In 1970, Masahiro Mori proposed the theory of the Uncanny Valley, which states that

"when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers."

English translations (like the above linked Wikipedia article) depict Mori's Uncanny Valley in graph form as a function of human likeness versus familiarity, which is an odd term to use, as a low familiarity would not be expected to cause revulsion in the common use of the word.

In his original article, Mori used the term 親和感. I have translated 親和 to friendship, fellowship according to Denshi Jisjo and 感 seems to mean sense of.

However, sense of friendship still doesn't seem like a particularly adequate translation. I am wondering if there are any other interpretations/translations of the term that Mori could have had in mind.

The Uncanny Valley graphed as a function of human likeness versus 親和感

  • I made a comment about this a moment ago but I might have misunderstood. Are you looking for the meaning of 親和感 as opposite to 違和感?
    – ssb
    Mar 20, 2013 at 12:58
  • @ssb Precisely, it's the meaning of 親和感 I'm looking for, since this seems to be the term Mori used in his original paper. I don't have access to the source (nor nearly enough understanding of Japanese to read it) but English-language papers discussing the possible translation of the term give the kanji as above.
    – ThomasH
    Mar 20, 2013 at 13:02
  • This article comments on the meaning and translation of 親和感. Apparently the new translation of the essay uses "affinity" rather than "familiarity".
    – user1478
    Mar 20, 2013 at 13:19
  • @snailplane Thanks, I wasn't aware of that. Indeed, the article links to a revised translation of Mori's original article that he himself reviewed and approved of. So I guess it should be considered the authoritative reference. If you care to post this as an answer, I'd be happy to accept it.
    – ThomasH
    Mar 20, 2013 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Personally, I don't have a good enough intuitive sense of the meaning to decide what the best translation is, which is why I was reluctant to post an answer.

Luckily, I don't have to explain it myself. Let's take a look at an article titled Robotics' Uncanny Valley Gets New Translation:

[T]he first English translation was done between the early morning hours of 1 and 2 a.m. in a Japanese robotics lab in 2005 — a rush job that has finally received a painstaking revision in 2012.

So you may be correct that familiarity isn't the best way to put it. The article goes on to talk about the various translations of the term (familiarity, likableness, comfort level, and affinity), and it goes on to say:

Such English words fail to capture the full essence of Mori's original Japanese, said Karl MacDorman, a robotics researcher at Indiana University who served as one of the English translators for the uncanny valley essay.

"I think it is that feeling of being in the presence of another human being — the moment when you feel in synchrony with someone other than yourself and experience a 'meeting of minds,'" MacDorman said. "Negative 'shinwakan,' the uncanny, is when that sense of synchrony falls apart, the moment you discover that the one you thought was your soul mate was nothing more than smoke and mirrors."

If the article is accurate, then Karl MacDorman doesn't believe any of these English words accurately convey the meaning of shinwakan by themselves. In fact, he's one of the two translators credited on the 2012 revision (The Uncanny Valley, IEEE Spectrum). This new translation has been authorized and reviewed by Masahiro Mori himself, so that lends credence to his words.

So what is the best translation, if not one of the above? Well, it appears that they chose the word affinity, despite its presence in the list! But why, if it failed to capture the meaning of shinwakan?

Ultimately, words mean what you explain them to mean. In this context, affinity means what the translator explained above because they've explained what they meant, and although this may not be exactly what the word usually means, it is nonetheless close enough to be the term that was chosen by the new translators and approved by Masahiro Mori himself.

As a result, I think we can say that affinity is the best translation.

  • +1 for unearthing the link to both articles and another +1 to the explanation of the issues surrounding translation.
    – ThomasH
    Mar 20, 2013 at 17:26

This seems to be a very uncommon word.

日本国語大辞典 says...

My translation: "A calming feeling of familiarity and mutual intimacy."

How I'd actually translate 親和感 depends on the full sentence. I think "familiarity" would probably be the best choice without context.

  • 2
    Since -感 is a common suffix, I think you can understand 親和感 as a combination of 親和 and (meaning 「親和の感じ」) rather than treating it as an indivisible unit.
    – user1478
    Mar 20, 2013 at 3:05
  • @Darius Unfortunately, I don't have access to Mori's original article in Japanese, and any English-language paper discussing the translation gives only the word itself.
    – ThomasH
    Mar 20, 2013 at 13:06

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