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Fure-ai, from the verb fure-au 'to come in contact with each other' or 'to touch together', has the deeper, highly positive meaning of exchange and interaction among people. It is reminiscent of the old adage 袖ふれあうも多少の縁 sode fure-au mo tashō no en -- even the brushing together of sleeves is a fated connection, based on the Buddhist philosophy that even casual incidents and connections are determined by karma.

Fure-ai is written in Chinese characters as 触れ合い or 触合い, but it is much more common to see it as hiragana ふれあい, as in the following sign:

Kokoro, fure-ai
Dai Tōkyō Shin'yō Kumi-ai

Heart, interchange
Great Tokyo Credit Union

Note that the -ai in fure-ai is etymologically the same as the -ai in kumi-ai 'cooperative'. In forming compound verbs it has the meaning of 'mutual, together'. Since kumi-ai is a fully-fledged noun referring to a specific business entity, it is always written in pure kanji as 組合, without any hiragana. On the other hand, fure-ai has gone the other way and is almost always written in hiragana.

There are several reasons for this:

1. The concept of interchange among people implied by fure-ai is an easy, natural concept. This would be disrupted by using the angular, erudite forms of Chinese characters.

2. The meaning of fure-ai has already broadened from the original 'touching together'. Kana help maintain a distance from the literal meaning, which would be spelled out very clearly by the use of Chinese characters -- unlike kana, Chinese characters are intimately tied to meaning.

3. As the trend to write fure-ai in hiragana became established, this became the most familiar way of writing fure-ai. Once this stage was reached, the original characters, while theoretically correct, started to look strange or inappropriate.

A Google search in August 2003 confirms the overwhelming use of hiragana to write fure-ai on the Internet:

No. of occurrences

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