Japanese “oyakoukou” 親孝行 – being dutiful towards one’s parents

By | January 16, 2016

The Japanese word 親孝行 (oyakoukou) doesn’t really have an exact parallel in English, though in a dictionary you’ll find something like “being dutiful towards one’s parents” which is a good attempt to translate it. One person’s definition of this is along the lines of “respecting your parents, valuing them highly, and doing things for them” (my rough translation). Examples of oyakoukou would include sending money to parent(s) who are in need or helping care for elderly or sick parents.

One thing I’ve hear parents say is a phrase like “早く孫の顔がみたい” (hayaku mago no kao ga mitai) which translates “I want to see my grandchild’s face soon”. This is a hint to their son or daughter to hurry up and get married, or if they are married to hurry up and have a child. I think just spending time with your parents, whether you have a child or not, can be considered another form of oyakoukou.

I’m fairly certain that the idea of respecting one’s parents and treating them properly is present more less in all cultures of the world, but I think the fact that there is a single word for it in Japanese tells something important about their culture. Technically speaking, English has the phrase “filial piety“, but I’ve seen this word used often with respect to Confucianism, and even if many people recognize this term it isn’t used much in common American speech. 親孝行, on the other hand, is a very common word.

親孝行 can be used as a noun, or also as a verb together with “する”. Here is an example sentence:

  • たまには里帰りをして親孝行したほうがいいですよ。
  • Once in a while you should to go see your parents and make them happy.

This example uses the word 里帰り (satogaeri), which means to go home to your parents. This is another word that doesn’t really exist in English as a single word.

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