Ma(pronounced as Maah) literally translates to the space between. The kanji for Ma is 間 which as all you Nihongo students know means between, among other things. The actual meaning of the phrase derives from a Japanese architectural style which I did not really understand so I will not try and explain it.
The concept of Ma has however been applied to other daily cultural aspects in Japan. This is the concept I wish to share with you today. The concept, or how I understood it, explores the power of the negative. It is essentially the less is more philosophy arguing that a well placed pause between a speech or musical note or poem will have a greater emotive effect than a content filled non-stop performance.
An example is given of a traditional Japanese room, which is usually very minimalist with only a table, cushions and maybe a few plants or painting as decoration. The lack of excess allows the person to appreciate the room a little more, imagine the potential of the negative space, and gives a sense of peace of mind.
Another aspects of the concept of Ma as seen in the Japanese people’s way of life is in the bowing. In Japan one is taught to bow at an early age as a sign of respect, they are taught to make a deliberate pause at the end of the bow before they come back up in order to ensure there is enough MA in their bow for the weight of its to be felt.
As a believer in minimalism, the concept of Ma is one I aspire to learn more about and hopefully borrow from in my daily life…maybe not the bowing coz I’m not sure how well that would go down in Nairobi.