Many people would welcome visitors to their homes; however, East Asia is particularly known for its people showing devoted hospitality for their guests. The expression ‘spit what was eaten; tie hair that was washed’ describes this. When the young King Sung was enthroned after the death of King Mu, who founded the Zhu Empire, King Mu’s brother, Zugong, supported his nephew without returning to his empire, the Ro Empire. Instead, he sent his son back to his empire and said, “I would tie up my hair to greet guests even when I was washing my hair. I would spit the food in my mouth to welcome guests because I was worried that I might lose the best minds on earth. You should greet guests with such modesty.”
This was also the mindset of Korean ancestors. Song Si Yeol (pen name: Wooam) taught his daughter to serve all their guests with devotion, as the family will become ignorant with no gues and her husband will not be able to act with confidence. Our ancestors served tea under the Buddhist culture until the Goryeo Dynasty, but started serving alcoholic drinks in the Joseon Dynasty.
Refreshments were served for guests in the main house for women, while drinks were served for guests in the guest house for men. Yeosaseo, which is a piece of literature from the Joseon Dynasty, states that “alcoholic drinks must be served with rice, and the drinks of farewell should be served when the guest is about to leave”.
The three East Asian countries greeted guests slightly differently; although, there were certain things in common. In Korea, the higher seat was the inside of the room against the wall, but not all guests were offered to sit there. In China, however, all guests were seated in the highest seat that faces the door. In Korea, drinks and snacks are served first, followed by rice or noodles. Tea and refreshments are served last. In China, on the other hand, tea is served before meal and at the end, while drinks are served throughout the meal. In Japan, it is courteous to salute each other before and after the meal.
Homeowners became frustrated whenever they had guests in May or June due to the unavailability of good food. There was a saying that ‘guests in May or June are more frightening than a tiger’. The ancestors were considerate enough to avoid visiting others during the hottest season, unless there is inevitable valid reason, as they valued the courtesy of guests as much as the courtesy of the homeowners.