I have lived in Japan for nearly over a year now. It had been a year since I left home. Home to me was the dusty industrial city of Liverpool. Not one of the cleanest of England’s cities but nevertheless was my favourite of the lot.
I had overcome my homesickness within the first few months itself. I was doing alright now with my newly found purpose of teaching English in Osaka. Prior to this, I lived in Kyoto, it was a big and expensive city as well but I had lot and lots of friends there, most of whom where English teaching expats like me. The days, weeks and months went by in making lesson plans for the students.
Osaka was different, I was a complete stranger here and as usual the locals were friendly and nice to me as a foreigner, but there was something missing. I was tired of being a guest in country where I had spent a yea of my youth. I was not on a vacation, I just didn’t want to meet other foreigners like me. I was tired of the bubble I was living in Kyoto. Osaka was supposed to be different. I was going to put in all my efforts into blending in with the local population. I was going to become Nihongin. I didn’t want to feel like an alien anymore.
The locals weren’t that helpful either. The Honnae and Tatemae (true feelings and facade) made it very difficult to make friends. I would never understand if I had done something wrong or if I had offended them in anyway. The non-verbal communication was too much for me to keep up with. I was about to give up but I decided to give it a few more attempts until I gave up and became the permanent Gaijin (foreigner ) in Japan.
I messaged my friend who has been living here for nearly three years now and was in a long term relationship with a Japanese girl. He was Indian and was trying to convince his parents to let him marry his Japanese girlfriend.
I told him about a family whose son was my student in Kyoto. After I arrived in Osaka, they invited me over for dinner. I wanted to do it right this time and not mess up because of my ignorance or my reluctance to accept Japanese customs, at least while visiting someone’s house.
Here are a few tips that he gave me.
1. Don’t Be Late.
This probably went without saying. I was in Japan for nearly twelve months and the first thing that I could see how everything was on time . This applied to visiting a Japanese family too, one must not be late or keep the host waiting. It is very disrespectful to think that the other person’s time is not important . Especially when it comes to that of the host family who you are visiting.
If you are going to be late by nearly fifteen minutes then the best thing to do is to call them and let them known in advance.
2.Bring Another Guest Only If The Host Family Agrees
The host family will obviously not turn down another guest who might be your friend or companion, but it is better to let them know before hand. They can agree upon a convenient seating arrangement and will also be able to keep up with the amount of food and drinks.
3. Bring A Gift
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. Just a gift basket or flowers or something small will be appreciated. It doesn’t have to be expensive or big, but putting it in a nice bag and presenting it in a polite manner will show your hosts that you are familiar with Japanese culture and are thankful for their invitation. While giving a gift, most Japanese people say “Tsumaranai mono desu ga…” which means “It’s nothing special but here is a little something for you.”
4. Announce Your Arrival
“Ojama shimasu,” which means ‘sorry for intruding or disturbing you.’ This is how you will have to announce your arrival before you enter the house. It is very similar to ringing the doorbell but on a more personal and human note. This is the best way to show your gratitude and also appreciate the efforts your host has gone through for accommodating you.
5. No Footwear Inside The House
This is common all across Asia and it totally makes sense. The shoes you have been wearing across the town is dirty and unclean. Gathering all the filth of the city. You don’t want to bring that into your host’s house. thus, remember to leave your footwear outside before you enter the host’s house. The front entrance, called a genkan, is usually a lowered floor and the place where shoes should be removed.
6. Use The Slippers They Provide
Japanese household have a separate pair of footwear that can be worn in the house, they use this to protect their feet but still maintain the neatness of their house. The household will probably have a special pair of footwear for the guests who visit. So if provided one, go ahead and wear them. They are always clean and comfortable.
7. Seating Arrangement
After you enter, wait until you are told where to sit. You will probably be led to a dinning room if the house is big enough for one. There, each member of the family usually has a designated seat. So make sure you are not occupying some’s place, the won’t tell you if you do but you will probably offend them.
8. Offer To Help After The Meal
The host family will obviously refuse it but it will definitely look like a good gesture as everyone likes a little help. It might just be a little offer to carry the dishes back to the sink. You will definitely be told not to but the more you insist , the more good it will look on your part. Just don’t over do it and look insincere.
It was going to be an exciting experience apart from the meal, the customs and the conversations. I was looking forward to everything this family was going to offer me during that one meal. It was my duty t show my gratitude for all the good treatment I received from them. From complimenting the meal to helping out . the little details would help me integrate better into the Japanese Society.
Author: The Brown Nomad
Also published on Medium.