A couple of definitions for those that don’t speak Japanese:
気を使う (ki-wo-tsukau): to pay attention to another’s needs, to attend to, to fuss about, to take into consideration
気が利く(ki-ga-kiku): to be thoughtful, to be tactful, to be sensitive (esp. to the needs of another)
TLG, in her wiser and more effulgent moments, has been heard to say “気を使う人より、気が利く人になりたい。” ”I would rather be a person who is sensitive to others needs, than a person who pays attention to others needs.”
…and in her more in-character moments, it comes out as; ”気が利かないな。” “You’re so unthoughtful.”
My typical response, “I’m not a mind reader,” strangely enough, does nothing to diffuse the situation…
The nuance of the difference is difficult to capture in English, but as a simple example let’s say a guest is at your house. The ”気を使う人” is going to dote on their guest: “What can I get for you to drink? What can I get for you to eat? My cooking is so bland isn’t it? Are you comfortable in that seat? Can I take your Jacket?” etc.. This is relatively easy to do, but it’s exhausting, and I find it can be annoying if overdone.
The ”気が利く人” on the other hand is a keen observer, with an almost superhuman ability to know just what the other person needs. A “mind reader” if you will. Such a person would take their guests jacket at the door, ask him to sit and make himself comfortable, and then bring out refreshments all with precisely the right timing and without saying a word. Once this ability is mastered it is said to be effortless.
The day after New Years the whole family went hiking up Chinnanzan (鎮南山) and also to visit Yamanan Temple where my Father in Law was volunteering that day. We stopped at the temple and then hiked up to the top of Chinnanzan, where there was several small shrines and Jizo statues and an extraordinary view of Usuki and the bay.
On the way down the mountain we came across an older couple who appeared to be resting by the side of the trail. The gentleman was sitting on the ground, facing away from the trail, looking out at the valley, seemingly enjoying the view. His wife was standing beside him. I didn’t think anything of it and was about to just carry on, but LP1 suddenly walked right up to the man and said, “大丈夫？” “Are you okay?”
He wasn’t. “Mr. A” could barely speak, he was so overcome with cold and exhaustion. He couldn’t walk, or move on his own. His wife was at a loss as to what to do. Plenty of people had passed them up and down the trail. It’s a popular local hike. But she was afraid of being troublesome, or a burden to any stranger. She didn’t want to impose on anyone by asking for help. She was being “気を使う人”
But somehow LP1 knew that the man needed help, somehow she had read something in their faces or body language that the rest of us had missed. When I asked her later she said, “I just thought the man looked like he needed help.” She was being ”気が利く人”
I immediately ran down the rest of the trail back to the Temple. TLG called an ambulance. It would take them at least 30 to 45 minutes, we were told, just to get to the Temple parking lot. By the time I got to the temple TLG was on the phone with her father. He saw me and waved me over and we found a blanket in the tea room, and gathered some other hikers, among them a doctor.
We hiked back up the mountain to Mr. A and his wife. We covered him with the blanket and our own jackets (we were all warmed anyway from the fast hike), but he was clearly suffering from hypothermia. He just couldn’t get warm on his own. We had to get him down to the temple. Someone came up with the idea of building a stretcher and I remembered that I was carrying my swiss army knife (I have this “hunter” model which I highly recommend) with a 4 inch saw blade. I cut down two 2″ saplings with it and one of the other hikers showed us how to make a stretcher with the blanket by wrapping it around the poles. Then we began carrying him down taking turns along the way. All the while Mrs. A was making apologies for causing everyone so much trouble. It got to be so much that finally TLG turned to her and softly advised that she should worry less about any inconvenience to us, which is none at all, and in any case was shouldered gladly, and worry more about her husbands condition.
It was a steep trail in some places and slippery, but slowly we got him down. We got to the temple just after the ambulance did, and the EMT’s took it from there. They thanked us, and Mrs. A thanked us and they were off.
We were rewarded with a bowl of Zenzai from the nearby camp stoves and a hardy round of “Otsukaresama.”
Mr. A spent a day at the hospital and recovered fully. So it was a happy and exciting ending to the New Years holiday and it was all thanks my little 5 year old mind reading girl.