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? ④ in everyday Life


I think that most of you reading this article may be interested in living in Japan or are already living in Japan.
In this article, I would like to introduce the "tatemae” and "honne" that Japanese people often use in their daily lives.

Tatemae: (トイレの()(がみ)に)いつもきれいにお使(つか)(いただ)きありがとうございます(Toire no harigami ni itsumo kirei ni otsukai itadaki arigatōgozaimasu.)

Meaning: (On a notice in the restroom) Thank you for keeping the restroom clean.
Honne: きれいに使(つか)ってください(Kirei ni tsukatte kudasai)
Meaning: Please keep the restroom clean.

If you have ever been to Japan on vacation, you have probably seen a notice like this one in a restroom: "いつもきれいにお使(つか)(いただ)きありがとうございます(Thank you for keeping the restroom clean)"
Don't think that you are literally being thanked for.
As we have seen in my previous articles, the Japanese, who do not like to express themselves in a straightforward manner, are asking people to "please use it nicely" in a roundabout way.

Tatemae: (美容院(びよういん)でシャンプー(ちゅう)に)かゆいところはございませんか?(Miyōin de shanpū-chū ni kayui tokoro wagozaimasen ka?)

Meaning: (During shampooing at a hair salon) Do you have any itchy spots?
Honne: そろそろシャンプーを()えますね。(Sorosoro shanpū o oemasu ne.)
Meaning: I'm about to finish shampooing.

If you have been to a hair salon in Japan, you may have heard this phrase before.
When he hairdresser asks, "Do you have any itchy spots?" Of course, you can tell them if you have, but they would usually use this phrase to let you know that they are about to finish shampooing.

Tatemae: (洋服屋(ようふくや)さんで店員(てんいん)が)こちらもお似合(にあ)いになると(おも)いますよ。(Yōfuku-ya-san de ten'in ga kochira mo oniai ni naru to omoimasu yo.)

Meaning: (Clerk at the clothing store) I think this one will suit you too.
Honne: (いま)(えら)ぼうとしている(ふく)似合(にあ)わないから、こっちにして!(Ima erabou to shite iru fuku wa niawanai kara, kotchi ni shite!)
Meaning: The clothes you are about to choose now don't suit you, take this one instead!

No matter how bad it looks on you, they can't say, "その(ふく)似合(にあ)いません!" (That outfit doesn't look good on you!)".
Japanese apparel store clerks generally direct customers to a different item so as not to offend them, by saying, "こちらもお似合(にあ)いになると(おも)いますよ (I think this one would look good on you as well)".

Tatemae: (自分(じぶん)失敗(しっぱい)でなくても、自分(じぶん)(わる)くなくても)すみません。(Jibun no shippaidenakute mo, jibun ga warukunakute mo sumimasen.)

Meaning: (Even if it's not your fault.) Sorry.
Honne: (わたし)(わる)くないけど、とりあえず(あやま)っておこう。(Watashi wa warukunaikedo, toriaezu ayamatte okou.)
Meaning: It's not my fault, but I apologize anyway.

Perhaps some of you reading this article have the impression that Japanese people are quick to apologize.
Even Japanese people do not want to apologize unless it is their fault, and even if it was their mistake, they at least want to explain the situation first.
However, if you do not apologize first, it may cause a crack in your relationship, and explaining the situation may be perceived as making excuses. This is why Japanese people tend to apologize first, even if it was not their fault.

"Tatemae: ((うれ)しくないプレゼントや必要(ひつよう)のない(もの)をもらっても)ありがとう。(Ureshikunai purezento ya hitsuyō no nai mono o moratte mo arigatō)

Meaning: (Even if you receive a gift that doesn't make you happy or something you don't need) Thank you.
Honne: (うれ)しくないけど、(わたし)のためにしてくれたんだからお(れい)しておこう… (Ureshikunaikedo, watashi no tame ni shite kureta ndakara orei shite okou…)
Meaning: I'm not happy about it, but since you did it for me, I'll thank you for it.

In Japan, there is an expression: "ありがた迷惑(めいわく) (Thank you, but no thank you)".
It is a combination of the words "thank you" and "annoyance," and it means that a person's kindness or courtesy feels like an annoyance instead of a favor.
For example, friends who share barbeque with you without asking, in-laws who buy clothes for your kids, bosses who worry about when are you going to getting married or having kids, etc...
It is very difficult for Japanese people to say "結構(けっこう)です (No, thank you)" to such people who do things out of kindness.
It is Japanese courtesy to say "Thank you" once, even if it is not a pleasure or if it is just an annoyance.

Tatemae: (体調(たいちょう)(わる)くても)大丈夫(だいじょうぶ) (Taichō ga warukute mo daijōbu)

Meaning: (Even if you're not feeling well) I'm fine.
Honne: 全然大丈夫(ぜんぜんだいじょうぶ)じゃないけど、心配(しんぱい)かけられないから、大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)()っておこう…(Zenzendaijōbu janaikedo, shinpai kake rarenaikara, daijōbu to itte okou…)
Meaning: I'm not okay at all, but I can't worry you, so let's just say I'm okay.

Many Japanese people go to school or work saying "I'm fine" even if they are not feeling well and really want to take time off from school or work.
Many people feel guilty about taking time off and tend to force themselves to say "I'm fine" because they don't want to cause others to worry.

Tatemae: (そだ)ちが()いんですね (Sodachi ga iindesu ne)

Meaning: You were raised well.
Honne: 世間(せけん)()らずですね (Sekanshirazudesu ne)
Meaning: You are naive.

The polite way to imply that someone has no common sense and is making things difficult for you: "(そだ)ちが()いんですね (You were raised well)".

Tatemae: いつも元気(げんき)ですよね (Itsumo genkidesu yo ne)

Meaning: You are always so cheerful.
Honne: ()()きがないですね (Ochitsuki ga naidesu ne)
Meaning: You're restless.

"いつも元気(げんき)ですよね (You are always so cheerful.)" is a common expression. It isn't used literally as to describe someone who is always in good spirits, but instead is used to describe someone who doesn't act or dress according to what is commonly expected in a given situation, those who often make offensive remarks, or those who are a nuisance to people around them.

Tatemae: いつまでもお(わか)いですね (Itsu made mo o wakaidesu ne)

Meaning: You are forever young.
Honne: ちょっと若作(わかづく)りしすぎなんじゃ… (Chotto wakadzukuri shi sugina n ja…)
Meaning: I think you are trying to look a little too young...

If you look on the other side of the meaning, saying "いつまでもお(わか)いですね(You are forever young)" actually means: "その格好(かっこう)、メイクはちょっと若作(わかづく)りしすぎなんじゃない?無理(むり)しすぎなんじゃない? (I think you look a little too young in that outfit and make-up. You are trying too hard)".
If you hear these words, it may mean that you are not fashionable enough for your age.

What do you think?
In the next article, I will introduce "honne" and "tatemae" used by the people of Kyoto, who are said to be the most honest and "tatemae-using" people in Japan!