Sendai: When in Japan, Do as the Americans Do

Welcoming a foreigner to her house for the first time, Mrs Yamaguchi seemed intent on making Michael Taylor feel right at home.

It started with the bedroom furniture she purchased for the guest room he would occupy and continued to the smallest detail – the kind of tea he would drink in the morning and the what he would drink in the evening after dinner.

Because I was American, Mrs Yamaguchi purchased a western style wood framed bed – complete with a mattress imported from the United States – for me to sleep in. She didn’t think it would be suitable for a six foot tall American to sleep on the floor as they did. There were also matching nightstands and a chest of drawers.

Mrs Yamaguchi asked what I usually drank for breakfast in the morning and what I liked to drink in the evening after dinner. To the former, I said tea. To the latter, I said rum and coke – I hadn’t discovered wine yet.

Shopping Spree

Mrs Yamaguchi took me to a department store the next day. She purchased English tea, an English teapot, an English cup and saucer, and a silver spoon. She thought, apparently, that as an American I should be drinking English rather than Japanese tea.

She also inquired what type of glass rum and coke should be served in. After inspecting several, she bought the most expensive one. Everything was beautifully and tastefully wrapped. During my six months in Japan, I was always impressed with the elegant way purchases were presented to customers in Japanese department stores.

That afternoon a case of Coca-Cola, a bottle of rum, and a box of fresh lemons arrived. I was served my first rum and Coke after dinner that night.

Form and Etiquette

When Mrs Yamaguchi served me tea for the first time the next morning, she asked me which direction the handle should face and where she should place the spoon. Form, I was discovering, was very important in Japanese culture. But the fact is, I didn’t really know. I had never really given it a thought.

Mrs Yamaguchi purchased a cookbook with Western recipes. Every evening the table would be laden with both Japanese and Western dishes. Mr Kono, the son’s math tutor, often stayed on after lessons to join us for dinner.

While he and Mr Yamaguchi seemed to prefer the Japanese dishes – especially some little worms, which came in a small jar and looked to me like fish bait – Mrs Yamaguchi and the two children seemed to favour the Western dishes, which were being prepared for my sake.

The kids seemed happy to have me around because thanks to me, they got what seemed to be this very welcome change in their diet.

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