Articles on Japan / Culture

Use a spoon, duh.

Every now and then Yuuki and I surprise each other through small cultural differences. Sometimes from outright ignorance of how things are done in each other’s culture, and sometimes it stems from misleading stereotypes.

For instance, many of us that have known the ‘fun’ of being called a gaijin (外人) know the frustration of being asked if we want a fork, or simply being given a fork instead of chopsticks. We know it usually comes from a kind thought, but I know myself and plenty of others feel a bit patronized when we feel like we’re being told, “you have blond hair, of course you can’t use chopsticks.”

It becomes almost a source of pride and a challenge where no matter the circumstances, many foreigners will choose chopsticks over forks or spoons.

Yuuki laughs at me when I try to eat things like oyakodon (親子丼) with chopsticks. But there’s that stubborn part of me that will never admit that, yeah, would be much easier to use a spoon. At least not until I get frustrated enough to give in.

To chopstick, or not to chopstick, that is the question.

To chopstick, or not to chopstick, that is the question. (I chopstick’d)

 

Another weird thing that cropped up even before I met Yuuki was the matter of soy sauce. My family (I assumed everyone else did too but I realize now I’ve never asked) always put soy sauce on rice. That was what soy sauce was made for. Flash-forward to living in Japan, and no one does it. Soy sauce goes on your meat, maybe your veggies. Never the rice. It was a strange sort of culture shock for me.

I stopped putting soy sauce on my rice while in Japan too, but now that I’m back in America I’ll admit I sometimes still do. But, I think that also has something to do with the quality of the rice.

As a foreigner going to Japan, you’re always warned about various rules for etiquette. When there was some chicken that was hard to separate, Yuuki told me to just stab it and grab each chopstick in each hand. I was very hesitant to do so – it seemed so rude! He told me it wasn’t something you should do in front of a teacher or a boss, but outside of that most people do it anyway. But five minutes after that when I tried to pass him a piece of chicken from my chopsticks he immediately flinched back and said no, no, no. That’s what we do with bones after they’re cremated.

As you can imagine, I had quite the appetite after hearing that.

Also, it surprised me that he didn’t use deodorant. I made him buy some.He didn’t smell like body odor or anything – it was just too weird to me that he didn’t use it after the training all my life that you need it every day or ELSE. But then I watched this video (by the Youtube-famous amwf couple Rachel and Jun):

After watching it I told him he doesn’t have to wear it, now that I understand it better (however I’ll admit, I like the smell of the deodorant he chose, so I’m glad he didn’t throw it away). It also made more sense to me why I had a choice of one deodorant at the store in Japan I went to. I remember doubting my reading skills so much that I asked a sales associate. Sure enough, one to choose from.

For Yuuki it seems to be how incredibly sweet things are here. One of the Nepali refugees I met said the same thing. He didn’t understand why we sometimes make even our meat sweet. “If I’m going to eat meat, it should be salty!” he said. I couldn’t fully disagree or agree with him because Hawaiian pizza is pretty gross to me, but…mmmm orange chicken…

In addition, Yuuki tries to put soy sauce and mayonnaise on everything. Today it was cucumbers. Tomorrow – THE WORLD. Seriously though, I’ve always loved mayo and hated that I loved it…but he’s helping cure me of it just by adding it to every thing possible and grossing me out.

Also, he thinks it’s strange that I take showers in the morning. I don’t know how else I’d be able to function at 6:30 a.m.

He also considers me outgoing and doesn’t think of me as shy – I’ve always considered myself shy and socially awkward*. I think most of the people I meet in America, at least in large gatherings, would also classify me as shy.

 

I know this wasn’t a very consequential post, but I feel like I haven’t written about Japan in awhile and we ate rice for dinner. ‘Twas on my mindtank.

 

* Especially after this past Tuesday. More on that later, I’m sure…

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16 thoughts on “Use a spoon, duh.

      • Oh, that is a difficult question.

        I wouldn’t really call myself an expert bento maker nor expert in Japanese food, so I can only answer based on my own knowledge and preference.

        Soy sauce is great to use as an ingredient for cooking and for dipping food in, but at the same time it’s full of salt and can overpower a delicate dish easily when you’re not careful.

        Personally I love soy sauce (but I do like salty food in general) but even so I actually don’t use it a lot in its pure, undiluted form. For dipping I often mix it with apple vinegar (and some sugar).

        When eating sushi or sashimi, I will add a few drops only (on the fish part, not on the rice part).

        I sometimes pack it in my lunch because I like to use a few drops to “season” my cooked vegetables with, or if I mix up rice WITH other ingredients in my lunch box, to add “umami” seasoning that way.

        I don’t often add soy sauce to plain rice, if I just want to eat a bowl of rice (which I actually like to do quite a lot) I prefer using furikake or pickles to flavour the rice instead of soy sauce.

        Not sure if this is the answer you’re looking for, but please feel free to ask me more questions and I will answer as best I can (with my limited knowledge).

        Btw, did you know that there are lots of different versions of soy sauce? Also depending on which country. For example, Korea has a special soy sauce for cooking (soups and sauces). There are also soy sauces which are naturally brewed or mixed versions.

        If you want to read more: these 2 blogs give a lot more information (and are much more knowledgeably than I am):

        http://justhungry.com/handbook/just-hungry-handbooks/basics-japanese-soy-sauce-all-you-need-know

        http://crazykoreancooking.com/foodandculture/korean-soy-sauce-ganjang

        • Oh wow, that’s a lot of information, thank you! I’ve never thought about mixing it with vinegar and sugar, I’ll have to try that.

          I haven’t found very good furikake outside of Japan. I’ve tried a couple but they taste almost chalky to me, so I guess that’s why I usually go to soy sauce. It’s also hard to get good rice, so soy sauce makes it better. Where I am, it’s pretty much Nishiki, Botan, or “Sushi Rice” that’s like $12. The only one I can afford is Nishiki, which Yuuki says isn’t real Japanese rice.

          I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds of soy sauce as well though, I’ll have to give them a look! Thanks!

            • I actually saw your comment just before a friend picked me up to go grocery shopping! I managed to find everything at the store except the sake…there might have been actual sake in the alcohol section, but no cooking sake. I was so disappointed! They had a surprisingly large range of sauces, but alas, no cooking sake.

              I assume the sake is less for flavor and more for keeping it from going bad. Do you think I can use rice vinegar instead?

  1. I know what you mean about hashi. I felt vindicated when my inlaws or hubby struggled with slippery food! I love one set of my hashi with rough tips – they make it easier. And then there is ceremonial hashi… so hard to use. Now I don’t care what utensils I use. Thanks for posting this! It brought back memories. 😀

    • Thank you for commenting! It does feel great when Yuuki struggles too, but it seems to be rare. I’ll have to pick up a pair with rough tips! I should have done so while I was in Japan.

      • You might be able to find them at a local Asian food store. I found out today that Daiso has a store in Canada! Maybe the US, too? That’s where we bought hashi in Japan and still do when we go back. They have a good selection of the rough-tipped ones. Another hint is to use bamboo hashi. I found a couple of pairs at a local store in Canada. I wish I still had the packaging and I could at least give you that! When they get wet, food tends to stick to them. They also have a wide, rectangular shape so they are much easier to use than the pointy ones.

        • Ahh, I wish they were here! My friend from Seattle told me there was one there. I just checked online and sure enough, there are 15 in the states – 5 in Washington, 10 in California. 😦 Unfortunately as I am in Pennsylvania, that is way too far for me.

          I’ll keep a look out though – thanks to the refugees and immigrants here a lot of ethnic food stores have opened, and while they tend to be geared towards places like Nepal and Saudi Arabia, I have occasionally found something Japanese. I’ve even found daikon! So hopefully one of them carries the nice chopsticks.

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