In English, it is called a “white lie”: the not-quite-true fabrication, or shading of the truth, that is designed to soften what would otherwise be a. Why don’t Japanese people always say what they mean – Honne and Tatemae. It is sometimes said that the Japanese are not frank, that they are hypocrites or. Abstract. This thesis is an anthropological investigation of one of the double codes in Japanese society; honne meaning the real self or true feelings and tatemae.

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I manage a consulting firm that conducts many seminars to help non-Japanese better understand Japanese culture. Because the needs of each group of participants are different, I don’t give our firm’s facilitators many hard-and-fast rules about what to say in the seminars although of course we have standard materials and training techniques that everybody learns about.

However, there is one thing tatmeae I have completely banned from our seminars — teaching the words honne “the truth” or “someone’s real opinion” and tatemae “the party line” or “what someone thinks you want to hear”. Some people might be surprised to hear this, because honne and tatemae tend to be trotted out whenever people are talking about Japanese culture.

And it is indeed true that considering honne and tatemae can indeed be very helpful in understanding certain situations involving Japanese.

The Japanese Art of Indirectness: Honne and Tatemae

However, the key thing for me is that honne and tatemae are hardly unique to Japanese culture. The only thing that is unique is that the Japanese language has these super-handy terms to refer to them. Whereas in English for example, there are a variety of ways this concept might be expressed depending on the situation.


In addition to the examples I gave above, honne could tafemae referred to as “the actual situation” or “the story behind the story” or “the unvarnished version” and tatemae could be referred to “the line for public consumption”, “a white lie” or “a euphemism.

The idea of conveying a “cover story” that is different from the true situation is something very familiar and common in the U. In particular, there is likely to a lot of this dichotomy between the true situation and what is acknowledged verbally particularly in those cultures that we interculturalists would view as having an indirect and conflict averse communication style including not only Japan but areas such as Latin America, the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia.

For example, many people have heard that it’s common in Mexico to be told that something will happen manana literally, “tomorrow” when in actuality it isn’t likely to happen until long after that.

Honne vs. Tatemae – Japanology

This certainly could be called a ” tatemae honhe response. I don’t think Japanese are any more or less likely to lie than people from any other culture, so emphasizing honne and tatemae when explaining Japanese culture really gives the wrong impression.

Indeed, it can color the very way that people view the Japanese, and for that reason frankly I think it’s quite dangerous.


Hence my ban on it. A little while ago, I once had to break my own rule because a seminar participant who had read about it in a book asked me about honne and tatemae.

This forced me to explain yonne to everyone in the room. And then much to my dismay, one of the participants who hadn’t had much interaction with Japanese up until that point asked the following: And let’s think back to what we discussed before about indirect communication, twtemae do you think that kind of question would work with someone who has an indirect communication style?

So that’s another problem in my eyes with teaching non-Japanese about honne and tatemae — it’s not really actionable.

So you know that Japanese have these concepts of honne and tatemae hhonne, then what do you do with that? Not much you can do, other than start to suspect that nobody is ever being straight with you, ever.

And although Japanese like other indirect communication cultures do tend to sugarcoat negative information, it’s not as tahemae Japan is uniquely a country of inveterate liars. So I’ll pass on the honne and tatemae discussion, thank you. This article originally appeared in Global Manager magazine.

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