One of the things a foreigner studying Japanese culture soon encounters is the distinction between honne and tatemae. Honne represents your true feelings; tatemae is the face you show to others.
Most cultures allow for some distinction between one's public and private views. Americans, for example, may tell "white lies" to gloss over unpleasant or awkward truths. But Japan has formalized and absorbed the concept to an extreme extent. Holding back your true opinion in order to keep up appearances or forge a consensus is often considered polite by Japanese, whereas Americans tend to call such behavior "phony".
Today's news story that North Korea has launched a missile into the Sea of Japan has me hoping that Japan's response is simply a good example of tatemae. Reuters reports:
The type of North Korean missile that may have been launched at the weekend does not pose an immediate threat to Japan's security, the Japanese defence ministry said on Monday.Well, okay, so that missile might not have been a threat. But what about the raving lunatic in Pyongyang with a stockpile of nukes and his finger on the button? After all, in 1998 Kim Jong-Il launched a longer-range missile that flew all the way over Japan, proving any part of the country lies within range of his destructive impulses.
...A Japanese defence ministry spokeswoman said Japan had yet to confirm whether the launch took place.
"There is unconfirmed information that North Korea launched a missile on the morning of May 1 and we are conducting checks," the spokeswoman said.
"At this point, the missile in question is thought to have flown a very short distance and cannot be described as something that immediately has a particular impact on our country's security," she added.
Japan may be playing it cool, but I hope its leaders are taking things a bit more seriously at the honne level.