At Home in Japan
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Module 4.2
Being a Guest:
Tatemae/Honne
 
 
Many newcomers to Japan first encounter "wrapping" in their experience of being guests. The carefully screened appearance that the Sasakis created for Peter has a name in everyday Japanese: tatemae. This term details the process of social wrapping in Japan. The expression of tatamae comes out of a cultural tradition in which much effort is spent making guests comfortable. All families create a cocoon of tatamae for guests, not because they deliberately want to hold things from them, but because they are honoring them deeply as guests in their home.

Because Peter came to the Sasakis from the U.S. (which is very distant to them) and it was his first visit, they tried their best to treat him well. Most of this effort fell on the okaasan. The Sasakis didn't treat Peter much differently than they would treat a first-time Japanese guest. And, in some ways, they expected him to behave like one.


Honne is another everyday concept, that is the underside of wrapping. Honne is what you really feel, but can't come out and say. Peter wasn't aware of the extent of the Sasakis' efforts to make him comfortable, but just assumed that the smooth and effortless way that things worked out in his family just happened naturally.


In fact, the Sasakis worked extremely hard to create this smoothness. They kept any foul ups, confusions and problems carefully behind the scenes, creating the appearance of effortlessness, while shielding their guest from the efforts involved.


If a Japanese host were to communicate honne directly to a guest, with no cushioning, the guest would not be comfortable. For example, if the Sasakis had told Peter that his Japanese is hardly comprehensible, and that he is constantly making mistakes in everyday family life—if they had told him the true state of affairs—it could have been quite devastating to this "cultural child". So they worked to "wrap" his situation with a carefully constructed tatemae.
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