Even before I left for Japan, I realized my nationality made me something of a small celebrity. See, I am Bulgarian and though my country is rather small and easy to find on the map, ask any Japanese person and they have heard of Bulgaria. The main reason? Yogurt, of course, the sweet milky deliciousness in every supermarket. So by the virtue of that simple food, I became a local curiosity.
And I had to work a bit to present my culture to my Japanese hosts, which was great fun for both sides.
Bulgarians and the World of Sumo
The secondary reason for Bulgarians being conspicuous in Japan? At the time of my visit, sumo wrestler Kotooshu (Kaloyan Mahlyanov is his Bulgarian name) was at the peak of his fame. And just that week, everybody was talking about Sumo. All over the newspapers, I could see the blown-up picture of Asashoryu, the Mongolian wrestler, who was retiring. In a great ceremony, his elaborate topknot was cut off and preserved in the hall of fame. So my Japanese hosts and I talked about sumo, and got to know each other through fun.
Pick Nice Gifts
Whenever you visit Japan, pack your bag with gifts- your small curiosities will be appreciated and loved. Since Bulgaria is famous for colorful traditional works of art, I somehow managed to bring ornamental pottery bowls, and some beautiful wood carvings. For closer friends, a bottle of Bulgarian wine and brandy was not a mistake.
Know your Geography
At one point, I had to draw a map of Europe and explain that I do not actually live in Russia. So do know your geography and perhaps a little bit of history, which can turn out very entertaining after a couple of wonderful Sapporo beers.
Learn the Right Manners
Curiously, if I wanted to present the Bulgarian culture to the Japanese, I had to learn a bit of Japanese culture. I was never perfect at bows, and it was not expected so much, I noticed. But table manners were important. My hosts even made a special training for table manners, but if you want to be prepared beforehand, here is what you do:
When served a meal, bring your palms together and say, “Itadakimasu”, which means I am grateful to receive. The Japanese believe food is a gift from the gods and there should always be thanks. The meal starts with thanks to the Heavens, but ends with a thanks to the host. When you are finished, say “Gochi So Sama Deshita”, which means , in translation, “You have run like a horse to fetch this meal!”. Yes, always thank the person for their effort. And then enjoy whatever deliciousness you prefer- but never stick the chopsticks into the rice.
The Japanese seemed serious on the surface, but I soon learned they were very much fun-loving, once they warmed up. I took care to be myself and show my friends that I was happy- it will help your friends relax, and before you know it, you would be singing your soul off at the Karaoke bar.
Oh, and right after you learn the Kampai! word, of course I taught the Bulgarian drinking cheers, “Nazdrave!”.