Truth and The Mask - part 2

What’s up guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. As promised, here is part two of the blog post series about the mysterious Japanese concept of Honne and Tatemae. This post is an overview of why such a thing even exists, and how it’s applied in Japanese society in the grand scheme of things. Might be a bit dry… but there is still part 3, 4, and 5, woo... *-_-*


History/Cultural Background as to why such an explicitly stated thing even exists and is so deeply entrenched in Japanese culture:

Historical roots

The Honne and Tatemae is often known as the double code of Japanese society. It basically originated from the Heian Period of Japan (794-1185) where this Minamoto dude became the first epic Shogun of Japan and established the Shogunate (bakufu). In this period, the shoguns were the de facto rulers of the country, though officially they were appointed by the emperor. Minamoto Shogun-san gave heaps of power to his shogunate in Kamakura, while the emperor and the imperial court situated back in Kyoto was still intact but held pretty much… zero power. ZERO ;9. This is the origin of the shadow government, where the government that was the Tatemae, and the Shogunate was thus the Honne, the true source of power.

Cultural roots

Most of the cultural roots for Honne/Tatemae comes from the idea of collectivism, that Japan is a society built upon social harmony and peace. Tatemae is used to avoid conflict, lest you inflict your non-homogeneity (that is not a word imsosorry) and selfish desires on the rest of your people and shame yourself/bring inconvenience to people around you. D: (sarcasm)


Applications in Japanese society


Lowdown is politicians speak in fluent Tatemae and it is safe to say that is the only language they now converse in.

They often have broad statements of philosophies that can be interpreted in many ways, avoid use of vocabularies that implies judgement on any given topic, and they have a lot of token words that they just pull out of their .. basket of token words, and everything they say amounts to a load of nothing. An Asahi Editorial that came out in 1994 commented that “a prime minister’s speech must be a vague speech that ‘touches everything covers nothing’. Which further shows that Japanese are already fully aware that these speeches are only for show and do not in actuality address issues.

Examples of politician tatemae speak:

They say “jubun ni” which means adequately. This is a delaying tactic, and no one knows how “adequate” the word “adequately” means to be.

If colleague Gin-san does something wrong/scandalous (for example), colleague Aizen-san will say “I feel sorry” (Ikan ni omou) . This expresses neither accusation nor personal apology, but indicates that the speaker understands that he/she is supposed to “feel sorry” about a certain incident involving his colleague.

Tatemae is used for politicians to avoid a ‘loss of face’/public embarrassment. Tatemae is the safest way to be ambiguous about opinions, commitment, emotions, and thus the safest route to retain political hold.

As a result, the Japanese public does not trust the Japanese government. Tokyo Times (2011) reported that 8 out of ten Japanese felt that the leaders were not telling the truth, especially in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. D:

Note: Will provide a source for all of this at the bottom of the page + extra reading for those interested



Automatically assuming that the incumbent government have a strong influence over what is published in the mainstream newspapers, (as many other countries in the world also do) coupled with the fact that all the Japanese politicians speak in their facade-y vague Tatemae speech anyway, readers can just assume that most of the content in the Asahi, or Yomiuri newspapers (main national-level newspapers in Japan), is the prim-and-proper, pre-determined Tatemae side of a story. It’s like a kyouka suigetsu... of a kyouka suigetsu. (Yo dawg, I heard you like kyouka suigetsus… )

In contrast, the magazines, which have the image of being very trashy and gossipy, are surprisingly, said to show more of the true story behind the curtains, the honne.

Foreign Policy

Based on facts and figures, Japan provides a looooot of foreign aid. Japan is one of the biggest donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA) alongside France, Germany, UK and US. The MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) states that the Japanese ODA is extended to developing countries where people are facing various concrete problems. However, some scholars argue that even in Japan’s allocation of ODA, Honne and Tatemae is being practiced.

The real intention behind such foreign aid is to foster Japan’s own commercial interest. Put bluntly, altruism is the Tatemae that hides the real intention, and the honne, is their own agenda. While Japan truly did allocate more funds to poorer countries, trade partners of Japan in ASEAN countries received higher development funds from Japan. (ie. In the name of ODA , Japan has been giving funds to ODA eligible countries who are also big trade partners with Japan.)

In Business

Japanese workers are given annual leave, but that is a tatemae and it’s socially expected that you don’t use the annual leave you’re given . :x

The infamous drinking culture of Japan exists to bridge the gaping hole between honne and tatemae, so people can loosen up and say what they want. It’s also culture that what you say on a drinking session stays within the drinking session, it is forgive and forget the next day.

Okay, that’s all I have to say on the above four big aspects. Sorry that must have been quite dry, but I thought maybe a few of you might want to read it. Though… yeah it might have been really boring.

Extra on the side: Honne and Giri

There are a lot of other concepts that tie in with Honne/Tatemae. Giri is “duty” or “obligations” - in the sense of discharging your duty (or never discharging your duty) till the day you die - it’s a self-sacrificing sense of devotion to your superiors, your country, your people.

(If you ever watch Valentines episode anime, there is always “giri choco” - chocolate a girl gives you, not because she is romantically interested, but because you are her friend and she will give “giri choco” to everyone that is her friend. It sounds bad when you translate it and call it “giri choco” because I’m sure she’s giving her friends chocolate because she wants to and I would be happy to receive giri choco (Unless I was interested in her lol then woe me) but in the workplace, and perhaps other situations, you give dat giri choco to everyone - even people you don’t like - because it’s obligatory and it helps networking, maintaining interpersonal relations, etc) but I digress!)

There is a conflict between honne and giri - which is often examined in Japanese literature and drama, every time, all the time. A good example is for the protagonist to choose between carrying out obligations to his family/state/government/lord, or pursuing an epic (read; secret, clandestine) love affair. I am a real sucker for this kind of basic setting in a story but it usually ends in tragedy. *cry*

(On a side note, the recent generations of people in Japan pursue a more free and individualistic path which has clearly deviated from the path of their forefathers - but I suppose change comes slow, and the notion of giri is still very deeply entrenched in Japanese culture.)


Oke doke, this is the end of part 2 – part three will be some IRL applications of this concept. When does yes mean no, and when is it that someone is subtly trying to kick you out of their house? (x_x)


In the meantime, it would be interesting to hear from readers in this post and the next, what kind of norms are in your own cultures? (My German friend tells me it’s sometimes considered rude to be wishy-washy and indirect in the german mentality (More of which I will cover next week), my French friend tells me French politicians have a “langue de bois” (tongue of wood) for the tatemae speak of the politicians and my Serbian friend tells me that in some situations, a second cup of coffee served is a subtle queue to leave? In Chinese, there is an expression of having a “thick face” to express that someone is shameless, and so on… :9)

That’s it for now, sorry for the long post and thanks for reading.


Jaaa mata.



Reference source:$0026T.pdf

I did some extra reading up to write this post – which is basically a summary of this link. If you want extra detailed reading, this is the source.

Thanks again for reading!



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