Friday, April 3, 2009

Omote vs. Ura

Part of what I do during the day is track and keep up on trends in the online universe (and believe me, it’s a universe). In particular, my cohorts and I are interested in social media (Twitter, Facebook, online multiplayer games) and their influence on both culture and marketing. There has never been the level of public display that these programs and their ilk have made possible. It’s fascinating, and somewhat weird, and there’s no denying it’s changing the way millions of people relate to each other.

It’s also been making me think a lot about the Japanese concept of omote (public or front face) and ura (private or hidden face). When I first learned about this as a foreigner living in Tokyo, I was baffled and kind of offended. What do you mean my students aren’t really themselves in my classroom? That’s so rude! Part of my reaction was a product of my American reverence for honesty, part of it was sheer youth – I arrived in Japan just before I turned 22, and left at 24.

After a while, though, the uses of the duality, its function in keeping the society rolling peacefully, and the etiquette around it made sense. Observing the principles in action induced me to set my cultural bias aside. I stopped thinking of it as “two-faced” and started employing a few of the system’s ideas. I use them to this day – which is part of why I’m not on Facebook.

I don’t want to be found by my third-grade classmates. I don’t want to put myself on display. I don’t want to be lulled into exhibitionism by the atmosphere of unabashed sharing and then regret it later. Yes, I know I can set the privacy levels, but I just don’t want to crack that door. It’s too tempting.

Ah, you say, but you have a blog. Your ura is getting all over your omote. True enough, dear reader, I have a blog, but when you read it, you’re only seeing as much of my ura as I want you to.


  1. interesting......i think you might be there is much truth in these words....I have actually been thinking of getting off FB, but it has become somewhat addicting, which I can not believe I am saying.....

    Thanks for sharing....


  2. Very interesting cross cultural comment. I've been thinking about going bare bones on Facebook (just shy of leaving it altogether) as people come out of the wood work.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.