In Kanji in Context book, there's this one sentence:

人間に上下はないと考えるアメリカ人にとって、日本の目上と目下の関係は面倒だろう ?

I'm not sure why に and は and not が。 The second part of the sentence is understandable, but the first one makes no sense to me. I'm not sure what 上下 means either in this context. The reference book says "up and down" or "top and bottom," but I can't grasp the meaning.

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    What do you think the second part means? Can you not infer the meaning of 上下 from that? Hopefully the meanings of the particles become clear once you figure that out. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 12:02
  • Ok, I looked it up and now I know what 上下 means. But the use of に and は is still a mystery. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 12:28
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    As for に may be this helps: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/42803/… Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 12:55
  • So the meaning is clear, right? "For Americans, who think there are no upper and lower classes in humans, the Japanese superior/inferior relationship must be troublesome". I must admit that the は is troubling me. It's not clear to me whether it's the topic of the entire sentence or part of the phrase quoted by と. I'm now wondering if you can use は in an indirect quote. Is it there because は likes to go with negation? How do these concepts play with each other? I think that's an interesting question. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


First, 上下 means higher and lower social status (such as sempai and kohai)

The reason に is used in this case is because は is being used after 上下 for emphasis. You can't use は twice in the same phrase. Also the phrase is being used to describe the subject アメリカ人

If you are confused about the descriptive phrasing, here are more examples:

  1. ごめんなさいと言えない人とは友達になりたくない
    I don't want to be friends with people who can't say they are sorry.
  2. 納豆が嫌いな人はたくさんいる
    There are many people who hate the smell of natto.
  3. 日本語が読めない外国人には日本で良い仕事は見つからない。
    For foreigners who cannot read Japanese, it is difficult to find a good job in Japan.
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    You can't use は twice in the same phrase Well that's not true.
    – istrasci
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 23:23

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