[The 90’s raw: Eddie Tape – Jon Woronoff interview about Japanese culture]

Eddie Becker interviews Jon Woronoff about the difference between the concepts 'tatumai' (illusion) and 'honei' (truth) in Japan. He discusses the difficulty of getting through to the 'honei' of Japan's culture.

00:00Copy video clip URL Inside the apartment of Jon Woronoff. Woronoff listens to a little child talk.

00:22Copy video clip URL The videographer, Eddie Becker, interviews Woronoff about the Japanese custom of tatami and why it fools so many foreign outsiders. The little child complains she’s hungry. Woronoff encourages her to be quiet. He has her go downstairs. Why are so many foreigners fooled about Japan? “Things look better than they are,” Woronoff says. “The Japanese have two levels of reality. One is called ‘tatumai’ and it means ‘illusion,’ or what one likes to consider things being. The other is called ‘honei’ and it means ‘truth,’ or the way things actually are in practice.  When the Japanese speak to foreigners they speak ‘tatumai’ – they say that things look better than they really are, that everything in Japan is harmonious, tranquil and peaceful. When they speak to Japanese, they speak ‘honei’ – that is, they speak the truth and this is the way it is in their written articles and in the television media.”

02:40Copy video clip URL Woronoff, who has operated a small business in Japan, says when he first arrived he was naive to tatumai/honei. As he lived there a different truth began to make itself known: “Underneath this beautiful impression of Japan, there’s another reality. It is wrong and misleading.” He says he was told the Japanese were loyal employees. But the ones he hired were with him 6 months or so and would quit. He discovered the loyalty of an employee only really applied to employees of large bureaucratic companies. He said he thought Japanese were harmonious, that they got along. But the men and women didn’t get along. The younger generation would not get along with the older generation. The higher educated didn’t get along with the lesser educated. He adds that he noticed more harmony among employees in his Hong Kong and New York offices than in his Japanese office.

06:30Copy video clip URL He says that Japanese are frank with one another. They tell one another the honei. The facade is just for the foreigners.

07:25Copy video clip URL He says a Westerner who goes to Japan and discovers the tatami and honei is likely to go schizophrenic because he is told about harmony among the Japanese, but will not see it.

08:47Copy video clip URL Woronoff notes that when the Japanese come to an open culture they stay within their own culture. If they move to another country, they will most likely find employment with a Japanese company, hang out with other Japanese, eat at Japanese restaurants. It is hard for them when they return to a culture that is so strict. He adds that he’s seen some Japanese who were miserable the first year they returned to Japan.

10:30Copy video clip URL Woronoff says he thinks it’s difficult for a Japanese person to live within a myth. Slowly, foreigners will discover their facade, and foreigners are likely to respond negatively.  A lot of Westerners will end up disliking Japan as the truth is revealed.

12:00Copy video clip URL He says most foreigners are gullible and believe the tatumai. He says it personally took him five years to get through the tatumai to see the honei. He notes that a student or a big business owner will not see the honei because they are in controlled environments. He saw it because he was a small business owner, a subcontractor. Subcontractors, he adds, are considered by Japanese to be dirt. Most Americans do no know about this facade. “It will take them time to know.”

13:53Copy video clip URL END

 

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