Takeo Doi, the man who made “amae” a household word, later wrote this book about “omote” and “ura” and their extensions, “tatemae” and “honne.” The first of these terms indicates a confident, if indulgent, leaning upon others for support, which Doi has said goes a long way toward defining Japanese character. The latter terms have been elegantly defined by Shuichi Kato in his multivolume “A History of Japanese Literature”:
“The Tokugawa Period began with the division of the rulers and the ruled. With this division came the dual value system of ‘duty’ (‘giri’) and ‘feeling’ (‘ninjo’) and the dual mode of behavior of the official, formal and rigorous (omote) and the unofficial, informal and loose (ura).” It follows that tatemae implies some kind of official group convention, and that honne indicates something more informally individual.
In this rather slim volume, originally published in Japanese under the title “Omote to Ura,” Doi explores these terms and their extensions with rigorous arguments. A major thrust is that this dyadic pair is not to be read (despite the English title given this book) as one “versus” another. Rather, like so much else in his model of Japan, they are symbiotic, mutually constitutive. One supports the other: Without omote there could be no ura, without tatemae, no honne.
He does admit that Japan is not unique in such dyadic thinking, but maintains that “this trait is cultivated to an unusual extent in Japan so that it has come to represent a definite pattern of living.” Further, he realizes that the Japanese nowadays tend to favor one over the other. Things are “merely” tatemae. It is the honne that is the more prized.
Nonetheless, they remain so central to Japanese thought/feeling that such special terms as these are necessary. We should not assume hypocrisy, the English term for those who profess or do one thing (tatemae) while feeling or believing another (honne). All dyadic thought, Western as well, is “hypocritical.” Following this argument, Doi speaks of the strain such joined opposition occasions and ventures that some relief has been classically needed. This he finds, a bit surprisingly, in Japan’s “unique” symbiotic relationship with nature. By turning to nature (as indeed many did in the Tokugawa Period) one could “amaeru” (play a dependent, childlike role) to one’s heart’s content in a world that knew nothing dyadic at all.
That such a symbiotic state of affairs continued, in small part, right up to 1985 (the year “Omote to Ura” appeared) is conceivable, but that it continues now — with Japan cemented over, deforested, gentrified and Roppongi’s pond-garden, Gama-ike, being attacked by the Mori Construction Company as I write — seems unlikely. In fact, to any longer seriously speak of Japan’s “love of nature” would be ludicrous.
Would Doi now consider that the demise of this “unique” (the word is used three times on one page in this work) symbiosis is due therefore to the various strains of tatemae/honne becoming somehow less? This we do not know, because the 1986 translation has not been revised and the author had added nothing for this new printing.
Much happens in any 15-year span and a lot happened in this one. Since 1986, the entire methodology commonly assumed in sociology has changed, and it is now believed that the word creates the thing and not the other way around. A term is only a word — it does not observe a reality, it occasions it. As postmodern thinkers now have it, “cultures create structure.”
Kato noted in his definition above that it was the Tokugawa government which, for its own purposes, divided the rulers from the ruled and instituted many of the dyadic structures which controlled and created the resultant culture. These were themselves divisive and were always applied with extreme prejudice. (Go to the Kabuki and find out all about it.) Even “wa,” the great consensus that is supposed to dissolve the tensions of tatemae/honne in a display of serene harmony, is actually the product of social pressure; the individual knows the cost will be high if he refuses to go along with the group consensus.
To go on about the face and the mask as Doi does is to exclude the possibility that the only face possible is the mask. And, as far as “self” goes, Walter Anderson, prime postmodernist, has suggested that “instead of forming our ideas of who and what we are on the basis of the ‘found’ identity fixed by social role, or tradition, we begin to understand ourselves in terms of the ‘made’ identity that is constructed (and frequently reconstructed) out of many cultural sources.” These things considered, theoretical terms such as those used in Doi’s thesis become somewhat transparent and lose some weight and authority. Taking “unique” examples of Japanese behavior and constructing theoretical justifications can lead to circular reasoning. It can also fail to account for what it leaves out.
This is not criticism. One cannot criticize a 15-year-old book for not being up-to-date. But it is a suggestion that the author might like now to revise his text and make it again as useful as it was when it first appeared.
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