Exploring the Distinction Between Aida and Ma

Although coming from the same kanji, Shogo Tanaka argues that there is a distinction between aida (betweenness) and ma (space).

The difference in meaning between aida and ma

Nick: As I mentioned before, the kanji for aida can be also read as ma. So is there a difference in nuance or meaning between ma and aida?

Shogo: Both were coming from the same word, so the very basic meaning are the same, but aida is rather focused on a kind of static and spatial aspect, whereas ma is rather used to refer to a more dynamic and temporal aspect of aida.

Let me give you a few examples: when people say ma ga warui, it could be translated that timing is bad, the timing is not very well. It refers to the fact that the ongoing interpersonal interactions among people are not very well combined in their timings. So, they are not very well synchronized. And the people are sharing that kind of bad mood or awkward mood derived from it.

Another example is ma wo awaseru, it could be translated as adjusting the temporality with others. And it refers to the situation in which you are trying to interact with another person in an appropriate timing to match better in their communication.

So in both cases, ma refers to the creativity of time, timing, and temporality in interpersonal interactions. So this would be the difference between aida and ma.

Nick: So I've seen ma referenced to Noh theater, the silence between these kind of sharp sounds and also in architecture, and there was a Japanese architect who described ma as… He said that ma is glorious, so it's just beautiful to have this space. And he really loved this idea of ma in architecture.

So it might be hard for, I think, our audience to maybe understand, but I think they'll gain an appreciation as we keep discussing these themes of aida or ma.