There aren’t that many cultures where putting a shoe on the dining room table is acceptable behavior, but for the Japanese there is clear etiquette against allowing outdoor shoes inside.
That might explain the furor following a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, to Israel last week.
After a day of high-level meetings on May 2, the Japanese leader was treated to a festive meal at the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu. It was their second time in Israel, and the visiting couple were served a top-notch meal by celebrity Israeli chef Segev Moshe.
But then came dessert. A selection of delectable chocolate pralines — artistically arranged inside a shiny leather shoe.
While Abe took the unusual presentation in stride, Japanese and Israeli diplomats and Japan watchers were shocked that the Japanese prime minister would be served from a shoe.
“This was a stupid and insensitive decision,” a senior Israeli diplomat, who had previously served in Japan, told Yediot Aharonot. “There is nothing more despised in Japanese culture than shoes. Not only do they not enter their houses while wearing shoes, you will not find shoes in their offices either. Even the prime minister, ministers and members of parliament do not wear shoes to work……It is equivalent to serving a Jewish guest chocolates in a dish shaped like a pig.”
“No culture puts shoes on the table,” a Japanese diplomat told Yediot. “What precisely was this illustrious chef Segev thinking?
“If this is meant to be humor, we do not find it funny. I can tell you that we are offended for our prime minister,” the diplomat said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was not involved in approving the dishes for the meal.
“We respect and appreciate the chef. He is very creative,” the ministry said in an initial statement. After this report was published, the ministry amended its statement to add: “We have the utmost respect for the Japanese prime minister.”
“The dessert was served inside a sculpture by international artist Tom Dixon, whose works are displayed in major museums around the world and for the first time was displayed in Israel at a meal. This is a high-quality piece of art made of cast metal in the shape of a shoe; it is not a real shoe,” Segev's publicist said in a statement, according to Yediot Aharonot.
It's unclear what message Sergev was trying to send by serving the chocolates out of a shoe, but it caused an uproar.
“You’ve made your greatest fiasco ever,” commented one Instagram user. “The nation will never forget this, Segev. I truly loved you. You should be ashamed.”
Another person wrote: “you don’t need to know any culture to know that serving shoes at a dinner is WRONG!”