tatemae/honne 4945

Consequently, the inside operations and
affairs of each ministry are kept opaque, and
the hidden nature of honne/ura in these bureau
cratic uchi gives rise to a circular process, whose
aspects have been the focus of considerable
research and investigative reporting in English.
They include the fostering of dishonest and
collusive practices in uchi; sabotaging of safety
and regulatory procedures; and cosmetic
accounting (funshoku kessan) to keep informa
tion about dishonest practices from reaching
the soto public.
For example, bid rigging (dango) is pervasive
in Japan, particularly in the construction indus
try, to whom the Construction Ministry chan
nels the considerable funds allocated to public
works construction. Ministry officials also par
ticipate in dango and have publicly defended
bid rigging practices in 2005. Dango rests upon
a tender system that is both fixed and closed,
and such bidding inflates the project costs to the
public by 3050 percent. Crucial to carrying out
dango is a practice known as amakudari (descent
from heaven), in which bureaucrats from the
ministry shift to high positions in industry or
public agencies. Amakudari, in effect, creates an
uchi conduit between the ministry and the firm
or agency into which the bureacrat descends.
This allows that organization to create uchi ties
with the ministry to create dango (and other ura
practices) through a honne motivation to max
imize profits among themselves.
Such collusion is not limited to the Construc
tion Ministry. In 1996 all of Japans seven hous
ing loan corporations (known as Jusen) went
bankrupt with losses of eight trillion yen. Yet,
even though over 90 percent of the loans
extended by the Jusen were non performing
by the early 1990s, and the Ministry of Finance
knew this, the ministry failed to take any action.
This was because six of the seven Jusen were
run by amakudari directors from the Ministry of
Finance, and so the ministry had no desire to
hurt its own, as one critic put it (Bowen
2003). Consequently, in the years before bank
ruptcy, the amakudari executives guided the
banks in an elaborate shell game of accounting
trickery that is highly developed in Japan. By
the time the scandal became public in 1996, the
public had to pay hundreds of billions of addi
tional yen to clean up the mess (Kerr 2001).
During the 1990s a series of scandals circu
lated throughout the ministries, involving
almost all of them. The scandals demonstrated
the collusive processes outlined above, and one
might expect the press to play an investigative
role in breaking up such collusions. But since
reporters can only get access to the news by
being embedded in government attached press
clubs, they also end up in collusion with the
institutions in which they are embedded. The
result is that the published news is largely
The collusive relationships outlined above
reveal a distinct and pathological inversion
in the values of tatemae/honne, so that personal
profiteering in honne takes precedence over self
sacrifice for the greater social good in tatemae.
Here the good has been transposed from the
public, social good to a selfish, uchi good
taking care of our own resulting in a huge
variety of corrupt practices. This inversion of
the government servant/public service rela
tionship victimizes the public, who ultimately
pay for the corruption through wasted tax
money which has created enormous fiscal defi
cits (and cuts in services), made pension funds
insolvent, inflated construction costs, and cre
ated numerous safety hazards due to lack of
effective regulation.
The kinds of collusive practices described
above make it understandable how tatemae now
connotes falsity and deceit, honne conveys dirti
ness and dishonesty, and both tatemae and honne
are held in low regard. The crucial question is
whether the excellent features of tatemae/
honne can be reclaimed, so that the corrupt and
inverted relationship between bureaucrats and
the public can be righted and self sacrifice for
the social good take precedence over personal
profiteering. These issues of bureaucratic cor
ruption are of interest far beyond Japan, for they
pervade todays world. Resolving them would
strengthen Japanese democracy, by allowing the
people to reclaim power from the bureaucracy
and follow the constitution, which places sover
eign power in their hands. These steps may also
allow the people who produced the economic
miracle to finally emerge from the quagmire of
their 15 year slump.

SEE ALSO: Seikatsu/Seikatsusha; Seken