Tag Archives: travel tip

Don’t Make These 10 Sushi-Eating Faux Pas in Japan

Just about at every turn I unwittingly make flagrant errors in etiquette in Japan.  I’ve wanted to travel to Japan for a long time  but making errors in Japanese etiquette and bringing dishonour to my family has always worried me. I had read a lot about Japanese traditions and etiquette. I believed that I had a handle on many daily customs which are really different from those in my Western world.

I now realise that just in the area of sushi-eating,  I am so woefully boorish as far as manners go. Here are 10 errors I have made that have certainly brought me shame.

Osaka Sushi Chef
“You bring dishonour to your family!”

I’m always offered a hot, wet towel (oshibori) at the start of a meal and I’ve used it to clean my hands as required.  When I’m finished, I leave it in a crumpled heap near the plate. I didn’t know it was to be folded  neatly at the end of the meal. 

I’ve seen people make little holders on which to place chopsticks during a meal when not in use. So I’ve always made that little chopstick stand from the  sleeve that the chopsticks come in. But then I didn’t know  that when I’m not using them, they should be placed parallel to me on the holder or on the soy sauce (shoyu) dish. I then leave them just anywhere when I’m finished with them. But they should be wrapped in the sleeve in which they came, the sleeve folded over at an angle and then placed on the soy sauce dish.

When wooden chopsticks have been provided, I’ve often rubbed them together. I don’t even know why I do it . I’ve just always seen it done. I guess it wasn’t a Japanese I’ve copied because it’s just not done. I don’t know the reason for this but it’s certainly not polite.

I’ve made a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce for dipping. I guess it was not a Japanese who showed me that one either. Wasabi, in an amount that is felt to be a proper balance between fish and wasabi,  is already placed under the fish!  And, only the fish is to be dipped not the rice lest it soak up too much soy sauce.

How many times have I rudely picked up  a piece of food from my partner’s  plate with the end of my chopsticks; the end I put in my mouth already. The end of the chopsticks where they are held is to be used.  This is considered the polite way. I imagine this would be a little messy afterwards.

Who showed me to place the  ginger (gari)  on top of a piece of sushi and eat it together? It is only considered a palate cleanser and to be eaten between bites or between different types of sushi.

I’ve never been able to eat a piece in one bite . Am I imagining or have they been making sushi larger and larger in North America? They are made the proper size in Japan because they should be eaten in one single bite.

donburi sashimi rice bowl
Never stick the chopsticks straight up in the rice.

I did know that chopsticks were never to be stuck in my rice and left sticking straight up. I knew that it resembled incense sticks at a Japanese funeral and so it just should not be done . But, I didn’t know that passing food to another person using chopsticks is also never to be done because it resembles the passing of a deceased relative’s bones at a Japanese funeral.

How many times have I ordered sake with sushi? I always thought they went hand-in-hand like a good cheese plate and wine. But sake is not to be drunk with sushi (or any rice). It can be drunk only with sashimi or before or after a meal. It is believed that since they are both rice based, they don’t complement each other and should not be drunk together. Green tea would be considered a better option with sushi or sashimi. 

Finishing  a meal with a clinking of glasses and toasting  the meal with “Kanpai!” (“empty your cup”) is traditional. Often, when asked what we say in our country,  we rhyme off many of the common toasts from  other countries, “chin chin” among them. Japanese usually titter and laugh at this but I’ve never known why. They would never use this toast because they use chin chin to refer to something best left out of a polite conversation (a certain male body part).  Who knew?Sushi in Osaka

We’re Square Pegs in the Round Demographic of World Travelers

We don’t fit into the nomadic wanderer demographic of young explorers off to see the world. It’s taken us a whole lifetime of careers, marriage and kids to finally decide to shed all of our ‘stuff’ and set out to travel the world without a finite end.

Osaka_20140501_213051We didn’t even realize how atypical we were, not fitting into the mold. Folks “our own age” often admit they wouldn’t think of doing what we are doing. For most of them, traveling is centered around vacation time where they can catch the tourist attractions that a certain destination has to offer. They look forward to returning and enjoying the comforts of their homes after a holiday. I admit that when I was younger, I could hardly imagine moving to a foreign land as many of my University friends did.

Most of our friends are younger, and many of them have told us how they would love to be able to do what we are doing. Some have been inspired by our travels and have begun their own journeys. And many more are working towards being able to do so.

Osaka2014_0595Two or three weeks is often considered a long enough time to visit a place. We travel slowly, which is to say, we remain planted in a place for a few months at a time in order to better experience a destination. We try to integrate into the community, and experience their lifestyle. We rent an apartment, get a couple of used bicycles, join the gym and mix with the locals.

Staying in a Western hotel or being on a tour conducted in English does not interest us much. We would find it difficult to embrace the foreignness of another culture or tradition if we didn’t immerse in it. We did stay one night in a Best Western in Japan. There was little similarity to one in North America!

marketSanJoseCRWe shop at the local markets and try to duplicate some of the local recipes. This not only cuts down on costs but also makes it feel more like a home (especially when we can enjoy a bottle of micro-brewery sake with our meal!). We won’t be trying our hand at making ramen though, as we won’t ever be able to make that perfect stock. We’re still thinking how we would cook the enormous live octopus sold in the open markets.

Catching tourist attractions is not usually in our plan. We enjoy trying to integrate with the locals even if it becomes very entertaining for them, and subsequently for us. We like to get to know what makes them tick, and suppose that they’re wondering the same about us.

We don’t take the world or our place in it too seriously. We continuously explore who we are, and examine the world around us. We love to meet those who have enthusiasm for anything. Hearing about their stories and about their passions is always very interesting to us.

Even though neither of us has really walked the beaten path, this deep experiencing of other cultures and traditions changes us. I don’t feel that we are the same as we were a year ago. I figure that each new place changes us again and again.

We don’t look for the out-of-the-ordinary, but we often discover it in our travels. We meet many people who deeply touch us wherever we go. They begin as strangers and become those with whom we never want to lose  touch.  We’re often amazed and thrilled by people everywhere. Encounters like these, however brief, have a great impact on us. It’s one of the reasons we love to travel.


10 Ways to Make Traveling with a Companion Companionable

I’ve always thought that renovating a house or traveling together are true tests of compatibility. We’ve done a lot of house renovation, and now we’ve been traveling together for over a year. That means spending time together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Here are some suggestions that have worked well for us:

Discussion and mutual agreement must be the order of the day. For instance, in the ‘getting rid of possessions’ stage of travels, it must be agreed that the woman gets three suitcases and the man gets one. (What woman wouldn’t need a suitcase just for boots and shoes?)

Allow the partner with the impeccable sense of direction to lead. It’s preferable to remain calm and patient while waiting for the spatially aware partner to decide which way to go. After all, you’re not in any hurry and sometimes your best discoveries are when you’re lost. For sure, one of you is better at navigating and one of you prefers asking for directions. Kudos to the one who can find their own way, but the other is practising their fledgling language skills with the natives.

Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan

Take a hint from your partner when you’ve been approached by scam artists. Your partner may be intrigued by these people’s approach but realizes the impending scam and is obviously playing along. You want to hone those street smarts, especially in Shanghai.

Take rest during the day to ward off the weariness of new situations that require patience and attention. Prevent irritability of either party at all costs. Actually, carrying a supply of snacks, water and the indispensable Japanese fan is a travel asset. It’s akin to always carrying the diaper bag (if you have that experience) but without the diapers and extra change of clothes. I’m not admitting that we’re approaching second childhood, but snacks, water and a nap are always welcome.

Houtoung (cat town), Taiwan
Houtoung (cat town), Taiwan

Make no unilateral decisions unless one recognizes an obviously dangerous situation before the other. Decisions to do anything or go anywhere are made together. It’s great if you both want the same things and feel the same way about most everything. Sometimes though, one wants to shop for souvenirs and the other prefers to sail origami ships down the stream. Try taking turns, or maybe a compromise … sailing souvenirs downstream?

Recognize a performance well done. Compliments are encouraged if one remembers which restaurant had the amazing ramen and even how to find it. Recognize an accomplishment if one can read enough Hiragana to find the train station you need. It’s always nice to be appreciated.

Listening, listening and more listening to each other. We sometimes meet a person who just likes to talk. It’s apparent to us that they haven’t heard nor registered anyone else’s contribution to a conversation. Whenever this happens, it prompts us to inspect ourselves to make sure we are not guilty of the same. Listening and paying attention to each other is essential to companionable travel.

Remember that hardly anything is more important than joy, happiness and tomfoolery (and Tom’s sisters and brothers too). Is it really worthwhile to be contrary about anything, even the slightest points?

Be flexible and go with the flow. You never know what will present itself around the next corner. Sometimes you’re just too tired to bother doing something that your partner is suggesting, but if he or she is excited about something, it’s probably worth a try.

Don’t forget to sing and dance and enjoy every moment because, really, all we have are moments to live.

on the Sapphire Princess
on the Sapphire Princess