text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Tachigui (立ち食い) is one of those Japanese habits that even though at first might seem odd to visitors, are easy to accept; this happens because it fits with the Westerners’ stereotypes of the people in this land: their life is a constant race against time so it is only inevitable for them to eat while standing, cramming their meal in the five minutes between the moment they reach the train station platform and the moment the train arrives or in the ten minutes left in their lunch break. And, of course, this thought leads to a comparison which, of course, is in favor of all of us who have found the meaning of life and who don’t bulldoze our small everyday joys for the sake of our jobs. Like that cliché goes; in contrast to the Japanese we do stop to smell the roses.
Like all stereotypes this too does have a grain of truth: yes, in Tokyo and most other big cities, the life of the Japanese is ruled by time and yes, people are trying to jam in its parts that aren’t being covered by work and family or social obligations as much as they can. Food is often one of these things to be jammed and it has been that way since the era Edo started finding its place in the list of the world’s metropolises; it was during that time that sushi changed from a dish to finger food so people could eat it fast and return to their jobs. And this tradition has been kept alive even today and can be found in the countless tachigui restaurants seen in and around train stations.
Where I beg to differ though is the point that because the Japanese are willing to gulp down a bowl of soba noodles while standing on the bench of these restaurants or on the street outside them, they don’t have time to enjoy it. For me, it’s the exact opposite that’s true: because they know that their meal will last for only a few minutes, they learn how to imbue importance to this seemingly unimportant time frame. Like the haiku poets who manage to squeeze out the biggest possible value from the 5 plus 7 plus 7 “on” that make up the form of their medium, the thousands of workers, students and housewives who embed in the flow of their movement those ten minutes of the tachigui are able to achieve (and often without even making a big deal out of it) that ultimate awareness that for many comes only after years of meditation or similar practices. With tachigui, the Japanese actually do “stop to smell the roses”; it’s just that they have probably realized that if you are totally conscious of the moment, smelling them doesn’t take more than a few minutes.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/