(Revised December 2004)
Take Off Your Shoes
One symbol of respect is one most are familiar with, and that is in the taking off of ones shoes. The home is a sacred place, as in a school, a temple. When one enters these special spaces, one takes off their shoes at the door as a sign of respect.
Many are aware of when the hebrew, Moses encountered his god in a burning bush, a voice spoke to him, instructing him to remove his shoes as he was on sacred or holy ground. Moses obeyed.
It of course is practical in not bringing street dirt into the house, but it is also a symbol of leaving the darkness outside, and entering the light of sacred space. These places are regarded as sacred ground.
So if you ever have the opportunity to visit in a home that
you think may observe Japanese customs, look around at the door
and see if you see shoes lined up neatly to the side. Observe your
hosts feet. It would be good protocol to observe that households customs.
Simply remove your shoes and place them to the side of the door where you
see others. As the famous quote says, "when in Rome, do as the Romans
do", that is what true protocol is all about.
The Bow (rei)
As we greet on this occasion and future occasions, it is also traditional in the Japanese culture to extend to your host or teacher the courtesy of a bow (rei). The bow is perhaps the most visible symbol of respect.
In the oriental school of SM we practice this courtesy.
Standing Bow: "ritsurei" - The jujun, with hands at her sides and slightly to the front of her thighs, bows gracefully and ever so slightly at the waste, head and eyes down. (The exception to the eyes down would be in the martial arts, where breaking eye contact with your opponent, may result in you getting your head split open.) This bow is done every time one comes and goes, or for any reason wishes to show respect and admiration for the Dominant.
Seated Bow: "zarei" - This bow is done from the seated or "seiza" position. Place both hands on thighs, and then drop both hands to the floor together. Females move hands to front of your body with thumbs and index fingers touching. Males don't usually bring hands together.
I know this may be uncomfortable for some western BDSM people, but in Oriental cultures, the Dominant responds with a similar courtesy bow, if only to slightly tip the head downward.
Note, this is different from the Western-European schools of D/s in that a deep curtsy would be the proper gesture, with no physical responding gesture from the Dominant. American BDSM by in large does not practice a courtesy bow.
It is also a sign of respect to thank the teacher for the lesson. I know this sounds a bit self serving, but if you ever have the occasion to learn rope in person from someone, as the class concludes, it is Japanese custom to say something like:
"Thank you for the lesson, teacher", or simply "Arigato Tatu Sensei" (Arigato = Thank You).
The teacher responds, "do-itashimashite" (Thank you)
If you were a guest in someone's home, as you were leaving you would bow you would say something like: "Agrigato Asami-san"
The Japanese "On" System
This is a concept totally foreign to the western mind. To the Japanese, if one feels they have been shown a special courtesy, or done something especially kind, or learned something profound, it is the custom to feel a "sense of indebtedness". This is referred to as the "On" system. Do not minimize this. It is especially important to the one who feels in debt, to do something of like kindness.
Let me give you an example of how the cultures kind of cross here. The other day a friend of mine did something especially kind for me. I told him I was deeply indebted to him for his kindness. In typical western fashion, he said, "don't worry about it, no problem". Of course he was not intending to disrespectfully minimize the situation, he has no clue that I live with this concept in my heart. The problem is, I will not be at peace until I feel I have repaid his kindness is some way. So whether he says "don't worry about it" or not, I am going to have it in my heart until I feel I have served him in a like manner.
It is also important to know that in the Japanese culture, the one doing the kindness, does not do it expecting anything in return. IF one becomes embraced to the idea of doing kindness expecting a reward, then it is not a genuine act of love. When one starts thinking, well I have done this and this for that person, and they have not reciprocated, so I will write them off, this would be typical western behavior, but not oriental. This kind of thinking would be regarded as, prideful or haughty, and inappropriate.
One does kindness, out of a sense of love. End of story. The truly grateful will spontaneously respond with some like kindness. They will have a memory of it from now on, and will be inspired to show respect and courtesy toward that person.