What is yoyu?
When the police called from my husband’s hometown, we knew we couldn’t leave his parents to fend for themselves anymore. A week later, we transferred my mother-in-law cross-country from the local hospital to one in our neighborhood in suburban Tokyo. Otosan, my father-in-law, moved in with us so that I could help him navigate Alzheimer’s. I was overwhelmed with the new responsibilities but managing. Then my husband discovered he had stage 3 colon cancer.
I didn’t know how I could possibly find the time, energy, or emotional wherewithal to care for everyone—including myself—but because the stakes were so high, I knew I couldn’t let overwhelm stop me. That’s when I started looking at my life through the lens of yoyu, a Japanese concept used in daily conversation that gives us an easy way to express whether or not we have the oomph to do what’s needed at any given moment.
Yoyu became my compass
Using yoyu as my compass, I learned to recognize my needs better and balance my reserves so I could continue showing up for my family without losing myself. I shifted from focusing on lack to finding ways to increase abundance in multiple areas of life.
Whenever I talked about my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s or my husband’s cancer, people were always surprised by how happy I seemed. How can you be talking about such devastating circumstances and be so happy?
What people saw was that I had yoyu.
When we have yoyu, we appear happier even when there is devastating sadness around us. We’re centered even when we’re not sure what the next day will bring and how to make things better. And we find the energy to thrive even in potentially overwhelming situations.
So, what is yoyu?
Yoyu is a Japanese noun used to convey one’s capacity to handle or afford something. It’s often used when discussing whether you can afford the time or money to do something and how much latitude, leeway, or elbow room you have to do it.
In Japanese, people use the word yoyu in daily conversation to talk about their reserves in terms of time, energy, money, space, emotions, capability, and even faith.
Yoyu means overflowing abundance
Yoyu is made up of two Japanese kanji or characters that both have meaning and can stand on their own. Used together, a direct translation of the two characters might be something like “an overflowing abundance of” something.
So, when someone says they have the yoyu to buy a new car, it means they can afford a new car, but literally, they’re saying, “I have the overflowing abundance (of money) to buy a new car.” Or when your coworker says, “I should check on my mom on the way home, but I don’t have the yoyu,” it means they don’t have enough time, energy, or possibly emotional wherewithal that day to be supportive to their mother in the way they want.
However, to say I have or don’t have "an overflowing abundance of something" sounds awkward in English. So, I usually use the word yoyu, and once you get comfortable with the meaning, I hope you will, too.
If you’re like me, then understanding the meaning of the two individual characters that make up yoyu will compel you to use the word even more. So let's break it down.
What is Yo?
The syllable yo comes from the Japanese kanji or character which when used alone is pronounced amaru. It means extra, excess, overflow, or leftover. You can use it in conversation to talk about leftover rice from dinner or excess money in your department budget.
Amaru or yo means excess, both good and bad
Amaru or yo as it is pronounced in compound words can have both a positive and negative nuance depending on the situation and degree of excess. Much like how it’s good if someone is enthusiastic but being overenthusiastic is bad. Or, an abundance of something is generally good, whereas an overabundance might present a burden.
For example, amaru is part of a common idiom - te ni amaru. The word-for-word translation would be something like an overflow in your hands.
Te (hand/s) ni (in/at) amaru (excess, overflow).
You might think the idiom would be used to describe an excess of something wonderful. However, the phrase is typically used to talk about when something is in excess of what you can handle. Meaning it’s beyond your capacity. The reason it is beyond your capacity is not implied, but generally, people can infer the reason from the conversation. It might be because you lack experience, time, patience, or the energy to deal with it.
In contrast, amaru is used with another common phrase - mi ni amaru.
Mi (body) ni (in/at) amaru (excess, overflow).
The meaning is similar and implies that whatever you’re talking about is beyond not just your hands (as in the first example) but beyond you or your body’s capacity to handle it.
Interestingly, if you add one more word to this phrase - koei (honor) the meaning becomes very positive and expresses humble gratitude or humility. The honor is beyond your body’s capacity, or the equivalent in English would be “this is a great honor” or “undeserved honor.”
What is Yu?
The syllable yu comes from the Japanese kanji or character, which, when used alone, is pronounced yutaka. In its simplest form, yutaka means abundant, and it’s used to describe things like an abundant country.
Yutaka (abundant) na kuni (country).
The character is also used in many compound words in which it is typically pronounced yu. Here are five that start or finish with this same character:
Yudo - wealth
Yufuku - wealthy, affluent
Yufu - rich
Fuyu - wealthy
Kanyu - liberal, tolerant, broad-minded
Yutaka is a rich character used to describe people, too, especially someone who is broad-minded, open-minded, and big-hearted and NOT tight, narrow-minded, or nitpicky.
Yutaka or Yu has a positive nuance and is therefore used in personal names
Whether pronounced yu when used in compound words such as yoyu or on its own, yutaka has a positive nuance and is widely used. If you hear “yutaka” in conversation, it's likely you're talking about a person because Yutaka is a common boy’s name.
As a name, the character lends the additional nuance of being easygoing and open-hearted. In fact, there are many famous actors, both men, and women, who adopt this Japanese character as part of their stage name because it has such a positive meaning.
You’ll also see this character combined with other characters to form many common names for boys and girls in which it is pronounced yu, or hiro. For example, Yuko and Hiroko for girls, and Yusuke or Hiroshi for boys.
And, I would be in trouble with my Chinese friends if I did not mention that this character came originally from China and that Liu Yu was the given name of Emperor Wu (363–422 CE), who was responsible for founding the Liu Song Dynasty.
Now that we have an idea of what yoyu means, how can we use it, and why should we?
Yoyu is for everyday use
Yoyu is not a secret tool or even some ancient concept. Yoyu is a word used in everyday conversation. Therefore, being mindful of when you do or don't have yoyu helps you most in everyday life.
I’ve lived in Japan for 30 years—more than half my lifetime. I’m not Japanese, but I’m fluent in the language and culture. As an entrepreneur, wife, daughter, and emerging author, I keenly understand overwhelm and what it feels like when you don’t have yoyu.
Depending on the situation, if someone says in Japanese, “I don’t have yoyu,” others around them can infer, based on the situation, that they mean yoyu in one of the following areas:
- Time – Enough time to do everything you want to or think you need to do.
- Energy – Enough physical energy to do what you want to or think you need to do.
- Finances – Enough money/resources to live the way you want.
- Space – Enough room to spread out, live, work, and play comfortably.
- Capability – Enough experience, competence, and confidence to do what you’re here to do.
- Emotions – Enough emotional wherewithal to handle whatever is happening in your life.
- Spirituality – Enough faith or connection with a higher power to carry you throughout the journey.
Using Japanese, especially the word yoyu, makes expressing these different situations easier. But since few people outside the country speak Japanese, it’s time to bring yoyu to the rest of the world.
Why pay attention to yoyu?
As long as we live (and perhaps even after we transition) and continue to grow, circumstances change, and we inevitably face overwhelm again and again. The better we get at recognizing when we don’t have yoyu, the more quickly we can take steps to get back to our natural state of abundance again.
Over the years, we’ve seen a wave of books on self-love and self-care. We’ve seen books on boundaries, resilience, overwhelm, and burnout. And we’re still looking for a way to feel better. Yoyu gives us a way to name the feeling inside we already know—that point of intersection where we move from feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, flustered, or panicky to feeling vibrant, centered, and empowered.
So we need the word yoyu. Naming the concept will help us explore how and in what ways we allow the ebb and flow of abundance into our daily lives so that we can feel better.
Learn more about yoyu
Learn more about yoyu by downloading a chapter from my upcoming book - Finding Yoyu.
About the Author:
Hi! I'm Marci. I have a dedicated spiritual practice, enjoy studying alternative-healing modalities, cooking a whole-foods flexitarian diet, and exploring Japan, where I've lived for 30 years. Learn more about my workbooks for kids, and journals for adults. Also, look for my upcoming memoir Otosan, which chronicles the five years I cared for my father-in-law, a WWII Japanese war veteran, as he navigates Alzheimer’s.
Read a chapter from my upcoming book Finding Yoyu
Get exclusive access to Chapter Two - Strong, Energized Bodies, from my upcoming book Finding Yoyu: The Japanese Compass for Navigating Overwhelm and Cultivating Abundance in 7 Key Areas of Life.