Japanese customs & our experience staying in a REAL Japanese home!

Posted on April 15th, 2013 by BreAnn

The Japanese are people with many deep-rooted traditions and rituals. It was fascinating to read and learn about many behaviors, customs, and habits of the culture before actually arriving to Japan, and then to actually experience them in person!

We had the amazing opportunity to stay with a Japanese family for a whole weekend in their home, and it was wonderful to talk with, observe, and get to know each of the family members on a personal basis.

But before I get into that experience, let me talk a little about some interesting Japanese customs.

Leave your shoes at the front door!

Did you know the Japanese have different slippers for the house and the bathroom? You MUST take your shoes off when you enter a Japanese home, and then put on “house slippers” to wear around the house.  Funny enough, James and I actually experienced this in every Japanese HOSTEL we stayed in as well (not only people’s personal homes.)

When entering the bathroom, you then leave the house slippers outside the bathroom and slip into the “bathroom slippers.” When finished, step back into the “house slippers” and go on your way. You should never wear your house slippers into the bathroom, nor wear the bathroom slippers outside of the bathroom.

Using chopsticks is a main part of Japanese table manners, and it’s important to learn how to use them properly when dining with somebody from Japan. Some things to keep in mind when eating with chopsticks:
–Hold the chopsticks closer to the thicker ends, not from the slimmer front or middle.

Chopsticks, chopsticks, chopsticks!!

–Don’t stick your chopsticks into your rice or food (for resting purposes), as this is a ritual used in funerals.
–Main dishes will have special “serving chopsticks” to dish out the food, so don’t use your own chopsticks to retrieve anything from these dishes.

In addition, there are a few other food and drink manners to keep in mind:
–Don’t mix rice with your other food; it’s considered bad dining etiquette.
–Slurping your soup is welcome and normal and shows that you are enjoying your meal.
–Make sure to finish every bit of food and soup, as it shows you’ve enjoyed your meal.
–When drinking alcoholic beverages, it is polite to fill other’s cups before yours, and to refill drinks every time you notice anybody’s glass is getting low. If you refuse a refill from another, it is considered impolite. The Japanese do not consider alcohol or drunkenness a bad thing.

Pretty interesting, eh?

When we arrived in Nagoya, Japan, we had done our “research” on these customs and were slightly nervous about actually staying WITH an extended Japanese family in their home for the whole weekend. We wanted to make sure we didn’t offend them in any way, and would show as much respect and appreciation as we could. But we were VERY excited about meeting them all and getting a look into their lives.

The way we even got hooked up with this family was actually through my old coworker, Jenn (from Cresa.)  Jenn lives in Los Angeles, is Japanese, and has family and friends in Japan at the moment. She was kind enough to reach out and ask them to meet up with us if possible, but we never thought we would actually be invited to STAY with her aunt and uncle and grandparents!! So it was definitely a VERY lovely and pleasant surprise to be invited into their home.

Jenn’s cousin, Hiroko, met us at the Nagoya train station (on March 22nd) in her car, and we were off!  She took us to visit the Nagoya Castle, a park, and a shrine, and then we went to her parents’ house for dinner. The house was BUSTLING! It was definitely a FULL house, which included the father and mother, Tatsuo and Noriko, the older daughter Keiko and her two twin 9-year-old sons, Daigo and Tougo, and the grandparents (who are both in their 90s). . . yes, everybody all under one roof!  Hiroko lives in a different house, though, a couple miles away with her husband, Touru.

We sat down to dinner and soon the table was full of MANY different dishes: a large pot with a “stew” that included a mixture of meats, hard boiled eggs, and potatoes; meat skewers; salad; soup with tiny clams and these “egg ball” type things (we later found out were called “Takoyaki”) which include some kind of batter, eggs, veggies, and a piece of octopus. In addition, we were giving a glass of sake and a glass of some STRONG schnapps. James and I weren’t really sure where to start with so many different food items around, and were told to go ahead and eat before anybody else started (they were still preparing the table.) This made it a bit harder, as we weren’t sure exactly HOW to eat each item. James was trying to eat the meat out of the tiny clams in the soup, and was told he should only drink the broth, and I was having a HECK of a time trying to eat the hard boiled egg with chopstick: do I pick the whole thing up and bite off the end? Or do I break it apart with the chopsticks and eat piece by piece?  At least both of us had become pretty good with our chopsticks after years back in the US of sushi nights out, and from continuing practice over the past week or so in Japan. Overall, it was a very nice meal and we all had a great time!

Touru, Hiroko, BreAnn, James

The next day, Hiroko and her husband, Touru, drove us an hour out of town to participate in some “cultural experiences.”  The first place we stopped was this CUTE little town with lots of small shops, food, and sake tasting areas.  Hiroko took a lot of time to try to explain to us about different items we saw and tell us about festivals in Japan. We stopped in at place where we could try making “display-window tempura” – which is basically wax food that many restaurants all over Japan put in their display windows to show what each dish looks like [like this.] It’s pretty incredible, actually: SO many of these restaurants

Making “wax tempura”

have many many dishes in their front window, made of plastic and/or rubber, that look SO real, you would probably try to eat it if it were placed in front of you! Anyway, so today we would be given different pieces of plastic food (a shrimp/prawn, a slice of pepper, and slice of zucchini), and would create a wax “tempura batter coating” to put on top the food. In short, we basically dropped hot wax high up into a vat of water and would then wrap that “batter” around the pieces of food. Fun! Afterwards, we walked around a little and then were off again in the car.

We thought we were just heading home, but then stopped off at this random small “warehouse” in a small city… and it turns out that we were going to make Japanese pottery!  They gave us aprons and sandals and sat us down in front of a potter’s wheel with a chunk of clay. James decided to make a coffee

Making Japanese pottery!

mug, and I would make a bowl. We started…. and boy, was it harder than it looked!  Fortunately, the guy there helped us a bit, and we were given two chances to get the best piece of pottery that we could, which was GOOD, since both of our second pieces turned out better.  We were able to choose the color we’d like our bowls to be painted, and they would be fired, colored, and finished a month or two later. The family said they could send the pottery back with my friend, Jenn, in June, or they could figure out how to ship it back to the US for us. WOW!… how nice!

That night, dinner was phenomenal: we had a wonderful and huge spread of sushi and tempura, all hand-made by Noriko (the mother) herself!  The sushi was a lot of fun, as ALL the ingredients were set out nicely on a plate, and we could actually choose which meat and veggies we wanted, place them in the seaweed, add rice, roll up, and eat! (rather than them all be prepared in advance and cut into rolls.) I never thought to eat it this way, but it was just as good as any sushi roll, and both James and I made a comment about how we REALLY need to make this at home when we return to the US!  The twins, Daigo and Tougo, were really cute and fun as well—well, the whole weekend actually—and James had a lot of fun trying to teach them English words, and teasing them about various things. [see cute video here of James and the boys.]

After dinner, we all sat around the table, chatting and drinking beer and sake until pretty late. Hiroko and Noriko spent some time “dressing me up” in a beautiful kimono as well. [see a video of it here] It was such a lovely night!

The next day, March 24, we were off on a train to Kyoto. We said our goodbyes, gave hugs, and we were off to the next city. Overall, our experience staying in the family home was SO amazing, and such a treasured experience. We were SO overwhelmed with their generosity, we were a bit besides ourselves.

Once again, our GRACIOUS THANKS to the family for hosting us in Nagoya, and for Hiroko for all the activities she planned! The memories in Nagoya will be ones we will remember for many many years to come!


To see all photos from Nagoya and our stay, click here.

To see videos from our RTW trip so far, click here.



2 responses to “Japanese customs & our experience staying in a REAL Japanese home!”

  1. Julie says:

    I am loving hearing about all your experiences! Using chopsticks if no easy task 😉

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