tatemae/honne 4943


Jane Bachnik

Tatemae/honne distinguish between the world of
social relations (surface reality) and the world
of feelings (inner reality). Tatemae refers to for
mal principles or rules to which one is at least
outwardly constrained, while honne conveys
personal feelings or motives, which cannot be
openly expressed due to tatemae. Rather than
a discrepancy between a false exterior and
true interior, tatemae/honne are better under
stood as conveying the existence of more than
one kind of truth in social situations. Thus the
truth of what is appropriate to say directly to
others may be different from the truth in our
hearts. Japanese cocoon their guests in tatemae
so that a faux pas by a guest, even if it offends
the host, will not be communicated directly in
tatemae. Japanese accept that social communica
tions may not correspond to personal feelings;
moreover, they consider the surface reality to be
just as real as the inner, private reality.
The words tatemae/honne came into frequent
use only in the post war period, although the
distinctions they characterize are found in lit
erature as far back as the fourteenth century.
Tatemae refers to the ridgepole (or main beam)
in Japanese architecture, which supports the
rest of the structure, and psychiatrist Takeo
Doi considers the logic of tatemae/honne to be
manifested in the relationship between the tate
mae and the finished building. The tatemae is
not the real aim of the builders, who construct
the ridgepole in order to add the roof, walls, and
floors that will constitute the completed build
ing. Yet by the same token, it is impossible to
complete the rest of the building unless the
tatemae is raised first (Doi 1986). This logic
privileges tatemae as the core structure of a
building, which seems the opposite of its mean
ing as surface reality.
But this same logic links tatemae to its prime
meaning of social conventions, such that tatemae
supports the structure of social life much as
the ridgepole supports the house. For example,
the tatemae of the science fiction novel refers
to the conventions for writing this kind of
novel, which are created by a consensus that

not necessarily have to signify an eternal strug
gle over the determination of legitimate or good
taste. Instead, we may have entered a state of
societal development which is characterized by
the emergence and coexistence of a number
of different and equally good or, if you like,
bad tastes. Social groups with similar lifestyles
may just share a common taste without sharing
anything else. Or, finally, as some sociologists
claim, taste may have become more individua
lized and society more fragmented.

SEE ALSO: Blumer, Herbert George; Bour
dieu, Pierre; Conspicuous Consumption; Con
sumption, Fashion and; Consumption, Food
and Cultural; Distinction; Highbrow/Low
brow; Lifestyle Consumption; Simmel, Georg;
Veblen, Thorstein


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