Hi guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part 3 of the series of blog posts talking about Honne/Tatemae in Japanese society. Since the concept is pretty confusing, I thought it’d give some real life examples so people can have a better idea.
Applications in real life of Honne and Tatemae
(Some silly examples)
Example 1: Urahara-san says to Isshin-san and Ryuuken-san very neutrally/casually, “Are you staying for dinner?”.
People fluent in Tatemae-speak (not an official word, I coined it just now please don’t quote it in official cases :9 ) will take this to mean that “You’ve been here long enough, we’re done for now, I have other business to attend to, pls leave.”
The proper response to this (understanding the hidden implication) would be to say “Oh you’re right, it is getting late! I shall trouble you no further and be on my merry way. Thank you very much for all your hard work today. Otsukare-sama deshita. *leaves*
People who don’t get it, will be like “Oh yar sure, I’ll stay for dinner. I have nothing to eat in my fridge at home anyway. Thanks man.”
( ;9 Which guy d’you think said what? )
Jokes aside though, in an actual situation if you don’t get the response right then that is your instant recipe to a very awkward situation right there. This is what we call “Kuuki yomenai” (lit. can’t read the air/atmosphere). I’ll talk about this later.
Example 2: As small kids, Sasuke would always be at Naruto’s house. When Sasuke’s mum comes to pick him up, she will say “Please, come to our house next time.” However, every time it is arranged for Naruto to go to Sasuke’s house, some inconvenience would always come up at the Uchiha residence and Sasuke winds up at Naruto’s house every damn time, all the time. In terms of Tatemae, this would mean that the mother doesn’t really mean to have the other kid over at their place. She is just saying “please. come over next time” to save face, to sound polite.
I will reiterate the above kind of examples are totally normal in Japanese society, and people who are used to this type of tatemae culture will just take it all in stride A-OK.
Example 3: This is not a direct example, but it’s something I’ve personally screwed up on in my noob days.
When someone asks you to do something/go somewhere, and your answer is going to be in the negative, don’t say it straight! You have to be vague. No joke. It’s considered very rude to give a flat out no.
Example: (Please keep in mind that GTY_Ponzorz doesn’t want to go to see Avengers in this HYPOTHETICAL scenario)
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Nah, I’m not going. (iya, ikanai yo.)
^This does not fly. The asker will be pretty shocked you gave such an outright “no”. They might take it to mean that you have something against going, you are being condescending, you don’t like them, etc. Wrong impression.
Let’s try again.
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Ah… I want to go but… Friday is a bit… (Literally in Japanese, you will say, “kyou wa chotto”. Which translates literally to “today is a bit…”)
You want to go but Friday is a bit… what? Well, most people who get the implication will take it to mean, today is a bit NOPE NOPE NOOOPE / I don’t want to go / I’m not free, got my hands tied.
It basically means an instant “no, probably/definitely not going” without directly saying “i’m not going (ikanai yo)”. Even so, it’s a lot more acceptable, polite, and respectful.
Note that you said you wanted to go - most people who get this tatemae thing will just take that as fluff, the prelude. :9 But even so, most people say it.
Example four: This is another instance of an indirect vague-response to when someone asks you for a favour you don’t want to do.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: No, I can’t do it / No, I don’t want to.
^ Yep you guessed it, wrong response. Rewind time.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: It’s a little difficult… (chotto muzukashii ne…)
Muzukashii = Difficult , which is the key word.
Chotto = a little, which is a buffer in a bazillion cases. It’s so useful. -_-
What it DOES NOT mean: Yeah it’s difficult, but I’ll have a hack at it.
What it DOES mean: I don’t want to do it , I’m not inclined to perform this favour for you.
How do you reply to a “muzukashii ne…” ?
You would therefore have to follow on with a “Oh I see, don’t worry about it then” and drop it, or, find another way to persuade the person now that you understand they actually don’t want to perform your request. Don’t say “how is it hard? It should be easy for someone like you!”. They don’t want to do it. Either change tactic, or drop it altogether.
(Sorry Dino and Vox for randomly shoving your names in to the examples, yurushite kure ;-; I’m bad at making up names.)
As mentioned before, Kuuki Yomenai literally translates to “Can’t read the air/atmosphere”.
It’s for those people who are often saying / doing the wrong things, at the wrong time, and making a situation very awkward.
In colloquial japanese, this is abbreviated to the acronym “K.Y” which just stands for, Kuuki Yomenai.
You can upgrade this to SKY, which is “Super Kuuki Yomenai” .
It is generally not advisable to aspire to be a super KY, or an Ultra KY, or a super-ultra-mega KY. It’s perceived as a negative trait most people in Japanese society strive to avoid being labelled as.
To quote the Tofugu website,
"Basically, KY is used to describe people who have trouble getting a read on situations, or have trouble feeling the atmosphere of a situation. This is viewed as a bad thing, and most Japanese do what they can to avoid being labeled as KY.
In many ways, KY can be representative of Japanese culture in general. Japan is a group-oriented society that values harmony, rainbows, and cute animals. As such, Japanese people are well known for being indirect, ambiguous, and avoiding conflict.”
That said though, those KY people are often an archetypical character in many anime/drama/manga storylines. Those kind hearted, or maybe loud mouthed, silly, silly, people. How many can you think of?
Okay to be straightforward with you all I’m done with part three. Don’t be a KY and have a good week. :D Part four will be about how all of this can be related back to the Manga and Anime y’all so avidly follow. Sort of.
Thanks for reading! : )
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