International Perspective: Japanese TA reflects on dining etiquettes

Courtesy of the Grizzly Staff

Nozomi Kikuchi

One day, I went to Wismer to have lunch with my friends. Lunchtime was busy because I had classes right after and had to eat quickly. Before I sat down, I saw leftovers scattered on the table: french fries, ketchup, and paper napkins. They were also on the floor. This shocked me and I lost my words.

Konnichiwa. I’m Nozomi Kikuchi, a Japanese TA this year. I’ve been here a couple of months so far and I like it here. I was born in a small city in Japan. I like English because I went to America during my high school days and I fell in love with it. Then, I went to university in Yokohama and studied education policy. I became a teacher at an agricultural high school in Hokkaido, and then I got the chance to teach in my hometown, Aomori. I moved back to my hometown and taught English for two years. Still, I felt I needed more chances to speak in English and improve because sometimes I felt uncomfortable with my level of knowledge. That’s why I’m here.

I like Ursinus College because when I see my friends and students, they say “Hi” to me. I also like the campus because of the beautiful brick buildings and my dormitory. Most Japanese students live outside of campus, and while it depends on the university, most of the buildings on Japanese campuses are of modern design, not brick. I also like the Ursinus Japanese table, which starts at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday at Wismer. Japanese table is when we talk about anything in Japanese. I often bring Japanese books there.

With so many wonderful impressions of Ursinus, seeing food on the table surprised me. I’ve never seen this before in Japan.

In Japan, students have kyushoku from elementary school to junior high school. Kyushoku is a well-balanced meal: rice, miso soup, salad, fish, milk and fruit every lunch, for example. The menu is different day-to-day and a meal calendar is made and cooked by the nutrition manager at each school. Students look forward to eating this kyushoku. They also look forward to serving the meals to each other.  They have to wear a white apron and hat when they serve other students. Students who serve can eat lunch after everyone has been served.

Before Japanese students eat, they say “Itadakimasu,” which means that “we appreciate everything which engaged in the food we are going to eat.” After eating, they also say “Gochisosama” with their hands together which means “thank you for the meal.” Students have to clean everything. If there is some food left over on the table, students have to clean it up or they can’t have their break after lunch. They wipe down the table and have to return a cart that has dishes, utensils and food. Students do this every day, so this is natural for them.

I feel uncomfortable when I see leftovers on the table because I was told not to do this when I was a child; teachers and parents would scold me if I did so. People in Japan consider how the next person sitting at the table will feel. In Japan, some people may think that I’m not educated and might hate me if I left food on my table and left without cleaning it. So, I don’t want to sit at a table scattered with food because I want a place that is neat and clean. People may not care because someone else will do the cleaning instead of them. But I think it would be nice if people cared about the next person who will use that table and be more considerate in general.

Born in Aomori, Japan, Nozomi Kikuchi graduated from Yokohama City University. She has taught English in middle school and high school in Japan.  Kikuchi is one of 10 Japanese teachers selected this year as Fulbright Language Teaching Assistants who are teaching Japanese around the United States.  Next year, she is planning to go to graduate school to learn the best curriculum for learning language in a school system.