Global Lunch Series: Japan

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Meribeth Ross (left) and Akiko Ota (right)

Meribeth Ross (left) and Akiko Ota (right)

Tim Benson

Tim Benson

Meribeth Ross (left) and Akiko Ota (right)

Tim Benson, Contributing Writer

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Tim Benson
Meribeth Ross (left) and Akiko Ota (right)

On Sept 13, 2017, there was a Japan culture lunch in the E-lounge at GSU. It started at 11:30 a.m. and was done by 1 p.m. The speakers were professors Maribeth Voss and Akiko Ota. Professor Ota is a native from Japan while Voss taught at an all-girl school for about 8 years. Each one went into detail about their experiences in Japan and the differences of American culture. Their main focus for the lunch was to go over dialects, food and clothes that was unique to Japan.

Tim Benson
Japanese Language

First, they started out with the language. Japan has about four different types of language. Some of it borrowed from the Chinese. They discussed Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji and Romaji. Kanji was heavily Chinese borrowed. In fact, the sun origin caricature is from the Chinese culture. There is different kinds of ways you should around people too depending on what pedigree they belong to. For example, you can accidentally sound young or old based on the types of verbs you use. If you are not a native, then they are a little more forgiving since they see you trying. However, Ota pointed out that she would have a more difficult time compared to Voss because she is native and they would be less forgiving with her. Another example is bowing. Depending on the hierarchy of who you are talking to, you will either bow a little bit or a lot. So if you were greeting your boss, you would have to bend further down than what your boss would do for greetings. In fact, some CEO’s who mess up at a company must get on their knees and bow to show forgiveness to the audience. It is so common that people will even bow while talking to someone on the phone. The purpose of bowing goes back to during the age of the samurai. By bowing down so low, you leave yourself vulnerable to getting your head cut off at the neck. To bow down like that is to show trust and forgiveness.

Next was the food. A lot of the detail was focused more on the different kinds of seafood. Voss explained how when she ordered squid, the tentacles of the squid were still moving by the time she got her plate. Another difference that Japan’s breakfast isn’t like ours. Americans are used to sugary breakfast with cereals and donuts. While in Japan, they have different kinds of rice and curry for breakfast. It is less sweet. They both explained that for New Year’s Eve there are special boxes of food. The cooks actually prepare their food a day ahead. So, when the new year comes, for the next three days the cooks don’t have to do anything. Everything is made the day before. There is usually a community plate. Unlike America, where we get what we want individually, in Japan it is different. Everyone decides together on what they want to eat. Then they are given smaller plates to dine on from the larger one.

Tim Benson
Photo of the lunch

The final things they touched on was the clothes and living areas. In America, we have a lot of room. This is not the case in Japan. Usually, the bedroom is the same place as the living room. That is one of the reasons why Japanese culture prefers you to take off your shoes before entering someone’s house. There are even bathroom slippers you put on before you do your business. As for the clothes, it is more modernized like America with the jeans and shirt. However, there are still dress codes for different situations. The school that Ross taught at had their girls wear blue long sleeve school outfits in the winter and then white short sleeve shirts in the summer. There are even special bookbags for children that are red and square shaped. None of the kids had a unique bookbag like you would find here in America. Ross even talked about her experience with a kimono. First, kimonos are expensive. Her friends chipped in to rent her a $900 kimono for her farewell party. She explained that you must have help putting it on because it comes in several different parts and it is hard to get into.

In conclusion, this meeting was fascinating. There were so many little things about the Japanese culture that I was unaware of, like the pulsating squid after it is cooked. The little difference like pedigree dictates how you should bow and speak. It is different from what we do here in America. Here we get our own plates of food and big spaces to live in. Even with school dress codes, we still get to have our own backpacks. There are more beef products here than Japan while they have a heavily based seafood economy. Our New Year’s Eve is different than there’s. We barbecue for the day while they cook to serve food for three days. This was an interesting lunch and a blast to listen to about a different culture than our own.

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