I know a lot of foreigners who complain they lack Japanese friends. Japanese people seeking friendship with foreigners without the ulterior motive of free English classes are rare gems. It is rarer still to find Japanese friends who will accept you. I’m not sure that it really has something to do with us, though.
A few months ago, I was helping a student with a speech about her friends, she was friends with people from the gym where she went, and she was friends with her son’s friends’ moms. But she wrote that these were “friends” that she just happened to be with at a certain time and were probably temporary. They didn’t really know the real her and she was sure she couldn’t share much with any of them. They were not really her friends but she was keeping in the harmony of Japanese society. She didn’t want to stand out as being the only one who didn’t hang out and call attention to herself. While she said they were all good people, her true friends were still people from high school whom she truly trusted and who understood her, accepted her and who could give her advice.
This illustrated to me a bit of Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前), and how this greatly affects relationships with Japanese people. This is a phenomenon that a few foreigners are able to comprehend, however, and I am not qualified to even delve into its complexities. What I have heard is that, their outer masks don’t usually match up with their inner selves and they only show their inner selves to people they truly trust. It sounds really complicated, I know.
I wrote this blog because I have recently become friends with a Japanese “friend” from work. The whole time we’ve been working together, we never really got a chance to talk about things outside of work and/or the trivial things we have in common. We’re going through the same stuff right now and having someone to talk to has been nice for both of us. It surprised me to see how different she is from when we are at work. She and I are actually almost alike, especially in our ways of thinking… it’s a bit uncanny but I’m glad for the chance to be accepted and be shown a Honne.