Honne is a person's true feelings and desires, whereas Tatemae literally means 'facade' or the behavior or opinion that one displays in public (quoted from Wikipedia)
These two words are considered to be of immense importance in the Japanese society and pretty much define the behavior of the country's people, when dealing with their peers.Honne and Tatemae are so well integrated into the society that the Japanese tend to behave accordingly, more often without even realizing it. The objective is to avoid any conflicts and maintain a sense of "wa" or harmony in the surroundings.
In the almost 10 years that I have lived in the country, I have never ever seen Japanese voicing their opinions openly, or even expressing their true feelings publicly (except in the nomikais (drink parties) about which I shall talk later). Public confrontations are almost non-existent. Almost everywhere, and especially in the professional world, it is very normal for a Japanese person to say things or behave in a manner which is "socially tuned", often suppressing his/her "natural impulses" and replacing them with what the surroundings or a particular situation may demand. Although people all over the world, sometimes say or do things which they do not mean or intend to and do so in order to avoid conflict, no where does one see the behavior to be as socially acceptable as it is in Japan.
I have often wondered the reason behind this and over the years have come to an understanding that this is kind of a "culture necessity" in a society where team work is an underlying theme in almost everything they do. Makes sense....?
All this obviously comes at a price - it isn't easy for us human beings to be under constant pressure all the time...is it? One needs an outlet - to release all the tension and the stress - and that is what one can see them do - in the numerous (after work) nomikais, in pachinkos, in their obsession for manga, and so many other things.
Of course, not all of the things are negative - they also find release in their hobbies, art, theme parks, movies, exercise, etc. At occasions like these you will be surprised to see the normally polite and reserved Japanese go totally wild and immerse themselves into the mood.
Personally, I had to struggle a lot till I finally got a hang of this social behavior. I remember feeling very frustrated, puzzled and sometimes extremely uncomfortable with this initially. It definitely does not come across as something which one can accept easily. I had colleagues with whom I worked for an year and they were so very formal and reserved in their behavior throughout the year - it was almost like I did not know them. Yet, the very same people would be extremely friendly, open and talkative in the drink parties, numerous outings that we went for, etc. However, with time and a lot of struggle I have come to accept this behavior, though I must admit that it still feels somewhat unacceptable at times. I am sure I am not alone when I say this - many of my friends who have lived in Japan for some time and are reading this have also experienced something similar?
What is surprising is, that many of my Japanese friends are also frustrated with such social norms and yearn to work in a "western (read friendly) environment" - for those who don't have that opportunity hope for things to get better with time....but for most of my friends - that is the "right" way, "the protocol" and something that they are obliged to do...no matter what!!
On a positive note - sometimes we do things which we don't want to - but then at times, what we do is much more important and that is probably the reason why the Japanese, so in love with peace, have learnt to adapt to, accept and so religiously follow this aspect of their culture ....
(I must mention that over the years, I have made some wonderful friendships with some of my colleagues though i had a tough time understanding them in the beginning :)- I guess it is only with time that one can break such cultural and social barriers and I hope all who read this and want to work and live in Japan will achieve it eventually...even though it may take some time....)
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