The Matcha Effect

close up photo of glass of matcha drink

If you've spent much time in Japan, you will be familiar with the common questions Japanese people ask you, such as 'can you use chopsticks?', 'do you eat bread three times a day?', or my personal favourite 'aren't you cold?' when you're wearing a t-shirt inside on a winter day, seemingly ignoring the fact that the room is hotter than a summer day thanks to the heater you're sitting next to.

These are common questions Japanese people ask non-Japanese, but every so often you will get the normal questions Japanese people ask each other; 'which do you prefer, crushed red bean paste, or smooth?', 'Miso or soy-sauce ramen?', 'Hiroshima-style Okoyonomiyaki or Osaka-style?'.

The thing is, you have to be very careful with how you answer these questions, not just because Japan is all about keeping the 和 (wa, harmony) but because it can have implications further on down the line.

My friend was once asked whether he preferred green-tea flavoured Kit-Kats, or the regular chocolate ones. Since he had just arrived in Japan, he hadn't yet tried the green-tea ones, so he decided to go for them. Little did he know this meant that from that moment on whenever a matcha flavour was on offer, he was given it even if he didn't want it.

Ok, I'm exaggerating a little bit here, but I've had a similar experience. My mother-in-law once offered me matcha-flavoured Alfort biscuits, that I still really enjoy, and she took this to mean that I preferred matcha-flavoured snacks. From that moment she often bought me matcha-flavoured snacks, until I had to tell her that I liked the specific Alfort biscuits rather than the matcha flavour.

The advice here is to clearly express that the particular item is good, rather than the Matcha flavour, and on the other end of the spectrum, to not assume someone likes something because they ate it one time.

I love the Japanese attitude towards 'omotenashi' hospitality, but sometimes they assume too much, without actually checking properly if someone enjoyed it or not. I feel that's one big thing to overcome with the recent influx of foreign tourism to Japan, and I call it the Matcha Effect.

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