by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel high school abroad paticipant
photo from madehealthier.com
Even if the ingredients are the same, the way foods are served are also very different from what I’m used to in America. In Japan, there is hanbaga and hanbagu. (Both are pronounced like ‘hamburger’.) Hanbaga is a hamburger, but hanbagu is just a hamburger patty, treated a little like a steak. As I mentioned before, mayonnaise is often used as a condiment, along with lemon or lime juice. I have yet to see either of my host families use salad dressing. (I moved to a new host family last week. ) Cheese is almost never eaten alone; it is always inside sandwiches, or cheese balls. Sandwiches are often a trap for the unwary. Unlike in America, where sandwiches may contain a few tame pieces of meat at best, sandwiches here may contain noodles, chicken patties with ketchup, fish and any number of strange things. So far, my favorite has been peanut butter with banana. It was delicious.
Although a few brands of candy are common to both Japan and the U.S., they are the exception, not the rule. Kit-Kat and Snickers bars exist in Japan, but most brands of candy are different. Sadly, there is no candy corn here at all. (I love candy corn. ) My host aunt at my previous host family told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of chocolate because they get nosebleeds. That seemed a little strange to me at first, but it appears to be true. I have never seen any of my friends eating chocolate here, and most of the chocolate available in stores comes in tiny little squares. This is very convenient when you just want a little snack. You can buy these tiny little chocolate pieces, about 1 inch square, that you can buy for 20 yen. (Roughly 20 cents.) There is a lot of hard candy, though, sometimes in very interesting flavors. I have eaten green tea flavored candy, and seen (although I haven’t yet been brave enough to try it) both ginger ale and green bean flavored Kit-Kat bars. When I first got here, I was surprised by the amount of people who freely gave out candy to their classmates and friends. I’ve since lost count of the amount of people who’ve given me candy. Gum, surprisingly, isn’t nearly as popular as it is in America. Unfortunately, eating candy during class is against the school rules, so I have to save it for later. (Perhaps that’s lucky, since if it wasn’t I would be a lot heavier than I am now.)
Japanese table manners are also very interesting. We say ‘itadakimasu’ before eating and ‘gochisousama deshita’ afterward. ‘Itadakimasu’ is showing gratefulness to the zen spirits, and ‘gochisousama deshita’ means something along the lines of ‘thank you for providing us with this food’. If you ever go to a restaurant in Japan, say ‘gochisousama deshita’ to the staff as you are leaving. This might seem strange to a foreigner (I know it felt strange to me.) but it’s the polite thing to do. As for other table manners, sometimes, Japanese people adhere to Western rules, sometimes to traditional Japanese rules, and usually to a mix of both. I am always grateful that my current host family tends to lean toward traditional manners. It is a lot easier to eat with chopsticks if you can lift your bowl to your face. Although slurping is okay in certain occasions, such as when eating soba (noodles), usually making noise while eating is rude. If you burp, the polite reaction is pretty much the same; say ‘sumimasen‘. (Excuse me.)
photo by Shane Sakata
The traditional Japanese way of setting the table is really neat looking. Usually five or six small bowls are used, with a tiny serving of each dish in its own separate bowl. If rice and miso soup are served, they are nearly always in the front. Chopsticks usually go in front of the rice and soup, closest to the edge of the table. The ends used for eating also always point to the person sitting’s left. (I don’t know why.) The thing about table settings that always confuses me is that there are no napkins. If you want to wipe your hands on something, use a tissue. Even if you buy lunch at a restaurant or a McDonald’s, there are no napkins. If you are lucky, you get a damp wipe used to clean your hands before you eat. I never know what to do with those.