One can tell the values of a culture by how many different types of words it employs to describe a single object or concept. Some examples:
--The native Alaskan tribes have several dozen words to describe "snow."
--English has several words for the concept of "money."
--In Japanese, there are many different words that mean "quiet." An old friend sent me a short description of some of those words:
"In English, *quiet* is defined by passivity, a negative absence. In contrast, the Japanese language has five words that describe the aesthetic quality of a full, voluptuous quiet.
The *loneliness* of "sabi" is the beauty of the solitary, the isolation by space, circumstance, or history, the wear of time or uniqueness of an object. "Sabi" is the ancient, lone pine on a mountain whose branches are molded by the wind.
"Wabi" denotes beauty in the "poverty" of the simple, the wonder in the commonplace, the poignancy discovered in the obvious. "Wabi" is the amazing quality of things just as they are.
"Shibui" is the "bitterness" of strong green tea. The beauty of "shibui" is an absolute simplicity that reduces something to its essentials and nothing more.
"Aware" is the beauty of fragility, a sensitivity to everything's transient nature. The "pity" of aware implies the ultimate submission of
everything to a vast fate.
"Yugen" means both "hidden" and "obscure," the beauty of the unrevealed, the reality behind appearances: The snowy heron hiding in the bright moon, the vague object at the bottom of a clear pool. "Yugen" is unfathomable depth."