Wednesday, April 29, 2009
All Japanese homes adhere to strict rules in regard to removing ones shoes before entering a house or room, and this is one custom the Japanese will not make allowance for just because you are a foreigner. Upon entering a private residence guests should take off their shoes at the entrance of the house known as the genkan. Slippers are then provided by the host or hostess, and are to be worn for the duration of your visit. There are two exceptions to this practice. Upon entering a room furnished with a tatami floor, slippers are removed, as tatami mats should only be tread upon in socks or bare feet. The second exclusion to the rule is when you enter the washroom of the home. Slippers are again removed and left outside the door in exchange for a pair designated for the bathroom.
Even though most Japanese homes are now furnished with western style sofas and chairs, there still may be an occasion when you will be required to sit on the floor in the traditional Japanese fashion, especially in large family gatherings where meals are often held sitting on the tatami floor around a low table. The formal way of sitting for both men and women is known as “seiza”, which is basically a kneeling position where the legs are tucked under as you rest on knees, legs, and feet. Foreigners however are not expected to to sit in seiza for long periods of time, and many Japanese because of their westernized life styles are no longer attempting this uncomfortable position as well. Therefore a more casual style has been adopted. Men usually sit cross legged, while women sit on their knees laying both legs to one side. The former position is considered exclusively male, while the latter is to be used by women only.
Although it is not entirely necessary and will not be expected, it is also customary in Japan when visiting someones home to bring a small gift known as “temiyage”. This does not need to be an extravagant present, something as simple as a bag of fruit or a bottle of sake, as more than anything it represents your appreciation for being invited.