Anmona Handique Mahanta
When we visit a new place or a new country, it is really amazing when slowly and steadily we start falling in love with their culture, customs and every essence of it. And in my case, it is all the same when I first entered into this wonderful land of the Rising Sun. I have already mentioned quite a many times how I always get flabbergasted whenever I come across their sheer hospitality to utmost discipline mechanisms, humbleness and politeness and of course, the impeccable cleanliness culture of Japan. Today, through this article I would like to mention a few more of the popular things about Japan.
The Western-traditional twist
The country is already constructed with a subtle composition of ultramodern and traditional look from neon-lit skyscrapers to historical shrines and temples. This subtle composition also exists in today’s Japanese houses. Earlier, the Japanese houses were only made of wood where the rooms had the traditional flooring known as Tatami flooring. Tatami flooring consists of Tatami mats, which is traditional flooring unique to Japan. These mats are made up of rush and cloth. Today, in modern Japanese houses, at least one of the rooms is of Tatami flooring which we usually use as a sitting room and the rest of the rooms have a western get-up but with traditional door styles that are sliding made up of light cardboard material.
'Tatami' flooring at our home, known as the 'Tatami Room'
These rooms are cosy in winters and stay cool during summers. So, before entering any Japanese house or say even some Japanese hotels or restaurants there’s a small area called ‘Genkan’ which is provided to get off your shoes or sandals. Now, there are some etiquettes to use the room and it should be maintained or else, the mats could get damaged and the replacement cost is weirdly expensive, may even cost you in lakhs. Generally for the Tatami room, futons (mattresses) are used if used as a bedroom or if sofas are used while used as a sitting room; it should be made of cloth or a similar soft material. One should not get any slippers or shoes inside the room, as it has a high probability of getting moles due to moisture intact.
Street savours as Saviours!
Street foods are not so common in Japan, unless it's a festival season like Cherry blossom or autumn festival or any such like. But yes, you may come across many little Japanese shops that are very tacky yet pretty and neat brewing aromatic fragrances. So the common quick slurps and bites that one can find here are- Ramen, Gyoza (Momos), Takoyaki (fried octopus balls- typically filled with minced octopus meat, green onion, pickled ginger, fried in wheat flour based batter), fried chicken, Karage (Japanese fried chicken), Onigiri (Rice and fish stuffing), pork dumplings, Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake made of various ingredients in a wheat flour based batter). Well, there are many more when it comes to delicious Japanese street foods apart from its savouring cuisines but these are a few which are easily affordable, fulsome and mouth-watering.
A platter of Gyouza (Momo) usually stuffed with pork
Before and after the Big Burps!
Well, when you dine along with Japanese people or whenever you visit a public eating place, you won’t find the silent ambience that is usual when you hop on a train or you sit in a park or you shop in a market or any such random public place. Isn’t that surprising? Yes, when I first visited Japan, I along with and my husband went to a Ramen-ya (which means a Ramen shop). We ordered a chicken fried rice bowl (known as O-Chahan in Japanese) and one Ramen bowl. And all I can hear is the slurping sounds around me. And seeing my sceptical face, my husband said, ‘this is how it is here, if you do not make a sound and eat, it is rather a rude gesture to the chefs! The more you make a sound and eat, the more it shows you are pleased by the food given to you, it is a kind of gesture that says you are just enjoying the meal’. And a good loud burp is a bonus too. Strange, isn’t it? Well, this is how it happens in Japan likewise in some other Asian nations like Korea. Now, some mandatory etiquettes that I learnt here while dining are - before having your food we need to say the expression by clapping our hands 'Itadakimasu’ - meaning ‘I humbly receive the food or Thanks for the food’. Again, as you are done with your food, it follows with the expression by clapping hands together again ‘Gochisousamadeshita’ - meaning ‘Heartfelt thank you for the meals cooked or served ‘.
Some other common likely phrases!
As a layman, the first three easy common words that any random non-Japanese can easily pick up and keep uttering are - Sumimasen, Arigatou and Daijoubu!
So you might be wondering what these are? Sumimasen! This is the most versatile word in Japan which has different meanings in different contexts but again the most helpful word especially for a non-Japanese like us. It is used while expressing an apology, or while you need to get the attention of someone, or showing appreciation to someone. It was confusing initially, but with times it just becomes second nature with situations that one has to face and come across.
Now the word ‘Arigatou’ and it means ‘Thank you’. This is another versatile word across Japan. This is a casual way of saying thank you to someone and is mostly used between friends and known people. The other way you can hear it is by uttering it as ‘Arigatou Gozaimasu’ which is the polite version of saying a thank you and this is what is commonly used here.
Author at Nara, Japan
‘Daijoubu’ means ‘alright’ in Japanese which is usually uttered as ‘Daijpubu desuka?’ meaning ‘Is it okay or are you okay or alright?’. It is therefore a common and the easiest response while attending to a question or any instructions given. This is most helpful especially when you visit any random market or restaurant to respond back when you are happy with whatever you have been offered in the store and you don’t need anything extra.
Other such common phrases used here and heard frequently are - Sugoi! (meaning awesome or used when expressing an appreciation or when it expresses joy), Kawaii (usually used by Japanese girls a lot which means ‘Cute’), which is another common word in Japan, then ‘O-genki desuka?’ (meaning how are you!), ‘Konnichiwa’ (meaning ‘greeting as Hello’), ‘Ohayou Gozaimasu’ (meaning wishing Good Morning), ‘Sayonara’ (meaning ‘Good-bye’), ‘Oyasumi Nasai’ (meaning Good night), ‘Konbanwa’ (meaning wishing good evening etc.). Well, there are lots more but these are common relevant phrases that one can repeatedly hear in Japan.
These are a few customary things that I felt like sharing with you all. Hope you all enjoyed reading my column today!
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