Japanese Tatemae (建前) and Honne (本音) - Why do Japanese people use both honne and tatemae? What are some Japanese words related to honne and tatemae? ⑥ Last issue


If you have read my articles so far, you now know that the Japanese people use a variety of honne and tatemae.
This is the last article in this series on honne and tatemae.
I would like to talk about why Japanese people use honne and tatemae, tips for distinguishing between honne and tatemae, and expressions related to the two.

Why do Japanese people use honne and tatemae in the first place?
First, let us look at the reasons why.

There are several reasons for this, but the first one is "to build good relationships in society".

It is said that Japanese people use both honne and tatemae in order to maintain good relationships with the people around them. In recent years, values have become more diverse, and society has changed to one in which people with different ideas can assert their own opinions. Using both honne and tatemae is a way of acknowledging and respecting the other person's values. In order to maintain good relationships, Japanese people communicate while considering the feelings of others.

Secondly, another reason may be that they feel guilty about sharing their true feelings (honne).

Japanese people sometimes feel guilty about using honne. Many Japanese people think it is "rude" or "hurtful" to say no or to tell the other person exactly what is on their mind. The Japanese sensitivity to "not disturbing the atmosphere" and "not wanting to be confrontational" leads to the use of honne and tatemae.

The third reason may be "to avoid trouble".

It is said that many Japanese are mild-mannered and do not like conflict or trouble. Therefore, even if someone has values that do not match with the other persons', they are not likely to directly confront them with their true feelings (honne). They are afraid that if they express their true feelings, it will make the other person uncomfortable, and they want to avoid a situation in which the atmosphere could become unpleasant. Japanese people, who have a strong desire to be "understood," are also sensitive to the feelings of others.

You might now understand why Japanese people use honne and tatemae, but many of you reading this article may also feel frustrated, thinking: "I don't know what my Japanese business partners and Japanese friends really think!". Therefore, I would like to introduce a few tips on how to distinguish between honne and tatemae.

When people use ambiguous words such as "a little~", "~like", "~I feel like", "~feeling", etc., it is highly likely that they are using tatemae.
For example, if you go out shopping with a friend and your friend says, "I think that outfit is a little too flashy, maybe this one would look better," this is most likely tatemae. Honne would be: "That outfit is too flashy and it doesn't suit you! These clothes are definitely better!".

Japan is a country that often uses both honne and tatemae, and there are many words related to both in the Japanese language. So, finally, I would like to introduce some words, expressions, etc. related to honne and tatemae.

オブラートに( つつ ) む (Oburāto ni tsutsumu) - Sugarcoat it

It means to speak in a roundabout way so as not to strongly provoke the other party. For example: "When I point out a problem to a junior colleague, I try to sugarcoat it".

( ) 衣着( きぬき ) せぬ (Hani kinu kisenu) - speak frankly

( きぬ ) (kinu/koromo; clothes, garment) means ( ふく ) (fuku; clothes) (esp. Western clothing). It is a figurative expression used to say things frankly and without reservation to the other party, since it means not to dress one's teeth or hide one's teeth.
can be used as in, "They made a frank comment at the meeting" or "They gave an honest critique".

余計( よけい ) なお世話( せわ ) (yokeina osewa) - it's none of your business

余計( よけい ) なお世話( せわ ) , unnecessary help, refers to unnecessary meddling, such as interrupting to give advice on unnecessary matters or offering gifts that are not at all desired by the recipient. Even in such situations, Japanese people are supposed to say ありがとうございます (thank you) as a token of appreciation. An example of how this expression is used: "My boss is worried that I haven't gotten married yet, but it's none of his business".

What do you think?
If you speak only using honne, you may hurt someone.
However, you risk losing people's trust if you keep using only tatemae, because they will not be able to understand what your true intentions (honne) actually are.
Honne and tatemae should be used differently depending on the person or situation, and the important thing is to communicate in a way that is mutually acceptable.
We hope this article will be useful for your trip or for your life in Japan!