4944 tatemae/honne

can change over time. In its relationship to social
conventions, tatemae always implies the exis
tence of people in the background who assent
to it, while at the same time keeping their own
personal motives and opinions in honne (Doi
1986). Rather than being unique to Japan, tate
mae/honne represent tensions between conform
ing to social conventions and giving expression
to ones heartfelt desires tensions between
individual and society that are a fundamental
part of social life everywhere.
In fact these same tensions are represented in a
number of paired sets of terms, which include
omote (appearance, in front) and ura
(behind the scenes, in back). Tatemae is
part of omote as official, public, and social, while
honne is within ura as hidden, secret, and per
sonal, and may also include what is publi
cally unacceptable or even illegal. Another set of
terms, uchi (inside, us, our group) and
soto (outside, them), is also linked to tate
mae/honne, since tatemae constitutes the sur
face communication of omote presented to soto
outsiders, while honne is expressed in the
behind the scenes ura sphere of uchi insiders.
Tatemae/omote/soto are always linked together,
as are honne/ura/uchi.
The Japanese language also exhibits wide
ranging distinctions manifested in formal/
informal grammatical forms which parallel the
distinctions contained in the double sets of terms.
For example, communication of soto/omote/
tatemae is characterized by choice of a formal
register to express varying degrees of distance
and deference through elaborated polite forms
of speech. Communication of uchi/ura/honne
is marked by choice of an informal register to
express varying degrees of closeness (and some
times intimacy) through highly contracted plain
forms of speech. These distinctions permeate
the entire language, since even single utterances,
and certainly anything longer than two item
exchanges, are marked by the use of register.
These language distinctions in tandem with
the paired sets of terms indicate two distinct
spheres in self and social life, which are none
theless linked like two sides of a coin. Each
sphere mutually defines and constitutes the
other, in a way that actually mirrors the consti
tution of self and society. Thus honne exists only
in relation to tatemae, and tatemae is constructed
out of honne, which manipulates it from behind
the scenes. Consequently, the paired terms have
been used as a basis for defining the organiza
tion of Japanese self and society. Takeo Doi
(1986) developed the organization of a double
sided Japanese self, based explicitly on omote/
ura and tatemae/honne. Chie Nakane (1972)
defined uchi as a basic and ubiquitous compo
nent of Japanese society. Bachnik and Quinn
(1994) argued that the paired sets of terms form
a theoretical basis for defining self, social life,
and language, spelling out pragmatic and prac
tice oriented perspectives.
Japanese society is distinctive in placing a
high value on avoiding direct communication
of honne problems, disagreements, and other
uncomfortable truths in tatemae. Japanese
are taught to sacrifice honne for the sake of
tatemae, and are very skilled at keeping honne
from leaking into tatemae. Yet tatemae can be
seen as one of Japans truly excellent features
(Kerr 2001), which infuses daily life in Japanese
face to face communities with grace and calm.
The emphasis placed on preserving tatemae over
expressing honne can be regarded as self sacri
fice for the sake of the greater social good (in this
case the smooth functioning of social life).
But by the same token, should the sense of
self service for a greater social good be distorted
or lost, the results can be socially corrosive and
dangerous. Many authors have noted that tate
mae/honne distinctions are pervasive in Japanese
large scale institutions, including those at the
apex of power in government, big business,
and politics. It is also noted that tatemae/honne
have undergone a shift in meaning, so that tate
mae now widely conveys falsity and emptiness,
while honne is considered true, but tinged
with dirtiness and corruption.
At the same time, a shift can be noted in the
organization of uchi/soto when comparing small
scale family organizations to large institutional
organizations. This shift is exemplified by the
constitution of uchi, which in family organiza
tions consists of family members themselves (as
we, us, insiders), making them privy to
the realms of ura and honne. In contrast, in the
government bureaucracy, for example, each
government ministry is organized as an uchi,
whose inside realms of honne and ura are
accessible only to its own insider bureaucrats.
The public is strictly soto to such a ministry and
therefore privy only to tatemae communication.