We have some Japanese words which can’t be translated into English. Instead, people use Japanese words as they are in the world. Such words are often originated in Japan like kimono, sumo, tsunami, ikigai, umami and so on. Now you can find them in the English dictionaries, and they are explained as a part of Japanese culture.
Have you heard of the Japanese word “Mottai-nai”?
“Mottai-nai” is a word that is deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture.
First, Japanese people tend to use things for a long time, instead of throwing things away quickly. “Mottai-nai” can be translated as “wasteful” but also has the nuance of being respectful to the environment. For example, if your friend is about to throw away cute wrapping paper which can be reused, you can say “Mottai-nai yo” which means “what a waste!”, and also implies “you should not do that!” Actually, when opening gifts, many Japanese people treat wrapping papers carefully without tearing them up. It might be one of our “Mottai-nai” habits!
Second, Japanese people tend to talk in a modest manner. So, when you are putting yourself lower than the person you are speaking to, “Mottai-nai” can be used, meaning “too much”, or “too good” for yourself. For example, if your boyfriend gave you a nice ring, you say “Arigatou. Demo watashi niwa mottai nai desu”, which means “Thank you, But it’s too much/good for me.”
Thus, “Mottai-nai” has become a well-known word in the world now, but retains its Japanese cultural uniqueness.
*The fact “Mottai-nai” has become well-known in the world is largely influenced by Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai. (Showing off a T-shirt imprinted with the word, she introduced the term at a United Nations session as a slogan for environmental protection. She was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.)