[Editor’s note: Here is my first published article in Japan, appearing in a local tourist-oriented magazine in Osaka just a few months after my arrival in the country. Still living in temporary lodgings out in the boondocks at the time, I was struggling with the Japanese language, finding my way around, seeking work in the news business, and unsure at that point how much longer I would be living and working in Japan. The rest, as they say, is unhistory. —BC] Faux Pas for First-Time Visitors
Contributor Brian Covert hails from California, where he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. He arrived in Japan in December 1986, and wishes to share his advice with Discover Kinki! readers. For a Westerner staying in Japan, life is a series of “firsts”: your first cup of sake, your first public bath, your first visit to a shrine or temple. Just walking down a crowded city street or an isolated country road can be a “first” (especially if you’re lost), and these “firsts” are not likely to fade from memory anytime soon. The Japanese are proud of their culture and are usually more than willing to share it with foreigners, particularly first-time visitors. But in return, Westerners need to respect and appreciate the Japanese way. To show your respect and appreciation, you, as a first-time visitor, must be on your toes. You need to make sure you don’t insult your Japanese host, either accidentally or intentionally. So how does one attain such a perfect state of grace? Trial and error, my friend. And to help make your experiences in Japan much more memorable, you’ll need to follow a set of guidelines devised specifically for first-timers. Eating Don’t: Sit and stare at your plate of food. It’s downright rude. Besides, you can rest assured that the ocean fish still airing its gills on your plate will be dead once it hits your stomach. Do: Say “itadakimasu” before eating. It’s the Japanese way of saying “bon appétit,” and lets the host know you appreciate the meal you are about to consume. Don’t: Keep asking over and over again what you’re being served. It may seem that many Japanese dishes were designed solely to gross out Western taste buds, but keep in mind you’re in the Land of the Rising Sun — not at Grandma LaVerne’s Homestyle Country Ranch Restaurant. Do: Pay close attention to the delicate care taken in preparing your meal. Many Japanese cuisines look so exquisitely appealing that you almost hate to touch them with your chopsticks. And don’t forget to thank your host after the meal by saying, “Gochisō-sama deshita.” They’ll know you ate well and appreciate their effort in preparing your meal.