01 November, 2009

Outside face, inside face

Last month I wrote this small piece for our monthly news/prayer letter: Relationships in Japan Japan is a challenging place to make new relationships. It is a group society, yet they are not as communal as many other Asians. In some countries the place to meet people is on the street or at the market, but not in Japan. People are not in and out of each others homes, either. Japanese usually have long-term relationships which are based around work, education or location (i.e. neighbours). Relative status difference governs relationships and language. If they don’t know your ‘status’ in relation to theirs, they are nervous about talking with you. Avoidance of eye contact with strangers is noticeable. Tatemae and Honne refer to a key aspect of Japanese culture, the public persona and real feelings. Tatemae is a face that Japanese show in public. They may have a specific role due to their social status or position in the specific group (such as corporation or company). They behave as they are expected to behave in the specific situation, regardless of their personal opinions about the matter. In a land where population density is high, the use of tatemae is a key component to avoiding conflict. Japanese are very good at avoiding confrontation. To the westerner, this may sound dishonest, but I think Australians are pretty good at avoiding confrontation, too! Honne refers to real feelings and opinions. It is not something one is encouraged to show in public, especially during business dealings. It is something a Japanese shows only to his closest friends (or sometimes when drunk) and family. Rarely did we become close enough friends to hear real feelings and opinions. People have been quite intrigued and have asked lots of questions about it (good questions). What do you think? How different is this to what we do in Australia? We put on our "outside" faces too, don't you think. Possibly not to the same extent, but we certainly do it.

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