No, not a misspelling or that kind of kooky. Although, you may feel I am as you read on. This kooky is the Japanese word “Kuuki” meaning air, and specifically “kuuki yomeru,” the ability to read the air. I have written about this in a previous post titled “The Art of Accommodating Without Looking,” Recently after re-reading a book titled, “Radical Wholeness,” and pondering the connection to reading the air I have come to posit that this is an additional sense much like the other five, see, hear, smell, touch and taste, but for some reason is only inherent in the Japanese culture, based on my experience.
Much has been written about this “sixth sense” ability adding to the mystery of Japanese culture. It may be analogous to Japan only, but is not part of some exclusive cultural membership. Kuuki Yomeru is a bodily intelligence combining an internal presence while at the same time outwardly paying attention to details and taking in the world. It is the combination of this act that allows for one to feel what is in the air between individuals.
It is not the individual itself that creates this feeling, that would be a western approach done by deciding ahead of time what they choose to feel. Rather it is the collection of individuals and environment in which these individuals are residing at the time that creates the atmosphere or in Japanese, “fuenki”. The individual(s) can then feel the feeling in the air, by reading the air and responding accordingly, rather than the way they want to respond.
It could be a Japanese collectivist cultural phenomenon, but the ability can be activated by anyone. I learned it as a young child growing up in a family with someone who had been severely depressed and with someone who harbored anger on a regular basis. I had to learn to read the air early on by detecting whether the person was in an angry mood and if so I made sure to be out of the way. I also learned how to take on the air from a depressed family member by allowing their sadness to take root. Not knowing why I felt sad, I was essentially taking on their emotion. Think of the child as a sponge analogy.
It took many years into adulthood to unlearn how not to take on other’s emotions. This is the development of a bodily or organismic intelligence that is now fine tuned to the point, thanks to living in Japan, that I can now read the air in a moment’s notice and respond to what is being asked in that moment rather than the way I want to ahead of time.
If western culture, mainly the US were to acknowledge that “kuuki yomeru,” or reading the air as an additional sense, this would go against the narrative of individuality by having to pay attention to others. That is something outside oneself by acknowledging that it takes more “We” to experience rather than the “I.”. Maybe the response you make is not what you want to make, but rather for the betterment of the person(s) within the confines of your environment in that moment. You would respond in kind for the sake of others, not just yourself.
This is so natural in Japan in just about every situation. And if someone goes against this norm they standout like a sore thumb. If one is Japanese and does this, you can notice the scorn and judgment of others. They are passively holding one accountable, which is a characteristic of community. If you are a foreigner and do this, you are given a free pass because in their eyes you don’t know. I see many foreigners who have lived here for years and still have not adjusted to this deeper part of the culture. The result, they play what I call the “foreigner card ,” and do as they please. It is one of a few pet peeves I have with those refusing to allow themselves to be moved and changed by the culture.
This is something that is sorely needed in the West if real change is to ever occur. Air reading depends upon self and other to create the experience of feeling what is going on between one another within the environment in which it is occurring. For example, let’s say your habitual go to emotion is anger and you choose this ahead of time by being angry without taking into account others, then you have created an environment in which “I” creates an angry air making everyone else around you feel that way. “I” not “We” is the Western way.
Anlo Ewe, an African tribe acknowledges this as a sense called “Senselelame” or feel-feel-at-flesh-inside. As in your perceptions or resonance in the body is based on the experience you are having with the other within the environment you are existing in at that moment. This goes against the western narrative of the knowing head. After re-reading the “Radical Wholeness,” book and having lived in Japan for so long I can now acknowledge what I have known since an early age, but unable to put to words–the body knows.
If western culture were to put an emphasis on the body’s intelligence to read the air between one another imagine what life would be like. No longer would the individual do whatever he or she would like, rather pay attention to others and what life is being asked by responding accordingly for others.
An ability to read the air and acknowledging body intelligence would pave the way for a far more civilized culture where everyone would work together to make sure one another is taken care of because there is an overall collective environment that is created–a civilized culture.
This is not something to be understood intellectually. In fact, my describing it, while the only way to get it out there, can only be experienced. As evidence of this, I really enjoy when people from the US come to Japan and experience firsthand what it is I am talking about. They give surface descriptions such as, “service in Japan is so good,” “people are so polite” or “they are so helpful.” They are directly experiencing a “reading of the air.”
While I enjoy visits to the US to see family, friends and to acclimate my son to US culture, what gives me reverse culture shock is the environment, the opposite of reading the air and one of me first. I know this is an inherent part of the culture, I grew up in it. Fortunately, the visits last about a month, just about time I am ready to return to Japan.