Friday, 15 May 2009

Family dinner (J)

A friend in England has asked me about Family we sit on the floor, do we eat with chopsticks...does Okaasan do ANY cooking.

So here is a basic Family Dinner in our house:

  1. About 6.30 pm either Yujiro or I (usually him at the moment) goes downstairs to the kitchen to start cooking.
  2. The other one stays upstairs with the cat, TV, computer. Okaasan is either out shopping still or sitting in her room on the floor, under the heated blanket...watching TV.
  3. Dinner is usually "something" PLUS rice PLUS miso (fermented soy bean) soup PLUS pickles/salad. I skip the miso soup, and often the rice too.
  4. The one who isn't cooking sets the table. Chopsticks for everyone, or fork and spoon. It's a Western style table with chairs!
  5. We give Okaasan a 5-minute warning, so she can do a bathroom visit etc.
  6. 7 to 7.15 pm we sit down. Okaasan puts her hands together and say "Itadakimasu", which all Japanese say as a kind of formal start to any eating. We kind of chorus it too.
  7. Okaasan drinks water, we drink beer.
  8. Either there is silent eating (this is also very Japanese, when Yujiro and I started living together it freaked me out that he was angry or something!), or there is some discussion about the food/weather....very general stuff. Often silent. The real conversation only starts when they've finished eating. Yujiro often talks and talks (a kind of annoying lecture about food or something that happened) and Okaasan sits and makes response sounds...I fiddle with the tab on my beer can and try to chip in to show I am around.
  9. Okaaasan often has a second helping of soup.
  10. After the food she gets up to make herself green tea, often getting the order of cup/tea/hotwater all mixed up...but finally getting it sorted and sitting down again.
  11. After politely enough time chatting we start clearing the table and Okaasan insists on doing the washing up. We plead with her "no! no!"...but she forces us out and takes control of the dirty plates. We retreat upstairs. Sometimes (if I am feeling like a good Oyomesan) I hang around in the kitchen and try to chat to her about stuff...there has to be some kind of bonding here...I do try!
And that's a standard dinner in our house.

I miss a more interesting conversation about politics or something in the news. But there we are...we have to do dinner, and then we can go back upstairs and have more interesting conversations. The silence often depresses Western families dinner is a time to share the day's events and chat. Of course it's not always deeply intellectual...but it at least it's interaction. Silent eating is sad...I've trained Yujiro to talk at meal times since we started living together...but Okaasan would probably happily eat silently I think. To the Japanese way of thinking the food and the eating is important and thus should be done with full attention.


  1. 午後6時半ごろユウかワタシのどちらかが(通常は今のところ彼が)調理を始めるために台所に降りていく。
  1. 夕食は通常は“何か”+ご飯+味噌(発酵大豆)スープ+漬け物/サラダ。ワタシは味噌スープをパスして、ときどきご飯もパスするの。
  2. 料理をしていない方がテーブルをセットする。
  1. お義母さんにあと5分の警告をする。お義母さんがお手洗いに行ったりできるように。
  2. 7時から7時15分に席に着く。お義母さんは両手を合わせて“いただきます”と言う。これは、何かを食べ始めるあいさつというような日本人みんなが言うもの。ワタシたちもこれを唱和する感じ。
  3. お義母さんは水を、ワタシたちはビールを飲む。
  4. 無言で食べるか、(これもまたとても日本的で、ユウとワタシが一緒に暮らし始めたとき、彼が怒ったかなんかししたんじゃないかって、びくびくさせられたわ)食べ物やお天気と言ったすごく一般的なことを話すの。沈黙が多いわ。実際の会話は食事が済んでからようやく始まるの。ユウはときどき興に乗じて話し、(食べ物や出来事に関するうっとうしいうんちくなんかだけど)お義母さんは座って返答するの・・・ワタシは缶ビールのタブをもてあそんで、その場にいる証拠に口を挟もうとしてみるの。
  5. お義母さんはときどきスープのおかわりをする。


  1. and funnily enough...tonight dinner was full of interesting conversation...all about names and which could male or female...first or family names...

    I think Okaasan...or Yujiro are secretly reading this blog...
    Ok...let me see..."What I really need in life is a large box of chocolates and flowers every morning!".

    There...let's see if THAT message gets a response!

  2. At my yoga center, the tradition used to be to eat every meal in silence. In recent years that has changed. I guess there were too many people who couldn't take not communicating with those with whom they had just shared a class or workshop. Now only breakfast is in silence. There's a separate room where those who want to eat in silence can go, and I often go to that room. I actually like concentrating on what I'm eating and having some non-interactive time to myself. I'd probably be very comfortable eating in your family situation.