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Japan Trivia 2: Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前)

You plan to visit Japan for the first time to discuss a sensitive issue there with a prospective business partner. You randomly pick one from among innumerable Japan experts to seek his advice. Your selection can't be wrong; anyone who claims to be well-versed in this country will tell you one and the same thing.

He warns you that it's key to effectively dealing with the Japanese to distinguish tatemae from honne.

There is an English entry to Wikipedia that discusses this topic. The Wikipedian defines these words as follows:
"Honne refers to a person's true feelings and desires. These 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, literally facade, is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. 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."

I have no idea about who the Wikipedian is. But I know it's these shallow minds that "promote" transcultural understanding in the wrong way. A Westerner who looks at this entry feels relieved to have his stereotypical view of the Japanese confirmed for the hundredth time. But actually he is looking at the mirror reflection of the liar that he actually is.

Actually, Japanese honne is almost 180-degrees different from Westerners'. Take the war-renouncing Constitution of Japan for example.

You tend to take it for granted that underneath nice words pro-constitution peaceniks keep disseminating, there must be animosity against foes or desire to vanquish them. To them it's a universal truth that man's honne is war and diplomacy is nothing but tatemae with which to gloss over the underlying enmity.

You are completely mistaken, however. It's always the other way around here.

MacArthur's Constitution has sealed off military options "as means of settling international disputes," as if there were no adversaries surrounding Japan. Under a normal circumstance, it would have been totally unrealistic to assume the fundamental law would work in a turbulent world such as this one. But actually it has worked so well since it was enforced 63 years ago. Why is that?

The primary reason is because the Japanese had already been the world's most effete and domesticated people since the 7th century when Shotoku Taishi (Shotoku Prince) promulgated his 17-Article Constitution.

Its Article 1 reads:

"Harmony should be put before anything else and quarrels must be avoided."

The Prince is believed to have said this almost 1,400 years ago, but you will find it appalling if you learn today's Japanese still think there's nothing more important than keeping harmony. They have absolutely nothing to fight for - let alone defend at the cost of their lives. That is why they haven't had a civil war, an independence war or a major conflict between religions in the last 14 centuries.

The seismic explosion that had to take place in Pearl Harbor 68 years ago is a different story.

Twenty years ago Shintaro Ishihara wrote a book titled The Japan That Can Say No. It is as though the moron, now at the helm of the metropolitan government, thought that just by speaking out its honne to Washington, the Tokyo government can stand on its own feet.

He is known to be an adamant pro-amendment advocate. But I know for sure what his honne is really like. Deep inside the retarded Governor appreciates the two pacifist constitutions because without them, he would never have been what he is now. Neither would he have made a fortune by authoring tons of rubbish as a scribbler.

It's a shame to know that even in the West, quite a few Japan experts are using the same trick of constantly mixing up honne with tatemae. Some of them have already become aware that Japanese honne always lies with their morbid desire to get along amicably with everyone in the world, be it Osama bin Laden or Kim Jong-Il. Yet they find it really irresistible to use Ishihara's recipe which promises them a lucrative business here.

The invertebrate, creepy animals living in this country will remain Americans' pets, most probably for good, because these Japanologists inside and outside of the U.S. administration have no guts, and/or brains, to realize that they are just seeing their own selves in the mirror.

Small wonder that they keep saying:

"After all, we all look alike."

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Japan Trivia 2: Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前)
Authored by: samwidge on Thursday, March 18 2010 @ 08:15 PM JST

Mr. Yamamoto, Reading your thoughts is like riding a bicycle with a bent wheel; It is fun and gets everybody's attention. I always enjoy what you write.

You tend to look down on everyone and everything yet you care deeply.

So tell us this; What do you and the Japanese people think about the Japanese man who rose to the presidency of a South American country? Is this a person who has the backbone that you say the Japanese need? Is the only way that such people can step out of the mold is to take over another country, one that is more willing to flex? And can all expect some kind of punishment?

I know that Fujimori got into trouble but that's not the point. For me, the real issue is this; Can one person who drives hard... can any person from any nation step out of the mold and be genuinely different? Is it worth the trouble to be different?

What about Benjamin Fulford? As a stranger in a strange land,could he have done something better with his time than appear eccentric?

How about you? Yuichi Yamamoto stood out during his entire career. Now, in retirement, you still stand out. Is it worth the trouble to torment your countrymen and to demand more of them than they want to give to their lives?

Have you found happiness? Is your life full of satisfaction?

Japan Trivia 2: Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前)
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Friday, March 19 2010 @ 12:13 AM JST


Thanks for the interesting comments and questions.

In response to your question about the former Peruvian president, all I can say is that I don't care too much about ethnicity.

I don't know much about Fulford because I have lost touch with the conspiracy theorist lately. The only thing I know is that his Japanese website is still the top "traffic source" for my blog. Maybe his loyal followers are finding in TokyoFreePress what they can't in his site.

Have I found satisfaction? Nope. But it is also true that I'm not left with dissatisfaction or disappointment, either. To me writing is like respiration. If there is any difference in the way I breathe and the way other people do, it's the fact that I am not on the artificial respirator.

In short blogging doesn't particularly make your life happier or more unhappy.

Yu Yamamoto
Japan Trivia 2: Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前)
Authored by: Diogenes on Wednesday, May 11 2011 @ 10:32 PM JST
After reading and then contemplating this essay, the prose-poem by Charles Baudelaire "Every Man His Chimera" came to mind--both instilling a very bleak feeling.

Beneath a broad grey sky, upon a vast and dusty plain devoid of grass, and where not even a nettle or a thistle was to be seen, I met several men who walked bowed down to the ground.
Each one carried upon his back an enormous Chimera as heavy as a sack of flour or coal, or as the equipment of a Roman foot-soldier.

But the monstrous beast was not a dead weight, rather she enveloped and oppressed the men with her powerful and elastic muscles, and clawed with her two vast talons at the breast of her mount. Her fabulous head reposed upon the brow of the man like one of those horrible casques by which ancient warriors hoped to add to the terrors of the enemy.
I questioned one of the men, asking him why they went so. He replied that he knew nothing, neither he nor the others, but that evidently they went somewhere, since they were urged on by an unconquerable desire to walk.
Very curiously, none of the wayfarers seemed to be irritated by the ferocious beast hanging at his neck and cleaving to his back: one had said that he considered it as a part of himself. These grave and weary faces bore witness to no despair. Beneath the splenetic cupola of the heavens, their feet trudging through the dust of an earth as desolate as the sky, they journeyed onwards with the resigned faces of men condemned to hope for ever. So the train passed me and faded into the atmosphere of the horizon at the place where the planet unveils herself to the curiosity of the human eye.
During several moments I obstinately endeavoured to comprehend this mystery; but irresistible Indifference soon threw herself upon me, nor was I more heavily dejected thereby than they by their crushing Chimeras.