Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day Four

Today I decided to move away from the realm of the physical and into the more subtle side of my intervention, Japanese etiquette and interpersonal interactions. My research into this has been most edifying and my own ignorance became more and more apparent. So the aim of this post and my day spent at home is to embrace and immerse myself within these social constructs. 

Here is the most comprehensive overview I found at:

Japanese Society & Culture

The Japanese and 'Face'
Map of Japan
. Saving face is crucial in Japanese society.
. The Japanese believe that turning down someone's request causes embarrassment and loss of face to the other person.
. If the request cannot be agreed to, they will say, 'it's inconvenient' or 'it's under consideration'.
. Face is a mark of personal dignity and means having high status with one's peers.
. The Japanese will try never to do anything to cause loss of face.
. Therefore, they do not openly criticize, insult, or put anyone on-the-spot.
. Face can be lost, taken away, or earned through praise and thanks.

Harmony in Japanese Society
. Harmony is the key value in Japanese society.
. Harmony is the guiding philosophy for the Japanese in family and business settings and in society as a whole.
. Japanese children are taught to act harmoniously and cooperatively with others from the time they go to pre-school.
. The Japanese educational system emphasizes the interdependence of all people, and Japanese children are not raised to be independent but rather to work together.
. This need for harmonious relationships between people is reflected in much Japanese behaviour.
. They place great emphasis on politeness, personal responsibility and working together for the universal, rather than the individual, good.
. They present facts that might be disagreeable in a gentle and indirect fashion.
.  They see working in harmony as the crucial ingredient for working productively.

Japanese Non-Verbal Communication
. Since the Japanese strive for harmony and are group dependent, they rely on facial expression, tone of voice and posture to tell them what someone feels.
. They often trust non-verbal messages more than the spoken word as words can have several meanings.
. The context in which something is said affects the meaning of the words. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the situation to fully appreciate the response.
. Frowning while someone is speaking is interpreted as a sign of disagreement.
. Most Japanese maintain an impassive expression when speaking.
. Expressions to watch out for include inhaling through clenched teeth, tilting the head, scratching the back of the head, and scratching the eyebrow.
. Non-verbal communication is so vital that there is a book for 'gaijins' (foreigners) on how to interpret the signs!
. It is considered disrespectful to stare into another person's eyes, particularly those of a person who is senior to you because of age or status.
. In crowded situations the Japanese avoid eye contact to give themselves privacy.

Japanese Hierarchy
. The Japanese are very conscious of age and status.
. Everyone has a distinct place in the hierarchy, be it the family unit, the extended family, a social or a business situation.
. At school children learn to address other students as senior to them ('senpai') or junior to them ('kohai').
. The oldest person in a group is always revered and honoured. In a social situation, they will be served first and their drinks will be poured for them.

Etiquette & Customs in Japan

Meeting Etiquette
. Greetings in Japan are very formal and ritualized.
. It is important to show the correct amount of respect and deference to someone based upon their status relative to your own.
. If at all possible, wait to be introduced.
. It can be seen as impolite to introduce yourself, even in a large gathering.
. While foreigners are expected to shake hands, the traditional form of greeting is the bow. How far you bow depends upon your relationship to the other person as well as the situation. The deeper you bow, the more respect you show.
. A foreign visitor ('gaijin') may bow the head slightly, since no one expects foreigners to generally understand the subtle nuances of bowing.

Gift Giving Etiquette
. Gift-giving is highly ritualistic and meaningful.
. The ceremony of presenting the gift and the way it is wrapped is as important--sometimes more important--than the gift itself.
. Gifts are given for many occasions.
. The gift need not be expensive, but take great care to ask someone who understands the culture to help you decide what type of gift to give.
. Good quality chocolates or small cakes are good ideas.
. Do not give lilies, camellias or lotus blossoms as they are associated with funerals.
. Do not give white flowers of any kind as they are associated with funerals.
. Do not give potted plants as they encourage sickness, although a bonsai tree is always acceptable.
. Give items in odd numbers, but not 9.
. If you buy the gift in Japan, have it wrapped.
. Pastel colours are the best choices for wrapping paper.
. Gifts are not opened when received.

 Dining Etiquette
On the rare occasion you are invited to a Japanese house:
. Remove your shoes before entering and put on the slippers left at the doorway.
. Leave your shoes pointing away from the doorway you are about to walk through.
. Arrive on time or no more than 5 minutes late if invited for dinner.
. If invited to a large social gathering, arriving a little bit later than the invitation is acceptable, although punctuality is always appreciated.
. Unless you have been told the event is casual, dress as if you were going into the office.
. If you must go to the toilet, put on the toilet slippers and remove them when you are finished.

Watch your Table Manners!
. Wait to be told where to sit. There is a protocol to be followed.
. The honoured guest or the eldest person will be seated in the centre of the table the furthest from the door.
. The honoured guest or the eldest is the first person to begin eating.
. Never point your chopsticks.
. It will yield tremendous dividends if you learn to use chopsticks.
. Do not pierce your food with chopsticks.
. Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak.
. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest.
. Place bones on the side of your plate.
. Try a little bit of everything. It is acceptable to ask what something is and even to make a face if you do not like the taste.
. Don't be surprised if your Japanese colleagues slurp their noodles and soup.
. Mixing other food with rice is usually not done. You eat a bit of one and then a bit of the other, but they should never be mixed together as you do in many Western countries.
. If you do not want anything more to drink, do not finish what is in your glass. An empty glass is an invitation for someone to serve you more.
. When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl.
. If you leave a small amount of rice in your bowl, you will be given more. To signify that you do not want more rice, finish every grain in your bowl.
. It is acceptable to leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating.
. Conversation at the table is generally subdued. The Japanese like to savour their food.

Talk about the opposite of western society.
To this I may add some other information i found about sitting techniques and Japanese names which I found at another helpful site.

Name order:
In Japan, like in China and Korea, the first name follows the family name. A person with the first name "Ichiro" and the family name "Suzuki" is, therefore, called "Suzuki Ichiro" rather than "Ichiro Suzuki".

The Japanese commonly address each other by last name. Only close friends and children are usually addressed by first name. In addition, people rarely address each other just by name, but usually attach an appropriate title to the name. There is a large number of such titles depending on the gender and social position of the person you are addressing. Some of the most frequently used titles are:

  • san: (for example Sato-san)
    This is the most neutral and famous title, and can be used in most situations. Only in formal situations, san may not be polite enough.
  • sama: (for example Sato-sama)
    This is a more polite form of san, commonly used in formal situations and letters, but too polite in a casual context.
  • kun: (for example Yusuke-kun)
    This is an informal title used for boys and men that are younger than yourself.
  • chan: (for example Megumi-chan)
    This is an informal title used for young children and very close friends or family members.
  • sensei: (for example Sato-sensei)
    This is a title used for teachers, doctors and other people with a higher education and from whom you receive a service or instructions.
Sitting techniques
Most Westerners are not used to sitting on the floor, however, in Japan sitting upright on the floor is common in many situations. For example, meals are traditionally held on a tatami floor around a low table. Sitting on the floor is also customary during the tea ceremony and other traditional events.
The formal way of sitting for both genders is kneeling (seiza) as shown on the picture below. People who are not used to sit in seiza style may become uncomfortable after a few minutes. Foreigners are not usually expected to be able to sit in seiza style for a long time, and an increasing number of Japanese people themselves are not able to do so either.
In casual situations, men usually sit cross-legged, while women with both legs to one side. The former sitting style is considered exclusively male, while the latter is considered exclusively female.

women only


men only

so heres what i'm going to attempt.

those of you who know me or have met me know this is no small undertaking. 


1 comment:

  1. "do not openly criticise/insult or put anyone on the spot or outward disagreement. no swearing"

    i'm gonna have so much fun with this :)