For reasons I'm a little unclear on, there was no school lunch today, so as is customary in this situation, we ordered in bento boxes. Thankfully the menu had photos of all the boxes on offer, so I went for the manpuku bento, a nice-looking 480yen (£3.20) number with some rice, fried noodles, breaded fish, and (slightly incongruously) chipolata sausages. When lunchtime rolled around, I was a little surprised to find that my bento was approximately twice the size of everyone else's. I whipped out my electronic dictionary to look up manpuku. It says: 'fullness' or 'repletion', and offers the phrase 'eat until one's stomach distends'. It seems I unwittingly helped to promote some negative Scottish stereotypes. Still, I ate it all, and it was good. I just felt a little sick afterwards.
Inspired by this culinary faux pas, let me review Japanese dining etiquette in a manner blatantly ripped off from this site.
Chopsticks. I'm really coming to like eating with chopsticks. In fact, my monster bento came with a spork, but I eschewed that in favour of chopsticks. Though I'd still say that the majority of foods could be eaten more easily with a knife and fork, I like that chopsticks offer a fully one-handed dining experience. This is good for disabled people, and means that everyone else can have a designated drinking hand. Japanese rice is sufficiently sticky that it's pretty easy to pick it up with them once you get the hang of it. Furthermore, the Japanese seem to understand the limitations of chopsticks, and will give you a spoon to eat anything liquidy, like curry rice. A notable exception was the time I was expected to eat sweetcorn with chopsticks, which is taking the piss in my book. B+
Don't stand your chopsticks up in your rice. Ok, I wasn't going to anyway. C
Don't point with your chopsticks. I have real trouble with this one. Admittedly, I wouldn't point at anyone with a fork, because that seems rude. But a fork is very easy to pick up and put down. Chopsticks need to be held in quite a specific grip, so once I'm holding them I like to keep them in my hand until there's a good reason to let them go. Thus, if I'm talking, and especially if I've had a few drinks, it just seems natural to incorporate them into my gestures. Anyway, what's the big deal? Having two blunt piece of wood pointed at you is way less threatening than a knife or fork. C-
Use the other end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate. I'm not down with this either. What if the food is saucy? Then you have to carefully hold your chopsticks midway down to avoid getting sauce all over your hand. And what if you want to put them down? Unless you do some precarious balancing you're going to get sauce on the table. This behaviour seems borne out of the kind of OCD mentality that prohibits double dipping, seemingly unaware that we possess immune systems. I'm not having it. D-
Sitting on the floor. Alright, enough with chopsticks. As I've mentioned before, I'm no fan of seiza (kneeling). But even at a fairly formal meal, one is only expected to keep this up until the first 'Kampai', when everyone relaxes and starts eating and drinking. I quite like this in a masochistic sort of way. The discomfort before the meal adds to your eventual enjoyment, a little like when you really need to pee but you deliberately hold it in for a few extra seconds once you're safely in position at the toilet. Other people do that, right? More to the point though, I like that the absence of chairs allows for a very fluid approach to seating plans; one is free to move around and talk to whomever one likes as the evening progresses. A
Slurping noodles. I have no problem with other people doing this; I don't find it disgusting. And it does appear to dramatically increase the speed with which one can put noodles away. I just find it very difficult to take part in this custom because of all my years of Western conditioning screaming at me to eat quietly. Also, when I do make the effort to deliberately slurp my noodles, I don't think I'm doing it right. I say this because I usually end up spraying droplets of noodle juice all over the table and my shirt. Maybe I need to practice in front of a mirror or something. B
Saying itadakimasu and gochisou samadeshita. The former is said before eating, like a sort of non-religious grace, and the latter is said when you finish your meal. This is alright if it's a formal meal and everyone starts at the same time, but what if it's a more asynchronous, lunchtime cafeteria sort of setting? Some people do indeed say itadakimasu to themselves, but I feel like a ponce doing this. It's like you're announcing "I'm going to eat now, 'kay?", as if anyone cares. C-
Don't pour your own drink. This sounds silly and annoying, but I support it wholeheartedly, for the simple reason that reciprocal drinks pouring provides an instant icebreaker. Combine this with the no-fixed-seats rule (see above) and you're in mingling paradise. Admittedly it does probably mean you end up drinking more than you would otherwise, because it's nigh impossible to gauge how much you've had when the top-ups are coming thick-and-fast, and when people are so keen to offer top ups, I feel duty bound to drink up to make some room for them. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. No, the reason I'm marking this down is the inevitable and lame 'giving good head' jokes that result whenever women pour beer. A-