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もったいない (勿体無い)(勿体ない) can mean "what a waste!" / "too good". Apparently it is originally (?) a buddhist term meaning “The essence or quality of the thing does not exist,” and supposedly has been popularized in recent years by environmentalists. I saw it used in this context:

24時間365日、どこにいてもこれからは、もうずーっと素直でいる。

じゃないと今日の興味にも失敗にも向き合えないまま。

もったいないから素直でいる!

Wherever I find myself, I want to live honestly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If not, I wouldn't be able to face the joy or failure that each day brings .

I don't want to waste time (on that) so I will stay true to myself!

My friend told me the most common usage of もったいない is when receiving a gift, as in "too good. i don't deserve it" . She says it is also used, for example, when one leaves food uneaten, to be thrown away, as in "what a waste." What is the connection of the buddhist term to both of these meanings and what is the most common use and meaning of this phrase?(I am interested most in its colloquial manifestations)

The very loose translation of this passage was mine, so any corrections of mistakes or misinterpretations is appreciated. (In particular, I don't understand how the Japanese writer is using this word here)

reference:http://www.seattlebetsuin.com/EcoSangha/glossary.htm

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See also the English Wikipedia article for Mottainai –  cypher May 23 '12 at 0:27
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1 Answer

Looking at Daijisen, Daijirin, the Yahoo JE dictionary, Edict etc, it seems to mean:

  1. "a pity to waste"/"too good to waste"
    • When said by itself it often refers to wasting food or time etc according to English Wikipedia.
    • According to this site, ~がもったいない is often similar to ~の無駄 as in 時間がもったいない/時間の無駄だよ, and that もったいない! can allude to 何て無駄なんだ! "what a waste!".
  2. "sacrilegious"
  3. "more than (I) deserve"/"too good for (me)"
  4. "improper/wrong", "outrageous", "absurd/unreasonable" (as far as I know this usage is relatively uncommon.)

As far as I know, the most common usage is "too good [for/to waste]".

The way I interpret those sentences is:

24時間365日、どこにいてもこれからは、もうずーっと素直でいる。
24 hours a day 365 days a year, wherever I am from now on, I'm going to henceforth be true to myself.

じゃないと今日の興味にも失敗にも向き合えないまま。
If I don't, I will remain unable to face even today's interests and failures.

もったいないから素直でいる!
(It would be a) pity to waste (time) so I'm going to be true to myself!

Edit: Hopefully fixed translation of もったいない in this context.

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my friend told me the most common usage of もったいない is when receiving a gift, as in "too good. i don't deserve it." –  yadokari May 21 '12 at 1:10
    
@yadokari Yeah, I think that's likely. Not absolutely sure but I think it's usually written as 私にはもったいない when it means "it's too good for me"/"it's more than I deserve". –  cypher May 21 '12 at 1:19
    
i like yr interpretation of the 2nd sentence . i didn't understand the use of 興味 well there. –  yadokari May 21 '12 at 1:21
    
here is original. i think she is using the term a little different than your suggestion: lang-8.com/294019/journals/1486804/… –  yadokari May 21 '12 at 2:08
    
" true to myself" sounds good but maybe she is really saying "I want to live honestly". perhaps the meaning of true to oneself requires more words i.e. this example from alc:愛しているし、あなたのいない人生なんて考えられないけど、やっぱり自分自身にもそしてお互いにも素直でなければならないのよ。 I love you and it's difficult to imagine life without you but I think we have to be honest with our selves and each other. –  yadokari May 21 '12 at 2:13
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