Benjo Meshi – a glimpse into Japan’s bizarre culture

Disclaimer: this is merely my personal observation and should not be taken as hard facts about Japan. What I’m trying to do is just to introduce a side of Japan that many people may not know, that’s all. Not all Japanese are weird and crazy, and certainly not everyone does what I’m about to describe.

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I’ve mentioned briefly about benjo meshi in my previous post about Japanese women and toilets. So in this post I’d like to elaborate on what it’s all about. First of all let me explain what benjo meshi is. It literally translates into ‘toilet food’ – but it really is referring to meals taken in the toilet.

I know what you’re thinking. Who the heck would want to eat in the toilet? That’s like fucking disgusting.

I know right? But it is a phenomenon that happens possibly only in Japan.

 

To see a real person eating in the toilet would be too disgusting so I’ve done you all a favor by putting a drawing of it instead.

Why does this happen in Japan? Like aren’t there enough weird things going on in Japan already?

The problem is Japanese care too much about what others think of them – way too much for their own good. Usually people who don’t have anyone that they can have lunch with would eat in the toilet, out of people’s sight, so that others wouldn’t know that they don’t have friends. Call it pride, ego, image-conscious, whatever you may, but there should be no reason that desperate that it drives someone to eat in a place where you are supposed to get rid of what you’ve eaten instead.

These people need to understand that being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely. There’s nothing wrong with being alone as long as you hold up your head high, carry yourself well, and have a sense of purpose in life. People will naturally come to you if you carry yourself with confidence. But the thing is these people who chose to eat in the toilet have a dark, gloomy presence to begin with (in most of the cases) and so is it any wonder they don’t have anyone to have lunch with?

Most of the time it is usually students who do this (they must hate lunch hour more than the lessons) but some working women (who are often referred to as OL, yes even in non-English speaking Japan, surprisingly they have a lot of English loanwords) who do not have any company during lunch (may not be their fault – maybe they just want to avoid some of their leery supervisors?), would also rather eat in the toilet than to be seen eating alone. I’m like, facepalm. Who the heck looks at you while you are eating?! Everyone in the cafe/restaurant is probably too busy minding their own business to bother about women who are eating by themselves. But I know it is not in the Japanese women’s blood to eat in a beef bowl eatery (they call it gyudon) like Yoshinoya when they are alone, so they usually buy takeaways and then eat in the – you’ve got it – toilet.

 

In eateries like Yoshinoya, you’ll hardly see women eating by themselves (if you see one, that’s probably me). It’s usually full of working men (whom are called salarymen here) who don’t mind eating alone at all. If a woman comes into the store alone, she’s usually there to buy takeaways instead of eating in.

I suspect it’s a deeper issue in Japanese culture that causes this phenomenon. Like how the roles of men and women are so very clearly distinguished. Like oh men can do this but women can’t do this. Places like gyudon eateries are closely associated with males (don’t ask me why) and while I’m sure there are also many women who enjoy the wonderful beef bowl, in most cases they certainly do not want to be seen eating there. It’s not sexual discrimination per se, but more of reinforcing their society’s perception of gender roles. So if you want to be perceived as a feminine, lady-like woman, then you’d better do things that are very stereotypically female-like.  If you do anything that deviates from the defined stereotypical checklist of being a woman (ie eating at Yoshinoya alone), than you are not being a woman and as a woman you should do what is right, and most importantly, that it is different from men.

What it means to be a Japanese woman. It goes back a loooong way I guess.

I still don’t understand why it’s ok for men to be seen eating alone but not ok for a woman to do the same. But I guess that is one of the hidden requirements of fitting into the Japanese society’s ideal mould of a woman.

Fortunately,  nowadays I do see more women out there in cafes and restaurants eating lunch even if they are by themselves, thanks to the smartphones. I guess as long as you are seen busy on your phone, it would seem to others that you are not without friends, so it doesn’t matter that you are alone. BUT, it’s still not happening in gyudon eateries. Nope, not yet.

 

Might delve more into the gender roles issue!

 

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About Kimono Party Girl

I was born and bred in Singapore for the first 20 years of my life, and then I decided that even after flying all over the world as a flight attendant, life is still too boring. So, in search of more adventure and add spice to my life, I quit my job, packed up, and left for Japan - which is, to me, the promised land. I've always been fascinated with Japan ever since I was 8, thanks to Ayumi Hamasaki, aka the Britney Spears of Japan. She's the first J-pop singer that I have been obsessed with, and my first contact with the Japanese language was through her lyrics. Yup, I first learned my Hiragana from her song 'I am'. But what really sealed the deal was my first trip to Japan in 2010. The fresh air, the beautiful cherry blossoms, the endless fast fashion trends and the awesome food was what made Japan the land of my dreams, and it had since become my goal to one day live, work and party in Japan. So after working like a horse as a flight attendant for 2 years and saving up a decent amount, I made a big leap of faith and moved to the land of the rising sun. I have studied one year of Japanese and two years of graphic design. Currently, I'm in the midst of shukatsu (就活 - job hunting). Wish me luck!
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