Oh, to be ignorant! Ah, to learn again!
I was introduced to a concept that was at once foreign and yet familiar. It proved to be a rather important cultural touchstone, one that may impact my ability to operate in a land far on the other side of the world.
The concept is this: honne, written as 本音, and tatemae, written as 建前.
Honne is as follows: behavior that expresses the true feelings and desires of oneself, while tatemae is about the behaviors expressed on the outside. In further detail: honne is going against what is expected of society, while tatemae is showing what is expected in society. Each have their purpose in Japanese society, and as a foreigner, the stress is on tatemae. I will have more opportunities at presenting an affective tatemae rather than resorting to my honne.
My reaction to such a concept was that I would need to forge a strong sense of tateme. I needed to accept that it might be difficult (maybe impossible!) in the work place to really ever get honne from anyone. Full-life info dumps never made for good small talk anyhow.
For anyone who’s ever worked with me, you probably know I am going to struggle with this. Comfortability aside, it’s in my nature to talk to anyone in my vicinity. In the work place, I often strive to try and create a positive environment. My personality is purely honne.
In Japan, I’ll need to be more like the books I read: closed, and waiting to be explored. I feel for my Western co-workers whom I’ve gotten to know. To no fault of their own, I’m certain I’ve spoken their ear off about the who, what, when, where, and why facts of me. While my personality is honne, I feel the loose lips of mine is more a reaction to this environment. Here, my story! Here, my dreams! Honne just spews from this one, right here! Know who I am so I might feel safe. Ah, someone here knows me. They know what I’m about. They know where I come from and what I want.
American culture is about the individual. Step out of your comfort zone, do something daring and new! In Japan, there’s an order to things. There’s a smooth energy that’s reflected in the lines of traffic. It’s reflected in the customer service at the convenience stores I’ve visited. Everything has a place to be, and arrives at precisely the right time. Disrupt that flow and suddenly all eyes are on you. You become the thing that clogs the machine.
I know the culture shock and acculturation will hit. I’m certain there will be days where the doubt I initially felt and feel from time to time will rise up, ugly and mighty. When that happens, I’ll have to rely on the strength of tatemae to not let it splash out. Thankfully, at least I think so, I have some who at least know a little about me. It’d be hard for them not to, at this point. I was too honne on the first weekend!