Japanese Tatemae (建前( たてまえ ) ) and Honne (本音( ほんね ) ) - What Japanese speakers say vs. what they actually mean; can you tell the difference? ③ in business


Some of you reading this article may be interested in working for a Japanese company, or may already be working in Japan.
In this article, I would like to introduce the "tatemae" and "honne" that are commonly used in the business scene in Japan.

Tatemae: 検討( けんとう ) いたします (Kentō itashimasu)

Meaning: We will consider it.
Honne: 検討( けんとう ) するつもりはありません (Kentō suru tsumori wa arimasen)
Meaning: We do not intend to consider it.

This is used when giving/receiving an opinion at a business meeting or conference. Even if they really feel that they cannot or will not adopt the opinion, Japanese people are showing the willingness to give it some thought by saying, "検討( けんとう ) いたします (Kentō itashimasu)". It is important to show that you care and that you respect their opinion.

Tatemae: 上司( じょうし ) 相談( そうだん ) させて( いただ ) きます (Jōshi to sōdan sasete itadakimasu)

Meaning: I will discuss this with my supervisor.
Honne: 上司( じょうし ) 相談( そうだん ) するつもりはありません (Jōshi to sōdan suru tsumori wa arimasen)
Meaning: I do not intend to discuss this with my supervisor.

It is a sentence that is often used when a business partner makes a difficult request.
No matter how difficult a request may be, refusing to do business in Japan by saying, "That's impossible" is extremely rude.
You can also decline by show your sincerity, saying that you have considered the other party's request and opinions after discussing it once with your supervisor.

The phrase "上司( じょうし ) 相談( そうだん ) させて( いただ ) きます(I will discuss this with my supervisor)" can be thought of as a line to successfully refuse the other party's request, without actually intending to discuss it with your supervisor.
Of course, there are times when you cannot make a decision alone and really need to consult your supervisor so you will use this phrase, so it is important to be able to distinguish between these two situations.

Tatemae: まだ仕事( しごと ) ( のこ ) っているんじゃないですか? (Mada shigoto ga nokotte irun janaidesu ka?)

Meaning: Don't you still have work to do?
Honne: そろそろ( かえ ) ってほしい… (Sorosoro kaette hoshī…)
Meaning: I hope you'll be leaving soon...

When your are visiting your business partner and the meeting is about to end...
If your business partner says to you "まだ仕事( しごと ) ( のこ ) っているんじゃないですか? (Mada shigoto ga nokotte irun janaidesu ka?)". Their true intention at that time is most likely "そろそろ( かえ ) ってほしい… (Sorosoro kaette hoshī…)".
Because of the nature of a business relationship, it is difficult to clearly say "もう( かえ ) ってください(Mō kaette kudasai)", which means "Please leave".

Tatemae: ご期待( きたい ) 沿( ) えるよう頑張( がんば ) ります (Gokitai ni soeruyō ganbarimasu)

Meaning: We will do our best to meet your expectations.
Honne: ご期待( きたい ) 沿( ) 自信( じしん ) はほぼないです… (Gokitai ni sou jishin wa hobo naidesu…)
Meaning: We don't have the confidence that we'll live up to your expectations...

It is often used in front of your supervisor or business partners who make difficult demands, such as: moving up deadlines, adding new tasks on your workload when you already have your hands full...
Even if you are not confident that you can meet the expectations of the other party or you clearly think it will be difficult, it is rude to say "I can't do it" and dismiss the request.
By saying, "ご期待( きたい ) 沿( ) えるよう頑張( がんば ) ります (Gokitai ni soeruyō ganbarimasu)", you are showing sincerity and motivation, but in the same time you might actually be saying, "もしかしたらできないかもしれません (Moshikashitara dekinai kamo shiremasen)", which means: "I might not be able to do it"

Tatemae: マイペースだね (Maipēsu dane)

Meaning: You're going at your own pace.
Honne: 仕事( しごと ) ( おそ ) い (Shigoto ga osoi)
Meaning: You're slow at work.

If your supervisor says to you, "マイペースだね (Maipēsuda ne)", be careful.
Do not take it as it is.
This is almost 100% tatemae, and what they really mean is: You're so slow, I want you to finish your work quickly, "仕事( しごと ) ( おそ ) いなぁ、( はや ) 作業( さぎょう ) ( ) わらせてほしい (Shigoto ga osoi nā, hayaku sagyō o owara sete hoshī)".

Tatemae: キャリアアップしたいので退職( たいしょく ) します (Kyaria-appu shitainode taishoku shimasu)

Meaning: I am resigning because I want to advance my career.
Honne: 給与( きゅうよ ) ( ひく ) いので退職( たいしょく ) します (Kyūyo ga hikuinode taishoku shimasu)
Meaning: I am resigning because of low salary.

This is used when you leave the company.
Some may think that "low salary" is a good reason to leave a company, so why not be honest about it?
However, in order to convey their true intentions and avoid the appearance of being obsessed only with salary, Japanese workers often use this tatemae approach.

Tatemae: 御社( おんしゃ ) ( だい ) ( いち ) 志望( しぼう ) です (Onsha ga daiichishibō desu)

Meaning: Your company is my first choice.
Honne: 本当( ほんとう ) ( ちが ) うけど、そう( ) った( ほう ) ( ) かりやすいですよね? (Hontōha chigaukedo, sō ittaho ga ukari yasui desu yo ne?)
Meaning: Not really, but I\'m more likely to be accepted if I say so, right?

This if often used at job interviews when people are looking for a job.
In interviews at Japanese companies, you will probably be asked questions such as "弊社は第一志望ですか?(Heisha wa daiichishibō desuka?)", "Is our company your first choice?" or "弊社( へいしゃ ) 志望( しぼう ) 順位( じゅんい ) ( おし ) えて( くだ ) さい (Heisha no shibō jun'i wo oshiete kudasai)", "Please tell us the place of our company in your list on preferences".
Of course, if the company is truly your first choice, you can answer honestly, but if you are asked about a company that is less than your second choice, most interviewees will say, "Yes, your company is my first choice".

Tatemae: 今日( きょう ) 無礼講( ぶれいこう ) だよ (Kyō wa bureikōda yo)

Meaning: Let's go informal today. / Let us lay aside formality.
Honne: ( ) ( なご ) ませるためにそう( ) うけど、礼儀( れいぎ ) はちゃんと( まも ) ってね (Ba wo nagoma seru tame ni sō iukedo, reigi wa chanto mamotte ne)
Meaning: I say that to lighten the mood, but please be polite.

"無礼講( ぶれいこう ) (Bureikō)" are parties where people enjoy themselves without being concerned by each other's' position or ranking in the company.
However, do not take your supervisor seriously when they say, "今日( きょう ) 無礼講( ぶれいこう ) だよ (Kyō wa bureikō dayo)".
Your supervisor may say "無礼講( ぶれいこう ) (Bureikō)" to make the atmosphere more relaxed and the drinking party more enjoyable, but they do not mean that they think it is okay not to be polite.
Be careful to not use informal language, don't be the only one who drinks and gets drunk, or behave in a manner that lacks courtesy!

As we have seen in previous articles, Japanese people use "honne" and "tatemae" with friends and lovers, but it is said that it is most often used in business situations.
It will be much easier for you to work in Japan once you understand "honne" and "tatemae".
In the next article, I will introduce "honne" and "tatemae" that Japanese people often use in their daily lives!