In the early 1980s I was working for a kaisha that provided English learning materials and lessons for Japanese speakers. I was teaching classes but I was also responsible for writing an original lesson for each weekly class. In order to do this, I’d work in their small jimusho in Ebisu alongside the department responsible for this. I hear that Ebisu is now known as a trendy area, but back then it was kind of a nothing-burger. There were five of us who worked there. Or rather they worked there full time and I came in twice a week.
They were a fun bunch of people. They all spoke some eigo having studied abroad at a time when it is less common than it is now. They were all interested in getting to know gaikokujin but were very relaxed about it. Gender roles were not especially important in that office and the men were fine with serving ocha along with the women. Our desks were arranged in a way that made conversation easy. And best of all was our osanji.
This was not a new concept to me. In fact, coincidentally, growing up, in my own home we called our snack “the three o’clock.” Note that sanji means three o’clock and in this case it takes the honofific ‘o.’ And it was serious business in that office.
Sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 PM someone, possibly our kachō, would say, “Osanji ni shimasho ka?” or “Kyō no osanji wa?” And then someone else would mention that we had cookies that a guest had brought the day before or that we had mikan someone had brought from home. But most of the time someone would head next door to the department store basement to buy some treats. Cake was a favorite of course.
When it was my turn I’d agonize over the many choices, how much I should spend, whether I was taking too long to decide, and if a variety or the same for everyone was a better idea. And then I’d make my request and get a beautifully wrapped box to take back to the jimusho.
The osanji is really a lovely idea. We’d all put down are work and talk about the news, our lives, the season, or anything else. It helped us bond, I guess you’d say. And it helped set the rhythm of our day as well.
- kaisha – 会社 company, business
- jimusho – 事務所 office (in a company or other place of work)
- eigo – 英語 English (language)
- gaikokujin – 外国人 foreigner, non-Japanese
- ocha – お茶 tea, or more specifically Japanese tea
- osanji – お三時 the honorable three o’clock, i.e. snack time
- kachō – 課長 department head of a company
- Osanji ni shimasho ka – お三時にしましょうか。 ”Shall we take a break and have a snack?”
- Kyō no osanji wa? – 今日のおさん時は？”What are we having for a snack today?”
- mikan – みかん Japanese tangerine