今日の日本語 Today’s Japanese

本音 (honne) and 建前 (tatemae).

Honne is ones true feelings and desires while tatemae is behaviour and opinions one displays in public.

Japan is a small, mountainous island whose population was 15million in 1800. As space was always an issue and living, working and playing quarters were close, the idea of social harmony was key to a successful and easy life
Even today Japanese people go to great lengths to avoid conflict and arguments with each other and social obligations are considered more than personal beliefs.

Tatemae (literally ‘façade’) is a social institution. An example would be going to an acquaintances house for coffee and being asked to stay for dinner, a tatemae response would be “I’m not hungry but thank you very much” (even if you are starving). Tatemae did help society when people lived and farmed together in self-sufficient communities but in today’s interactive and international world the pressures of tatemae can have more dangerous consequences. Social commentators have attributed the violent and fantasy driven nature of Japan’s notorious pornography to the desire to voice the oppressed honne. Another depressing result is the hikikomori who shut themselves away from the world and hide away from any form of social interaction including (but not always) their parents who they still live with.

In 2011 when Japan was crippled by the earthquake and tsunami and the country was on the brink of nuclear meltdown, tatemae was blamed for the shocking cover up of how serious the problem was.

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