Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Japanese – Heiwa | Kyouwa

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Japanese, Peace

平和 (へいわ)


hei – even; flat; peace
wa – harmony; peace; soften; Japan

協和 (きょうわ)


kyou – cooperation
wai – harmony; peace; soften; Japan


Relates to peace; harmony

Heiwa and kyouwa are commonly used in everyday discussion. Society is still considered in peace if it is going through mass change, such as an economic recession, or in the midst of a territorial dispute, such as, the case of the Tokdo/Takeshima Islands. However, the Japanese criticise this situation by describing it as ‘平和ぼけへいわぼけ(heiwaboke). By describing a situation as heiwaboke, one implies that an attitude of ‘peace at any cost’ has been adopted.

The term heiwa refers to stability, harmony and warm feelings. Heiwa cannot to be fought for and instead is considered to be a situation to be ‘preserved’. That is, one cannot ‘fight for peace’, as peace and heiwa is essentially supposed to have no violent characteristics. The phrase wa-hei is used to describe the “peace constitution” and has a far more formal and bureaucratic notion. Article 9 in Japan’s constitution is the “Peace clause” which has provided the country with a unique national defence posture. Wa-hei is also used more generally to describe ‘a peaceful state of affairs.’ Defeat in WWII transformed Japan from ‘the state of war’ (戦争状態sensoujyoutai) to ‘the state of peace’ (平和状態heiwajyoutai). The phrase, ‘千里同風’ (senridoufuu), which conveys the meaning, ‘a country being in a state of universal peace’, is also used to convey Japan’s status as a state in heiwa. The phrase implies that Japan is pacifist and governed peacefully. The term is borrowed from a Chinese idiom of the same characters and literally means, the same wind blows a thousand miles’. That is, every living thing is experiencing the same circumstance, therefore the nation is at peace.

Frequently, Japan’s perception of itself as a heiwajyoutai is seen in a pejorative light as a “kind of pacifist daze” that takes Japan’s peace for granted without appreciating its indebtedness to the United States.[1] Heiwa is consequently linked to a form of radical ‘unarmed neutrality’ (非武装中立hibusou chuuritsu), a concept which advocates a self-centred, non-reactive attitude towards security issues. Recently, there have been signs that Japanese elites are becoming less comfortable with this posture, particularly with the spike in tensions surrounding regional security issues on the Korean Peninsula. There is concern that Japan’s lack of tools and mechanisms to respond proactively to such crises undermines its long-term security and survival.[2]



[1] Yuri Kase, ‘Japan’, in John Glenn, Darryl Howlett, and Stuart Poore (eds.), Neorealism versus Strategic Culture (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2004), p.137

[2] Justin McCurry, ‘Japan’s response to North Korea takes on a sharper edge’, The Christian Science Monitor, 30 November 2010.


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