Saturday, June 4, 2016

More Japanese Etiquette

In modern day Japanese culture, wrapping paper and boxes are extremely common. However, the traditional cloth wrapping (furoshiki) is increasing in popularity, particularly as an ecological alternative to wrapping paper.

Etiquette of Present Giving

The etiquette of present-giving is in itself very complicated, and not the least arduous of the duties which fall on the head of a household. A present is not necessarily confined to any season, but may be given at any time; indeed it is the appropriate accompaniment of a visit. Fish, fruit, eggs neatly packed in wooden boxes, cake or a piece of silk or crepe are the most common presents. They are brought in by the guest on a neat tray, or else sent beforehand by a servant. Presents are usually wrapped up in white paper, folded so that the left edge of the paper will lie under the right, and they are tied with a peculiar string, half red and half white. This string must be not only tied in a certain way, but the package must bear on it written characters which signify that it is a present.

There are a number of symbols which may be used, representing a greater or less amount of humility and respect on the part of the giver. The characters have various meanings, some being words of good luck and others signifying the smallness and unfitness of the present for acceptance, a term most commonly used being so shina—literally a common, coarse, or rough article. Accompanying each present is a little bit of dried fish, which is neatly folded in paper and is sent for good luck. On occasions of misfortune, when there has been death in the family, the etiquette is entirely different, and not only the gift itself but the manner of wrapping and the charmed characters it bears must all be changed. 


Visits Are Infrequent

Formal visits are exchanged in person between relatives and friends, but Japanese ladies go out much less frequently than the men, and after the visit at New Year's, which every one makes, perhaps only one or two calls may be made on any one friend during the year. Gentlemen are far more social, and frequently exchange visits with each other, but there is no friendly intercourse with the ladies of the family. The mistress of a household exchanges salutations with the guests, provides for their entertainment, and accompanies them to the door on their return, but she is not expected to remain in the guest room and converse with them, except in the absence of her husband and of other male members of the family.

Refreshments —usually tea and cake —are always served to a guest almost immediately on his arrival, together with the charcoal brazier, which holds the fire for lighting the little Japanese pipes carried by almost every one in the girdle of the kimono. If the guest does not eat the cake or candy served to him it is quite the proper thing when he is leaving for some member of the household to wrap it up in the paper in which it has been placed and give it to him to take home and it is the guest's part to show his appreciation by taking it, rather than leaving it behind as something worthless. He slips it into the long sleeve of his dress, whence it is taken out by the little ones at home, who are only too happy to have the father's omiyage for their own, for the children are very fond of the sweet dainties, of which there is such an abundance in Japan. 


Hospitable Japanese Customs

A guest who has come from any distance is always asked to a meal, but it is frequently served to him separately on a little lacquer table brought in to the guest room. One or two members of the family may take their meal with him, while the others of the household have their dinner in a separate room. The host, in asking his guest to dine, must always preface his invitation by modestly saying that there is nothing fitting for his friend's entertainment, but he begs him to partake of what they have. The guest bows his thanks and then begins the meal on the little lacquer table, with rice bowl, soup bowl, saucers and chopsticks neatly arranged in place, and a kneeling maid ready to serve the hot rice whenever it is called for. 

As sandals and clogs are worn in the streets and left outside at the door on entering a house, the footgear of a guest must be looked after and neatly placed for him at the door before his return. Should it not have been fixed by the servants, some member of the family must do it at the time the guest departs. As the touching of any article of footgear is a very lowly act in Japan, as in all Eastern countries, the guest must feel honored by this courtesy, make his bow, and say the appropriate words of thanks. 

Whether or not a guest is welcomed and entertained as he should be, he is sure of being well-sped when he is departing. Custom orders that all members of the family and those of the servants who happen to be around shall accompany the guest to the door to bow and see him off. Five or six bowing figures around a doorway is by no means an unusual sight, and it gives one a sense of importance to depart with such a show as a family of even moderate size can make, not to speak of larger and wealthier households, with their retinues of servants.

Curious Every Day Ceremonies

Besides these every-day customs there are many curious ceremonials in Japanese life, many of which the present era has given up or abbreviated. Of those that remain, the most interesting is, perhaps, the old ceremonial tea making, which is a very complicated and difficult affair, and can only be learned after much practice and many instructions from a master of etiquette. Their service at a ceremonial tea party is an art in itself and there are professionals who teach exactly how it is to be carried out. 


The ceremony of making this peculiar and rare kind of tea and of serving the dinner which accompanies it lasts several hours, and the whole entertainment is from beginning to end a very curious and complicated one, in which rules of etiquette are very rigid. Every motion of the hand when preparing the powdered tea is fixed by rule, as are also the manner of presentation and the accepting of the cup by the guest. It takes many long hours of practice before one is skillful enough to do it gracefully and without one mistake. 

The tea room in which the entertainment is held, the utensils, the ornaments of the tea room and everything connected with it are and they must be in keeping with the esthetic regulations which govern the whole entertainment. The making of the tea is taught in many girls' schools and by special masters in the profession.—Sacramento Daily Union, 1897

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