Saturday, 20 February 2010

Japanese Traditions

The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behaviour in the country and is considered very important. Many books instruct readers on its minutiae.
Some conventions may be very regional practices, and thus may not exist in all regions of Japan. The following are generally accepted modern customs in Japan. Some customs have changed over the course of history.
Shinto is a very ancient religion. It does not have a founder or sacred scriptures.
"Shinto gods" are called kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. The kami of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines. The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto's most important kami.The Four Affirmations' of Shinto.
1 Tradition and family must be honored.
2 Love of nature Most shrines are built in groves on the edge of the village, near a waterfall, near a distinctive rock on the seashore.
3 Physical cleanliness
4 Festivals and ceremonies must be honored. Japanese festivals are joyous occasions. These events are intended as entertainment for the benefit of the kami as well as for the participants.

Making payment
Instead of handing a cashier cash from one's hands to the cashier's hands, it is a commonplace practice in Japan to place the money onto a small tray that is placed specifically for the purpose near the cashier machine. Not following this rule is considered rude in Japanese culture, however convenience store, or "kombini", normally do not stick strictly to this rule. It is important to note that when anything is given directly from hands-to-hands, for example money or a business card, that both the giver and receiver hold the article with both hands.
(Pictured left: Mt Fuji).
Eating and drinking
Meals in Japan traditionally begin with the phrase itadakimasu (
いただきます?) (literally, "I humbly receive"). The phrase is similar to the phrase "bon appétit," or grace, used in the case of some individuals, at every meal. It is said to express gratitude for all who had a part in preparing the food, and in cultivating, ranching or hunting edible food of plants and animals. This originates in the consideration that living organisms are giving their life to human beings as Dāna. Upon finishing a meal, the Japanese also use the polite phrase Gochisosama-deshita (ごちそうさまでした, Gochisōsama-deshita?) (lit. Thank you for good meal- it was) or - more informal/simple - Gochisōsama. Gochisōsama is also based on the religious belief where chisō (馳走;ちそう?) means running with efforts (by riding a horse, thereby indicating expedience) to cater foods for the guest, then linguistically altered to express gratitude to their efforts with adding go and sama as the form of teineigo (丁寧語). To join one's hands in the namasté gesture while saying these words is good manners. (See also Mottainai as Buddhist philosophy.)
It is considered polite to clear one's plate, even to the last grain of rice; children are especially encouraged to do so. It is impolite to pick out certain ingredients and leave the rest. One should chew with the mouth closed.
It is acceptable to lift soup and rice bowls to your mouth so that you don't spill food. It is also appropriate to slurp certain foods, especially ramen or soba noodles, though this is not practiced universally.
Rice is generally eaten plain or sometimes with nori (dried-pressed seaweed) or furikake (various seasonings). Pouring soy sauce onto plain white rice is not a Japanese custom, nor is it common to pour soy sauce directly over sashimi or sushi. Instead, soy sauce is poured into a small dish that is provided, and the food dipped into the sauce. Furthermore, to pour an excessive amount of soy sauce into the small dish is considered greedy and wasteful. When eating nigiri-zushi, one should dip the sushi topping side down into the sauce; leaving stray grains of rice floating in the sauce is considered uncouth (but rather hard to avoid for those who have difficulty with chopsticks). In sushi-only restaurants, it is acceptable to use fingers instead of chopsticks to eat the nigiri-zushi.
It is still uncommon for Japanese people to eat while walking about. Some consider it rude to eat in public or on trains, but this is not a universally-held belief.
Many Japanese restaurants provide diners with single-use wooden chopsticks that must be snapped apart. Chopsticks taper toward the bottom; the thicker top part, which will be snapped apart, will have small splinters. One should never use the thick, splintered end to pick up food. In order to remove the splinters, it is acceptable to rub one chopstick against the other; however, the common Western practice of placing both chopsticks between the palms and vigorously clattering them together is extremely rude, especially when one is seated at a sushi bar, as this signals the waiter that one thinks his utensils are cheap.
In Japanese restaurants, customers are given a rolled hand towel called oshibori (お絞り?). It is considered rude to use the towel to wipe the face or neck; however, some people, usually men, do this at more informal restaurants. Nonwoven towelettes are replacing the cloth oshibori.
When using tooth picks, it is good etiquette to cover one's mouth with the other hand. Blowing one's nose is considered rude in public, especially at a restaurant, and a cloth handkerchief should never be used for the purpose. It is polite to cover one's nose with the hand, or excuse oneself to the restroom first.
Visiting someone's house
It is considered an honour to be invited to one's home in Japan. Many Japanese regard their homes to be too humble to entertain guests. Wooden geta are provided for short walks outside when entering the house. Since the floor level is often higher than ground or entrance level or even the same height, Japanese don't want the floor to be stained by soil, sands or dust that may be attached to bottom of footwear. It is generally considered polite to wear shoes instead of sandals, but sandal wearers may carry a pair of white socks to put over their bare feet or stockings, so that their bare feet will not touch the slippers that the host offers. The shoes are turned around so that the toe faces the door after taking them off. During the winter time, if a guest is wearing a coat or hat, the guest will take it off before the host opens the door. When the guest is leaving, he or she does not put on the coat or hat until the door has closed.
Regarding seating arrangements, see kamiza.
Greetings are considered to be of extreme importance in Japanese culture. Students in elementary and secondary schools are often admonished to deliver greetings with energy and vigor. A lazy greeting is regarded with the type of disdain that would accompany a limp handshake in parts of the West. (Pictured right: Kami)
Simply walking off without saying anything is frowned upon. When parting, instead of simply saying goodbye, it is common to make a wish to meet again.
The most common greetings are ohayō gozaimasu (おはようございます?) or "good morning", used until about 11am but may be used at any time of day if it is the first occasion that day the two people have met; konnichiwa (こんにちは
?) which is roughly equivalent to "good day" or "good afternoon" and is used until late afternoon; konbanwa (今晩は?) or "good evening"; and oyasuminasai (お休みなさい?) or "good night". Different forms of these greetings may be used depending on the relative social statuses of the speaker and the listener.
Since many Japanese homes are very small, entertaining is traditionally done at restaurants and other establishments. Entertaining at home is not unheard of however, and hosts will often go to great lengths to be hospitable.
Generally, as in many other cultures, the guest takes priority. He or she will be seated in the best place, served the best food and drinks, and generally deferred to. If staying overnight, the guest will also be offered the first bath, and the hosts may even give up their own beds.
Japanese hosts generally try for the ideal of being busy so the guest can relax. As opposed to Western hospitality styles where the host presents a relaxed front to the guests or may encourage guests to "make themselves at home" or "help themselves," Japanese hosts will often present a busy front to guests. The general aim is to cultivate the idea among guests that everything is being taken care of so that they may relax and be at ease.
Letter writing materials
Personal letters are traditionally written by hand using blue or black ink, or with a writing brush and black ink. The preferred paper is washi (Japanese paper). Letters may be written vertically (tategaki) or horizontally (yokogaki), but vertical is the traditional, and therefore more formal, direction.