If you’ve stayed at a traditional Japanese inn with your partner, chances are you’ve experienced this custom before.

In Japan, nothing transports you back in time to a bygone era like a stay at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Often found in rural areas, this type of accommodation typically features tatami mat rooms, communal baths and dining areas, and yukata outfits, which visitors wear during their stay while being served by owners and staff in traditional clothing.

During mealtimes, guests are treated to sumptuous meals, which are often laid out on a traditional low table before they arrive, with things like tea, soup and rice served upon arrival. One of the many traditions guests encounter while staying at a Japanese inn is the fact that at mealtimes, they’ll usually be given a large portion of rice in a tub with a lid, called an “ohitsu”, which is placed beside the table with a shamoji rice paddle for serving, so that the diners can eat as much rice as they like throughout the course of the meal.

▼ The ohitsu is part of the service you’ll encounter while dining at a Japanese ryokan.

おひつ生活はじめました。 えぇ~おひつぅ?!いまどき、おひつぅ~? はいはい、聞こえます。聞こえない声がいっぱい聞こえます。 それが案外、やってみたら簡単で、そして体にもいい! なにやら、冷やご飯になると、温かいご飯に比べて随分カロリーオフになるんだとか。 そして重要なのが「糖質オフ」 ご飯の糖質が、冷やご飯になると「レジスタントスターチ」という「吸収されにくい糖質」に変化するのだそうです。 最近、じわじわ話題になっているので、もうやってるよという方もいるかもしれませんね。 私もずっと気になってました。 このところずっと、パソコンを使うお仕事が続いているせいか、運動不足で体重増加が止まらんのです(笑) そこで、冷やご飯を美味しく食べられるナイスな日用品「おひつ」を使ってみることに。 おひつなんてテレビでしか見たことない。 ”おしん”でしか見たことない。 ”大根めし”しか見たことない。 かもしれないけど、現代の暮らしでもぜ~んぜん使える暮らしの道具でした。 陶器のお皿や丼で冷ました冷やご飯だとべちゃっとしてるくせに表面カピカピ。 でもおひつなら、うっそーな美味しさだったんです。 あぁ~美味しくってますます食べちゃいそう。いかん、いかん(^-^; 「我が家の簡単おひつ生活」へは、プロフィールのリンクからどうぞ。 #東屋 #おひつ #木曾さわら #カフェコケット

A post shared by ごはんとおやつと暮らしの道具店コケット (@cafecoquette) on

While it might seem like the ohitsu adds a nice touch to the meal, it’s actually become the subject of intense debate online recently, as the ohitsu is usually placed next to the woman at the table when she’s with a male partner, as it’s assumed she’ll be the one serving him rice during the meal.

While the traditional role of women as housewives still persists throughout a lot of rural areas in Japan, attitudes are changing, and some people are now questioning whether or not the custom of placing the ohitsu beside women dining with husbands or boyfriends should continue.

Twitter user @otakukonyakusya recently brought the “ohitsu problem” to everyone’s attention with this tweet, where she explains that on a recent stay at a ryokan with her husband, no matter whether she sat in the “kamiza” position (Japanese seating position usually reserved for the most senior member of a group, furthest away from the door) or the “shimoza” position (Japanese seating position reserved for the least senior member of a group, closest to the door), the ohitsu was always placed beside her every time. According to @otakukonyakusya, she says she was fine with it, but she’s worried about how this will go over with foreign tourists. She is concerned and she really wants the practice of placing the ohitsu next to the woman to stop.

Seeing as she and her husband changed their seating positions as an experiment to see where the ohitsu would be placed, the placement of the ohitsu appears to have nothing to do with the seating position, which has prompted many online commenters to label the custom as sexist. 

The topic has sparked intense debate online, with some women saying this was annoying sexist behaviour, while others said it didn’t bother them in the slightest. Other women said they wanted to serve rice to their husbands.

One comment that stood out came from a ryokan staff worker, who said that it’s not necessarily about the ohitsu but the shamoji serving spoon that comes with it, which they’re taught shouldn’t be placed near the male guest when he is dining with a woman. If they fail to do this, some guests have been known to lose their temper, which is the reasoning behind its placement.

One of our very own Japanese-language reporters, who used to work at an upscale restaurant, also backs up this claim by saying that he was taught to always place the ohitsu and shamoji next to the female diner.

In amongst all the hundreds of comments left online, some people pointed out that a happy solution to the problem would be to simply place the rice tub and serving spoon in between the male and female guests. This certainly sounds like a good way to solve the ohitsu problem, as both guests would be able to serve themselves individually and not have to request, or wait to receive, an extra serving from their other half.

Still, that approach wouldn’t necessarily appeal to couples who choose to stick to their traditional roles, so perhaps a gentle question from the server to the guest about placement preferences would be the ideal solution.

The one thing sorely missing from the debate was a voice of opinion from foreign tourists who have actually experienced this custom themselves. So let us know your thoughts about the ohitsu problem – does it bother you or do you think it’s a Japanese custom that doesn’t need to be changed? Let us know in the comments section below!

Source: My Game News Flash
Featured image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

[ Read in Japanese ]