Friday, June 3, 2016

Japanese Etiquette

Bowing when one is seated on the soft mats of a Japanese house (by far the politest method) is much more complicated. 
Why the Japanese Are Called
 the "French of the East"
 _________________________________

They Even Pass Beyond the Gauls in Their Excess of Formality

The Japanese are called the French of the East, and their complicated system of etiquette is indeed not unworthy of the most polished nation of Europe. The old-time ceremonies were long and laborious, and have to a great extent disappeared with the present busy era. But the every-day etiquette still remains, and many of the forms are pretty and quaint, and especially interesting to the foreign traveler in Japan as being so peculiarly oriental. 


It is especially curious to see how even the lowest classes, the coolies and the jinricksha men, keep up a form of etiquette among themselves and are exceedingly polite and ceremonious while pulling their two-wheeled vehicles or pursuing the lowest trades in the humble walks of life. 

One from the West would hardly expect to find a coolie bowing profoundly and apologizing to another in the most courteous of language for some mishap, or shouting out some expression of sympathy when a heavy burden was being carried or pushed along, and yet these are common, everyday occurrences in Tokyo.

In learning the etiquette of Japan a stranger will always do well to remember that self-abasement and humility to the extreme must be the guiding principle on which all actions are to be ruled. In America it is often the duty of a guest to accept little courtesies from his host, not because he thinks it is due him as a superior, but because he is simply the guest, and he receives them as a kindness which hospitality extends to him, and which he cannot refuse without appearing ungracious. 

In Japan the laws of hospitality for the host are no less rigid than in America, To welcome the coming and speed the parting, to entertain with the best that one has in the kindest and most friendly manner, to see that the guest lacks nothing which thoughtfulness might provide—these are rigidly the duty of the Japanese host.

The duty of the guest differs in that each separate act of courtesy, even though accepted in the end, must be met with many protests and expostulations, and must on no account be simply accepted. The extreme to which this is carried would no doubt seem tiresome to those accustomed to the free-and-easy etiquette of American life. 

Tedious Expostulations 

Every Japanese parlor has its place of honor and its honorable and less honorable side, the latter being usually toward the door leading to the other apartments, the bedrooms and the kitchen. The seat of honor is in the part removed from the door, and is in front of a raised alcove, where are placed a hanging scroll, a vase of flowers and the few ornaments which a room possesses. 

It is a matter of time, energy and many bows before a guest can be induced to take this place of honor, and it is a contest in which the host must be the victor in the end, or, if not entirely successful, he must at least persuade his guest to sit in the more honorable side of the room, so that he himself may take the humblest place on the other side. It is also a matter of importance as to who shall precede in entering a room, and much time is spent by two people, one waiting for the other and each refusing to enter first. 


In entertaining many guests the host's duties are arduous, and as each separate guest is bound to consider himself the humblest of all the company, it is no little work to persuade him to the contrary.

There is a great deal in the etiquette of bows. Handshaking is a foreign innovation, and bowing hitherto has been the only mode of salutation. When two acquaintances meet in the street a bow is made by placing the hands in front as far down as they will reach, and then bowing from the waist downward until the upper part of the body is almost at rignt angles with the lower. 


One bow is not usually sufficient at a meeting, for if words are exchanged a bow must accompany each expression of good-will and friendship. Bowing when one is seated on the soft mats of a Japanese house (by far the politest method) is much more complicated. One is not expected to hurry through as in the street, and there is no excuse for the omissions of all the formal phrases of courtesy, each of which must be accompanied by bows made with the hands placed on the floor and the head bent down to them. 


There must always be an exchange of congratulations on the continued good health of the families, thanks for past kindnesses or favor shown by any member of one family to the other, and very often a visit is accompanied by a gift, which is formally presented and accepted.
 —Sacramento Daily Union, 1897


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia