Observations upon Japanese social habits

by Paul Maharg on 28/08/2009

If the title of this post has an Enlightenment ring, it’s deliberate.  This second visit I came equipped with a modest knowledge of Japanese history, which is utterly fascinating; but it’s the social habitus that seizes you.  

In a mall restaurant with Akiro, his wife and daughter, I noticed that the waitresses seated customers, then deftly covered their shopping bags and handbags with large napkins.  What’s that about, I asked Akira, and my silly question got the sensible answer that it was to protect bags from spills.  I reframed later to myself: is this just the restaurant pampering customers, or is there an underlying semiotics of un/covering and un/cleanness (like removing shoes before sitting down to eat in a traditional Japanese restaurant).  I know it sounds almost Levi-Straussian, but to an outsider there is definitely something more to it than the remote possibility of waitresses (incredibly quick and precise by Scottish standards) upending a bowl of miso.

In discussion of the character of Kobe city Akira described the relationship between it and Osaka – to my ears it sounded quite like the traditional views of the folk in Glasgow (Osaka) and Edinburgh (Kobe) towards each other. So what, I wondered later, was the equivalent of Kyoto in Scotland?

Shiro recommended a blog: An Englishman in Osaka.  It should carry a health warning: you may injure yourself laughing.

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Michael Hughes August 29, 2009 at 22:50

As a bit of Japanese-phile, a lot of it stems from the traditions that have been adapted to modern culture, its not *just* pampering.
There’s a relation to the whole “gozaimas” that you get leaving shops: quasi-ritualised thank you for shopping/visiting etc.

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