Honne and Tatemae OR What I want to say vs. what I should say

The following is a repost of my first submission for a weekly class.


There is no shortage of people across the world who say what they think. While this has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Japan consists of a culture that values maintaining a public “image”, or “face”, that promotes the well-being of the group over the well-being of the individual. While this cultural phenomenon is present in American culture, it is found much more in Japanese culture, where many inhabitants live on a generally small island and have no place to relocate. This creates concerns for the well-being of the group, and thus, “little white lies” are used in order to promote this well-being. Tatemae (建前) and honne (本音) are the terms often used to describe this phenomenon.

            Tatemae can best be summarized as “the public face”. This is the position taken by individuals in order to promote peaceful coexistences with fellow inhabitants of Japan. This may seem to be a foreign concept to those in Western nations, but many do not realize that they often utilize these very concepts every day. For example, in the United States, “How are you?” has a culturally-expected response: “I’m fine, how are you?”. Any deviations from this response cause American English speakers to immediately notice the deviation.

            In Japanese culture, tatemae takes on a stronger role, a role that persists outside of phatic expressions (expressions whose only function is to perform a social role). For example, an answer in reply to a question given by a person with whom the replier does not share a close relationship will be an answer that avoids as much conflict as possible. If asked “how is your family doing?” by your superior at work, one is not likely to mention at any length any illnesses or difficulties, especially any difficulties that would arise from the workplace whether direct or indirect.

This second example of tatemae-ic expressions may often be heard by those who are visiting a Japanese family as it becomes evening. As it becomes dinner time, in order to not be rude to the guest, one might say “Would you like to join us for supper?”. This, of course, is rarely just an invitation to join them for dinner; what’s being said is more along the lines of “we would like you to leave”. But to not violate the tatemae-ic phrase, the acceptable response would be “No thank you, I’m not very hungry. I do think it is about time that I get going though.” Such a tatemae-ic expression is very effective in maintaining a peaceful coexistence, avoidance of interpersonal tension, and avoidance of offending the guest. But it would be a blatant violation of the politeness of the hosts to say “well, it is about time I get going”. This, in effect, strips the politeness from the utterance; even though both the speaker and the hearer realize the secondary meaning in the utterance, both the speaker and the hearer will keep up the pretense. In this sense, there is both the semantical (face value) and the pragmatical (contextually-driven and culturally-imbued discourse) aspects of the conversation going on at the same time of which both parties are completely aware, often consciously.

            It may seem to be such a waste of effort to maintain these sometimes shallow pretenses but they help to avoid conflict in situations where the difference between using a tatemae-ic utterance and a honne-ic utterance could be the turning point in an interpersonal relationship.

            Honne, on the other hand, is reserved for those with whom the speaker has a good relationship. In that sense, what some might see as “very American”, “how are you doing?” might be answered very honestly. The relationship is good enough that the truth will neither damage the relationship nor create any potential conflict. To tell a person one just met that their hair cut is ugly would definitely not be appropriate - a potential creator of conflict. But telling a close friend that their hair cut is ugly might just be the best thing to say; it is certainly in our interests to keep our friends from wielding unbecoming hair cuts. Because we would like to be told if our hair cuts are ugly, we tell them the truth. In this sense, honne is what avoids conflict, not tatemae.

            As discussed, both tatemae and honne have their appropriate roles in cultural exchanges, linguistic or otherwise. Where the truth might create conflict in certain situations (ones involving interlocutors that do not have a close relationship), concealment of the truth might create conflict in certain situations (ones involving interlocutors that have a close relationship).

Japan: The Land of Giant Insects OR Alfred Hitchcock Should Make This Into a Movie

There’s a reason it’s called 蒸し暑い (mushiatsui “hot and humid”). 蒸し (mushi “humid” is a homophone of 虫 (mushi “insect”). I am now convinced that there is a reason that these are homophones.

Perhaps I’ll just recount my tale of various “attacks” by insects over the past couple of days. I wouldn’t have said I had a phobia of insects (entomophobia) in America but coming to Japan during the days of hot and humid weather, I might have to change my mind.


Japanese spiders are gigantic and they jump. They like to build webs over the smaller walkways and terrify passersby. So walking down to campus from the dorms and pass the tennis courts has been a harrowing experience the past few days. I don’t have a camera but there will be a picture of it to come possibly.

For now, just imagine a giant yellow and black spider on a very complicated web at eye level sitting there, as if to say “‘sup?”. We have even take the time to name it Gandalf as if it was trying to say “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!”.

But while the spiders cross over into walkways, the more dangerous parts of campus are the grassy areas, the bushes, or the trees. They seem to house hundreds, if not thousands of insects: all of them very large and very much in charge.

Mosquitos and Other Fliers

They are everywhere and nobody is safe. They are immune to bug repellent and have decided to make a feast of me. On the first day alone, after making the mistake of wearing flip-flops, I found 3 known bites on my feet as well as numerous on my arms and torso. Should’ve packed my anti-itch spray.

Japan is also home to the suzumebachi, or the sparrow hornet. These are the largest hornets in the entire world and they act like they own the place. First day after arriving, during dorm hall orientation, a couple of these flew into our meeting room and proceeded to terrorize both the students and the staff (who should be used to this by now). I figure that I will treat these like bears and not attempt to shoo them away or anything; I will just leave them alone and hope they do the same for me.

Parky Areas

There is a section of campus between the dorms and my usual destinations that I must cross multiple times daily: a brick path through a shady, foresty-like area. It only takes about a minute but numerous assaults on my livelihood have occurred there. Other entomophobics like myself have begun the practice of dashing through the area, not caring that we look like utter idiots.

Maybe I’ll get a summer house in Hokkaidou, far up north in the cold (near same latitude as Russia). I will not miss this part of Japan when I leave.

This bug fest is supposed to last for another couple of weeks until it starts to cool off. I am greatly looking forward to that day, even though I am not usually a fan of the cold.

Have you had any crazy encounters by bugs lately? 

Preparing for the Trip

Well I leave Monday, Sept. 5th. My flight is at 12:55 pm PDT and I will be landing Tuesday, Sept. 5th at 4:35pm Japan Time. But naturally preparations must be made beforehand.

What kind of preparations have I made beforehand? There were two major ones.

Working out banking

This part was honestly the trickiest because I know very little about banking, credit cards, and all the like. I looked into using Citibank internationally as I was told there was an account you could create where you have two accounts: one in USD (US dollars) and one in JPY (Japanese yen). This one fell through as it was not supported.

Then I considered the option of having a domestic account in Japan (through Shinsei, which I hear is friendly to foreigners like myself) to hold my yen but considering I have never really been to Japan for any length of time to learn about their banks, it would be better to wait.

So I finally decided on taking out enough to get me paycheck-to-paycheck while having the ability to withdraw money via my Bank of America card via Visa. Through many ATMs in Japan, you are able to withdraw money while paying a conversion fee.

Getting a cell phone

All I have done is research into getting a prepaid cell phone in Japan. I would really love to have an email account from their phones so I can sign up for Mixi, Japan’s most popular social networking site for my demographic.

My other option was paying $1.99/minute for voice and $0.50/text sent (and $0.05/text received) and have no data plan. Needless to say that this option was quickly rejected in favor of a prepaid plan which has better rates plus a possible data plan, which would be fantastic.

Other preparations include shopping and stocking up on hygiene products (big deal), cloth shopping (I got a lot of great stuff that suits my taste), and packing (difficult to do in advance).

What kinds of preparations did you have to do in anticipation of a long trip abroad?

2 years ago 1 ♥
This tumblr thing

At the bequest of methodsofabstraction.tumblr.com, I, Koushi Rikdou, hereby give permission to turn this tumblr into a [genre].