Many Japanese decorate their homes according to the principles of feng shui, the Chinese art of organizing a harmonious living space. In Japanese, this is known as fuu sui and most carpenters in Japan have at least a rudimentary knowledge of this approach to building. The free flow of water lines and happiness are top priorities for carpenters and homemakers alike.
Depending on the season, you may be dining in the ima (“the family room”) or the zashiki, a tatami room that can be likened to a formal dining room. If it is warm, the zashiki will have its doors thrown open to look out over the Japanese-style garden, or niwa. This room is especially reserved for guests, but will also hold the family's ancestral Buddhist altar, the butsudan. The butsudan is a shrine to the family's ancestors. It often holds a statue of the Buddha himself, hoteke-sama. Formal photographs of ancestors usually line the walls above the shrine. In front of the butsudan you'll probably see a drum and a small table with candles and incense that are used to sanctify offerings of rice and fruit.
Asking questions about the ancestors, or practices surrounding the butsudan are perfectly appropriate. Most Japanese people will be pleased when you display an interest in their culture.
Kono hito wa dare desu ka.
Who is this person?
Itsu gohan toka kudamono o okimasu ka.
When do you offer rice or fruit?
Taiko wa itsu tatakimasu ka.
When do you beat the drum?
If it is cold during your visit, you may eat around the kotatsu, an electrically heated table. A square futon skirts the kotatsu and you sit with your legs underneath the blanket to stay warm. In the olden days, square pieces of charcoal were placed in a wire cage and inserted into a holder beneath the kotatsu. Nowadays, most models are electric.
Compliments to the Hosts
You can show your appreciation for your hosts' home in a variety of ways.
Kono uchi wa tottemo kirei desu ne.
This house is very beautiful.
Kono uchi wa suzushikute kimochi ga yoi desu.
This house is nice and cool.
Kono uchi wa oshare desu ne.
This house is very fashionable.
Kono heya no fusuma wa suteki desu ne.
The paper doors in this room are pretty.
Kono kotatsu wa hontoo ni attakai desu.
This heated table is really warm.
The adjective suzushii (“cool”) is an example of a special tense in Japanese. This tense is used to provide the reason or origin for the feeling or action that follows.
Koko no piza wa oishikute itsumo tabetai.
Pizza is so delicious, I always want to eat it.
Natsu wa atsukute kimochi ga warui.
Summer is so hot, it makes me ill.
Most adjectives that end in “i” like atsui (“hot”), samui (“cold”), furui (“old”), chiisai (“small”), and urusai (“noisy”) drop the “i” and add -kute. If you have a good Japanese-to-English dictionary, you may even find -ku in parantheses next to the entry word as a clue to its modification.
Kono hon wa furukute dare mo shiranai desu.
This book is so old, nobody recognizes it.
Konya no konsaato wa yasukute dare demo ikeru.
Tonight's concert is so cheap, anyone can go (afford it).
However, not all adjectives can be adjusted with the suffix -kute. Kirei (“beautiful”), for example, cannot be changed to kirekute. Instead, you use the ending -na. For example, “very beautiful room” is tottemo kirei-na heya. Hade (“bold,” “flashy”), too, does not become hadekute. If you want to say something is gaudy, you can say hade-sugiru (the suffix -sugiru is explained later on).
Kirei ends in “i” but it falls into the category of Japanese speech called na adjectives — those that can be used as adverbs to describe how something is done or moves:
Sore wa kirei-na odorikata desu ne.
That is a beautiful way of dancing!
Kare wa itsumo jissaiteki-na yarikata o suru.
He always does things in a practical way.
Again, a good dictionary will clue you in with an “i” or na next to entries that require modification. Some adjectives go either way. For example, chiisai and chiisana have the same meanings (“small,” “little,” “trivial”), but chiisana is only used attributively in front of nouns.
You are already familiar with the word uchi as a familial reference. It is also the term used to describe the actual structure of a home. Another word for referring to your home is jitaku/otaku. Jitaku is used in reference to your own home, while otaku is reserved for talking about someone else's home. You may overhear otaku used by someone speaking on the telephone: Watanabe-san no otaku desu ka. (“Is this the Watanabe residence?”)