The History of Men’s Hats, and the Emergence of the Baseball Cap as the “Go-To” Hat of the 21st Century


There was a time, up until the 1940s—and even the 1950s and early 1960s in some regions of the world—when a man in public, even at night and in good weather, was not considered fully dressed unless wearing a hat. Those days are gone.

The tricorne cornered the hat market for much of the 18th century. Throughout the 19th century, the top hat was “top dog.” And the fedora was adored by men for much of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. But if there is a hat for the young man of the 21st century, it is the baseball cap.

The concept of the hat has been around for millennia. The earliest known depiction of a hat occurs in an Egyptian tomb painting at Thebes; the painting depicts a man wearing a conically shaped straw hat. The petasos (also spelled “petasus”), the traditional, floppy-brimmed sun hat of Thessaly in ancient Greece, is the first known hat to bear a brim. Besides covering and protecting the head, hats, like diadems, have historically been used by men to give the illusion of height and/or tacitly declare status. Whether the pope’s miter, the western lawman’s Stetson, or the dandy’s top hat, hats, especially tall ones, punctuate a gentleman’s appearance with exclamation.

But unlike the panache provided by most hats, the baseball cap is decidedly simple. And it is perhaps its understated design that has led to its ubiquity. Today, the term “baseball cap” has almost become a misnomer since the accessory is worn by men all over the world, many of whom have more interest in soccer than baseball. Then to make matters worse, several sports, such as tennis and golf, have unofficially adopted the baseball cap as the hat of choice. And it is not uncommon to see athletes on the sidelines of their respective sports (that have other designated headgear) wearing baseball caps until called into active play.

In effect a vertically seamed beanie with an attached visor (also called a “bill” or a “beak”), the baseball cap is believed to have derived from the sun bonnets of the 19th century. What is for certain is that by the 1860s, just after the Civil War, when baseball was about to transition from an amateur sport into a professional one, players were already wearing hats that resemble present-day baseball hats. In the 1870s a baseball hat of another style emerged: the pillbox or “Chicago style” baseball cap, which featured a flat top and a visor. But it was the cap with the rounded crown that was being worn by the Brooklyn Excelsiors by the 1860s that would be established as the baseball cap by 1900. Then in the 1940s, when latex rubber replaced buckram as the stiffening agent for the hat’s visor, the baseball cap assumed the shape, construction, and proportions that endure to this day.

The baseball cap is a casual hat; it does not complement formal wear or business wear, for example (though some men insist upon wearing the cap deliberately incongruously—and futilely—in an attempt to make a fashion statement). There are more suitable compliments for such garments. But for much of casual wear, the baseball cap is regarded as the go-to hat. Some men, as a matter of personal preference, insist upon wearing the visor facing backwards. And because of the laid-back nature of the hat, it has become a widely accepted practice. But at the end of the day, a gentleman wearing a hat, no matter how casual it may be, should observe hat-etiquette. Even a baseball cap should be removed from the head when a gentleman enters a private space or pauses to speak to a lady on the street. (See chapter, “Out and About—Manners in Public Places”).

The Gentlemanly Way to Care for Shoes

Shoe Care

A pair of superior men’s leather shoes, made with Goodyear welt construction (which allows for repeated resoling), can last for years—sometimes decades—if properly cared for. Shoe trees of cedar or some other aromatic wood that absorbs moisture and perspiration while deodorizing are essential to shoe-preservation. Once shoes are removed from the feet, shoe trees should be inserted into the shoes. Properly sized shoe trees are essential for maintaining the shape of shoe uppers, keeping them crease-free for years. (Without shoe trees, shoe uppers will begin to show signs of wear after just three or four wearings). Since shoe trees are of left-foot, right-foot construction, special attention should be paid when inserting them so as to ensure that they are placed into the corresponding shoe. A misplaced shoe tree, if left in a shoe for several days, can slightly compromise the shape, and therefore fit, of the shoe. Shoe trees are sized either numerically (e.g., 8, 10, 12, 14) or by range (e.g., S, M, L, XL). Though not inexpensive, good-quality shoe trees can last a lifetime and are worth every penny spent to acquire them. Each pair of leather shoes should have its own pair of shoe trees.

Shoes should be permitted to “rest” for two or three days between wearings, thereby allowing the shoes to dry out and reshape (with the aid of shoe trees). Shoe racks of cedar (such as those manufactured by Jos. A. Bank) or some other aromatic wood are also essential to the overall preservation of shoes: Shoe racks keep the soles of shoes off the floor, thereby allowing air to circulate under the shoes as they are “resting” or not in use. (Oftentimes, leather soles, if placed directly onto the floor without having been thoroughly dried out, will accumulate mold, which, over time, can compromise the integrity of the soles).

The uppers of patent leather shoes tend to crack if not properly cared for. To prevent cracking, immediately after being removed from the feet, and after shoe trees have been inserted into the shoes, the uppers should be wiped clean with a damp cloth then hand-rubbed with a very thin coat of petroleum jelly, which should be buffed off with a clean, dry cloth the following day. The petroleum jelly serves to keep the patent leather finish supple.

Leather shoes tend to become salt-stained during the winter months in regions of the world where salt is used to protect streets in snowy and icy weather. To remove those unsightly salt-residue markings, a simple, inexpensive, homemade formula is most effective: one tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of water. Using a clean cloth or paper towel that has been moistened in the vinegar-water solution, the salt stains should be gently wiped, the stains disappearing almost instantaneously.

A gentleman who lacks the time or skill to wax and shine his shoes should have them professionally maintained. Most hotels, train stations, bus terminals, and airports have reputable shoe maintenance personnel or outlets. Attendants should be tipped at least twenty percent of the fee charged.

Some men wear shoe taps on the heels and/or toes of their shoes. Since each man wears his shoes differently, it is best that a gentleman wear his shoes three or four times before applying shoe taps so that as indicated by wear, the shoe repairperson will know precisely where to attach the protective taps.

Athletic shoes, because of their rubber content, tend to “breath” less and, as a result, accumulate odor more so than shoes made of other materials. Moisture- and perspiration-absorbing socks, therefore, should always be worn with athletic, rubber-soled shoes. Fortunately, the rubber content of athletic shoes also allows them to withstand washing with soap and water. Whenever athletic shoes are washed, they should be allowed to thoroughly sun-dry for a day or two before being worn again.

Previously worn shoes being packed for travel should be enclosed in plastic bags or shoe bags to prevent shoe soles from contaminating other items in a gentleman’s luggage.

The Etiquette for when Traveling Onboard Sleeping-Cars on Luxury Trains

Sleeping-cars on Trains

Though threatened almost to extinction in the 21st century by budget airlines, highway hotels, and high-speed trains, sleeping-cars on passenger trains—which first became a part of the culture of travel in the spring of 1839 with the launching of Cumberland Valley Railroad’s sleeping car named “Chambersburg,” which ran between Chambersburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and peaked in popularity between the 1870s and 1940s when the name “Pullman,” of the Pullman Palace Car Company, became synonymous with luxurious sleeping accommodations on American trains—remain a comfortable option for long-distance and trans-continental travel.

Whether whisked away in elegance onboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express; enjoying the comforts and conveniences of a moving hotel room aboard a state-of-the-art Amtrak sleeping car; or going abroad onboard a car with modest couchette accommodations, it is imperative that a gentleman conduct himself as if he were a guest in someone’s home while in the shared areas of a sleeper-car. (See chapter, “Your Place or Mine?—How to be a perfect sleepover guest/host”). Some sleeper-cars are equipped with private bedrooms and private bathrooms. But on some trains, there are two or even four sleeping berths to a room; and while there are usually private toilets in each room, some trains have the men’s and women’s communal shower rooms on opposite ends of the car. Packing pajamas, a robe, bedroom slippers, and a grooming kit, then, is necessary since it is likely that a man will encounter a lady en route to or from the shower in the middle of the night or early in the morning, and such encounters tend to be less eventful—and less embarrassing—when both parties are appropriately clothed. It is also wise to make specific note of one’s cabin number and location so as to avoid disturbing other passengers by attempting entry into the wrong cabin after a late-night trip to the shower room. Keeping a small flashlight in one’s grooming kit is also a good idea since the hall of the car is oftentimes kept dim in the middle of the night.

While sleeping-cars are each staffed by a porter (in the olden days, always addressed as “George,” regardless of his real name) who turns down beds, keeps the washrooms tidy, etc., a gentleman should be sure to leave the counter area in the communal shower room at least as clean and dry as when he encountered it so that other passengers can have an equally pleasant experience. Because of the relatively limited “private space” available onboard trains, basic greetings should be extended to fellow sleeping-car passengers encountered in all community areas since sharing such close quarters engenders a sense of “collective intimacy.” Of course, gentlemen sleeping in shared accommodations should be especially courteous to their cabin-mates. (And packing a pair of earplugs is always a good idea, just in case one gets a snorer).

Porters should be tipped as generously as one’s budget would allow, for their personal, butler-like service is one of the last vestiges of Old World service and elegance and should be properly compensated.

What to Expect When Invited to a Jewish Wedding

-Judaism is divided into three major denominations: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. But despite the differences amongst the denominations, Jewish wedding traditions are, for the most part, consistent.

-Upon becoming engaged, Jewish couples generally meet with a rabbi to be advised on the institution of marriage and to select a wedding date. (The Jewish calendar is lunar; therefore holiday dates vary from year to year vis-à-vis the solar-based Gregorian calendar which is used in much of the Western/Christian World, and Jewish weddings cannot take place on Jewish holidays. Jewish weddings also do not occur on the Sabbath [sundown Friday to sundown Saturday]. Because of the five-day workweek and Sabbath restrictions, most Jewish weddings occur on Saturday nights, at least ninety minutes after sunset, and on Sundays. And in the case of a death in the immediate family, weddings are postponed for at least 30 days after the burial).

-Wedding invitations are generally issued by the couple and/or by both sets of parents. Invitations are usually two-sided like an open book, the left side written in Hebrew, and the right side in the English translation thereof. Invitations generally do not “request the presence of” guests; instead, guests are requested to “dance at…” or to “share in the joy of….” It is not uncommon for the wording of an invitation to include Biblical text. And consistent with the Jewish tradition of giving to the poor during times of personal joy, many couples request on a card enclosed with the invitation that in lieu of gifts to the couple, donations should be made to charitable organizations, the organizations sometimes specified or suggested.

Wedding invitations sometimes indicate two different start-times: The first time listed refers to the “kabbalat panim” (See below), during which the bride and groom, in separate quarters, greet their guests. The second start-time refers to the actual wedding ceremony. (When only one time is listed, it refers to the actual ceremony. Promptness is required when only one time is listed).

-The dress code of guests—Jewish or otherwise—depends upon the denomination of the couple and their degree of religiosity. Women attending an Orthodox wedding should wear dresses or skirts without slits and extend beyond the knees; sleeves should either be long or extend beyond the elbows; plain, opaque stockings must be worn—bare legs are unacceptable, and nude nylons are considered in very poor taste; dresses or tops should cover the collarbone and the nape of the neck; married women and formerly married women should cover their hair (unmarried women may expose their hair); colors should be understated—not too bright or lustrous. And white dresses should be avoided as they detract from the bride, who will be dressed in white. A gentleman, married or single, Jew or gentile, should wear a “yarmulke,” also called a “kippot,” (a skull cap worn by Orthodox, Conservative, and some Reform Jews during prayer and religious study) and a suit and tie. At some Orthodox weddings, men and women may be required to sit separately.

Unlike the very strict Orthodox dress code and the very liberal Reform dress code, the correct dress code for Conservative wedding is best determined on a case-by-case basis. Women attending a Conservative wedding may or may not be required to cover their hair; wear nylon stockings or tights; or wear tops or dresses that cover the nape of the neck and the collarbone. Dresses and skirts should extend beyond the knees. White is reserved for the bride. Guidance on attired should be sought from the invitation, the wedding website, the location and time of day of the wedding, the synagogue or temple where the wedding will take place, and friends of the families of the couple. Men should wear suits and ties. Yarmulkes may or may not be required. When required, there will be yarmulkes available at the wedding venue.

The dress code for Reform weddings is basically consistent with that of Western weddings: The dress code, typically specified on the invitation, is determined more by the nature of the wedding than by religion. For a casual wedding, casual clothing is appropriate; for a formal wedding, formal clothing is required. The prudent female guest, however, would wear a garment with components—such as a bolero jacket or shawl—that can conceal (for the ceremony) then be removed for the reception. White dresses should be avoided since the bride is likely to wear white. When yarmulkes are required at Reform weddings, they are usually made available at the wedding venue.

[ Of course, a man of a religious or cultural tradition that requires the wearing of a headdress (such as a turban) is not required to remove his headdress in order to don a yarmulke. A gentleman who wears a hat as part of fashion rather than for religious reasons, however, should remove his hat—as would be the case when entering a Christian place of worship—but don the yarmulke].

-Cash gifts are acceptable wedding gifts in Jewish culture. But when wedding registries have been established, attempts should be made to purchase items from the registry.

-Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar: The day is observed with all-day fasting, intense prayer, and asking God for the forgiveness of sins. The Jewish wedding is viewed as a personal Yom Kippur and is, as such, one of the holiest days in a person’s life. On their wedding day, the bride (“kallah”) and groom (“chatan”) are forgiven of all their past sins as they merge into one, new soul. Inspired by Yom Kippur, the bride and groom fast from dawn on their wedding day until the completion of the ceremony. And the groom wears a traditional “kittel,” the white robe worn on Yom Kippur. [Sephardic Jews do not fast or wear the kittel on their wedding day]. The bride also wears white to symbolize that she has undergone a “mikvah” (a ritual bath to cleanse and purify oneself) in preparation for the wedding.

-In order to build anticipation for the wedding day, the bride and groom traditionally do not see each other during the week leading up to the wedding. So on the wedding day, prior to the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom greet guests separately in a tradition known as “kabbalat panim.” The bride is seated, queen-like, upon a throne to receive her guests; while the groom, king-like, is surrounded by his guests, who toast him and entertain him with song. This interaction between groom and guests is called a “tisch.” Some brides also have a tisch.

-(To assist guests, attendants are oftentimes provided with a wedding booklet or program which explains various elements of the wedding; includes a copy of the invitation and ketuba [See below]; and a note from the couple, for example).

-In the Ashkenazi (descended from Eastern European Jews) tradition, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom stand together and break a plate, symbolic of the seriousness of the commitment of marriage and the fact that a relationship, once broken, can never be fully restored.

-The “ketuba” is a marriage document, written in Aramaic, which outlines the groom’s responsibilities to and for his bride. (In ancient times, the groom would provide a bride-price which served to provide financial security to his wife in the event of death or divorce). Although the custom of the ketuba has no legal significance today, its tradition survives. It is signed by the groom and two witnesses. (Since the 1970s, with the increased consciousness for women’s equality and rights, parallel declarations of commitment are oftentimes singed by both the groom and bride).

-After the signing of the ketuba by the groom, the rabbi and both fathers lead a procession of the bridegroom and male guests into the bride’s chamber for the “badekan” (veiling) ceremony: The groom approaches the bride, seated upon her throne, and places the veil over her face. (The badekan tradition is believed to have derived from the Biblical account of Jacob, who after working for seven years to marry Rachel, found out after the wedding that he had unknowingly married her older, blind sister Leah, whose identity had been concealed under a heavy veil by her father).

-Once the veiling ceremony has taken place, the wedding ceremony is ready to begin. Grandparents are seated first.

-The actual wedding ceremony takes place under the “chuppah,” a canopy supported by four posts, open on all sides. The chuppah represents the home that the couple will build together. Its four open sides suggest the future unconditional hospitality of the couple and is informed by the Biblical description of the open-sided tent-home of Abraham and Sarah. (The open tent also allows for great photo-ops!) Other authorities suggest that the chuppah’s origins are with the canopied litter which the bride would traditionally occupy during the procession to the wedding venue.

-Ashkenazi Jews conduct the chuppah ceremony at night under the stars as a symbolic reminder of the blessing bestowed by God upon Abraham that his children “shall be as the stars of the heavens.” (Genesis 15: 5). [Sephardi Jews typically conduct the chuppah ceremony indoors].

-En route to the chuppah, the bride follows the groom, each accompanied by his/her parents. (The order of the procession, including rabbi and cantor—when the wedding takes place outside a temple or synagogue—is determined by local custom).

-Just before arriving at the chuppah, the bride’s parents stop, raise her veil, kiss her, then take their seats. The bride then takes three steps towards the chuppah on her own, symbolizing that the marriage is of her free will. The groom then meets the bride and escorts into the chuppah. (Once under the wedding canopy, the bride of the Ashkenazi tradition encircles the groom seven times, symbolizing the seven “days” used by God to create the world.  The seven revolutions also symbolize the home the bride and groom will create together). The bride then sits next to the groom, on his right-hand side.

-[ In the Sephardi tradition, the groom then says the blessing “She’hecheyanu” over a new “tallit” (prayer shawl), the blessing also meant for his marriage. The blessed tallit is then held by four males over the head of the bride and groom, chuppa-like ].

-The Ashkenzi custom is that the bride and groom wear no jewelry while under the chuppah, symbolizing their desire not to be enslaved by material possessions.

-In Jewish tradition, the marriage becomes official when the groom gives the bride something of value. In ancient times, it would typically be a coin of gold. Today, it is a ring. The ring must be owned by the groom and be of pure gold, without embellishment of gems or stones. (It may be engraved on the inside). Only one ring—given to the bride by the groom—is required by Jewish law and tradition. Some traditional rabbis refuse to officiate two-ring ceremonies. But some liberal rabbis allow the bride to give the groom a ring as a “gift,” not as the binding element of the ceremony. When giving the ring, the groom recites, after the rabbi, “Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the law of Moses and Israel.” The groom then places the ring onto the forefinger of the bride’s right hand.

-During the “Bedeken” ceremony, which is oftentimes conducted in Hebrew and English, the rabbi reads the “ketuba” (the marriage contract), and the couple drinks from a glass of wine. Wine is a symbol of joy in Jewish tradition and is associated with “kiddush,” a blessing recited over a cup of wine on the Sabbath or on a festival. (Sephardi rabbis usually wrap the couple in a prayer shawl, representing their union into oneness). The reading of the ketuba serves as the juncture between the first and second parts of the ceremony: the “kiddushin” (betrothal) and the “nissuin” (marriage).

-The “Seven Blessings” (“Sheva Brachot”) are recited over a second glass of wine. The underlying theme of the blessings is the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. The seven blessings are recited by the rabbi and/or persons whom the families of the bride and groom wish to honor. At the conclusion of the Seven Blessings, the bride and groom drink wine from second glass of wine.

-At the end of the Seven Blessings ceremony, the best man places the wine glass, which has been wrapped in fabric or enclosed in a cloth bag, under the right foot of the groom. The groom then smashes the glass with his foot. (The smashing of the glass is said to symbolize the Jewish people sadness over the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and to affirm Jewish identity). The rabbi then declares the couple “man and wife,” and kisses are exchanged. Once the glass has been shattered, guests shout “mazel tov!” (which means “good luck!”), clap, embrace, and sing as the couple departs the chuppah for the “yichud.”

-The “yichud” is the moment of brief seclusion (which takes place in a special room), where the couple can spend a few moments alone before rejoining their families and friends. When couples have fasted prior to the wedding, they are traditionally provided with their favorite foods during the yichud. Chicken soup is the traditional yichud food.

-Because of the yichud, it is unlikely that a Jewish wedding will have a receiving line. Instead, the couple will be introduced as “husband and wife” after emerging from the yichud and joining their guests. Traditionally, they are greeted with a toast and a shower of rice.

-Jewish wedding receptions are lively events, with much music and dancing. Most dancing is communal, rather than intimate or for couples. A “hora” (a traditional dance of celebration) is performed. The hora most widely known is the one in which the bride and groom, while seated on chairs, are lifted onto the shoulders of their guests and danced around the room. Another popular hora is for the bride and groom to whirl around each other holding opposite ends of a handkerchief. At very traditional weddings, there are separate dance-circles for men and women, sometimes divided by a “mehitzvah,” a curtain or some other divider.

-Meals at Jewish weddings are kosher or kosher-style, prepared within the laws as outlined in the Torah. Therefore, there will be no mixing of meat and dairy; shellfish will not be served; and pork is prohibited.

-The festive meal (“seudah”) begins with a blessing over a wedding “chellah,” a large, braided, egg-rich bread. The bride and groom then break the chellah into pieces, giving a portion to each table. The giving of the bread also allows the newlyweds to introduce themselves to guests.

-Alcohol is traditionally served at Jewish weddings.

-At the end of the meal, “Birkat Hamazon” ([the saying of] “Grace after Meals”) is recited, and the “Sheva Brachot” is repeated.

-The final tradition of the wedding reception is the “cup blessing,” during which two glasses of wine are poured into a third glass from which the bride and groom drink.

-During the week following the wedding, it is customary for friends and family to host festive meals in honor of the bride and groom. These meals are also called “Sheva Brachot” because of the blessings offered at the conclusion of each of these meals. (When both the bride and groom are being married for a second time, the Sheva Brachot is only recited at the end of the meal on the wedding night).

Chinese Business Etiquette

-In business and throughout Chinese culture in general, deference should be extended to persons of higher age and rank.

-Do not compliment a Chinese on his “good” English. Chinese people are conservative with compliments; and to compliment a person on something as mundane as his speech may be interpreted as an inability to find anything else more worthy of compliment.

-Business cards should be presented and received with both hands. Bilingual business cards should be presented with the side printed in Chinese facing upwards. When presented with a business card, it should be carefully read before being placed into a business card case, then into the chest pocket (Never into the wallet or pants pocket). When a business card is received while sitting at a table, it should remain face-up on the table until time to depart from the table.

-If a clerk offers money/change with both hands, it must be received with both hands.

-Boasting of one’s accomplishments is considered rude in China. And it is also regarded as rude to accept a compliment without first diminishing it.

-Modesty is prized in China. A gentleman of means who wishes to pay the entire bill for a group of diners (thereby displaying his financial wherewithal) would, for example, excuse himself from the table—as if going to use the restroom—in order to pay the bill discretely with the management.

-A foreign businessperson should allow his Chinese counterparts to leave the meeting first.


The Protocol for Attending a Japanese Buddhist Funeral

-Buddhism and Shinto are the two major spiritual traditions of Japan. Shinto is the indigenous faith of Japan and is as old as Japan itself. Buddhism was introduced to the Japanese in the 6th century. Generally, the Japanese rely upon Shinto traditions for the happy, positive elements of life such as childbirth, birthdays, weddings, luck, careers, fortunes, etc. But for life’s more solemn occasions, Japanese tend to rely upon Buddhist traditions. Approximately 90% of Japanese funerals are conducted in the Buddhist tradition. (It should be noted, however, that there is confluence between the two faiths and syncretism between their practitioners).

-When death is imminent, or at the moment of death, relatives moisten the lips of the dying/dead person with water in a ritual known as “the water of the last moment.” Many Japanese families have Buddhist altars (“butsudan”) and Shinto shrines (“kamidana”) within the household. When death occurs, a small table decorated with flowers, incense, and a candle is placed beside the deathbed. The household shrine is closed and covered with white paper in order to keep impure spirits at bay. Relatives are informed. Immediately thereafter, authorities are informed, and a death certificate is issued. Traditionally, funeral arrangements are made by the eldest son, who contacts the Buddhist temple to schedule a date for the funeral. Based on the old Chinese six-day lunar cycle, the second day is regarded as a bad day for holding a funeral since the second day, called “tomobiki,” (“tomo” means “friends” and “hiku” means “pull”) has today come to mean (despite the original significance being different) “pulling your friends along with you.” (The second day, then—understandably—is regarded as a good day for weddings, but a bad day for funerals).

-The body of the deceased in washed, and the orifices are plugged with gauze or cotton.

-In an ancient and rarely done “incoffining” ritual called “nōkan,” performed by professional morticians, the body is ritually dressed and placed into the coffin. But even absent nōkan, a deceased female is dressed in a white kimono, and a deceased male is dressed in a kimono or suit. Makeup may be applied to the body. In life, men and women cross the left side of the kimono over the right. In death, however, when a kimono is used to dress the deceased, the right side is crossed over the left. The coffin is placed atop dry ice, and items dear to and believed to be necessary for the dead are placed into the coffin: six coins for the crossing of the “The River of Three Crossings”; and burnable items such as cigarettes, sandals, and candy.

-The casket containing the body is then placed onto an altar for the wake. The head of the deceased should be oriented towards north or west.

-No food is served after Japanese wakes or funerals, so mourners should eat prior to attending those ceremonies.

-Normally, the wake is held the day after death and lasts about an hour; the funeral occurs a day or two after the wake. At the wake, if the deceased was a practitioner of Buddhism, a set of prayer beads, called “juzu,” may be carried by mourners.

-When it comes to Japanese mourning attire, it cannot be overstated that funeral clothing should be understated. Black is the color of mourning in Japan. And it is black that should be worn by mourners attending a Japanese funeral. Women should wear a black kimono or a conservative dress of plain, black, matte-finished fabric. Black-on-black patterned fabrics, black fabrics with a sheen, or black-and-white floral prints, for example, are inappropriate. Garments designed with frills, flounces, and jabots, for example, should be avoided as they appear “festive” or “flirtatious.” The dress should cover the knees (preferably while sitting as well as standing); its silhouette should not be form-fitting (though it may be form-suggestive); and its neckline should be high-cut. Long sleeves are preferred, but short sleeves are accepted. Sleeveless dresses should be avoided. No jewelry—except marital jewelry and, perhaps, a simple strand of pearls—should be worn. Shoes should be flat and fully closed (sandals, slingbacks, or open-toed shoes are inappropriate). Patent leather and shoes with adornment are discouraged. Under no circumstances should stilettos or high-heel shoes be worn. Square-toed shoes are preferred to shoes with pointed toes. Black, opaque, nylon stockings are recommended. The purse should be simple, of moderate size, and of basic black—and not of patent leather. A lady’s hair should be worn up, off the neck, preferably in a bun, not free-flowing (the bun is preferably covered in a hairnet or wrapped in black fabric); makeup, if any, should be understated, and lipstick in particular should be avoided. If a fragrance is worn, its application should be minimal.

-A gentleman should wear a conservative black suit, a white shirt, a matte-finished black tie, and black socks. (A tie of any other color is inappropriate). Not even a charcoal gray suit is considered appropriate. Plain, lace-up black shoes such as balmorals or derbys are appropriate. Shoes made of patent leather or styled with lustrous metal buckles, for example, should be avoided. The only jewelry appropriate for a man is his wedding ring.

-It is customary and socially expected for mourners attending a Japanese wake (called “otsuya” and typically takes place in the evening) to present offerings of money to the grieving family in order to defray funeral expenses. The money, called “koden,” is to be enclosed in special, commercially available, white funeral envelopes which are decorated with black and white ribbons. (The envelopes are available in the stationery section of any convenience store in Japan). The amount given, typically between 3,000 and 30,000 yen (about $25 to $250), depending on the relationship to the deceased, the social status/financial wherewithal of the mourner, and the financial position of the family, must never be of new bills, for to give new bills would suggest that the death was expected, thereby having given the mourner time to acquire fresh bills. Instead, the bills should clearly indicate that they have been in circulation, suggesting that the mourner, upon being surprised to hear of the death, hurriedly gathered the money as best he or she could. Under no circumstances should the money be offered without a funeral envelope. (It would be preferable for a mourner to offer no money than to present the money without an envelope).

-Upon handing over the funeral envelope to the funeral attendants at the funeral venue, the mourner will be asked to write his name in a registry. Thereafter the mourner will be ushered into the room containing the coffin and chairs or benches for mourners to sit. The seats closest to the dais/coffin are reserved for immediate family. A gentleman-mourner should allow a funeral attendant to direct him to a seat.

-Typically, the coffin is placed in the center of the dais, which is filled with flowers. A large-size photo of the deceased is situated prominently amidst the flowers. And at the front of the dais are bowls of fruit, rice, saké, and other offerings.

-After all mourners have been seated, the Buddhist priest then chants sutra in a characteristically low tone, his back towards the mourners.

-After the chanting, the immediate family members stand and walk towards the front of the dais, situating themselves in a file towards the left side of the dais. On the dais will be a box filled with ashes and a box with incense sticks, with a candle situated nearby for lighting them. The mourners then line up in single file in the center-aisle. One by one, each person lights three incense sticks (one by one), offering them to the deceased (In Japanese culture, it is improper to blow out the flame of an incense stick. Instead, the flames should be gently waved out by the hand), then implants the burning incense sticks (flame extinguished) upright into the box of ashes, one by one. Thereafter the mourner walks past the family, bowing to them. The bow should be a 90-degree bow at the waist, arms at the mourner’s sides, such that the crown of the mourner’s head points towards the waistline of an average-height family member. After bowing, the mourner should return to his seat or file out the room, depending on whether the wake has concluded or not.

-Japanese etiquette requires that a monetary gift be reciprocated in some way. So prior to departing, each mourner is given a gift which is equal in value to approximately fifty percent of his condolence money. Some mourners write their name and the amount given, preferably in calligraphy, on the outside of the koden envelope so as to facilitate the transaction. Anything written on the outside of the envelope should be written with gray ink, today commercially available for this specific purpose. (In olden days, “sumie” ink, the black ink used for writing letters, was painstakingly prepared from ink stone. But because of the hurried nature of Japanese funerals, a hastily prepared ink would not achieve its rich, black color, and would instead have a grayish tone. Gray ink, then, like circulated bills, became preferred since both convey the message that the death was not expected. So today, in keeping with the established protocol, gray or light-colored ink is used to inscribe koden envelopes). Some Japanese secure the services of professional calligraphers to inscribe their envelopes. Others prefer to give the envelope with no inscription.

-Generally the gifts from the family are wrapped in white, gray, or black paper and are presented in small shopping bags. Also included in each bag is a note of appreciation from the family. Gifts such as handkerchiefs and hand towels are typical. But items such as telephone cards or rice coupons are also known to have been given.

-Some relatives may remain with the deceased, keeping vigil until the funeral.

-The funeral is like the wake: The Buddhist priest chants a sutra, and people offer incense to the deceased. Unlike at the wake, however, the deceased receives a new Buddhist name, written in Kanji, an arcane system of Japanese written with Chinese-derived characters. (Very few present-day Japanese can read Kanji). The purpose of the renaming is so that the departed soul will not be beckoned to Earth by the calling of its former name. The objective, then, is to be given a very lengthy, complicated, new name. The length of the name is theoretically supposed to depend upon the virtue of the person’s life—long names being given to exemplary people. But it is oftentimes said that the length of names is also determined by the amount of financial contribution by relatives to the temple.

-At the end of the funeral, friends and family members place flowers into the casket, around the head and shoulders of the deceased. The coffin is then nailed shut, signaling the end of Earthly existence, and carried to an elaborately decorated hearse, which transports the deceased to the crematorium.

-At the crematorium, the coffin is placed onto a tray and then slid into the cremation chamber. Once the coffin is within the chamber, the family departs the crematorium, returning at an appointed time to collect the ashes and any remaining bones. The cremation of an adult typically takes about two hours.

-The ashes and remaining bones are collected by relatives and placed into an urn. Using large chopsticks (or meat hooks), family members (typically two males) pick the bones out of the ashes, beginning with the foot bones and ending with the head bones. The bones are placed into the urn in the order in which they are collected so that the body is not upside-down in the urn.

-Depending on local custom, the urn is taken directly from the crematorium to the grave or may be kept at the family home for several days before being taken to the grave.

-Funeral urns are typically interred in family graves. Some graves have business card boxes where persons paying respects may deposit their cards so as to notify the caretakers of the grave that respects have been paid.

-Memorial services are for the most part determined by local custom. Generally, memorial services are conducted every day for the first seven days and on specified dates during the first 49 days.

-During the first year of death, no traditional New Year card is either sent or received by the grieving family. It is typical, however, for the grieving family to send a note explaining why, due to the death, no New Year card is being sent.








What to Expect When Attending a Traditional Hindu Funeral

-Within Hinduism are a number or sects, sub-sects, and regional variations with different beliefs; but generally, Hindus believe that life and death are part of the concept of “samsara,” or rebirth for the purpose of attaining “moksha,” or salvation—freedom from desire. Once moksha is attained (through a series of rebirths, each successive birth bringing the soul closer to moksha), the soul is absorbed into Brahman, the divine force and ultimate reality.

-When death is approaching, the priest and family members are summoned to be with the dying person. Those present chant mantras. When death seems imminent, the body, if possible, is placed atop a grass mat on the floor, and a small amount of water from the Ganges River is placed into the mouth of the dying person. (If these acts are not possible prior to death, they should be performed immediately after death). Upon death, the body is regarded as impure; therefore those present should avoid any unnecessary touching of the body.

-Preparation for the funeral begins immediately since traditionally, the funeral should take place by the following dusk or dawn, whichever occurs first. There are no laws prohibiting Hindu organ or tissue transfer, consequently, organ donation is permissible.

-Traditionally for the “abhisegam,” (the holy bath), the body is washed by family members and close friends in a mixture of milk, ghee (clarified butter), yogurt, and honey. The body may alternatively be washed in purified water. For the ritual washing, the head of the deceased should be facing southward, and a lighted oil lamp, as well as a picture of the deceased’s favorite deity, should be placed by the head of the deceased. Those washing the body should recite mantras during the ritual. (Many Hindu funeral homes recognize the significance of the washing of the dead by family members and friends. But in the event that is not possible, the funeral home may wash and dress the body). Once the body has been sufficiently washed, the big toes are tied together; the hands are placed palm-to-palm as if in prayer, and the body is shrouded in a white cloth. In cases where the deceased is a married woman who preceded her husband in death, the body is dressed in red.

-Traditionally, all Hindus, except babies, children, and saints, are cremated. Generally, there is a brief wake prior to cremation. The body is displayed in a simple, inexpensive casket. “Vibuti” (ash) or “chandanam” (sandalwood) is applied to the forehead of a man, and turmeric is applied to the head of a woman. A garland of flowers is placed around the neck of the deceased, and holy basil is placed into the coffin. During the wake, family and friends gather around the casket and recite mantras and/or hymns. At the end of the wake, but before the body is removed for the cremation, rice balls, called “pinda,” are placed near the casket. At the end of the wake, the casket is removed feet-first and taken to the cremation site.

-Traditionally, the casket is placed onto a gurney and taken to the cremation site; but today, a hearse may also be used to transport the coffin. If a vehicle is used, the eldest male relative, referred to as “karta,” and another male relative accompany the body. (Traditionally, only males attend a cremation).

– Hindu cremations customarily take place on the Ganges River. The family builds a funeral pyre and places the body atop the pyre. The karta will circle the body three times, walking counter-clockwise so that the body is always to the left of the karta. While circling the body, the karta sprinkles holy water upon the pyre. Thereafter, the karta sets the pyre afire, and those present remain until the body is completely consumed by the flames. (Embalming is permissible in Hinduism. For Hindus living outside India, arrangements can be made for the body to be shipped to India for cremation at the River Ganges with a proxy karta). Sati (also “satī” or “suttee”), the practice whereby a widow immolates herself (or is forced or culturally required to) on the funeral pyre of her husband, is abolished but reportedly still conducted in ultra-traditional or remote, rural areas.

-In the United States, for example, only crematories may conduct cremations, but most crematories will allow for traditional ceremonies and rituals to take place at the facility. When the cremation takes place at a crematorium in the United States, for example, the body should be brought in feet-first, ideally facing south. Those gathered will pray, then the karta will perform the circling-ritual. Thereafter the body is cremated, being placed into the incinerator feet-first. When the body is fully cremated, those gathered depart.

-Upon returning home, the family will bathe and don fresh clothing. The family will gather for a meal, and a priest may visit the home to purify it with incense.

-Like in Buddhism, white is the color of mourning and will be worn by family members of the deceased. Non-family members should wear conservative clothing in black or dark colors. Mourners will be required to remove shoes, therefore presentable socks should be worn.

-The day after the cremation, the karta will return to the crematorium and collect the ashes. Traditionally, the ashes are immersed in the Ganges River. For Hindus living outside India, arrangements can be with companies that will transport the cremated remains for immersion in the Ganges River. (Other rivers are increasingly being accepted as suitable substitutes).

-Hindus mourn for 13 days, beginning with the date of the cremation. During the period of mourning, family members will remain at home and receive visitors. A photograph of the deceased may be prominently displayed, a garland of flowers typically placed onto the photograph. Throughout the mourning period, the rite of “preta-karma” will be performed, its purpose being to assist the disembodied spirit in identifying a new body for reincarnation.

-One year after death, the family will observe “sraddha,” which pays homage to the deceased. The karta will invite Brahmins, members of the highest caste, to the home for an elaborate meal, treating them as he would his own parents.

What to Expect When Attending a Traditional Arab Wedding

-The Arab world is vast and varied, encompassing different lands, religions, rituals, and traditions. But most Arabs are Muslims. And though Arab weddings have undergone significant changes—including the incorporation of several Western elements—over the past 100 years, what can be described as the “traditional Arab wedding” is perhaps most similar to present-day Bedouin or rural weddings. But despite the variations from country to country, region to region, and village to village, the most recurring wedding themes in the Arab tradition are: the marriage proposal; the engagement; henna night; the marriage contract and registration; the reception; and the honeymoon.

The Marriage Proposal

-Islam and Arab culture prohibit premarital sex and inter-gender socialization. Arranged marriages, then, still occur in the Arab world. And traditionally, it is the male’s family that will seek his bride when he is nubile. In modern Arab societies, it is not uncommon for a man to recommend a particular woman to his parents. And sometimes the man and woman know each other beforehand or may even privately agree to marry before their parents are invited to participate in the process. Whichever the case, the man’s family traditionally approaches the woman’s family to ask for her hand in marriage. The first meeting usually occurs at the woman’s house or at a public place and consists of the man, the woman, and their respective mothers. The man and woman, with their respective chaperones, sit separately—but within eyeshot of each other—during the first meeting.

If both families agree that the union is suitable, the bride’s family hosts a reception at their home, the purpose of which is for the groom to officially ask for the bride’s hand in marriage. Traditionally, the groom asks the bride’s father or the eldest male in her family for her hand in marriage. When the father/eldest male agrees, the families read the surat Al-Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur’an. (The chapter’s seven verses are a prayer for Allah’s guidance). Depending on the region, a sherbet (made of fruit and/or flower petals) or coffee is then served.

The Engagement

-The engagement is typically done within the context of a party or dinner for the family. The betroths exchange rings, each placing a ring onto the index finger of the other’s right hand.

Henna Night

-The henna night occurs the night before the wedding. In traditional societies, the henna night provides an opportunity for both families to get to know each other before the wedding. The wedding venue is decorated, and last-minute preparations are made. The groom’s family dances through the streets (in a tradition called “sahij”) of the village until arriving at the bride’s home. And once there, both families mix the henna, which is used to decorate the hands of the bride and groom. (The traditional decoration for the groom’s hands is his initials and those of his bride-to-be. The bride’s henna decorations are more elaborate). After the groom presents the bride with her “mahr” (usually a gift of gold), the families dance and sing traditional songs.

Today’s henna night is more akin to a bachelorette party: The bride’s female relatives and friends join her in a party of food, music (played by female musicians), and dancing. The bride and her guests have their palms and feet decorated with henna by a female henna artist. The groom also has a party: The groom’s face is shaven by a close male friend or family member. And the groom’s male relatives and friends dance to traditional music before he visits the bride in order for both of them to receive their henna decorations. The groom then presents the mahr to the bride.

Whether the henna night is traditional or modern, the bride dresses in the “itthyab,” a traditional elaborately embroidered gown, while the groom wears a traditional thobe (also “thawb”) and headdress consisting of the “tagia,” “guthra” (also “gutra”) and “agal” (also “igal). (See “Business,” above).

-In some very conservative regions, where interaction between men and non-related women is prohibited, there is the “sahra,” an evening celebration where the groom and his male friends and relatives dance with each other—usually in a garden or in the street in front of the groom’s house. Women are not allowed to attend the sahra; they may view it remotely via simulcast or from a closed-off section of the garden. In über-conservative societies, the sahra is the only way males outside the family are allowed to participate in the wedding festivities.

The Marriage Contract and Registration

-The “katb el-kitab,” or marriage contract/registration, is the official marriage ceremony. The imam or sheik gives a short speech on how husbands and wives should honor each other. The legal documents are filled out, signed, and witnessed, marking the official marriage of the couple. The katb el-kitab is traditionally held in the home of the bride or groom, but it may also be held in a mosque, a courthouse, or at the wedding venue.

The Reception

-The wedding reception begins with a “zaffe” (variably spelled “zaffeh,” “zaffa,” and “zaffah,” It is called “zapin” in Malaysia). The zaffe is a wedding procession comprised of musicians (especially drummers), dancers, wedding attendants, and the bride and groom. It boldly and with much din announces the wedding and is regarded as one of the most dramatic elements of the Arab wedding tradition. After the zaffe, the bride and groom take their seats upon a dais in front of their guests, as if presiding over the festivities in the capacities of king and queen. Traditionally, as soon as the bride and groom are seated, a sherbet is served, and guests drink to the health of the newlyweds. The bride and groom then switch their engagement rings from their right index fingers to their left index fingers, the engagement rings thus being transformed into wedding rings. And it is with the switching of the rings that the festivities officially begin. In modern societies, the bride and groom have a first dance, then guests join in, men and women dancing in separate areas of the reception hall.

In strict Muslim families, men—including husbands and blood relatives—may not dance with women or even observe women in immodest attire. In such families, only women and children enter the reception hall with the couple; male family members wait outside or in a separate reception room during the dancing portion of the reception. Even musicians must be female under such circumstances. And if the disc jockey is male, he must play his music from a secluded or remote room. The couple and their guests are then entertained, typically by belly dancers, singers, etc. (The cutting of the cake and the tossing of the bouquet are some of the Western elements that are increasingly becoming incorporated into Arab weddings). Thereafter, the bride and groom open the feast.

After the celebration, women cover their shoulders, and male guests are invited into the general reception room to congratulate the couple and present gifts. If any dancing ensues, the sexes dance separately. In some traditions, the bride and groom are lifted onto the shoulders of their male family members and danced about the room.

In rural weddings, after the zaffe, the festivities are held in a clearing under a large tent called a “sewan.” Western traditions such as the cutting of the cake and the tossing of the bouquet are not elements of the rural wedding. There is, however, entertainment, typically by singers and belly dancers. (Given the immodesty in dress and movement of traditional belly dancing, it clearly is an art form that predates Islam). In rural weddings, the bride and groom leave the reception early, their guests continuing on with the festivities.

-Most Arab brides today wear Western-influenced white wedding gowns. Typically, however, their arms are fully covered, even if by a form-fitting fabric; and their headdresses conceal their hair, even if a transparent veil complements the headdress. In the Levant regions of the Arab world, it is not uncommon for grooms to wear Western-style suits or tuxedos. Female guests in such regions typically wear evening gowns, but with complementary head coverings. En route to a wedding in a conservative Arab country, a female guest would cover her evening gown with an “abaya,” the traditional black over-garment worn by women in the public outdoors.

Non-Arab female guests would be wise to observe modesty when attending an Arab wedding—unless the wedding takes place in the Western world and the couple is decidedly liberal. A non-Arab gentleman should wear a dark suit with shirt and tie.

A non-Arab male attending a wedding in a conservative Arab country is not expected to wear a thobe and the headdress. Instead, he is expected to wear a business suit or a tuxedo (or his cultural or military equivalent thereof), depending on the degree of formality of the wedding. A non-Arab lady attending a wedding in a conservative Arab country is expected to dress as ladies in that culture would dress at a wedding in that culture: She should cover her hair, her back, her chest, and her extremities.

The Honeymoon

-The honeymoon is now a part of the Arab wedding ritual. Arab couples with financial wherewithal oftentimes travel abroad.

-[While most Arabs are Muslims and many Arab nations are Islamic states, there are also many Arabs in the Arab world and in other regions of the world who are not Muslims and/or are citizens of secular nations. And those non-Muslim Arabs and/or liberal Muslims also have their wedding traditions. It is therefore incumbent upon a gentleman attending an Arab wedding to become informed beforehand of the religious and cultural traditions of the marrying couple].


Japanese Table Manners–The Etiquette of Dining in Japan

-Being invited to one’s home is a great honor in Japanese culture.

-Traditional Japanese dining in the home—and even in some restaurants—occurs at a low, square or rectangular table set upon a tatami mat, with diners kneeling/sitting upon cushions or directly on the mat. (Unlike with Chinese dining, chairs are not typically used in traditional Japanese dining). (See “Shoes-Etiquette” above).

-In Japan, sitting upright on the floor while dining or at a tea ceremony is typical. The most formal way of sitting for both genders is the “seiza” position, where the person kneels (left knee placed onto the floor first), as if in prayer, then rests his buttocks upon the heels of his feet. (The feet should come together, allowing the right big toe to lay atop the left big toe). Hands are placed on their corresponding thighs. (Most Westerners—and an increasing amount of modern Japanese—find sitting seiza-style for the duration of a meal to be exceedingly uncomfortable). In less formal settings, women may sit before the table, both legs towards one side, almost touching the buttocks. Men may sit informally in a cross-legged (lotus-like) position, the way children fold their legs when sitting together in circle formation.

-Seating arrangement is also very important in Japanese culture: The guest-of-honor is seated upon the “kamiza,” the seat of honor, typically situated farthest from the entrance. And when there is a “tokonoma” (alcove) in the room, the guest-of-honor is seated in front of it. The host or lowest-ranking guest is seated nearest the “shimoza” (entrance).

-In restaurants, and in some homes, each diner is presented, immediately upon situating him/herself at the table, with a moistened towel which is to be used to perfunctorily refresh him/herself. Strict Japanese etiquette specifies that the towel should be used only to refresh the hands—not the face and/or neck. (The towel is also not to be used for any major or unsightly cleansing, such as cleaning one’s nostrils or inside one’s ears). In less strict settings, if the face and/or neck is to be refreshed, it should be tidied before the hands since it would be unhygienic to wipe one’s hands clean then use that same towel to attempt to clean the more germ-sensitive facial areas. When the towel is presented upon individual trays, the towel should be folded and placed atop the tray for occasional use during the meal. When the towel is to be collected immediately after use, it should be loosely folded and placed onto the collection tray or held in palms of both hands such that it my be retrieved by the collector with tongs.

-“Itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) is said before meals; “gochisosama deshita” (“Thank you for the meal”) is said after meals.

-In private homes and in some restaurants, communal dishes, rather than individual dishes, are oftentimes served. When serving utensils are not provided, guests should use the opposite ends of their chopsticks to transfer food from the communal dishes onto their individual plates. (When using individual chopsticks to retrieve food from communal dishes at the beginning of a meal—before the chopsticks have been used for eating—the pointed ends of the chopsticks may be used to convey food to individual plates. But once the chopsticks have been used for eating, the opposite ends must be used to retrieve food from communal dishes where no serving utensils have been provided). When taking food from a communal dish, guests should select items closest to them, rather than reaching across or picking through the dish to select an item or a portion that they might regard as more appealing.

-As with the rest of the Far East, chopsticks are the traditional eating implement. Confucius was of the opinion that knives and other sharp objects at the table conjured up unsavory images of the slaughterhouse and could invoke violence and warfare.

-Chopsticks originated in ancient China and later spread to Vietnam, Korea, and then Japan. (Japanese chopsticks tend to be shorter and more pointed at the eating-end than their Chinese counterparts). The oldest written record of chopsticks in Japan is found in the Kojiki (a collection of myths pertaining to the origins of the four home-islands of Japan, compiled by Ō noYasumaro at the request of Empress Genmei), written in 712 C.E.; but chopsticks are believed to have arrived in Japan around 500 C.E., when Chinese culture first began infiltrating Japan via Korea.

Japanese chopsticks were originally made from one piece of bamboo, joined at the top like wooden tweezers. Around the 10th century, however, chopsticks were crafted as two separate sticks. By the 17th century, Japanese chopsticks were commonly being made of lacquered wood. And the very wealthy used chopsticks made of precious materials such as jade, gold, ivory, and silver (Silver was a popular choice as it was believed that the metal would immediately tarnish if exposed to poisonous foods). The concept of the disposable chopstick originated in Japan in 1878. But today, because of the millions of trees used annually to produce disposable chopsticks, the concept is being revisited.

-All cultures that use chopsticks have etiquette specifying their proper usage. Below are some of the chopstick rules of Japan:

a) Chopsticks should be held towards their non-eating ends—not towards their middle sections or towards the ends that are used to pick up food.

b) Chopsticks not in active use during a meal should be placed onto the chopstick-rest. If no chopstick-rest has been provided, chopsticks should be placed together vertically towards the right side of the plate or bowl, the points facing away from their respective diner (and, to the extent possible, not directly towards any other diner). Otherwise, they may be placed together, diagonally across the bowl or plate. (The horizontal placement across the plate or bowl signals that the diner has concluded his meal).

c) Food should never, ever, be passed from one person’s set of chopstick’s to another person’s set of chopsticks. To do so is regarded as bad luck and inviting of death since the only time items are correctly passed from one set of chopsticks to another is in the context of a cremation when family members pass the cremated bones, via oversized chopsticks, from one person to another prior to placing the bones into the funeral urn. If food must be passed from one person to another, the passer should use his chopsticks to place the food onto the recipient’s plate, then the recipient should use his own chopsticks retrieve the passed item from the plate. Similarly, chopsticks should never be left standing upright in food—especially rice—as that placement is consistent with the upright placement of chopsticks into bowls of rice offerings to the dead at grave sites and funeral altars.

d) Chopsticks should not be used to spear food.

e) A food item too large to be eaten in one bite (such as a strip of chicken, or zucchini prepared tempura-style, or slices of wagyu beef) may be picked up whole with chopsticks; a portion of the oversized item bitten off; and the remaining portion placed back onto the plate. (No more than one bite should be taken from an oversized item that has been lifted from the plate). To divide an oversized food item on the plate requires practice: The chopstick on the left holds the item in place, while the chopstick on the right is skillfully used to divide the item.

f) Chopsticks should not be used for pointing or held in the hand while gesturing.

g) Chopsticks should never be used to move bowls or plates.

h) If dishes are served communal-style (on serving platters or in serving bowls placed in the center of the table) and no serving utensils have been provided, guests should use the opposite ends of their chopsticks (if they have already been used for eating) to move items from the communal dishes onto individual plates. (Any food residue on the opposite ends of chopsticks should be discretely wiped off in one’s napkin. At no time should food residue be licked or sucked off chopsticks).

i) Special care should be taken to ensure that one’s chopstick’s are not pointing directly at another person. Pointing chopsticks at a person is interpreted as wishing ill for that person.

j) At the end of a meal, chopsticks are placed together onto the chopstick-rest or together horizontally, midway across the “northern half” of the plate or bowl. Disposable chopsticks are placed back into their paper slip-envelope, the end of the envelope sealed with a fold.

k) Chopsticks are not toys—not even for children. Using chopsticks for twirling, drumming, or clicking is unacceptable.

-While knives and forks will not be used at the traditional Japanese dining table, Chinese-style ceramic spoons are used to eat soups, and regular spoons are used to eat Japanese dishes such as “donburi” or “curry rice.”

How to eat certain foods:

-Miso soup—A bowl of miso soup should be raised to the mouth with both hands, thumbs, near the rim of the bowl, securing the portion of the bowl nearest the mouth, and the index finger and the middle finger gracefully cupping the upper periphery of the bowl, while the ring finger and pinky brace the bowl towards its base. The palms should not touch the bowl. The liquid should be drunk as if from a cup. Chopsticks should be used to eat the solid food items that remain in the bowl after all the liquid has been drunk.

-Noodle soup—If a ceramic spoon has been provided, it should be used to drink the soup. Otherwise, the bowl should be lifted with both hands to the mouth and the liquid drunk as if from a cup. (See “Miso soup” above). Chopsticks should then be used to eat the noodles.

-Noodles—Chopsticks should be used to eat noodles. It is considered in bad form to lower one’s head towards the bowl when eating noodles. When noodles are served in a small bowl that may be lifted with one hand, the bowl may be raised towards the mouth with the left hand, while the chopsticks, held in the right hand, are used to push the noodles from the bowl into the mouth.

-Rice—The small bowl of rice should be lifted with the left hand, while chopsticks, held in the right hand, are used to push rice into the mouth. Soy sauce should not be poured over a bowl of white rice.

-Sushi—The right hand or chopsticks may be used for eating sushi. Sushi should be eaten in one bite; but if it large and must be divided into a bite-size portion, it should be skillfully divided with chopsticks. When eating nigiri-zushi (small rice balls with shellfish, fish, etc., on top), the fish-side should be dipped into the soy sauce so as to prevent rice grains from escaping into the dish of soy sauce—an occurrence which is considered in bad form. In the case of gunkan-zushi (small “cup” made of seaweed and filled with sushi rice, topped with seafood), a small amount of soy sauce should be poured onto the sushi rather than dipping the sushi into the sauce. Temaki (literally, “hand roll”) is a cone-shaped sushi made of nori seaweed, sushi rice, vegetables, and seafood. It is picked up with the right hand and eaten in as many bites are required. The roll should be placed onto the plate between bites.

-Sashimi (thinly sliced raw food)—should be dipped into the soy sauce. [Sashimi is not to be confused with sushi, which includes rice].

-Soy sauce—It is considered bad manners to waste soy sauce; therefore, more than is needed should not be poured into the soy sauce dish.

-Wagyu beef—Chopsticks are used to pick up the thin slice of beef, conveying it to the mouth; the desired portion of beef is bitten off; and the remaining portion of beef is replaced into the dish.

Japanese drinking etiquette:

-When drinking alcoholic beverages at the table, it is customary to serve others before serving self. The person pouring the drink should use both hands, and the person whose vessel is being filled should use both hands to raise his drinking-vessel towards the vessel from which the beverage is being poured.

-Drinking should not commence until all persons are seated, food is served, and all glasses are filled. Drinking begins after the official drinking salute, which is usually “kampai!” which means “cheers!” Glasses should be raised and “kampai!” offered in return. “Chin-chin” is not said in Japan. (See “Faux Pas” below).

Other Japanese table manners:

-Blowing one’s nose in public—and especially at the dining table—is considered in exceedingly poor taste. Interestingly, however, sniffling at the table (as an alternative to blowing one’s nose) is accepted practice. If one must blow one’s nose, one should excuse oneself from the table.

-Guests are expected to eat everything on their plates—down to the last grain of rice. Japanese culture frowns upon the wasting of food.

-Burping is considered bad manners. When one burps, one must apologize. One’s napkin should be used to cover one’s mouth while burping.

-Slurping while eating soup, noodles, and at the end of a cup of tea is not considered in bad form in Japanese culture. To the contrary, it is accepted as a compliment to the chef and/or host and is an indication that the diner is satisfied.

-At the end of a meal, all attempts should be made to move all dishes and eating and drinking implements back to their original placement.

-At the end of a meal in a restaurant, guests should offer to pay, and the host should refuse their offer. After several offer-and-refusal iterations, the host pays the bill. (Guests who do not offer to pay insinuate that the host is indebted to them. But a guest who offers to pay beyond two or three iterations insults the host by insinuating that he/she is unable to pay the bill).

-When eating in a restaurant, tipping is not expected since a service charge is usually included in the bill. It is not uncommon for service staff to refuse tips—even after exceptional service has been rendered. In essence, tipping is considered rude in Japanese culture.

-Money or any instrument of payment should not be placed directly into the hands of the payee. Typically, a tray is provided for the transfer of money. When no tray has been provided, money should be presented with both hands and received with both hands—as a sign of mutual respect.

-When dining at a person’s home, a gift should be presented to the host upon arrival. (See “Gift-Giving” below).




Japanese Shoes-Etiquette

Japanese Shoes-Etiquette

Shoes-etiquette is extremely important in Japanese culture. Upon arriving at a person’s home, shoes must be removed. Most homes have shoe racks for guests close to the threshold. Whenever visiting a Japanese home, then, it is important to wear clean, presentable socks. And because going about the home barefoot in shunned in Japanese culture, a guest who arrives wearing sandals is expected to have brought along a pair of clean, presentable socks. Special house slippers (of various sizes) are available for guests. The provided slippers are to be worn with socks (of the guest). The provided slippers are not to be worn into the bathroom, however. A guest wishing to use the bathroom must remove the provided house slippers and don the special bathroom slippers (also offered in various sizes), which will be situated outside the bathroom door. After using the bathroom, the bathroom slippers are to be returned to the place from which they were obtained, and the provided house slippers are to be put back on. Except for in the bathroom, the provided house slippers are to be worn throughout the house. But when dining or the tea ceremony is to take place at a table set upon a tatami mat, the provided house slippers must be removed. Socks are the only footwear to be worn on tatami mats. (Shoes and slippers may cause damage to the delicate straw-made mats).