There  are all kinds of habits I've adapted to while I've been in Japan.› I bow at  practically anything now...sometimes I'll even bow while on the phone  unknowingly until it is pointed out to me by an amused Japanese teacher.›  So for a while the learning was occurring so slowly that I didn't really know  that I had changed until I really thought about it.› Case in point:›  Lunch time.
››› One particular day I decided to alternate  my roles from being a Japanese to being an American.› Yes life can be that  boring sometimes.› This is my experience which may or may not be the  general experience by other ALTs.› At one of my junior highs the 2nd  graders...our 8th grade...sit in a cafeteria together...the 3rd graders...our  9th grade are on a separate floor in their own cafeteria...and the 1st graders  are each in their classrooms...the are 4 divisions of each grade.›
››› In Japan, and this is standard, no one can  eat until all the students have had their meal prepared.› Students dish out  the food that comes in pales from the "lunch ladies".› Everyone›is  given the same meal.› Each day is thankfully different but there isn't a  choice.›››Because this whole process takes awhile the food is  rarely warm and often cold.› Also I've gotten used to being extremely  hungry and only staring at the food in front of me threatening it for what was  in store after the "Itadakimasu (I begin), which is the phrase that every  Japanese says when about to eat.› One student will stand in front of the  whole grade and yell out "Itadakimasho (Let's begin)"›and bow as the  students at their long tables sit in perfect posture answer back "Itadakimasu"  with a bow.› You can imagine how many differences there are in this versus  the American way of "buy it/bring it and eat it at first available  opportunity."›
››› Most of the time students use chopsticks  to eat.› Sometimes spaghetti is served and that means forks can be  used.› There are always between about 3 dishes.› One main entree plate  with a bowl of some kind of soup often with miso or tofu or both, and a rice  bowl.›Okay having said all that background now I'll tell you what the point  of this all is.
››› Japanese people rarely leave any dish on  the table.› They pick it up with their left hand and hold it a certain way  (yes there is a particular way of holding a rice bowl it was quickly pointed out  to me when I first arrived) and "shovel" the food into their mouths often using  as many noises as possible especially if the food is a noodle product.› On  this day I was going to eat like an American and leave the dishes on the  table.› Well even with my chopstick expertise the venture took a long time  because the food especially rice kept falling so I turned Japanese and put that  bowl up to my lips and shoveled it in.›
››› Another thing is that big chunks of food  are rarely cut.› No one really uses their chopsticks for cutting...I mean  it can be done but often it is a time comsuming thing so the common thing to do  is pick up the whole thing and bite off parts of it bit at a time.› I tried  to be American this time and when I asked for a knife they just looked at  me...see knives during school lunch only seem to serve the purpose of peeling  apples...they don't eat the skin here...and since there were no apples there  were no knives and why was I asking for one anyway?› So I turned Japanese  and ignored all those "good manners"›lessons that my parents tried so hard  to teach me over the years and wolfed down that chicken patty one big bite at a  time as it dangled from my chopsticks.› Take that Martha Stewart.›
››› At the end, the students in each section  of six at the table, stack up the dishes, play "rock, paper, scissors" so see  who gets stuck with taking everyone's dishes to the main station.› I don't  have to do this because I'm a teacher so they do it for me.› Lastly the  same ritual occurs with the same student as before standing in front of the  grade and this time yelling "Gochizoosamadeshita (It was a feast)" and it  is›answered by the masses.››
››› So knowing all this please be patient with  me when I get home...if I bow...smirk...if I eat like a pig don't blame it on my  parents...