Honne and tatemae

In Japan, "honne" refers to a person's true feelings and desires (本音, hon'ne, "true sound"), and "tatemae" refers contrastingly to the behavior and opinions one displays in public (建前, tatemae, "built in front", "façade"). This distinction began to be made in the post-war era.[1]

A person's honne 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 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. In many cases, tatemae leads to outright telling of lies in order to avoid exposing the true inward feelings.

The honne–tatemae divide is considered by some[who?] to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture.[2]


In Japanese culture, public failure and the disapproval of others are seen as particular sources of shame[3] and reduced social standing,[4][5][6] so it is common to avoid direct confrontation or disagreement in most social contexts.[7] Traditionally, social norms dictate that one should attempt to minimize discord; failure to do so might be seen as insulting or aggressive.[8] For this reason, the Japanese tend to go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially within the context of large groups.[citation needed] By upholding this social norm,[9] one is socially protected from such transgressions by others.[10]

The conflict between honne and giri (social obligations) is one of the main topics of Japanese drama throughout the ages.[11] For example, the protagonist would have to choose between carrying out his obligations to his family/feudal lord or pursuing a clandestine love affair.[citation needed]

The same concept in Chinese culture is called "inside face" and "outside face", and these two aspects also frequently come into conflict.[citation needed]


Contemporary phenomena such as hikikomori seclusion and parasite singles are seen as examples of late Japanese culture's growing problem of the new generation growing up unable to deal with the complexities of honne–tatemae[citation needed] and pressure of an increasingly consumerist society.[citation needed]

Though tatemae and honne are not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, some Japanese feel that it is unique to Japan; especially among those Japanese who feel their culture is unique in having the concepts of "private mind" and "public mind". Although there might not be direct single word translations for honne and tatemae in some languages,[citation needed] they do have two-word descriptions; for example in English, "private mind" and "public mind".

Some researchers[12] suggest that the need for explicit words for tatemae and honne in Japanese culture is evidence that the concept is relatively new to Japan, whereas the unspoken understanding in many other cultures indicates a deeper internalization of the concepts. In any case, all cultures have conventions that help to determine appropriate communication and behavior in various social contexts which are implicitly understood without an explicit name for the social mores on which the conventions are based.

A similar discord of Japanese true own feeling and the pretension before public is observed in yase-gaman,[13] a phrase whose meaning literally translates as "starving to [one's] skeleton", referring to being content or pretending to be so. Nowadays, the phrase is used for two different meanings, expressing the samurai virtue of self-discipline,[14] silent moral heroism,[15] or ridiculing stubbornness, face-savingness.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Takeo Doi,The anatomy of self,1985,page35
  2. ^ Doi, Takeo (1973), The Anatomy of Dependence: Exploring an area of the Japanese psyche: feelings of indulgence, Kodansha International.
  3. ^ Ruth Benedict,The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,1946,page153
  4. ^ Takeo Doi, The anatomy of dependence,1971,page53
  5. ^ John W. Dower,War without Mercy,1986,page122,127,133
  6. ^ John W. Dower,Embracing Defeat,1999,page284
  7. ^ Ruth Benedict,The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,1946,page153,154,164
  8. ^ Ruth Benedict,The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,1946,page218
  9. ^ Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946, page 52, 86
  10. ^ Lafcadio Hearn, Japan:An Attempt at interpretation, 1904, Dodo Press, page 192
  11. ^ Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946, page 205-207, 315
  12. ^ Edward T. Hall,Cultural Iceberg Model,1976
  13. ^ John W. Dower,War without Mercy,1986,page230
  14. ^ Ruth Benedict,The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,1946,page218(man who is free of passion),228,63(frugality)
  15. ^ Lafcadio Hearn,Japan:An Attempt at Interpretation,1904,Dodo Press,page226,246,250,252
  16. ^ John W. Dower,Embracing Defeat,1999,page284