Japan is very orderly, modern, and sosphisticated. In Hiroshima, we are currently living in a very Japanese space that we have made very un-Japanese with our clutter. The house is small, including a genkan (an entrance room that is a combination of a porch and a doormat), a big bedroom with a double bed and two twin beds, a living room/kitchen where Kieran gets to sleep, a small but incredibly fancy bathroom, and an unusual onsen bathtub. There is even a small Shinto shrine next door!
Today, we learned about Japanese etiquette. The etiquette in Japan is not just a set of rules, but an orderly and beautiful mentality that shapes the customs of the country. There are orderly ways to do everything in Japan. Everything from food and clothing down to sitting postures is integrated into the society. There are so many customs that I can not write about all of them.
I have never seen a genkan before. People traditionally enter into the genkan, take their shoes off, and then proceed into the house. It is usually used to remove shoes or to meet with someone, though not formally inviting them into the house. It is where a pizza deliverer would stand in the West. I love the customs of the house and the genkan. It is so Japanese.
One of the most well known customs of Japan is bowing. It is the greeting here in Japan. Like many other greetings, it is related with mindfulness. It can range between a slight tip or nod of the head to a full bow from the waist. Many transactions that occur in Japan are very mindful. Even paying at a grocery store with your credit card is a very mindful situation. You ackknowledge that you are giving something to another person, handing it to them using both hands, instead of just giving it to them so they can charge you. I really like it. There is also a tradition in Japan that does not cultivate multitasking. More mindfulness. A good example is eating and walking. Japanese only do it in market places or at fairs. It is focused on the fact that you should be mindful and eat or walk, not rush and do both at the same time.
Japan is the only place in the world where I have seen “smoking rooms.” It is basically a small room where a bunch of people stand shoulder to shoulder and just smoke. You can’t smoke on the subways. If you want to smoke, smoke in the smoking room.Smoking is not allowed out of smoking rooms, but drinking is suprisingly well-tolerated. In a society that is so inflexible and formal, that it is okay to get drunk every now and then.At restaurants in Japan, you tidy up your space after eating. You put the lids back on to the pots, and set up the plates, leaving it quite neat for the waiter to clean your table. It is very considerate of the people around you.
On subways we always give up our seats to an elderly, physically challenged, or pregnant person. And usually to not make the person feel like they are inconveniencing us, we look like we are doing something else, like getting up to ask Janet how many more stops there are. I really love it.
The US and Japan are two opposite ends of the scale in this way. In the US, people are expected to voice their concerns and to speak up for their needs. In Japan though, like on the subway or at the restaurants, people are expected to look out for the needs of others and not to draw attention to their own needs. They look to see if someone else needs something. And I really like that. The etiquette is really considerate and mindful. Everybody looks out for each other.
Below: Pictures of our Place