness” before closing any treaty – or even if you simply want to make Japanese friends!