This is an uncommon occurrence for most visitors to Japan, but might arise out of a homestay, or a visit arranged through a friend. The Japanese don’t usually entertain in their homes, except for family members, or other relatives visiting from another town or city.
Men do most of their socialising straight after work, at a bar or the like. Stay at home mothers might invite neighbours in during the day, while the husband’s at work. Couples usually don’t entertain at home, preferring to dine with friends at a restaurant. Should you be invited to visit a Japanese family in their home, following are a few basic points to consider:
1. Is a gift needed?
Usually, yes. Food is common, such as a box of small cakes, or a package of fruit. Flowers are less common. If, prior to travelling to Japan, you’re aware you might visit people at home, or otherwise come into personal contact with Japanese people, you should bring some souvenirs with you, as something suitable from overseas is always appreciated
2. Timing your arrival
Simply, don’t be late. If something unavoidable occurs, phone or text ahead, or ask someone else to.
3. Upon arrival
The front door of every residence in Japan, be it a house or apartment, opens onto a tiled entrance, which is at the same level as outside the front door. It is here that footwear is removed. The rest of the dwelling will be at a slightly raised height (apartments around 2 or 3cms higher, houses more). At the raised point of entry slippers are put on. Any gift may be handed over at this point.
4. Where not to wear slippers
Tatami matting rooms – stockings or socks only, so remove slippers before entering. The toilet (always a separate room) – remove slippers before entering, and inside use the toilet slippers, or nothing (no-one will know). Do not wear toilet slippers outside the toilet.
Avoid performing this basic bodily function in front of others, and definitely not at the dinner table. In the toilet or bathroom area is preferable, but away from others.
6. Table manners
Many Japanese families sit on the floor, probably tatami matting, when dining. This can become uncomfortable for Westerners, but can be aided by use of a couple of cushions, or special floor seats. Chopsticks will most likely be used, so some degree of proficiency in their use is helpful. Otherwise, at the outset ask for a knife and fork. Chopsticks should not be used to prod food so as to pick it up, and nor should one’s own chopsticks be used when serving from a shared bowl. For this purpose, the chopsticks can be turned around, and the blunt ends used to pick up from a bowl.
7. Taking a bath
This is the most ritualised part of any overnight stay with a Japanese family. In most homes, the bathing area is an enclosed room adjacent to the wash basin and vanity. It comprises a short deep bath beside an open area used for washing. No washing is done in the bath – this is entered only after washing and removal of all soap.
© Copyright 2014 SJ Peterson