Bishop: JinK-san, I had a troubling experience yesterday.
JinK: What’s that?
Bishop: I found a new izakaya (a Japanese style casual bar/rastaurant)
in my neighborhood. It is reasonably-priced,
and I read a lot of good things about it online.
JinK: That sounds good so far…
Bishop: Right. So I went with my wife.
JinK: And it wasn’t that good?
Bishop: No, it was great.
JinK: I don’t get it… what’s the problem?
Bishop: Well, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.
In other words, I ordered way too much.
JinK: Ah, I see.
Bishop: The problem is when I tried to take it (see the picture) home. I asked
the wait staff to get it to-go, but they said they don’t allow it.
JinK: Yeah, that’s pretty standard in Japan.
Bishop: But, I paid for the food… what right do they have to not let me take it home?
JinK: Well, Japan is warm and humid, so food spoils more easily. They don’t want
problems with people getting food poisoning. The food sanitation laws in Japan
are very strict; restaurants can only allow takeout when there is
a specific request from the customer, and the customer agrees to
take responsibility in case there is any problems. So in theory, it’s not impossible,
but in reality restaurants usually just don’t allow people to take food home.
Even if the customer says they will take responsibility, a case of food poisoning
can cause a restaurant’s reputation to drop significantly, and
they don’t want to take that risk.
Bishop: But, throwing away food… it seems so wasteful.
I thought Japanese tried to avoid waste (mottainai)?
JinK: That depends how you look at it. I see people ordering so much food in the U.S.
and just leaving half of it on their plate. That seems much more wasteful.
Bishop: I agree, that is wasteful.
JinK: The portions are so big, you are forced to either overeat, take it home,
or leave it to be thrown out. A lot of times one order will be enough for two people!
So actually, when I go out with my family, we will always order three dishes and
split it amongst the four of us.
Bishop: That’s a good way to do it.
JinK: So essentially, in Japan the portions are sized so that you can eat it all
at the restaurant. People just order as much as they can finish; it’s considered
rude to the chef to not finish everything. Food is considered a blessing
from nature, so if you don’t finish it you’ll get bad karma, or at least feel guilty…
Bishop: But don’t people have different sized appetites?
It seems like such a one-size-fits-all approach.
JinK: Sure. I mean, there are small adjustments you can make, such as
ordering a large or small size, or adding an extra dish, but basically people eat
what is put in front of them. To insist on getting exactly what you want to eat
is seen as extravagant, or even childish.
Bishop: So people just eat things even when they don’t want to?
JinK: Yes, at least in public settings. I remember when I first went to Thailand
to study 30 years ago.
Bishop: What happened then?
JinK: I was staying with the professor at my university who was taking care of me.
He served me a plate of durian. A big plate. He offered it to me, bragging
about how it is the king of fruits. I don’t know if you’ve had durian before…
Bishop: Yeah… the smell is awful…
JinK: Yes, that’s the one. It was the first time I’d seen a durian, and I could barely
stand the smell. But to refuse it or express dislike to something he offered me
would be rude. I couldn’t do it. So I ate every last piece of it,
trying not to smell it or taste it, forcing a smile all the way. I was dying inside,
but thought that if I could stand to suffer through it, I should.
Better to suffer a little than to be rude. I was a pretty diligent student.
Bishop: That’s amazing you were able to eat it all.
JinK: Yes indeed. My professor laughed and said that I was the first Japanese person
he’d ever seen finish a whole durian the first time they tried one.
It was kind of a joke. They say durians are an acquired taste,
but I never did end up liking them.
Bishop: That’s such a disaster. But you ended up finishing it anyway.
Now that I think about it, when on vacation in Japan, and food is served at a ryokan,
everyone gets the same thing, but everyone happily eats it without complaint.
JinK: In Japan, food is generally good; it’s not too often you’ll get something that
actually tastes bad. In comparison, the U.S. is crazy. A lot of times you’ll
get something that’s totally different from what you thought you’d ordered.
On top of that, you have people will all sorts of allergies, vegetarian, gluten free, etc.
And there are so many choices when ordering sandwiches or pizzas.
It’s good in that you can order what you like, but it’s a bit daunting at first
to have so many choices.
Bishop: Well, it is the country of freedom. While I must say I’m impressed
by Japanese manners, it’s certainly nice to get a custom order
just how you like it.
JinK: So if it’s just how you like it, then why do people always leave
so much on their plates?
Bishop: Well, sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach…
Fact #9: Most restaurants in Japan don’t allow you totake home unfinished food
by Bishop & JinK.