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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Japanese Diary 2: Takeaway Lessons
Once upon a time, this was the classic container for British takeaway food:


Okay, not many fish-and-chip shops used the TLS, but you get the idea. Despite their impeccable ecological credentials newspapers were discouraged as containers for fish and chips from around the late '70s, as I recall - from which moment the romance went out of cod.

About 15 years ago I bought a tiffin box, also ecologically impeccable, in order to carry takeaway curries from my local Indian - a sturdy and much-used device:


As of today, sitting next to my tiffin box I have (courtesy of newly-opened Japanese restaurant Yume) my own bento box. Here it is in action this evening:


Why takeaway, you ask, when Yume has such reasonable eat-in prices? Partly because I want a bento box - and partly because I'm still not proficient with chopsticks, especially in the right-handed posture that I understand is standard in Japan even for southpaws such as myself, and want to practice in a shame-free environment.

As you will gather, learning Japanese isn't something I intend to leave a purely academic pursuit - my downfall with previous attempts at language learning. I am working my way through Kurosawa and Sailor Moon (a kind of pincer attack on the culture), and on Sunday will be attending Yume's first Japanese culture evening. I even tried my first shy arigatou gozaimasu this evening! Such temerity!

Meanwhile, I am building up my vocabulary. Apparently there has only been a word for 'green' in Japanese since WWII, before which duty was done by ao (i.e. blue). Hence green traffic lights are even now called ao rather than green (midori). Not that this should surprise me, but it's a nice example for the Saussureans.

On a less happy note, it turns out it's impossible to say the Japanese word for lion (raion) without sounding like a Westerner doing a racist impression of a Japanese person trying to say 'lion.' This could be awkward if I ever go to a Tokyo zoo.

Um, I'm pretty sure Japanese has always had ways of distinguishing shades on the green side of ao, such as midori, from those on the blue side, such as mizu-iro (water-colored) and ai-iro (indigo). One piece of evidence: it was used in 9th century poetry.

Certainly, traditionally, midori was not considered one of the "main" colors along with white and red and blue, but the word existed -- and for that matter, ao is still often used for anything along the blue-to-green spectrum. It's more that under American influence post-War, more emphasis has been given to the midori side of things as its own color.

ETA: some more details.


Edited at 2013-05-30 08:53 pm (UTC)

Thank you. I can't say it surprises me that Japanese from Zero oversimplified, though I've seen the same point made elsewhere. I appreciate the extra information, though - especially the poetry and the bit about crayons in your last link.

It's precisely because colour divisions are arbitrary in themselves (inasmuch as the spectrum has no sharp divides) that the baggage they pick up as they travel the world is so visible and so clearly culturally derived. For witness whereof, we need look no further than "white" and "black" (or "coffee-colour versus pinko-grey" as Forster put it in A Passage to India) as applied to people. A fascinating subject.

It still amuses me that general brown is cha-iro -- "tea-colored." (It also amuses me when fan translations render that literally, as if the author had been trying to make a point by using that as a description, when no, really, that's just the word for brown.)


Duh - I hadn't made that connection. Great mnemonic!

You can get away with eating lefthanded with chopsticks. It's a bigger thing in the country than the city anyway, and slowly but surely going out of fashion to make everybody eat right-handed. It's one of those times I'm happy to take advantage of the way nobody will correct you (especially if you're gaijin) because I'm useless trying to do it righthanded.

(Also, before I got distracted by chopsticks, I was going to say clearly Yume is a place I need to investigate because that's a nice bento box!)

It's strange - it was almost literally a case of me walking down the street the other day, thinking "I wish there were a cheap and friendly but high-quality Japanese restaurant in this teeming metropolis, preferably incorporating an occasional club devoted to the culture, but --- oh, there's one over the road!"

I suspect I'll be playing the gaijin card rather too often for comfort, anyway!

I'm sure you're right - but this feeds into another of my strategies for being the best Steepholm I can be, i.e. a general desire to use my right hand more. I'm so strongly left-handed that my right arm tends to feel rejected and left out, so I'm trying to provide it with helpful things to do. Learning the piano has given it some opportunities to shine (it usually gets the melodies) and I also try to give it the heavier bag when I'm out shopping. This way I may yet avoid a lopsided dotage.

That is a very nice bento box. Get a furoshiki and you can take that anywhere.

A furoshiki is the cloth you wrap around the outside of the bento box (or other boxes for presents/food/souvenirs) and tie in a knot at the top to keep the lid on. They are usually rectangular and range from what we would consider ordinary cloth napkins to extremely ornate and expensive brocades. Styles of knotting range from simple to decorative to knot-forms-its-own-handle-out-of-the-cloth. The way I usually do a furoshiki: get a square or rectangular piece of cloth strong enough to support the weight of the box and large enough to wrap around the box entirely. Place the box so that one corner of cloth comes up over approximately the middle of each side of the box. Tie one pair of opposite corners together middling tightly, using a square knot. Take one of the remaining free corners and insert it under the knot so that it comes out the other side; take the other free corner and do the same. Tie another square knot on top of the first one, as tight as you can get it. You can insert a carrying strap into this and it comes undone relatively easily, but it won't really go anywhere by itself.

Thank you, those are very clear directions. I've just been having a look at some furoshiki online, and am filled with desire. I may need to do something about that...

hilariously the kanji for 'ao', which i think is 青 actually means 'green' in chinese, which has always been a source of confusion to me