Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

The Art of Peeling a Tangerine 

Apparently, for the past 40+ years, I’ve been peeling my tangerines incorrectly. I’m sure you’re thinking “there’s a wrong way?” You just peel it and eat it. I thought that as well until a couple hours ago. Until I observed my Japanese grandmothers peel and eat a tangerine at snack time during our English class.

Let me back up and start at the beginning. For snack time after our class today, Junko-San brought in a tangerine for everyone. I was quietly relieved because last week I had to not only struggle through my green tea, but also a red bean paste filled dessert. I peeled my tangerine and made what I consider a normal amount of mess one would expect when eating a tangerine. Here is a reenacted photo of my American messiness.

I really dislike the strings and do my best to ensure I remove as many as possible. I place them all in a pile.

After peeling and cleaning, I looked up and realized how messy my napkin was compared to everyone else’s. Here is a reenacted photo of my Japanese grandmother’s napkins.

Yep, they peeled the tangerine without completely tearing it apart. It was like magic. What about the pile of strings? I realized they had placed them neatly inside the perfectly peeled rind. Attempting this at home, it took me about five minutes to peel the tangerine. I felt like I was a cross between a surgeon extracting the tangerine and a sculptor taking care not to damage the peel. It was very stressful.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t just one of the ladies in class peeling their tangerine this way – it was all five of them! I was a little embarrassed with my brash, although very efficient, American method of peeling a tangerine. Yet again making a spectacle of my gaijin (foreigner) self. 

On the train home, I reflected on the possible reasons for their artistic tangerine peeling ways. Here are a few of my ideas.

1. The Japanese are required to separate their trash and peeling a tangerine in this manner makes it easier to throw away into the appropriate container.

2. Fruit is very expensive and considered a delicacy. Therefore, when peeling fruit it should be done with extreme care and love.

3. Americans are messy. Japanese are tidy. This is simply a tidier way to eat a tangerine.

4. None of the above. I’m simply making an orchard out of a tangerine peel.

Regardless, I will be more mindful when peeling tangerines in public in Japan. However, when I am putting Dave’s lunch together in the morning, I will continue to use my American efficiency. Just grip it, rip it, trash it and bag it.


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  1. Carol

    Who knew! You messy American.

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