The purpose of the research conducted at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka (Japan) under the UNESCO/Japan Young Researchers’ Fellowship Programme was to identify certain categories of values present in Japanese and Macedonian proverbs. The values GOOD/BAD and BEAUTIFUL/UGLY were chosen as the main focus for this study, mainly for their universal applicability, broad semantic range, and most importantly, for their significance in folk wisdom and thought. What does “good” or “bad” mean? What do Japanese or Macedonians consider to be “beautiful” or “ugly”? One of the ways to answer these questions is through the study of proverbs. Proverbs are the reflection of factors including life experiences, behavioural mores, judgements regarding different aspects of life, and natural phenomena. Used spontaneously in everyday speech with a concrete purpose, proverbs function as sources of popular wisdom, expressing the views and opinions of a certain community. They signify a collective judgment of a particular reality, and not that of an individual.
The meaning of these words (GOOD/BAD and BEATIFUL/UGLY) can be intuitively grasped by people from all over the world, and their influence on the way we make sense of things should not be underestimated. Based on these two dichotomies we make judgments about almost everything that surrounds us: objects, people, actions, and the metaphysical and the physical in its entirety. Many attempts have been made to identify the meaning of ‘true beauty’ and ‘true goodness’, in order to reveal the essential qualities of what it means to be good or bad, beautiful or ugly. The reality is that the definitions of these concepts are highly abstract and ambiguous. In this context, the purpose of this research was to attempt to reconstruct a more concrete meaning of these values in order to understand the mechanism of attributing values to our surroundings. After the identification of these values in Macedonian and Japanese proverbs, a detailed analysis of all the proverbs containing these words (or meanings) was elaborated, as well as a final comparison between Japanese and Macedonian proverbs. This research has shown that in proverbs, many archetypes of values that have existed for a long time still prevail and can be found in many countries all over the world. Although Macedonia and Japan, geographically speaking, are so far away from each other, they still share some fundamental values concerning basic concepts that are relevant in everyday life. The importance of the family, having a good heart, thinking twice before acting, etc. are concepts that are surely not unique to these countries, but some of the proverb equivalents found in this study were counterintuitive indeed. For example if we look at the proverb Neighbours nearby over family far away, we understand that practicality and the need for cooperation are more significant than kinship in this example. It is indeed counterintuitive, especially regarding the Japanese proverb, for the notion of strong family bonds (owing to the strong influence of folk religion, and subsequently of Confucian ideas) has been an important feature of Japanese society for many centuries.
The results of this research show that the Macedonian and Japanese communities of the past shared many ideas of what it meant to be a good person, or to do a good thing; however, regarding certain aesthetic values, opinions may have diverged significantly.