After my study abroad group arrived in Japan in August 1976, we spent a few days in a youth hostel in northern Kyoto for some orientation. After all, sending us in blindly to live with our Japanese host families could be a disaster… right? So, first things first, we had lessons on bowing. It’s not that bowing itself is difficult, but the placement of the hands is important as is the degree of the bow. And it is different for women and men. But after you’ve lived in Japan for a few weeks, ojigi comes naturally whenever you say arigatō or apologize for something. And Japanese say thank you a lot.
For example, in my homestay family, I would say thank you for the bath each night. It might sound strange, but heating and preparing the ofuro in 1976 was a certain amount of work and cost. So it was proper etiquette to thank the family. My host family lived in a very traditional small wooden house. Strangely enough, both the toilet and ofuro were located outside of the main house. I suppose they’d been added later, but you had to open the sliding glass doors to the beranda at the back of the house, and then walk outside to the edge of the beranda where you’d find the toilet in a tiny closet-sized room, and then separately, the bath (another tiny room). There was a curtain that created a cubicle in front of the door to the bath, and this is where you’d get undressed and dressed. Yes, in the dead of winter, you’d be undressing outside to get into the bath. I found this a little daunting. Once in the bath itself, you’d stir it to make sure the heat was even, and then you’d wash outside the bathtub, and hop in to soak. Of course everyone in the family used the same bath water.
On my first night there, I was honored to be the first one to use the bath. After that, I was treated like family and the order was: Otōsan, chōnan, jinan, me, okāsan. It was the mother who did the work of filling the bath, heating it, draining it each night or two, and cleaning it. I directed my thank you ojigi to her each night. Writing this now, it would seem absurd NOT to thank someone for the bath in Japan. When I visited my husband’s family I’d do it there as well. Note: My own parents would have thought I was crazy if I’d ever thanked them for a shawā I took at their home. It’s all about culture.
- ojigi – お辞儀 a bow
- arigatō – ありがとう casual way of saying thank you. There are many levels of politeness in greetings. One general rule of thumb is the longer they are, the politer and the shorter they are, the more casual.
- ofuro – お風呂 the bath. Note that the honorific “o” is attached because I wouldn’t dream of saying it without honoring it.
- beranda – ベランダ veranda. There is no equivalent to the “v” sound in Japanese, so when they borrow an English word like this, v usually changes to b. Usually….
- otōsan – お父さん father
- chōnan – 長男 oldest son
- jinan – 次男 second son
- okāsan – お母さん mother