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Japan is known for having high regards for its culture. This culture unites the people and keeps them on track. Culture, however, extends to various ways of life including eating, dressing among others. To understand their culture regarding their foods and the way they carry themselves around, I visited the Kinokuniya Cafeteria located at 1073 Avenue of the America, New York, to get an insight into the various activities undertaken in a Japanese food related space. In my quest to understand more about the Japanese culture related to meals, I was able to compile several aspects of the culture that seem not to have changed a lot from the ancient times unlike the Indians who are trying to make their kids happy by buying them foreign foods as explained by Geeta Kothari in his writing of “If You Are What You Eat Then Who Am I?”.
This shows how the Indian culture has been eroded gradually as compared to that of the Japanese
This cafeteria looks like an ordinary building apart from the huge board on the top of the door written in a combination of hiragana and katakana the major Japanese writing alphabets which distinguishes it from the rest of the buildings around.
From this, I understood that it is a distinct way of informing the Japanese people or anyone who can read the language that on the inside is a place where all those who are proud of the Japanese culture can meet and interact. On the inside, the cafeteria has various forms of decorations, with different colors painted on the wall and the low tables and chairs that match the colors on the wall.
Bouquet of flowers is well placed on the tables and on the corners of the cafeteria giving it a pearl look that anyone would want to enjoy. The place is clean with clean hotel attendants dressed in white. The attendants are always wearing happy faces as they talk calmly to the clients.
The place has menus on the table just like any other hotel in the city. It is also characterized by the sweet smell emanating from the various delicacies that are prepared here. I also observed that the workers and their customers are fond of bowing at each other and they are all happy together unlike the Indian culture where clients are just allowed into the restaurants the normal way as stated by (Geeta, p6). Just watching the way they carry themselves around is even more attractive than visiting a zoo. Since it was in the afternoon and the place was not flocking with customers, a few attendants looked idle, and I chose to approach one of them who I hoped would help me quench my thirst. I noticed that there was no other Native American in the room apart from me. Surprisingly, I did not catch anyone’s attention which left me relieved as I approached the attendant. The short young man with broad shoulders smiled at me, bowed and greeted me warmly.
Deep inside my head, I was wondering how he will react to my questions, but I was glad that everybody in the room looked social and approachable. I informed him that I was a student in the local university around New York and that I was so much interested in the Japanese culture and their way of life just to catch his attention and arouse his interest and curiosity in what I had in mind for him. Since my interest was mostly in their eating culture, I asked him about the meals that they prepare and he informed me that they make a variety of dishes in the United States depending on the resources that they get. Firstly, he told me that the culture of bowing represents respect for each other as they pass greetings in every place.
That is why almost everyone in the country has been used to it. From his explanation, I learned that the Japanese people have great pride in their foods and that is why when they establish themselves in different parts of the world, they prepare their native meals without relying on the new diets of the country they visit as stated by (Savory and John, p23). This is a big contrast with the Indian food ethnography as explained by Geeta in his work where the kid in his story is trying to eat tuna bought for him by his mother which is an American diet (Kothari and Geeta, p14). I was informed the most shared and native Japanese meal is made up of ‘gohan’ which is a bowl of rice. This is then combined with ‘miso-shiru’ which represents a bowl full of miso soup.
They then add ‘tsukemono’ (picked vegetables) and meat or even fish. The combination of this meal sums up rice which is a staple food in the country. He informed me that every Japanese finds pleasure and is content when taking this kind of meal. However, several noodles suitable for light meals are available. The popularity of ‘ramen,’ ‘udon’ and ‘soba’ has spread worldwide since these are the main delicacies for light meals. Japan is an island country, and since the people from the country have the culture of consuming sea foods which contrasts so much with the Indians as explained by Geeta Kothari in his story. They also take great pride of these foods. Meals from several breeds of fish and other sea creatures are widely available in Japan.
A Japanese can never be content if they don’t consume. The attendant also informed me that there are many Japanese dishes that people in the country tend to enjoy. Meals such as ‘zushi roll’ which is a ‘zushi’ that has been rolled to form a cylinder are readily available in their cafeteria. Other meals that exist here include the miso soup which is made up of various ingredients such as the sea foods, vegetables among others. Sea foods such as fish are rather despised by the Indians as explained by Kothari in his story. This soup is taken mostly in the morning hours just like tea in the rest of the world. Another memorable meal is grilled chicken that has been combined with other ingredients and meat from a few other animals famously known ‘yakitori.’ They also prepare ‘tampuara’ which is made up of a combination of vegetables and fried fish in low butter that is mostly cooked at low temperatures to ensure that the taste of the ingredients is preserved. By the time he finished explaining all this to me, his boss had arrived with a few clients whom he wanted them to be served with ‘ramen.’ I did not get to know the exact ingredients of the meal, but I promised to pass by another day to learn more. The guy introduced me to the boss, and we had a short conversation with the manager.
I informed him of my intentions, and he was so happy about my interest in their culture I scheduled the next visit to be after two days, but before they were over, I bumped on the cafeteria’s boss the following day as I was visiting a friend. He invited me to the cafeteria and took me to a separate room with low tables and a tatami floor with cushions. I got a chance to interview him about the rest of the details that I was unable to gather. I asked him whether there are other meals that they prepare as I made reference to the few that I could remember from the previous session. He informed me that Japanese meals are countless and that he could not even mention all of them unlike the Indian food which is said to taste the same because they use the same masala on all foods as explained by Geeta in his story. I was also able to ask him whether their table manners are similar to those of the other people.
He informed me that the room we were in is the traditional Japanese dining room whereby you take the shoes or the slippers before stepping on the tatami. Also, one should avoid stepping on the cushion that belongs to the other person. The most interesting bit was their eating where he informed me that they first wash the hands of their clients with a wet towel as it is their culture in their home country. If there is more than one person on a table, everyone on the table must wait until all the orders of the people on the table have been delivered before they start eating. They then utter the phrase ‘itadakimasu’ which only means “I gratefully receive.”
If one person has to eat before the others, he must excuse himself by uttering the phrase ‘osaki ni itadakimasu.’ The phrase means that the person is asking the others to start eating before them and they all say ‘osaki ni doozo’ which means that they are okay and that he can do it. He informed me that in the restaurant, they do not allow people to eat from the same bowl as it is in their culture. This precaution is just because of the matters of health. I asked him about issues to do with blowing the nose while eating where he informed me that it is bad manners to do so as well as making munching that the others can hear as stated by (Yamada and Hiroyuki, p194). He informed me that everyone should take their meals up to the last grain and if a meal is not attractive, one should ask for a replacement before he starts eating. I enquired why they would choose to have a Japanese cafeteria that serves only Japanese meals, and he informed me that it is due to the pride of their culture and foods that trigger them to doing so. He informed me that other Japanese come to spend their free time in the cafeteria since they do not hesitate to interact with the people of their culture.
They are also able to remind themselves of the various things that are done at home as well as taking their local meals unlike the Indian parents who are worried that their kids will shift to the American junk food and forget the taste of their foods as explained by Geeta in hi story. He concluded by telling me that their intention as a country is to preserve their culture using all the means possible. On the process of data collection, I was able to take a picture showing the general view of the cafeteria and an example of food that they prepare as shown below Cultures that involve foods and diets are diverse depending on their origin, but the Japanese culture is exquisite. They do not want to skip any aspect of their culture to fit in the new worlds that they venture. Their culture brings them together and reminds them of their roles. Also, the meals that they take keep them healthy and fit and since they recognize what their meals are made of, they prefer having them all times rather than depending on the foreign meals. This is not the case in other places like in the Indian culture where one has to go for catering to learn how to cook. This is well explained by Geeta in his story where he says that the woman had to go for catering to learn how to cook a few more meals. Therefore, it is necessary to uphold on one’s culture since it is what defines someone
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