The Rules of Bread
I have written before about the odd sandwiches in Japan - like whipped cream sandwiches with strawberries, or egg salad sandwiches with asparagus. Also, the complete absence of the idea of a peanut butter and jam/jelly sandwich. (If you want a traditional peanut butter and jam/jelly sandwich you either have to buy the ingredients and make it your self at home, or go to a convenience store and buy one slice of bread with jam spread on it and another, separate slice with peanut butter spread on it, each securely wrapped in cellophane, then take them home, unwrap them and join them.) Bakeries and bread are common, although rice remains a daily staple of life and culture. Many baked goods that they serve offer some odd combinations to my Western palate, like curry bread (a bun with curry baked inside), or corn bread (bread with corn kernels spread over top). Although Western food, clothes, music, technology, literature, movies etc. are widespread and popular here, the fact remains that even though bread is very popular the Japanese approach it and use it in their own manner. Not surprising, really, but a persistent cultural unfamiliarity with bread continues to lead them to make their own rules and customs surrounding it. In my family I have been trying for years (with precious little success) to teach my wife the correct ways to use bread as I know them. I only want a more comfortable and relaxed meal time.
The word “toast” is an English loanword in Japanese. People use it. But they don’t use it often enough.
Many times I might ask a student, “What did you have for breakfast?”
When they say “Bread” I know that what they mean is “toast.”
But to try to teach the language I ask the second question, “Did you eat toast?”
Well, why didn’t they say that in the first place?
I often eat buttered bread as a snack food at home. Raw carrot sticks, too. At meal time I will eat either bread or rice, whichever is more convenient at the moment. (Toast will take a couple of minutes to cook, but rice will take almost half an hour.) Here’s something what we say to each other.
“Do you want bread?”
“Do you want butter on it?”
“Of course, you always put butter on it.”
“How about jam?”
“Are you making a sandwich?”
“Well, jam on bread is only for a sandwich or for toast. If it’s just bread then just put butter on it and nothing else.” (Not universally and literally true, I know, but near enough for me to say so to Junko. I am told that the French have some odd approach to bread-buttering, as well.)
Or, if she is offering toast:
“Do you want toast?”
“Jam or butter?”
“Do you want butter on it, too?”
“Of course. Butter always goes on toast. No matter what else you put on toast you always put butter on it first. If it’s jam, you put butter on first and then the jam over it. Or, if it’s peanut butter you put the butter on first and then the peanut butter. You always put butter on toast.”
“I don’t know. I am Japanese.”
“Really? I had no idea!”