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CiviliTEA – Harmony at the Center of Japanese Dining Etiquette

The  Japanese tea ceremony is a pleasure to behold.  I discovered this while watching the elegant pageantry of this ancient ritual followed by a demonstration of Japanese dining and business etiquette practices.  The event was both educational and entertaining.  Participants were members of the Tokyo chapter of the Association of Image consultants International under the direction of Certified Image Master, Hitomi Ohmori.

The demonstration provided a window into one of Japan’s oldest cultural practices which dates back to the 9th century when it was influenced by an already well-established practice in China. There are various styles of tea ceremony and in every instance it is a very special occasion in Japanese culture. Every human interaction is revered for its uniqueness and every moment is treasured.  The tea ceremony is a social or religious event where aesthetics, form and ritual are of the essence.  From the appearance of the food, utensils and decorations of the tea room (chashitsu), beauty is paramount.  In fact, the Japanese tea ceremony has evolved to become an art form reflecting architecture, gardening and fine and applied arts.  The art of tea or sado also embraces ceramics, textiles, flower arranging, fashion, and of course Japanese cuisine.  Body language during the ceremony is completely choreographed and utensils, clothing and accessories are of exquisite beauty or museum quality.  Food is artistically arranged in a chakai or chaji.  Japanese believe that food must be pleasing to the eyes as it tasteful t to the mouth.

Harmony is a key value in Japanese society as a whole and also an important part of the tea ceremony where many things, like dry sweets (higashi) and bitter green tea (matcha) complement each other. This is a sign of harmony.  Only guests who are compatible are invited to tea which may last anywhere from three to five hours.  During the tea ceremony at Conference, it was pointed out that the basic principles of Chado/Sado (the way of tea) are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. It occurred to me as I watched this amazing ritual how much it embodied the principles of civility which are Respect, Restraint and Responsibility (3Rs).  Harmony in business and personal relationships is at the heart of civility.  When we are respectful, kind, considerate and ethical in our conduct and communication with each other and our clients, our business and personal relationships will indeed be smoother, peaceful and more harmonious.  In the delicate arena of business and social interaction in today’s fast-paced,  high tech, globalized world, the civility principles (3Rs) are valuable tools for building successful relationships.

Whether it’s business or pleasure, for many Westerners, dining at a Japanese or other Asian restaurant is perhaps one of the most popular ways to interact with the Eastern culture.  Depending on our comfort and skill level, we may or may not choose to use traditional utensils  or chopsticks (hashi).  To help us project a confident and positive image, the Tokyo Chapter shared the following taboos for using chopsticks and ten tips on general table manners:

Taboos for Using Chopsticks in Japan

  1. Spearing food with your chopsticks (utsuchi-hashi)
  2. Moving plate or bowls around with your chopsticks (yose-bashi)
  3. Stabbing food with your chopsticks (sashi basi)
  4. Moving your chopsticks around while deciding which item on the plate to choose (mayoi-bashi)
  5. Licking your chopstick (neburin-bashi)

General Table Manners in Japan

  1. Napkins are typically not served. Carrying a Kaishi, a traditional paper towel with you would be very elegant
  2. Clean your hands, NOT your face or lips with  Oshibori, a rolled hot/cold hand towel
  3. Leave your chopsticks on a chopstick rest when they are not in use
  4. Green tea is served before and after the meal (No charge)
  5. Blowing your nose in public, and especially at the table, is considered bad manners
  6. Don’t touch your hair while talking
  7. Don’t sit all the way back in your chair, use only the front half
  8. Stand up when clients enter the room
  9. It is good manners to clean your plate to the last grain of rice
  10. Pour rice wine (saki) for each other

The tea ceremony and etiquette demonstration by Japanese image consultants helped enhance cultural awareness and promote the principles of civility (Respect, Responsibility and Restraint) among members of the organization.  In support of May as Global Civility Awareness Month, they are also credited with translating the Code of Civility and Civility White Paper to Japanese as well as securing a proclamation from Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.  More information on Civility training and awareness programs, online at www.discovercivility.com


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