Etiquette

Japan A restaurant with traditional low tablesIn Japan, some restaurants and private homes have low tables and cushions on the floor, rather than Western style chairs and tables. These are usually found on tatami floors. Please visit our information page about sitting techniques and rules for more information.

Itadakimasu and Gochisosama

In Japan, you say “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) before eating, and “gochisosama (deshita)” (“Thank you for the meal”) after finishing the meal.

Individual versus shared dishes

It is not uncommon in private households and in certain restaurants (e.g. izakaya) to share several dishes of food at the table rather than serving each person an individual dish. When eating from shared dishes, move some food from the shared plates onto your own with the opposite end of your chopsticks or with serving chopsticks that may be provided for that purpose.

Chopsticks

The proper usage of chopsticks is the most fundamental element of Japanese table manners.

Japan food chopsticksChopsticks are used to eat most kinds of Japanese foods, with some exceptions. Some of the most important rules to remember when dining with chopsticks are as follows:

  • Hold your chopsticks towards their end, not in the middle or the front third.
  • When you are not using your chopsticks, or have finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tips to left.
  • Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. This is only done at funerals with rice that is put onto the altar.
  • Do not pass food directly from your set of chopsticks to another’s. Again, this is a funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body.
  • Do not spear food with your chopsticks.
  • Do not point with your chopsticks.
  • Do not wave your chopsticks around in the air or play with them.
  • Do not move plates or bowls around with your chopsticks.
  • To separate a piece of food in two, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other in order to tear the food. This takes some practice. With larger pieces of food such as tempura, it is also acceptable to pick up the entire piece with your chopsticks, and take a bite.
  • If you have already eaten with your chopsticks, use the opposite end to take food from a shared plate.

Knives and forks are used for Western food only. Spoons however, may be used with certain Japanese dishes such as donburi or Japanese style curry rice. A Chinese style ceramic spoon is sometimes used to eat soups.

Some Table Rules

  • Blowing your nose in public, and especially at the table, is considered bad manners.
  • It is considered good manners to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.
  • Talking about toilet related and similarly unappetizing topics during or before a meal is not appreciated by most people.
  • It is considered bad manner to burp.
  • After eating, try to move all your dishes back to the same position they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks on the chopstick holder or back into their paper slip.

How to eat…

Japan rice food … Rice:Hold the rice bowl in one hand and the chopsticks in the other. Lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating. Do not pour soya sauce over white, cooked rice.
Japan food sushi … Sushi:Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. It is considered bad manners to waste soya sauce, so try not to pour more sauce than you will use.

You do not need to add wasabi into the soya sauce, because the sushi pieces may already contain it, or may be eaten plain. However, if you choose to add wasabi, use only a small amount so as not to offend the sushi chef. If you do not like wasabi, you can request that none is added into your sushi.

In general, you are supposed to eat a sushi piece in one bite. Attempts to separate a piece into two generally end in the destruction of the beautifully prepared sushi. Hands or chopsticks can be used to eat sushi.

In case of nigiri-zushi, dip the piece into the soya sauce upside-down so that the fish enters the sauce. A few kinds of nigiri-zushi, for example, marinated pieces, should not be dipped into soya sauce.

In case of gunkan-zushi, pour a small amount of soya sauce over the sushi piece rather than dipping it into the sauce.

Japan food Sashimi … Sashimi:Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. Put some wasabi on the sashimi piece, but be careful not to use too much as this will overpower the taste of the fish. Dip the sashimi pieces into the soya sauce. Some types of sashimi are enjoyed with ground ginger rather than wasabi.
Japan food Miso … Miso Soup:Drink the soup out of the bowl as if it were a cup, and fish out the solid food pieces with your chopsticks.
Japan food noodles … Noodles:Using your chopsticks lead the noodles into your mouth. You may want to try to copy the slurping sound of people around you if you are dining in a noodle shop. Rather than being bad manners as Westerners are often taught, slurping noodles is considered evidence of enjoying the meal.

In case of noodle soups, be careful of splashing the noodles back into the liquid. If a ceramic spoon is provided, use it to drink the soup, otherwise, lift the bowl to your mouth as if it were a cup.

Japan food raisu … Kare Raisu: (and other dishes in which the rice is mixed with a sauce)Kare Raisu (Japanese style curry rice) and other rice dishes, in which the rice is mixed with a sauce (for example, some domburi dishes) may become difficult to eat with chopsticks. Large spoons are often provided for these dishes.

Japan food big pieces

… Big pieces of food: (e.g. prawn tempura, tofu)Separate into bite sized pieces with your chopsticks (this takes some exercise), or just bite off a piece and put the rest back onto your plate.

Dining Out Japan food restaurant replicas

Show window displaying food replicas

Japan has a large selection of restaurants of an almost endless variety. While every place is different, the following points will help make dining out in Japan a smooth and enjoyable experience.

Entering the Restaurant

Many restaurants in Japan display plastic or wax replicas of their dishes in a window near their entrance. These replicas serve both to entice and inform patrons of the restaurant’s menu and tend to offer an accurate, visual description of the style and price of meals found inside. The displays are especially helpful for foreign tourists who do not read and speak Japanese. For if all other forms of communication fail, you can go outside and point to what you want to order.

Upon entering a restaurant, customers are greeted with the expression “irasshaimase” meaning “welcome, please come in”. The waiter or waitress will ask you how many people are in your party and then lead you to your table. Only in rare cases, are customers expected to seat themselves.

While a majority of restaurants in Japan provide Western style tables and chairs, low traditional tables where you sit on pillows on the floor are also common and referred to as zashiki. Many restaurants feature both, and you may be asked which you prefer. In case of zashiki style seating, you should remove your shoes at the entrance to the restaurant or before stepping onto the seating area.

Smoking is permitted in many restaurants in Japan. Some restaurants provide both smoking (kitsuen) and non-smoking (kinen) sections, while others are fully smoking or non-smoking. If there is a choice, the waitress will ask you about your preference before seating you.

Japan food restaurant seating Ordering and Eating

After you are seated, each diner is usually served with a free glass of water or tea. If it is not served, free water or tea is usually available for self service somewhere in the restaurant. Everyone will also receive a wet towel (oshibori) which is used to clean your hands before eating. If chopsticks are not already set, you can usually find some in a box on the table. Most often, they are disposable wooden chopsticks that need to be separated into two before usage.

While many restaurants provide illustrated menus, other restaurants may only have Japanese text based menus, or the restaurant’s offerings may instead be posted on the walls. If you are ever in doubt on what to order or find that you cannot read the menu, try asking for the recommendations (osusume) or the chef’s choice (omakase). The latter will often get you some surprisingly good, prix fix style meals, but be prepared to be adventurous and do not expect it to be cheap.

Once you are ready to order, you can signal the restaurant staff by saying “sumimasen” (excuse me), or if available, press the call button at the table. Once you have finished ordering, the waitress will often repeat your order back to you for confirmation.

At some restaurants, such as izakaya, it is common for everyone in the party to order dishes together and share them. At other establishments, however, each diner is expected to order individually.

Japan food resturant setup Paying

The bill will be presented upside down, either as you receive the meal or after you have finished eating. In most restaurants, you are supposed to bring your bill to the cashier near the exit when leaving, as it is not common to pay at the table. Paying in cash is most common, although more and more restaurants also accept credit cards or IC cards such as Suica.

Some restaurants, especially cheaper ones, have slightly different systems for ordering and paying. For example, in many ramen and gyudon restaurants, “meal tickets” are bought at a vending machine near the store’s entrance and handed over to the staff who then prepare and serve the meal.

It is not customary to tip in Japan, and if you do, you will probably find the restaurant staff chasing you down in order to give back any money left behind. Instead, it is polite to say “gochisosama deshita” (“thank you for the meal”) when leaving.

Japan food meal tickets

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