Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.
The spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation. In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.
Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.
Among English loanwords of Japanese origin, both Ma (negative space) and Ken (architecture) are written with the same character 間.
This Japanese kanji “Chinese character” 間 graphically combines 門 “door” and 日 “sun”. The earlier variant character 閒 was written with 月 “moon” rather than “sun”, depicting “A 門 door through the crevice of which the 月 moonshine peeps in”.
The diverse Japanese pronunciations of 間 include on’yomi Sino-Chinese readings (from jian 間 or 间 “room; between; gap; interval”) of kan “interval; space; between; among; discord; favorable opportunity” or ken “six feet”; and kun’yomi native Japanese readings of ai “interval; between; medium; crossbred”, aida or awai “space; interval; gap; between; among; midway; on the way; distance; time; period; relationship”, or ma “space; room; interval; pause; rest (in music); time; a while; leisure; luck; timing; harmony”.