People on the street in Japan explain the reasons why they sometimes have to tell white lies in social situations.

YouTube channel Ask Japanese has produced a number of videos featuring people on the streets of Japan over the past year, asking them to reveal their thoughts on a number of curious topics, including ideal Japanese body types and what foreign tourists take photos of with their mobile phones. This time they’re tackling the complex issues of honne and tatemae, two main pillars of social etiquette which dictate the way people relate to each other in Japanese society, where harmony of the group is considered to be far more important then the desires of the individual.

▼ Take a look at some explanations of honne and tatemae in the video below.

Honne, which translates to “real intention” in Japanese, is mostly used with close family members and select friends and rarely revealed in formal social or professional settings, given that the true thoughts and desires of an individual person are far less important than the “wa”, or harmony of the group. This is particularly true if you’re not in a senior position, and it’s the reason why people refrain from voicing their opinions in meetings that can go on for hours, and why they ignore their personal desires to instead “ganbaru”, or persevere, with tough situations and requests despite not really having the time nor the inclination to do so.


Whereas honne relates to the feelings and actions you conceal when interacting in a group,  tatemae, which translates to “face” or “public position”, relates to the things you say and do while interacting with others, in order to make people happy and create a good time for everyone involved.


Flattery and humility are vital components of tatemae, which explains why people are quick to heap praise on foreigners who can barely hold two chopsticks together, and why a master of a craft or skill will refuse to receive compliments, no matter how much immense talent they might possess.


While some people might look on these “white lies” as a form of dishonesty, for Japanese people, it’s simply a way to honour and respect the social standing of others while maintaining group equilibrium.


While the concepts of honne and tatemae might seem difficult at first to understand, this video does a good job of exploring the topic with the help of Japanese people, who admit that it can be difficult even for them to understand! To find out more about what people in Japan think about other interesting issues, check out the Ask Japanese YouTube channel for more videos!

Source: YouTube/Ask Japanese
Top Image: YouTube/Ask Japanese
Screenshots: YouTube/Ask Japanese