Japanese culture values the art of being subtle.
In Japan, the culture rewards people who are good at taking hints. This can mean to be careful not to inconvenience or harm others, or by showing careful thoughts toward others. Considerate would be the equivalent word in English.
In order to live in harmony in a Japanese community, whether it is at school or at the workplace, there is an unspoken ‘group pressure’ for blending in with your surroundings.
The effort for minimizing conflict eventually requires everyone to become considerate and attentive to other’s needs, more so than in Western cultures. Of course, it can be stressful even for Japanese people, as it can almost feel like another job, especially at work toward the boss and colleagues.
These are two examples of Japanese phrases for complimenting someone who is good at being thoughtful of others or skillful at taking care of other’s feelings.
My Japanese colleagues, especially females sometimes give or get a compliment like this.
In English, ‘you are so thoughtful,’ or ‘it’s so considerate of you to do that.’ would be the equivalent.
By the way, Japanese girls who are attentive and considerate are said to be more popular with Japanese guys.
気遣い vs. 気配り
Within the realm of “being considerate/thoughtful”, Japanese people tend to use different words depending on how the “thoughtfulness” is expressed.
For advanced Japanese speakers, it is worthwhile to understand the interesting differences between 気遣い (kidzukai) and 気配り (kikubari).
To illustrate the difference, let’s say you are at a nomikai with your colleagues.
One of your colleagues A-san just finished his beer.
Noticing he needs another drink, you immediately ask A-san what he would like to drink next, and you help to call the waiter to order that next drink for him.
Or you know A-san always order beer at nomikai, so without A-san even noticing, you quietly help him order ahead for his next beer so that the waiter brings it to A-san at just the right timing.
To act in consideration of the surroundings and the feelings of other people.
Predicting what can happen beforehand and doing what you think is best.
気遣い (kidzukai) is you help someone while he notices your help.
気配り (kikubari) is you anticipate someone needs help and you help him without him noticing it.
Have you experienced or given this kind of thoughtfulness in Japan? Which type do you prefer?