One More Story of Japan…

Written by Lorna Shapiro

So in Japanese, there are many levels of “politeness” in conversation. A Japanese person must use the correct level of politeness for a particular situation. I was travelling with Chisato, a young woman from a small town in the Fukushima prefecture. She was inexperienced in conducting conversations in the level of politeness required in business transactions. Therefore, she was anxious about acting as my translator in a fabric manufacturer’s office where I would purchase some fabric I had decided to bring home with me. As we arrived at the office building, I could feel the tension oozing out of every pore of her body.

As we entered the manufacturer’s building, the lobby consisted of a broad area of concrete. After this, on a raised level with tatami mats, the receptionist sat behind a desk. Walking in with Chisato, and knowing she was tense, I decided I would speak to the receptionist. Since the receptionist was up a step, I walked over towards her desk and stepped up to speak to her.

At this point, I heard a hissing “LORNA!” come from Chisato and looked to see her still standing on the concrete, and looking, appalled, at my feet which, as it turns out, were still in shoes. Shoes now firmly planted on a tatami mat!

I did the fastest piece of footwork you’ve ever seen anyone do as I leapt back down to the concrete level. I was now aware that in offices, as in homes, shoes on tatami mats are strictly taboo. Standing down on the concrete level, I addressed the receptionist who, in a very Japanese manner, completely ignored that anything untoward had just occurred.