Japanese Etiquette Lessons from the Ogasawara School
Do you know the proper way to hold your chopsticks? Maybe that’s too easy—what about how to take the lid off a dish? Or how to look around the table during a meal? Yes, there are rules for all of these mealtime behaviors and more. Manners are a big deal in Japan, and even today, with the class system and the samurai profession long abolished, knowing the right manners in the right situation is a sign of a virtuous person, who can show courtesy and consideration to others.
The Ogasawara school, and the Ogasawara family that runs it, have been around for more than 800 years preserving and teaching Japan’s intricate system of etiquette. The heads of the family have taught everyone from shoguns to school children, and through a new English-language book are sharing their how-tos with us as well.
Most of us won’t find ourselves in a situation where we’ll be scolded for not sitting and standing up from our floor cushion properly or for being indecisive picking side dishes. But learning about Japanese etiquette not only gives us the tools to be classy when the occasion arises, it also offers a window into those 800 years of culture and national and family history.
For example, there’s a wealth of vocabulary about bad table manners alone:
Neburi-bashi: To lick clean the tips of your chopsticks after putting food in your mouth.
Hashi-namari: “Indecisive chopsticks,” to hold your chopsticks while looking around at all the side dishes in traditional Japanese cuisine, deciding what to eat.
Ukesui: To receive a dish, such as an extra serving of rice or sake, and immediately transfer it to your mouth.
The Ogasawara family’s new book offers illustrated instructions on these don’ts, as well as the do’s, for both mealtime and teatime in Japan. The e-book is available on Amazon and Amazon Japan now, with a print version coming soon.
By Jordan Wyn