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Can anyone tell me more about 潔い? I've looked in Goo, Alc, Kenkyusha, and Edict, and the definitions refer to "sportsmanlike", "gracious", or "take it like a man". However, I'm doubtful if these are literal translations.

My Japanese teacher gave me a very interesting and different definition along the lines of "having an attitude of living properly and beautifully rather than living long". She gave the example of cherry blossom which has a short life and dies at its peak. She also mentioned 武士道 (bushido, samurai code).

I don't want all my Japanese friends to think its better to die young than live long lives :)

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It means to acknowledge, in the middle of doing something, that it has turned out impossible for one to reach the goal, or that one has lost against an opponent, due to lack of one's own ability or luck, and to give up.

Often, but not always, this word is used in the context of a competition, such as swordsman fighting. If it is obvious that you lost, but you don't admit that, it is considered anti-bushido. If you resign in the right timing for the right thing, then it follows bushido (But if you resign so easily, that is also anti-bushido).

Your teacher's example makes sense as a metaphor, but is not the core case. It is assuming that cherry blossoms are animate living creatures and are fighting against their life span, but that they admit when their life comes to an end.

  • Thank you for taking the time to explain it to me. I understand now. @Flaw I don't play Starcraft I'm afraid but I understand what you are describing. There's a scene in the film 雨上が (Ame Agaru) or "After the Rain" as its called in English where the main protagonist recalls a story about how his Dojo master yields to him on their first meeting. I think its the same meaning. – edwinbradford Jan 8 '12 at 9:15
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If you play Starcraft(2) then you can think of it as knowing when to say "gg" and resign from game in acknowledgement that the opponent is the better player.

  • 1
    +1 for "gg" reference. – istrasci Jan 8 '12 at 3:05

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