Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012

Guests and Beverages

お客様と飲み物

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I’ve heard some people say that customers/guests are treated like gods. There is even a Japanese phrase about it: “お客様は神様”. It is kind of similar to our phrase in English, “The customer is always right”… But if I take the Japanese phrase literally, it says that customers are gods.

When I arrive at schools to teach, I am treated like a guest. I sit down at an empty desk or visitor’s table and get out my materials for the day. Then the office assistant usually makes me coffee or tea and offers me some sort of cracker or cookie. Sometimes the person makes me coffee with cream and I feel really bad because I don’t drink coffee and I don’t take cream either. I ask them if they have green tea instead and they look surprised, saying, “Oh! Can you drink tea? お茶飲めますか?” … Why yes, I am American and I love green tea! (Oh, and they never offer water…when actually that is exactly what I want. I usually go to the faucet and fill up my water bottle by myself.)

When I first came to Hirosaki and started working at my office, I thought serving beverages to office guests was just a polite thing to do. But then as the months went on, I watched and saw that every single time an important person came to have a meeting and sat down, they were served tea. A rather small cup of green tea with its own lacquer ware saucer.

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Sometimes the guest didn’t even drink the tea! They didn’t even ask the people if they wanted something to drink. And sometimes the guest would sit down for less than five minutes, finish their business, and then leave. The cups of tea sat untouched on the table.

I have been to 12 schools and every single one of them has offered me either tea or coffee when I arrived. Most schools still make me a cup of “obligatory” tea every time I come, but some do not. Maybe it’s because I have been there too many times to be still considered an “honored guest”.

Last fall, one of my co-workers here at the office had some friends at another elementary school where I would be teaching. He actually called ahead (or talked to them somehow) to let them know that genmai-cha (green tea with toasted brown rice) was my favorite. Then, when I visited the school the following week, the office assistant made me… you guessed it: genmai-cha.

Last week I visited an elementary school for the third time. I sat down and there was only one man working in the office at that time (everyone else was off doing something else). I had been served tea the past two visits, but the man made no move towards me… So I wondered if I had breached the point of not being a “guest” any more. But about 5 minutes later, he came up to me, looking slightly apologetic that no one had served me yet, saying, “Would you like something to drink? It is our custom in Japan to offer guests a drink, so what would you like?”

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June 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #5

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A stack of essays waiting for me to grade them..

– So, every week I do these reports about my school visits. These reports include a cultural observation section that can be anything I want to write about. Last week’s report was about the sempai-kouhai system in Japan. I wrote the following:

Basically, age hierarchy is an essential element of Japanese society. It really has to do with how you relate to people older or younger than you, especially at schools and in the workplace. If someone has more experience or is older than you, they are your sempai. If someone is younger than you or has less experience in an area, they are your kouhai. Because I am a foreigner, new to Hirosaki, and 24 years old, I am pretty much a kouhai in every situation. I guess I am the “low man on the totem pole (下っ端).”

Well, this report was translated by my supervisor and distributed for everyone else to read, as always. When the report reached my section manager, he turned to me and said, “ステイシー、Low Man On The Totem Poleじゃない。” Which is basically, “You’re not the ‘low man on the totem pole’.” I felt pretty validated at that point.

– I so very much wish that I could listen to music at work. My iPod would make things go by so much faster, I think. And maybe it would help me tune out all the other noise and concentrate too.

– I need a haircut. The ends are crazy and need to be cleaned up. I still want to keep my hair long for now. I quite like it long.

– Recently, I discovered something very wonderful in the bathrooms of my office building. You all know my irritation with the women who flush the toilet several times in order to mask the sound of them going to the bathroom. Well, they installed the Oto-Hime machines in the bathrooms! This means that I no longer have to listen to the Japanese women in my office building waste gallons and gallons of water just because they are embarrassed to use the bathroom at the same time as another person. Thank GOODNESS!

– Last week there was an 8-day stretch where I did not go into the office because I was teaching every single day. So I hadn’t been to the office or seen my co-workers for 8 days! When I finally returned, I was welcomed back warmly with smiles. I sat down, organized my things, and ate my lunch (since it was 12pm and I had just come from a school visit). But then my supervisor told me that all of my co-workers would be leaving in the afternoon on official business. “No!” I said. “Don’t leave me alone!” Then they asked me if I wanted to come with them. Of course I said yes. So that is the story of how I was able to escape from the office one Thursday afternoon in order to go organize textbooks at an elementary school a couple towns over.

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