“Omotenashi” & “Honne/Tatemae”

Today we take a closer look at two concepts that is very Japanese. Let’s learn about Japanese “service”, and how the Japanese are split between what they want, and what is expected.


The word ‘Omotenashi’ in Japanese comes from omote (面 “surface”) and nashi (無し “less”), which means “single-hearted”, and also mote (持て “carry”) and nashi (為し “accomplish”), which means “to achieve”. Therefore, Omotenashi has two meanings, which include offering a service without expectation of any returned favour, and the ability to actualise that idea into an action.

Interestingly, the Japanese language makes no distinction between ‘guest’ and ‘customer.’ In English, the concept of ‘service’ suggests a hierarchy between the ‘server’ and the ‘customer.’ The Japanese Omotenashi, however, is based on a non-dominant relationship between equals – between the person offering the service (the host) and the person receiving it (the guest or customer).


“Honne” vs “Tatemae”

Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person’s true feelings and desires (本音 “honne”) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (建前 “tatemae”, “façade”).

Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s Honne.

The notion of Honne and Tatemae is seen by some as a cultural necessity resulting from a large number of people living in a comparatively small island nation. Close-knit co-operation and the avoidance of conflict are considered to be of vital importance in everyday life.

Even though there might not be direct single word translations for honne and tatemae in some languages they do have two word descriptions. For example in English “private mind” and “public mind.” Some researchers suggest that the need for explicit words for Tatemae and Honne in Japanese culture is evidence that the concept is relatively new to Japan, where as the unspoken understanding in many other cultures indicates a deeper internalization of the concepts.

The conflict between Honne and Giri (“social obligations”) is one of the main topics of Japanese drama throughout the ages. For example, the main character would have to choose between carrying out his obligations to his family or his feudal lord, or pursuing a stealthy love affair.