In the Japanese business context, wa is a state of harmony that all participants and stakeholders in the business process strive to achieve and maintain.

The western concept of consensus is probably a rough analogue, however the achieving of wa has strict unwritten techniques (such as ringi) in the arrival of this happy and profitable state.




meaning: 'dig', 'frog', 'pretty girl', 'socks' (among other several other things). its all in the tones, you know... fact if you shout 'WAAAA!' just so in an aggressive falling tone while leaping sword forward down from the lower branches of a large weeping willow overhanging a rocky bend in one of the more desolate passes high up in the mountains of hardscrabble southern Shaanxi just as a good sized cavalcade of high crown officials is passing by on horseback, well... you deserve everything you get!

Perceiving and being in the wa is an important concept in my martial arts system, Mo Duk Pai kung fu. As we understand it, wa is the existing state of harmony in a given situation, encompassing all things. Being in the wa means being aware of the physical environment, social norms, and moods and attitudes of participants. When one is in the wa, one can act in a way to preserve or increase harmony. To the American mind, it sounds a little like "go with the flow", but is a more active and aware state than that. It is a intuitive state that can be cultivated with practice.

My sifu likes to illustrate wa with the example of funerary practices in Ireland versus in the United States. At an Irish wake it is perfectly acceptable to sing and dance, but at most funerals in the United States that would be grossly unacceptable.

The wa that simonc mentions is written with the kanji 和 (Unicode character 548C). To give an ASCII art representation:
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The first broad meaning of this character is peace and it is the second character in the word 平和 ("heiwa") which is the common word for peace in Japanese. It also ocurred in 昭和 (showa) the name of the period during which emperor Hirohito reigned.

A second, rather old meaning of the character is Japan. It does not occur in Nihon, but in 大和 (Yamato), the name of the ancient Japanese empire that established itself around 500 AD in the area of modern-day Osaka. Today, "yamato" is used only in history books and means specifically that period. However, due to this meaning, the wa character is also used in expressions such as 和室 (washitsu), Japanese-style room, or 和食 (washoku), Japanese meal.

Wa, written with the hiragana for ha (は), is a Japanese postposition ("particle"). It is used to identify the topic of a sentence or discussion. For example:

Suzuki-san wa Nihonjin desu.
Mr/Ms. Suzuki is Japanese.
Once you identify a topic with "wa," it stays in the conversation until you identify another topic.

Sumisu-san wa Igirisujin desu. Rondon kara kimashita.
Mr/Ms. Smith is English. He/she comes from London.
Note that once you establish Smith as the topic of the discussion, you need not mention his or her name again: it's obvious who you're talking about. This is the Japanese answer to pronouns: omission.

Now, here's where wa gets to be tricky. Many people who take Japanese 101 start assuming that it tells you what the subject of the sentence is, but that's the job of another particle, ga. It's perfectly possible to hear something like this:

Watashi wa supagetti desu.
It looks like it's saying "I am spaghetti," and without a context, it could be interpreted that way. What it's really saying is "Me, spaghetti": it would be found when a group of people order dinner, and the "...would like to order..." part of the sentence is implied by default.

You can also have a sentence like this:

Nihon wa joshi ga kawaii desu.
In this sentence, Nihon "Japan" is the topic, and joshi "girl" is the subject of the sentence. The sentence means "Japan? The girls are cute," and it would be a likely answer to a sentence such as "What's so great about Japan?"

The best gloss I've found for wa comes from Basil Hall Chamberlain: "as for." So the above two sentences would be "As for me, it'll be spaghetti," and "As for Japan, the girls are cute." If you're translating long texts, of course, this shortcut will quickly become clumsy, but it's a quick and dirty way to figure out what the wa in a sentence is doing.

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