Some old Japanese traditions, though old and often exotic to Western eyes, are still beautiful and of great value to our Practice. Oryoki is such a Practice. ...
True Oryoki practice is very traditional, and very Japanese (even Chinese and Korean monks in the monastery do not typically take their meals in such way), but that is neither reason to accept or reject the practice. Many parts of our Practice are worth keeping, even if they strike someone as strange at first. Bowing, statues, incense and, yes, weird talks about Koans all fit in that category. They may seem like unnecessary "Japanese" or "Esoteric" elements at first, until you understand the role they serve....same for Rakusu/Kesa sewing. And I think Oryoki formal meal ritual is a great practice, and worth keeping.
... Although a bit rigid and formal to many Western eyes, the practice of comformity to form, finding liberation in rigidity, has endless depth.
To truly 'master' Oryoki, dozens and dozens of set movements, like a ballet, must be memorized with the 'body memory' (much like learning a dance). Oryoki and the formal Japanese Tea Ceremony share much in common. Oryoki is a form of moving Zazen, teaching freedom amid the confining actions. It can NEVER be done right, without mistakes. Like life. Still, we strive to master the form.
Oryoki is a dance, a ballet ... Oryoki is one of those additions that Zen practice picked up on its way through Japan that is worth keeping. It is a shame that a large number of "foreigners" never try to do it right, and that most teachers don't teach it that way to their non-Japanese students. I am no different in how I teach it ... I will cut corners for our retreat by necessity for our annual Rohatsu Retreat, although I will encourage folks to try to get as close as possible to the "right" way.