A proper table setting is undoubtedly an important aspect of enjoying a meal. While the highly-evolved Western arrangements emphasize an even number of matched place settings, traditional Japanese settings include both even and odd as well as unmatched pieces.
To Match or Not
It can be strikingly beautiful to display settings which were created to look not only pleasing, but also identical. However, unmatched settings can still look beautiful together, if they are in harmony.
Take a look around. Nature, in all its glory, does not usually create perfectly identical things. Every tree is unique. So is every flower, river or a rock. They are all different, yet there is beauty in their harmony.
You can of course set a Japanese table with matching tableware designed to express formality and sophistication. You can also choose to set up a table in which each piece is individual, and make your guests feel more relaxed and give each a unique space.
Being comfortable with unmatched (or odd number) place settings also has the advantage of not letting any of your guests feel left out, whether you have an even or odd number of guests.
Traditions of Odd Numbers
Japanese have an affinity for odd numbers which goes well beyond the numbers in a table setting (where most sets are sold in fives). Numbers “three”, “five”, and “seven”, are particular favorites, as in
- Shichi-go-san (Seven-Five-Three) Festival, celebrating their children as they turn three, five and seven years of age.
- The third day of the third month (March 3) is the day for Girl’s Festival.
- The fifth day of the fifth month (May 5) is for the Boy’s Festival. It is also the day of Iris Festival (Tango no sekku)
- The seventh day of the seventh month is the “Tanabata” Festival of Forlorn Lovers.
And there are many other examples.
In contrast, even numbers can be troublesome. For example, at wedding
ceremonies it is customary to give an odd number of money bills as a gift, because it is believed that an even number is easier to divide and can cause trouble!