I totally understand where you're coming from re: Japanese and the excessive use of tact from a Western perspective.
When I lived in Japan I did not speak Japanese, although I knew some basic phrases and polite words and such. Only problem was, the more effort I put into being polite, the more the Japanese I encountered were polite right back, so much so that after a long string of "politeness" my vocabulary was quickly exhausted and I didn't know what else to say. It made things a little awkward for me because I didn't know how to extricate myself from the situation. I quickly learned to never, ever try to out-polite a Japanese. You'll lose every time. :-D