Honne and tatemae
Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person's true feelings and desires (honne (本音)) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (tatemae (建前), literally "façade").
Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one's position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one's closest friends. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one's position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one's honne.
The honne–tatemae divide is considered to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture. The very fact that Japanese have single words for these concepts leads some Nihonjinron specialists[who?] to see this conceptualization as evidence of greater complexity and rigidity in Japanese etiquette and culture.
Some analysts[who?] see honne and tatemae as a cultural necessity resulting from a large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. Close-knit co-operation and the avoidance of conflict are considered to be of vital importance in everyday life. For this reason, the Japanese tend to go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially within the context of large groups.
The conflict between honne and giri (social obligations) is one of the main topics of Japanese drama throughout the ages. For example, the protagonist would have to choose between carrying out his obligations to his family or feudal lord or pursuing a clandestine love affair.
Contemporary phenomena such as hikikomori and parasite singles are seen as examples of late Japanese culture's growing problem of the new generation growing up unable to deal with the complexities of honne–tatemae and pressure of an increasingly materialist society.
Debate over whether tatemae and honne are a uniquely Japanese phenomenon continues in the West, especially among those in the anthropological and art fields. Although there might not be direct translations for honne and tatemae in many other cultures and languages, similar phenomena outside of Japan likely exist, however the conventions that help to determine appropriate communication and behavior in various social contexts may be implicitly understood without an explicit name for the social mores on which the conventions are based. For example, very young children are generally not expected to mediate their internal thoughts and feelings when communicating in the same way that an older child or adolescent would be reasonably expected to – this ubiquitous phenomenon is evident when a child’s “brutally honest” observation or candid remark is deemed innocuous, or even endearing or cute (e.g. “Teacher, my mommy said your head looks like an old potato, but it’s more like a turnip, huh?”); yet if an adolescent or adult displayed the same degree of frankness or inconsideration for the feelings of others, it would likely be deemed inappropriate or offensive.
- Doi, Takeo (1973), The Anatomy of Dependence: Exploring an area of the Japanese psyche: feelings of indulgence, Kodansha International.