3 Concepts of Japanese Social Etiquette

  • 1. Honne and Tatemae

    Literally translated as “true voice” and “constructed façade”, honne is the private face that is only shown to confidantes, and tatemae is the public face that is shown to the rest of the world, that conforms to socially accepted behaviors and norms.

    The concept of “face” that is more prevalent in the East may translate to “pride” in the West. In order to avoid offending or embarrassing anyone, the Japanese tend to have a habit of concealing their true feelings and this may confuse or mislead non-Japanese who are not used to this collectivist culture. The Japanese pride themselves on such a practice to maintain social harmony.

    2. Omotenashi おもてなし

    Top-notch service and hospitality that not only anticipate your needs but also go the extra mile, are redolent of the Japanese service industry. Omotenashi is the unique approach taken by the Japanese in ensuring that you have the best customer experience. Hospitality in every country is different of course, but that in Japan has the aim of satisfying the customer’s needs, whether they are articulated, unarticulated or latent. From the enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!” greetings, to the incessant bowing, to service that makes you feel like royalty, it can be off-putting to some but is the absolute best when you are in need of some pampering or a little help when picking out a gift.

    3. Omoiyari 思いやり

    Literally translated as “to think while doing” or in other words, to have thoughtful actions. Acting and thinking considerately, possessing compassion and empathizing are examples of omoiyari. There are also signs in public transport that encourage passengers to have this omoiyari attitude. It involves one’s initiative in putting oneself in others’ shoes and not only trying to understand them, but also respecting and accepting them. One tries to anticipate others’ needs, discomforts, and intentions simply through context, or the situation. Such social intelligence is known 場の空気を読む (ba no kuuki o yomu), which means “to read the atmosphere of the place”. This links up to the point of honne and tatemae, where EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is of paramount importance in maintaining harmony in Japanese society, albeit only on the surface! The words in the picture mean “omoiyari is to be able to see everyone regardless of who they are.”

    Related Articles:

    Japanese Etiquette: Must or Should?
    The Japanese Art of Indirectness: Honne and Tatemae