Honne and Tatemae

Holly Toner
Major: Japanese
Rikkyo University, Japan

Something that I found interesting making Japanese friends in the States was how little they really
expressed their true feelings. I thought maybe it was because they were worried about using the
wrong English, but living in Japan I have learned that it’s a cultural norm.

I learned today the phrase Honne and Tatemae, which basically means true feelings/desires vs
how one presents themselves in public and to others.

I think that everyone does this in one way or another. I would never walk up to my boss and
unleash angry words at them when they criticized me. I would nod, and tell them that the mistake
would never happen again. However, in Japan I think that this behavior is just typical.

Recently I made a friend who had studied in the states and she was feeling tired of the Honne and
Tatemae attitude of Japan. I think for me it’s also a little difficult when making friends. I’m a person that worries about others feelings, so it can be hard to understand others if you never know when they are just being polite vs. telling you how they actually feel.

And also I have to wonder about myself. Dealing with anxiety has taught me to be an open and
honest person. Even if most people wouldn’t be so honest, I try to be honest about everything in
the most polite way possible. However, in Japan I wonder sometimes if I am coming off too strong
or if someone will judge me for being so “forward” or “blunt.”

Actually, a person once asked me if we could go out together, and when I told them I was little
uncomfortable because we had only met before once, he replied, “Wow, you are really blunt.”
Luckily, these things don’t set me back. I genuinely want people to understand each other as we
are. For me, I am open and honest, and I guess blunt. But for some of the people I will meet in
Japan, I accept that maybe opening up isn’t as easy for them. But as my friends I can always
encourage them that their feelings are safe with me.



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