So the current Naruto Gaiden series is about to come to an end. Whether in the next chapter or within the next 11 or so, it definitely has an expiration date on it, which was really already announced before it even began, so it's not much of a surprise.
Rumor has it that Kishimoto's going to start working on a new series in August, or early fall. The big question is - what's he gonna work on? Many speculate it's gonna be something related to his one-shot Mario, but honestly, I don't think so. That short was a really old idea of his that he decided to polish and publish, and that was that.
Personally, I really hope he doesn't steer in the direction of any kind of realism. His work, whether Mario or that Baseball one-shot he did, didn't impress me, and I will always connect his style with fantasy, with feudal Japan and with some kind of adventure plot - so I really hope he goes for something like that in his next series as well. Be it about Samurai, some adventure/discoverer theme (without them being pirates, or else xD) or something else I didn't think of.
The other option is, and I think it's not that unlikely at all, is that he's using this Gaiden interlude as a sort of introduction to Naruto Part III. Honestly, I struggled quite a bit to see how he'd do it, and I still do. I mean with existing power levels being a big hindrance since it feels like those were already maxed out with Kaguya/Madara/Sasuke/Naruto.
I would love to see him doing something like a 10 year time skip though, and only few of the kids still around, with Sarada and Boruto as the protagonists in a crazy, post-apocalyptic world where all the adults were slayed by some uber-powerful enemy - think of Future Trunks' in DBZ, that sorta thing. But really, I don't think Kishimoto would ever go there... unfortunately.
Anyway, you all have any ideas on how he could spin Naruto further? Do you even want him to? And if your answer's a stern 'no', then what kinda series would you like him to create next? Describe it in detail, I love reading everyone ideas.
Hello people! GTY_Ponzorz here. This is the final part of the blog post series about Honne/Tatemae. Thank you for sticking with me all the way and reading up to the 5th blog post. This post is just me prattling on about why it might be important to understand the whole honne/tatemae thing and to know a bit about social issues in Japan. Here we go.
Last few words from me
I apologise if this entire thing has been incredibly long and boring. If you read up to here anyway, you have my deepest gratitude, and I really hope you at least learnt something or had a laugh. :9
To reiterate though, I cannot stress how prevalent, important, and serious the whole concept of Honne/Tatemae is in Japan. It’s as important as Ichigo getting his next power up and a new costume to go with it, and almost as important as having nice pristine weekly manga scans. :9
As a second point though, again, it is not to say that such a concept of preserving honor and what not exists solely in Japanese society. We are largely all the same human beings on this planet (some differences aside :9 ), and value a lot of the same things - love, loyalty, bravery, courage, friendship - and are faced with the similar conflicts and issues in our respective societies. I am discussing honne/tatemae with you though, because it really is a big deal in Japan. Everything I have written is definitely not the only way to go about understanding this topic, and it definitely may not even be the most correct in the eyes of many - it is perfectly fine and normal if you have differing views, or feel that I have over-analysed some parts.
It might sound strange, and even asinine - to explicitly discuss and read about this aspect of Japanese society, but it’s something you’re better off being aware of if you have an interest in Japanese culture because it really is a thing that legitimately exists.
There are many other social issues / deep cultural traditions and concepts that exist in Japan - and for those who are interested, it is highly enlightening to read more in to it and gain a better understanding about the nation that so many of you respect and appreciate for their manga/anime.
Funnily enough, Japan is not actually a perfect utopia full of sexy ninja, swashbuckling (stretchy) pirates and full-time shinigami (I don’t think most people can have such a vocation there) who run off to summer festivals every two episodes, watch some fireworks and then assemble the seven dragon balls to summon Shenron to grant them their heart’s deepest desires.
While the biggest problem some of us may have in regards to Japan may be “OMG why is it Golden Week, where is the next issue of WSJ??” The people living there actually have plenty of unique social issues quite irrelevant to a late manga chapter - just to list a few for starters:
They have an aging society, their birth rate is lower than Yasutora Chad when he’s lying on the ground, and they have heaps of problems with how underpaid and how bad the welfare is for their temporary workers, some sexism, the marginalisation and lack of government support for the Japanenese diaspora that return to Japan from South America (Bolivia and such), a bit of racism in the monocultural society, their nuclear problem, Abenomics... complications of honne/tatemae … oh have I said Abenomics yet? The list can go on for a little bit longer I daresay.
: ) Of course, every country has their own set of issues, right? But knowing about these issues might help you understand and appreciate the aspects of Japanese culture we all enjoy - Sakura flowers, gari gari ice-cream, weekly WSJ - that little bit more.
Thanks again for reading, hope it was still somewhat more interesting than your homework. ; )
Sources: Btw. don't reference/quote what I wrote up there in an academic essay pls. I wrote it for fun , it's not really a stellar example of writing and to use it academically in any sense is about as advisable as slapping Kenpachi in the face with a floppy gigai.
Sup guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part four of the blog post series discussing Honne/Tatemae in Japan. This post is rather long, so apologies in advance.
How does all this help me understand Anime / Manga better?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll have a go at it anyway. : )
This is my personal opinion, and I am sure many of you may have even more insightful, profound opinions - which would be awesome if you could share it, I am interested in everyone’s views! I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this, it’s a subjective thing in the first place - just connect with the stories you read/watch in the way that is most meaningful to you personally, and take what you learn from it and strive to become a better person, to better guide those around you. : )
To set the scene, which may be a very obvious one (forgive me), the origins of Manga and Anime as we define it today is, well, Japan. This means that the writers who no doubt put their lifeblood and soul, and all their experiences of their life, in to writing a given story, will have been influenced by the culture and societal standards of the society from which they were born/grew up/live in, in one way or another. (Let’s keep the flaming of any particular series that is not advancing to your taste, and editors (who are not soul-less either btw), and “they’re milking it for money” and blah blah out of this and assume for now my comment about the mangaka is a general truth ;9.) This means that the stories they write, and the characters they bring to life for us, will reflect those nuances too. Some particular nuances may not be very familiar or recognisable to an audience who has never experienced watching anime or reading manga before - but the more you watch it, the more cultural aspects you learn, right? (Or at least, I think you’re supposed to.)
The most obvious examples everyone picks up on would be the typical traditional stuff like how there are summer festivals in Japan, people wear Yukata, watch fireworks together, go to the shrine together on New years eve (insert falling snow scene), smash watermelons at the beach, obligatory school festival episode in anime etcetcetc - that sort of thing.
However, there are many deeper nuances that can be picked up on. Of course, everyone - even people who grew up native to Japanese culture - will perceive certain events or themes differently.
When one character shows their fragile weaker side to another character they have developed a trust bond with, that is not the tatemae. It’s a bigger, more significant ordeal than you think it is, when you reflect on the whole tatemae culture - even if the event in question is something very trivial, or very stupid.
“Hey, Soma-kun, I really don’t want to go to the study group today. I’m kind of uncomfortable around that group of people.”
That simple statement can be a biiiig deal. :x People usually don’t say that sort of thing to just anyone.
“I really dislike the beach, so I’m gonna pass this time round.”
“Okay, I get it.”
This sounds kind of … really super duper lame right? But even small things like this - if someone says this kind of thing to you, you ought to treasure their confidence in you. : )
In terms of Bleach, and where the values honne and tatemae (and giri) come in, I can think of a few examples. Of course, you can disagree - and tell me I’m thinking too much into it. But this is all in good fun, and looking at a story from this kind of a perspective can be interesting!
Shunsui and Aizen
Honne and Tatemae doesn’t have to just be for politeness, or to maintain an image. It really takes a lot of searching and perception to be able to understand what the other party is getting at.
Their banter these recent few chapters are a good example of general vagueness, sarcasm, and underlying implications that exist for the reader to interpret. I think Urahara, Shunsui and Aizen are pretty pro at this whole Tatemae thing.
A friend pointed out his point of view on a specific scene in Bleach to me:
When Shunsui spoke to Stark about how Hitsugaya is apparently going to be stronger than he is 100 years later, he feels that Stark was really saying:
"Mmm yea he is strong, but I am stronger."
That’s the sort of subtle thing you’ll begin to pick up on for yourself the more you understand certain aspects of a country’s culture.
Da Central 46
What the actual flaming fudge are these guys even doing?
Has the C46 legit done anything useful in the history of Bleach?
They only tried to
- Kill Rukia - death by giant flaming bird / allegedly most dangerous weapon in SS -_-
- Banish Urahara
- Kill Shinji
- Kill every other vizard
- Obstruct CC Shunsui
- Condemn Aizen to Muken, and oh my, look at where he is now and what he is doing. (¬_¬)
One could say that their job is primarily to preserve the peace and good of Soul Society. Yet, they are often manipulated, and will make a ruling that may be unjust, but it is the direct way to preserve the peace (rather than investigate the truth.)
C46 is the tatemae of peace and harmony in a society that is supposed to have no conflict, and now who’s the shogun that puppets his shadow government? Aizen Sousuke.
The C46 makes the judiciary system look like absolute trash - in fact, a lot of stories do. But I suppose it exists for many purposes, one of them may be a sort of commentary on how power is manipulated, how a government can be run (puppeted), how fearsome a facade can really be - and perhaps show that the people who follow their instincts and their hearts, perhaps, are doing things in a better way.
There is not a lot to say on this except for the fact that most protagonists in Shonen manga are very straight forward, demonstrate qualities of courage and strength, and always do what their heart tells them is the right thing to do. It’s almost like it’s for the purpose of challenging the main tatemae culture of Japan.
Many shonen protagonists are brash, say what’s on their mind, total KYs .. and so forth. It’s quite a contrast to real life, and they challenge the way people are normally expected to behave. Perhaps that’s why shonen manga is so popular - it is really fresh, exhilarating - and the story will take you into a boundless world where speaking your mind and following your personal beliefs is the right way to go.
When a protagonist is at a low, afraid to reveal their true feelings for fear of bringing inconvenience and harm to those around him - he’s usually taught that he shouldn’t be afraid to take the risk to pursue his dreams and goals, that he should just get stronger, and that people accept him that way and they are there for him.
The Gotei 13 , and the quincy crew, and the espada
The Gotei 13 and the Sternritters are a collective group with a clearly defined leader (In the case of the Gotei, I will talk about Yamamoto Soutaichou as I feel Shunsui is a different kind of leader to Yama-jii)
Japan is a very hierarchical society - this is also a facet of their culture that is entrenched in deep cultural and historical roots. This is where “giri” (Obligations) arise from.
All members of the Gotei are bound by the decisions of the C46, and the individual squads have a captain, who in turn defers to the captain-commander.
It’s that self-sacrificing sense of duty to your leader, and your people.
In Bleach, there are times where obedience is paramount, and you put your life on the line to protect Soul Society. (Think TBTP, think quincy invasion). But there are also other cases from the very beginning (SS arc), where you can see characters challenge the thoughts and values of their superiors, and make a stand. Early on, there is Ukitake and Shunsui vs Yamajii. Even now, the quincies are staging an uprising against Yhwach. This portrays the conflict between what is a rigid duty/obligation (to your lord/people) and what is the “right thing” to do (for yourself and the people/values you care about) - and it directly challenges the norm of the existence of a “paramount” duty (giri) that is socially unacceptable to turn your back on in a collectivist society.
There can be a lot of symbolism to do with the double code of honne/tatemae, the mask, the truth, the lies.
Not just in Bleach - but if you think in terms of Bleach - you can find symbolism in Aizen’s Kyouka Suigetsu, the masks of the Vizards, the internal battle with the inner hollow (Specifically in terms of the hollowfication process, the more agitated you get - instead of trying to stay calm - the faster the hollowfication happens. Your true feelings are super bad for you D: ) and even within the characters themselves. Ishida pretty much never says what he thinks, but his friends get it and just let it go. So what is he doing by Yhwach’s side right now? Biggest facade ever, if I can hazard a guess.
A lot of this honne/tatemae stuff is related to why the term tsundere is even a thing. :x
Tousaka Rin!!!!! (Fate Unlimited Budget Works)
Who in Bleach are the manipulative shrewd ones, whom you really have to read between the lines to get at the heart of what they’re saying, and who are the ones who always speak their mind? Which characters have a relationship of trust in each other? Which characters put up a wall and speak in riddles? This kind of stuff can all be related back to Honne/tatemae, if you think about it. Might give you a new perspective on things. : )
That’s it for part four – thanks for reading, and part 5 will just be a final wrap-up/summary post. Hope you enjoyed reading.
Hi guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part 3 of the series of blog posts talking about Honne/Tatemae in Japanese society. Since the concept is pretty confusing, I thought it’d give some real life examples so people can have a better idea.
Applications in real life of Honne and Tatemae
(Some silly examples)
Example 1: Urahara-san says to Isshin-san and Ryuuken-san very neutrally/casually, “Are you staying for dinner?”.
People fluent in Tatemae-speak (not an official word, I coined it just now please don’t quote it in official cases :9 ) will take this to mean that “You’ve been here long enough, we’re done for now, I have other business to attend to, pls leave.”
The proper response to this (understanding the hidden implication) would be to say “Oh you’re right, it is getting late! I shall trouble you no further and be on my merry way. Thank you very much for all your hard work today. Otsukare-sama deshita. *leaves*
People who don’t get it, will be like “Oh yar sure, I’ll stay for dinner. I have nothing to eat in my fridge at home anyway. Thanks man.”
( ;9 Which guy d’you think said what? )
Jokes aside though, in an actual situation if you don’t get the response right then that is your instant recipe to a very awkward situation right there. This is what we call “Kuuki yomenai” (lit. can’t read the air/atmosphere). I’ll talk about this later.
Example 2: As small kids, Sasuke would always be at Naruto’s house. When Sasuke’s mum comes to pick him up, she will say “Please, come to our house next time.” However, every time it is arranged for Naruto to go to Sasuke’s house, some inconvenience would always come up at the Uchiha residence and Sasuke winds up at Naruto’s house every damn time, all the time. In terms of Tatemae, this would mean that the mother doesn’t really mean to have the other kid over at their place. She is just saying “please. come over next time” to save face, to sound polite.
I will reiterate the above kind of examples are totally normal in Japanese society, and people who are used to this type of tatemae culture will just take it all in stride A-OK.
Example 3: This is not a direct example, but it’s something I’ve personally screwed up on in my noob days.
When someone asks you to do something/go somewhere, and your answer is going to be in the negative, don’t say it straight! You have to be vague. No joke. It’s considered very rude to give a flat out no.
Example: (Please keep in mind that GTY_Ponzorz doesn’t want to go to see Avengers in this HYPOTHETICAL scenario)
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Nah, I’m not going. (iya, ikanai yo.)
^This does not fly. The asker will be pretty shocked you gave such an outright “no”. They might take it to mean that you have something against going, you are being condescending, you don’t like them, etc. Wrong impression.
Let’s try again.
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Ah… I want to go but… Friday is a bit… (Literally in Japanese, you will say, “kyou wa chotto”. Which translates literally to “today is a bit…”)
You want to go but Friday is a bit… what? Well, most people who get the implication will take it to mean, today is a bit NOPE NOPE NOOOPE / I don’t want to go / I’m not free, got my hands tied.
It basically means an instant “no, probably/definitely not going” without directly saying “i’m not going (ikanai yo)”. Even so, it’s a lot more acceptable, polite, and respectful.
Note that you said you wanted to go - most people who get this tatemae thing will just take that as fluff, the prelude. :9 But even so, most people say it.
Example four: This is another instance of an indirect vague-response to when someone asks you for a favour you don’t want to do.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: No, I can’t do it / No, I don’t want to.
^ Yep you guessed it, wrong response. Rewind time.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: It’s a little difficult… (chotto muzukashii ne…)
Muzukashii = Difficult , which is the key word.
Chotto = a little, which is a buffer in a bazillion cases. It’s so useful. -_-
What it DOES NOT mean: Yeah it’s difficult, but I’ll have a hack at it.
What it DOES mean: I don’t want to do it , I’m not inclined to perform this favour for you.
How do you reply to a “muzukashii ne…” ?
You would therefore have to follow on with a “Oh I see, don’t worry about it then” and drop it, or, find another way to persuade the person now that you understand they actually don’t want to perform your request. Don’t say “how is it hard? It should be easy for someone like you!”. They don’t want to do it. Either change tactic, or drop it altogether.
(Sorry Dino and Vox for randomly shoving your names in to the examples, yurushite kure ;-; I’m bad at making up names.)
As mentioned before, Kuuki Yomenai literally translates to “Can’t read the air/atmosphere”.
It’s for those people who are often saying / doing the wrong things, at the wrong time, and making a situation very awkward.
In colloquial japanese, this is abbreviated to the acronym “K.Y” which just stands for, Kuuki Yomenai.
You can upgrade this to SKY, which is “Super Kuuki Yomenai” .
It is generally not advisable to aspire to be a super KY, or an Ultra KY, or a super-ultra-mega KY. It’s perceived as a negative trait most people in Japanese society strive to avoid being labelled as.
To quote the Tofugu website,
"Basically, KY is used to describe people who have trouble getting a read on situations, or have trouble feeling the atmosphere of a situation. This is viewed as a bad thing, and most Japanese do what they can to avoid being labeled as KY.
In many ways, KY can be representative of Japanese culture in general. Japan is a group-oriented society that values harmony, rainbows, and cute animals. As such, Japanese people are well known for being indirect, ambiguous, and avoiding conflict.”
That said though, those KY people are often an archetypical character in many anime/drama/manga storylines. Those kind hearted, or maybe loud mouthed, silly, silly, people. How many can you think of?
Okay to be straightforward with you all I’m done with part three. Don’t be a KY and have a good week. :D Part four will be about how all of this can be related back to the Manga and Anime y’all so avidly follow. Sort of.
Thanks for reading! : )
What’s up guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. As promised, here is part two of the blog post series about the mysterious Japanese concept of Honne and Tatemae. This post is an overview of why such a thing even exists, and how it’s applied in Japanese society in the grand scheme of things. Might be a bit dry… but there is still part 3, 4, and 5, woo... *-_-*
History/Cultural Background as to why such an explicitly stated thing even exists and is so deeply entrenched in Japanese culture:
The Honne and Tatemae is often known as the double code of Japanese society. It basically originated from the Heian Period of Japan (794-1185) where this Minamoto dude became the first epic Shogun of Japan and established the Shogunate (bakufu). In this period, the shoguns were the de facto rulers of the country, though officially they were appointed by the emperor. Minamoto Shogun-san gave heaps of power to his shogunate in Kamakura, while the emperor and the imperial court situated back in Kyoto was still intact but held pretty much… zero power. ZERO ;9. This is the origin of the shadow government, where the government that was the Tatemae, and the Shogunate was thus the Honne, the true source of power.
Most of the cultural roots for Honne/Tatemae comes from the idea of collectivism, that Japan is a society built upon social harmony and peace. Tatemae is used to avoid conflict, lest you inflict your non-homogeneity (that is not a word imsosorry) and selfish desires on the rest of your people and shame yourself/bring inconvenience to people around you. D: (sarcasm)
Applications in Japanese society
Lowdown is politicians speak in fluent Tatemae and it is safe to say that is the only language they now converse in.
They often have broad statements of philosophies that can be interpreted in many ways, avoid use of vocabularies that implies judgement on any given topic, and they have a lot of token words that they just pull out of their .. basket of token words, and everything they say amounts to a load of nothing. An Asahi Editorial that came out in 1994 commented that “a prime minister’s speech must be a vague speech that ‘touches everything covers nothing’. Which further shows that Japanese are already fully aware that these speeches are only for show and do not in actuality address issues.
Examples of politician tatemae speak:
They say “jubun ni” which means adequately. This is a delaying tactic, and no one knows how “adequate” the word “adequately” means to be.
If colleague Gin-san does something wrong/scandalous (for example), colleague Aizen-san will say “I feel sorry” (Ikan ni omou) . This expresses neither accusation nor personal apology, but indicates that the speaker understands that he/she is supposed to “feel sorry” about a certain incident involving his colleague.
Tatemae is used for politicians to avoid a ‘loss of face’/public embarrassment. Tatemae is the safest way to be ambiguous about opinions, commitment, emotions, and thus the safest route to retain political hold.
As a result, the Japanese public does not trust the Japanese government. Tokyo Times (2011) reported that 8 out of ten Japanese felt that the leaders were not telling the truth, especially in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. D:
Note: Will provide a source for all of this at the bottom of the page + extra reading for those interested
Automatically assuming that the incumbent government have a strong influence over what is published in the mainstream newspapers, (as many other countries in the world also do) coupled with the fact that all the Japanese politicians speak in their facade-y vague Tatemae speech anyway, readers can just assume that most of the content in the Asahi, or Yomiuri newspapers (main national-level newspapers in Japan), is the prim-and-proper, pre-determined Tatemae side of a story. It’s like a kyouka suigetsu... of a kyouka suigetsu. (Yo dawg, I heard you like kyouka suigetsus… )
In contrast, the magazines, which have the image of being very trashy and gossipy, are surprisingly, said to show more of the true story behind the curtains, the honne.
Based on facts and figures, Japan provides a looooot of foreign aid. Japan is one of the biggest donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA) alongside France, Germany, UK and US. The MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) states that the Japanese ODA is extended to developing countries where people are facing various concrete problems. However, some scholars argue that even in Japan’s allocation of ODA, Honne and Tatemae is being practiced.
The real intention behind such foreign aid is to foster Japan’s own commercial interest. Put bluntly, altruism is the Tatemae that hides the real intention, and the honne, is their own agenda. While Japan truly did allocate more funds to poorer countries, trade partners of Japan in ASEAN countries received higher development funds from Japan. (ie. In the name of ODA , Japan has been giving funds to ODA eligible countries who are also big trade partners with Japan.)
Japanese workers are given annual leave, but that is a tatemae and it’s socially expected that you don’t use the annual leave you’re given . :x
The infamous drinking culture of Japan exists to bridge the gaping hole between honne and tatemae, so people can loosen up and say what they want. It’s also culture that what you say on a drinking session stays within the drinking session, it is forgive and forget the next day.
Okay, that’s all I have to say on the above four big aspects. Sorry that must have been quite dry, but I thought maybe a few of you might want to read it. Though… yeah it might have been really boring.
Extra on the side: Honne and Giri
There are a lot of other concepts that tie in with Honne/Tatemae. Giri is “duty” or “obligations” - in the sense of discharging your duty (or never discharging your duty) till the day you die - it’s a self-sacrificing sense of devotion to your superiors, your country, your people.
(If you ever watch Valentines episode anime, there is always “giri choco” - chocolate a girl gives you, not because she is romantically interested, but because you are her friend and she will give “giri choco” to everyone that is her friend. It sounds bad when you translate it and call it “giri choco” because I’m sure she’s giving her friends chocolate because she wants to and I would be happy to receive giri choco (Unless I was interested in her lol then woe me) but in the workplace, and perhaps other situations, you give dat giri choco to everyone - even people you don’t like - because it’s obligatory and it helps networking, maintaining interpersonal relations, etc) but I digress!)
There is a conflict between honne and giri - which is often examined in Japanese literature and drama, every time, all the time. A good example is for the protagonist to choose between carrying out obligations to his family/state/government/lord, or pursuing an epic (read; secret, clandestine) love affair. I am a real sucker for this kind of basic setting in a story but it usually ends in tragedy. *cry*
(On a side note, the recent generations of people in Japan pursue a more free and individualistic path which has clearly deviated from the path of their forefathers - but I suppose change comes slow, and the notion of giri is still very deeply entrenched in Japanese culture.)
Oke doke, this is the end of part 2 – part three will be some IRL applications of this concept. When does yes mean no, and when is it that someone is subtly trying to kick you out of their house? (x_x)
In the meantime, it would be interesting to hear from readers in this post and the next, what kind of norms are in your own cultures? (My German friend tells me it’s sometimes considered rude to be wishy-washy and indirect in the german mentality (More of which I will cover next week), my French friend tells me French politicians have a “langue de bois” (tongue of wood) for the tatemae speak of the politicians and my Serbian friend tells me that in some situations, a second cup of coffee served is a subtle queue to leave? In Chinese, there is an expression of having a “thick face” to express that someone is shameless, and so on… :9)
That’s it for now, sorry for the long post and thanks for reading.
I did some extra reading up to write this post – which is basically a summary of this link. If you want extra detailed reading, this is the source.
Thanks again for reading!
Hi guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. I mainly translate Bleach. I am not sure why but it came to my realisation lately that this certain aspect of Japanese culture actually crops up in anime/manga more than we realise, so I thought I’d just write a post about it for anyone who is interested. Since I translate Bleach, many general examples I give will be Bleach related so please bear with me, but hopefully it’s not too bad. What would be awesome is if you could leave in the comments your own analysis/views about your favourite anime/manga in relation to this topic!
This post will be divided in to five parts which will be posted weekly, on Sundays (GMT) – to save you from reading a super long post all at once. Promise it will be good. :x
Okay, so here is what I want to talk about:
The truth and the mask: Honne and Tatemae
This is a very distinctly Japanese concept, and may be a little difficult to explain and grasp so please bear with me.
As a short-and-sweet summary to give you an idea;
Honne is the truth; someone’s true feelings, their inner desire, what it is they themselves want. In Japanese society, this is not something that is revealed easily. You’d have to be considerably intoxicated or be very trusting of someone (close friend) to disclose your honne.
Tatemae is a facade; I don’t want to call it a lie, but in many cases you can’t deny that the tatemae is a lie. It’s the polite exterior mask you show to the world, to avoid conflict and preserve pride.
This concept is deeply, deeply entrenched into Japanese culture, and small children, knowingly or unknowingly, learn to grow up maintaining their two different codes of conduct. (Kids are legit taught to have a Tatemae face in the classroom, regardless of their personal thoughts on an issue.)
This is not to say that such a concept is unique to Japan. A lof of people who are familiarised for the first time with Tatemae say, “Oh wow wata bunch of flaming liars the Japanese people are then.” I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume people of the Japanese society lie more or less than any other group of people on this planet. For starters, in many oriental cultures with confucian values, the idea of honor, pride, saving face, doing what is right vs what you want, has been prevalent through centuries and centuries of civilisation. I am sure in your respective cultures, there is such a standard of maintaining a facade, being polite, telling white lies- things which you learn to adapt to - and gradually get a grip on what kind of stuff you do and say flies in your society, and what just really doesn’t.
Why I say this is a distinctly Japanese concept though, is the fact that they have coined specific words such as “honne” and “tatemae” to explicitly talk about this social convention - it is a big deal to them - and this concept of a polite facade is definitely more evident in Japanese society, and more acceptable too. (There are also many anthropologists, psychologists, linguists, who do research on this stuff! ) and having an understanding of it, even a basic understanding, can help to better understand a lot of the other issues, behaviours, events, that happen in Japanese society - because once you’ve learnt to identify Honne/Tatemae, boy is it obvious sometimes - and as a reader , some of the things people/characters do can make a deeper impact/ hold more significance than before. : )
As a translator of Japanese, having a solid grasp on this concept is especially important in order to make solid translations of the meanings in the dialogue. How do you translate a conversation that means on thing on the surface, but may imply something else completely?
To quote Jay Rubin (Translator of many of Murakami Haruki’s novels, and Japanese literature lecture at Harvard University)
“The Japanese language can express anything it needs to, but Japanese social norms often require people to express themselves indirectly or incompletely.”
I’m sure Dino and Vox have written many a post about how vague the Japanese language can be in comparison to English, and the challenges translators and readers alike face in reading a story that’s been translated to a different language. I guess this post will build on their posts, and hopefully this post will connect to previous blog posts.
Next week I will cover some ground on the applications of the concept of Honne/Tatemae in Japanese society, so don’t forget to come back and have a look.
Rurouni Kenshin has a very special place in my heart. It is the first anime I ever watched from beginning to end. The first anime I watched in Japanese. The first Japanese story that truly and wholly captured my heart. It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that I owe my current passion for translation and the Japanese language to the world of anime and manga that Rurouni Kenshin introduced me to.
So when I found out last year that a new Rurouni Kenshin one-shot was being written to commemorate the release of the second and third live action films, I jumped at the chance to translate it. This is that one-shot. It's taken me a bit of time to complete—it was released in Japan in tankobon format in November of last year, and I got my hands on it around the same time—but I really wanted to do this franchise justice. Also, college is hard.
While reading this one-shot, I actually learned quite a bit about both the Rurouni Kenshin canon and the historical setting in which it is based. I'll discuss my revelations on the former topic at the bottom of the post; they contain spoilers and I'd hate to ruin this story for you now.
But before you go, I'd like to (as I've done in my other blog posts) offer a little primer on the real world events that inspired this manga. Bridging the illusory divide between fiction and reality and laying bare the roots stories have in history makes them all the more poignant. At least, I think so.
The main Rurouni Kenshin manga takes place in the early years of Japan's Meiji period. For reference, the era of the Tokugawa shogunate is the Edo period, followed by the Meiji. Next come the Taisho and Showa periods (think World War I and II), followed by the currently ongoing Heisei period. This one-shot takes place six years before the beginning of the main manga, that is, the fifth year of Meiji.
The Meiji period was begun by an eponymous revolution or "restoration," as it is commonly known—the Meiji Restoration. It sought to remove power from the feudal lords of the Tokugawa period—shogun, daimyo, and samurai—and consolidate it in the hands of the emperor himself. In that sense, then, a restoration of Japan to imperial rule, if you will. The Meiji Restoration was also a very important first step in the modernization of Japan. Before the Meiji Restoration began, while most Japanese samurai battled sword-to-sword, the American Civil War, fought with guns and cannons, had already concluded.
Change rarely comes quietly. The end of the Tokugawa shogunate was not a pretty one, and the chaotic transition period between the shogunate and the relatively peaceful Meiji Imperial era is known in Japanese history as the Bakumatsu. The Bakumatsu is also the backdrop for Rurouni Kenshin; although the manga doesn't actually take place during it, the events of the Bakumatsu deeply affect all the characters in the story, particularly Kenshin himself.
The chaos of the Bakumatsu was primarily a struggle between two forces: the pro-Imperial Ishin Shishi (維新志士, Restoration patriots) and pro-shogunate forces like the Shinsengumi. The Ishin Shishi were composed mainly of samurai from the Satsuma and Choshu clans, as the alliance between these two clans was what built the foundation for the Meiji Restoration itself. The top brass of the Meiji government was pretty much all former Satsuma and Choshu leaders.
The Meiji government used whatever means it could to undermine the shogunate and gain power for itself. Often, its methods were less than honorable. In particular, it relied rather extensively on assassination to eliminate key figures of the opposition. The four most notorious assassins of the period were known as the Bakumatsu Shidai Hitokiri (幕末四大人斬, Four Great Manslayers of the Bakumatsu). One of them was a samurai named Kawakami Gensai. This is the character upon whom Himura Kenshin is based. Kenshin, disillusioned with the death and carnage he wrought in his days as an assassin, decides to never kill a person again, but still continues fighting for Japan's betterment. His foe, Shishio Makoto, is the assassin that was hired to take his place, a man who decides that the order and peace of the Meiji government is weakening Japan.
So in a larger sense, the struggle between Kenshin and Shishio is a struggle between modernity and antiquity, a battle between order and chaos, a clashing of change and constancy.
This one-shot, though, is not about Kenshin at all. It is about Shishio.
(Spoilers start from here on out! Go read the one-shot now if you haven't already.)
One of the problems with Shishio being a villain in the main storyline is that he is necessarily required to be evil, to be a foil in as many possible ways to Kenshin as he can. This leaves little room for characterization, or at least less than if he weren't confined to any particular plot role. The fact, then, that this story allows him the freedom to leave that "villain" box means we get to see a different side of the guy.
And its this side that I quite like. Make no mistake, Shishio is cruel and shrewd and merciless, but this depiction of him shows that he's also got a roguish, sarcastic attitude, and that it's straight up cool.
The best thing is that this story isn't just some ultimately irrelevant side story or "filler"; it's clear that it's intended to be canon. Events that take place in the main storyline are explained here, like why Shishio kills Yumi during his final duel with Kenshin, or what his final attack looks like. Learning the background behind these events further enriched my understanding of the main series. Made the pieces of that story fit just a little bit closer, if you will.
Equally interesting to me were some of the attack and character names that I never knew before, as they are unfortunately never properly explained in most translations. So, as I've done in the past, I want to share some of that interesting-ness with you.
First, we have names. As my fellow translator DzyDzyDino has explained in a previous blog post, translating Japanese names almost always boils down to a trade-off between meaning and pronunciation. In English, in order to change meaning, most of the time we have to change the pronunciation. English is written with the Latin alphabet, a phonetic script, meaning that the way we write a word is inextricably linked to the way it must be pronounced. Japanese names, however, are written in kanji, an ideographic script. This means that, in Japanese, meaning and pronunciation can be manipulated essentially independent of each other. For example, my (non-Japanese) name can either be written with kanji that mean "two-flavor sake" or "benevolent charming pearl"—two very different meanings, but the exact same pronunciation. Couple this with the fact that Japanese sounds nothing like English, and 99% of the time, it's impossible to communicate both the meaning and reading of a name with a single, name-like word. Given this impasse, most translations often just completely ignore any meaning the kanji of a name have and simply write it phonetically in English, which, although not incorrect, belies the often deep relationship a character's persona has with the meaning implied in his or her name's kanji.
Hanahomura and Hanabi's names are written thus: 華焰 (Hanahomura) and 華火 (Hanabi). The word hanabi when written with different kanji () means firework; yet, interestingly enough, in this case, these two words are actually not that far off. Both literally mean "flower fire," it's just that the name Hanabi uses a different kanji for flower. On top of this, the kanji read "homura" in Hanahomura's name is a word all its own; it means "flames" or "blaze." A grown-up fire, if you will. So, when the little flower fire Hanabi grows up, she may become like Hanahomura, a flower blaze.
Moving on to the epithets of the Juppongatana, sadly most of them are pretty straight forward, but Anji's actually has an interesting back story. I've translated what he is called, Myouou (明王) as The Radiant King not because that is just one way to read the kanji, but because the Buddhist concept that the term myouou refers to is actually translated that way in Buddhist texts. The term myouou refers to the vidyaraja, the third, wrathful, type of Buddhist deity, after Buddhas and bodhisattvas. One commonly named vidyaraja in Japanese fiction is Fudou Myouou.
The name of Shishio's final attack also has roots in mythology. The word Kagutsuchi (火産霊神) in Japanese, which literally means fire-birthing spirit god, is actually the name of the Shinto god of fire. He is one of the sons of Izanami and Izanagi. According to Shinto texts, his birth comes at the end of the creation of the world and signifies the beginning of death. A rather fitting name for a final attack, isn't it?
Even Sameo and his little army have a bit of a quirk to their names. Sameo's first name is written 鮫男, and it literally means "shark man." His army's name is the Wadatsumi Kouheidan, written thus: 引原海鮫兵団. Wadatsumi is an actual Japanese name, but when written differently (海神) refers to a type of sea demon (also often called an umibozu). The "kou" in "kouhei" is the same kanji that is in Sameo's first name; shark.
On a cultural note, the fact that this story takes place pretty much entirely in a brothel colors its language, revealing some interesting facts about feudal-era Japanese brothel culture. In particular, there are quite a few terms used exclusively in the context of prostitution that are in this story, and not all of them were as translatable as I'd have liked, so I want to share here what I wasn't able to in the main body of the translation.
To begin with, there are a lot of specific terms for prostitutes themselves. Although the term geisha is often used in Western culture to refer to Japanese prostitutes in general, this is actually incorrect. The general term is yuujo, (遊女) or "play girl." The term used most often in this work, though, is the more "dignified" oiran (花魁), which is probably closer to "courtesan." By the way, the first kanji in that word means flower (Hanahomura and Hanabi's names weren't picked at random). Very highly sought-after prostitutes, those of a rank higher than any of the other girls working at their brothel, are called chuusan (昼三), a word I've left as is in the translation. Newly-minted prostitutes that have just begun working were apparently called shinzou (新造), which I have translated as "newbie." This is what Hanabi is. Very young girls like Akari and Kagari that live and "work" (in a non-sexual way, I hope) in a brothel as aids to the older prostitutes are called kamuro (禿). Being that English doesn't really have a term for this kind of occupation, I've left this too as it is in the translation.
The red-light district also has many names; pleasure quarter (歓楽街), play district (遊郭), etc., but the term most often used in the one-shot is actually the name of a real, historical and modern red-light district in the city of Tokyo—Yoshiwara. Additionally, the life of prostitution itself is actually sometimes referred to as "a world of suffering," or kugai (苦界).
That brings this rambling novel of a post to an end. If you've made it all the way here, I thank you for your attention. I thank you for taking time out of your day to read my translations. And I thank you for supporting all of us here at MangaStream.
As always, feel free to ask any questions about the one-shot itself or the translations in the comments below; I'll try my best to answer them.
Until next time,
Hi there, friends. It's been a while.
If you haven't, you should go check out the Mashima one-shot that follows at the end of the latest FT Zero chapter —"Happy, the Blue Cat."
I'm writing this blog post because that short seven-page work actually had quite the impact on me; I was hoping to share a bit about it with you all. So go read it if you haven't already! This post isn't going anywhere.
First things first; the Great East Japan Earthquake is actually referred to in Japanese as "The Great Disaster" (東日本大震災, Higashi Nihon Dai Shinsai). That should be enough to tell you how much of an effect it had on Japan and its people.
The whole theme of "Happy = happiness" as detailed in the note at the end of the chapter loses a bit of its poignance when translated from Japanese to English, so in an effort to get at least a little bit of that magic back, I thought I'd go into it a bit more.
Basically, whenever the word "Happy" shows up in the one-shot, it's written in katakana (ハッピー), identically to how it appears when it is used to indicate the name of the blue cat Happy. Although most Japanese people understand enough English to understand that this means "happy" as in the emotion, this word, when written in katakana and used as it is in this work, would be read first and foremost as a name, not a word in and of itself. It's sort of like if someone was named Mark; despite the fact that this is an actual English word that means marking, when you see the word "Mark" written like that, you automatically know it is a name.
The point of this one-shot is to play with this idea; on the last page, Mashima writes the word I've translated as "happiness" in Japanese, indicating that it is meant to be taken to literally mean just that. This, coupled with the statement on the preceding page that says that "my name is in everyone's hearts," completes the metaphor that "Happy = happiness." That is, everything Happy's said about his own name throughout the one-shot applies to the concept of happiness itself.
Quite a cute and inspiring little message, isn't it?
I know the world is a crappy, saddening place sometimes. Probably most of the time. But try to stay strong. And maybe, just maybe, do me and Happy a favor today. Think of that tiny little happiness in your heart and try to smile.