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Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe recognized social phenomena.


Honne (本音?) 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 (建前?), literally "façade," 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.

The honne/tatemae divide is considered to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture.[1] The very fact that Japanese have single words for these concepts leads some Nihonjinron specialists to see this conceptualization as evidence of greater complexity and rigidity in Japanese etiquette and culture.


Honne and tatemae are arguably a cultural necessity resulting from a large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. Even with modern farming techniques, Japan today domestically produces only 39% of the food needed to feed its people so, before the modern era, close-knit co-operation and the avoidance of conflict were of vital importance in everyday life. For this reason, the Japanese tend to go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially within the context of large groups.

The conflict between honne and giri (social obligations) is one of the main topics of Japanese drama throughout the ages. Stereotypically, the protagonist would have to choose between carrying out his obligations to his family or feudal lord or pursuing a forbidden love affair. In the end, death would be the only way out of the dilemma.


Contemporary phenomena such as hikikomori 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 and pressure of an increasingly materialist society.

Debate over whether tatemae and honne are a uniquely Japanese phenomena continues in the West, especially among those in the anthropological and art fields.

Danger of culturalism[]

Some scholars argue that the concepts of honne and tatemae should be analysed very carefully in order to avoid the trap of a culturalist view of Japan and Japanese people which does not correspond to reality. The concepts of tatemae (建前) and honne (本音) can be linked very easily with Nihonjinron, a point of view which considers Japanese society completely homogeneous, presupposing that the Japanese differ radically from all other known peoples, an example of this being the opinion of the author Chie Nakane. Many Japanese researchers such as Yoshihiko Amino and Eiji Oguma argue these nationalist visions are just an illusion, and have tried through their work to deconstruct the misconception of a homogeneous Japanese nation and the idea that the rules of Japanese society can only be understood by native Japanese and not foreigners.

See also[]

  • Japanese values


  1. Takeo Doi, The Anatomy of Dependence: Exploring an area of the Japanese psyche - feelings of indulgence. Kodansha International Ltd.: 1973.

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