The ease of TITO

上げ膳据え膳
(Agezen suezen; “Table-clearing; table-setting”)

Definition:

Not doing anything; having everything done for one. Can be positive, as when describing the service at a luxury resort, or negative, as when describing a friend or family member who isn’t pulling their weight.

Breakdown:

This compact phrase comprises paired noun phrases, each centered on the noun 膳 (zen). These are, traditionally, low lacquered tables used in “high-class” eating situations, small enough to be loaded with food and carried into and out of a room like trays.

In the first half of the phrase, this noun is modified by the verb 上げる (ageru), “to raise,” or in this case “to pick up [and clear away],” in conjunctive form, which allows it to function as a noun – that is, 上げ・膳 is grammatically a compound noun. The same happens in the second half with 据える (sueru), “to place [something in position].”

Notes:

It is acceptable to insert particle に (ni), in the sense of “(adding A) to (B),” in between the two halves. Replacing 据える with 下げる (sageru, opposite of 上げる) is considered an error.

Keep in mind that traditionally, moneyed people sat on thin cushions on tatami flooring and lived in houses where many of the rooms were multi-purpose. Servants would bring out, or put away, implements such as standing screens, futons, writing tables, and 食膳 (shokuzen) – “eating tables.” In a modern context, without ubiquitous paid or roomed-and-boarded household staff, the nuance associated with having one’s place set out and cleared away seems to have changed from “exactly what you’d expect” to “luxury” or even “being lazy.”

Incidentally, you will still see zen in contemporary Japan; in keeping with their aristocratic origin, they tend to be limited to expensive, nostalgia-invoking venues like formal parties or ryokan inns. Miniature versions may sometimes be used with household shrines.

Example sentence:

「旦那さんに家事をさせないで上げ膳据え膳の生活を許してしまったら、何も出来ない状態で年老いちゃうから、夫婦の将来をダメにするんじゃありませんか。今の時代、夫婦で家事をするのがデフォルトですよ、部長。」

(“Danna-san ni kaji wo sasenaide agezen suezen no seikatsu wo yurushite shimattara, nanimo dekinai joutai de toshioichau kara, fuufu no shourai wo dame ni suru nja arimasen ka. Ima no jidai, fuufu de kaji wo suru no ga deforuto desu yo, buchou.”)

[“If you always allow your husband to sit idly by without having him do any chores, he just gets old without learning to actually do anything. And won’t that be harmful to the couple later on? Chief, in this day and age, the default is for husband and wife to do the housework together.”]

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A room full of zen for a fancy dinner party.

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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