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Table Manners In Japanese: How To Dine Like A Local?

Table Manners In Japanese: How To Dine Like A Local?

Like other countries, Japan also has its own table manners that visitors should observe when dining there. There are many different manners, including how to handle utensils and conduct oneself during a drinking gathering.

Comparisons between table manners in Japanese and those found elsewhere can be drawn, highlighting similarities and differences. In this article, Kiichin will delve into the intricate realm of Japanese dining etiquette and table manners.

1. Use oshibori (hot towel) to clean your hands before the meal

In Japanese restaurants, when you enter and take a seat, you will most likely be given a small wet towel by the waiter. You can also find it on the table. This is called oshibori and is considered part of Japan's hospitality culture, so you can wipe your hands before eating and enjoy your meal with clean hands.

Oshibori can be made of fabric such as towels or paper. You'll sometimes get a free paper oshibori when you buy a bento (lunch box) at a convenience store.

Oshibori is used to wipe hands, and wiping any part of the body other than the hands in a restaurant is considered bad manners. Furthermore, please leave your used handkerchief on the table. If you have a trash can, you can put that paper in the trash yourself.

Oshibori is used to wipe hands, not any part of your body.

Oshibori is used to wipe hands, not any part of your body.

2. Seating

In a traditional restaurant, you might find low tables (chabudai) with cushions on tatami mat flooring. This may be instead of Western seating. In this case, you must remove shoes and slippers before sitting on the cushions.

Traditional Japanese meals are taken sitting on a reed-like mat called the tatami. You may be sitting in a seiza position (on heels with your legs tucked underneath the butt), which can be uncomfortable at formal traditional Japanese dining events.

Low tables (chabudai) with cushions on tatami mat flooring.

Low tables (chabudai) with cushions on tatami mat flooring.

If your host says you “get comfortable,” you could sit cross-legged if male or with your legs tucked to one side if female. Never spread your legs directly out in front of you.

In Japanese dining etiquette, the center of the table is the most honored position, and the next position is the second most important person. The host sits in the middle of the table on one side while the honored guest is in the middle on the other side, opposite the host. The honored guest sits on the side of the table farthest from the door.

3. Say thanks

Before and after a meal, we express our respect for the food in Japan by putting our hands together. There are two different expressions of gratitude used in both phrases. We say "Itadakimasu" before eating and "Gochiso-sama" after a meal.

Its primary purpose is to express gratitude to people who participated in the meal. This thanks is also extended to everyone who helped prepare the meal and grow the ingredients so that we, the customers, could enjoy these dishes.

The second meaning expresses our appreciation for the ingredients. Eating fish and meat is the same as taking an animal's life. It's also believed that vegetables have life. Thus, we are grateful to other lifeforms that convert into energy to keep us alive.

We say "Itadakimasu" before eating and "Gochiso-sama" after a meal in Japanese table manners.

We say "Itadakimasu" before eating and "Gochiso-sama" after a meal in Japanese table manners.

4. Drinking

Toasting at the start of a meal is a traditional culture in Japan. When everyone has their drink, you can say "kampai!" (cheers) and raise your glass.

Beer or sake is typically the alcohol choice at dinner. Make sure your glass is empty if the host does, and never pour your own drink; instead, wait for others to do this for you.

Remember, too, that it is impolite to get overly drunk at a Japanese meal unless it's the norm for everyone. With Japanese alcohol etiquette, you can follow the behavior of your fellow guests.

Of course, if you don't want to drink alcohol, you can prefer other options like tea, coffee, juice, or soda.

Say "kampai!" (cheers) and raise your hands after drinking.

Say "kampai!" (cheers) and raise your hands after drinking.

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5. Slurp while eating soup/noodles and drinking tea

Interestingly, for table manners in Japanese, slurping noodles is seen as a sign of enjoyment, so feel free to slurp enthusiastically!

This is not required, but you should eat Japanese dishes such as miso soup, ramen, udon, or tea with slurping sounds. It's normal to use chopsticks when eating noodles or other solid ingredients. Drink soup while holding the bowl with both hands.

However, not all sound is good sound. Noises made when putting down tableware or eating while chewing violate the code of conduct. Blowing your nose during meals is also something you should do away from the table.

Eating in silence is safer if you're confused about what sounds are acceptable.

Slurping noodles is seen as a sign of enjoyment.

Slurping noodles is seen as a sign of enjoyment.

6. Using chopsticks the right way

Chopsticks are often the only utensils at a meal to replace knives and forks. Just like how to hold a knife in Western cuisine culture, you will now know how to use Japanese chopsticks in the right way.

First, don’t rub them together, stab them into food or rice, point them at people, or generally play with them when using chopsticks.

You’ll be provided a chopstick rest, so don’t put chopsticks on the edge of your bowl. Or you can use the paper holder if there is no chopstick rest. Keep them parallel instead of crossing the chopsticks in an ‘X’ shape.

You should avoid passing food with your chopsticks directly to your friend’s chopsticks. This habit is called "hashi watashi." It's inappropriate, reminiscent of a funeral ritual, and thus unsuitable for the dining table.

However, the Japanese understand Western culture, and using forks isn’t impolite if you need them.

Put chopsticks a chopstick rest.

Put chopsticks a chopstick rest.

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7. How to eat Japanese dishes

Hot towels (oshibori) and Japanese tableware will be served before starting the meal. These are only used to wipe your hands before eating, though, don’t use them on your face or neck!

Many Japanese dishes and condiments, such as the lovely Sakura bowls, are served in bowls. Each has its own set of etiquette rules to remember:

  • Soup and ramen: Because they often contain many solid ingredients, you should use your chopsticks to eat noodles or soup and slurp at the liquid, too!
  • Miso soup: You can drink the liquid like you’re sipping from a cup.
  • Soy sauce: You’ll have a small shallow bowl for your soy sauce. Pour a modest amount into your bowl and ensure you’ll use it all. Dip your food into soy sauce instead of pouring it onto your food directly. If any stray rice grains are in your bowl, please devour them because leaving them there is inappropriate.
  • Wasabi: Though it might be popular in Western culture, mixing wasabi into your soy sauce is impolite in Japan. Instead, brush a small amount onto the fish or sushi with chopsticks.
  • Rice: You can lift the rice bowl towards your mouth and use chopsticks to eat.
  • Sushi: You may be surprised that eating sushi with your fingers is happily accepted in Japan (if you’ve cleaned your hands with your hot towel before).
  • Sashimi: Dip your sashimi directly into the soy sauce, but use your chopsticks for this.
  • Nigiri: Dip nigiri into soy sauce after turning it upside down so the fish touches the soy sauce. It can also be eaten with your fingers.
  • Ginger: This should be eaten in a different bite than sushi. Use it separately as a palate cleanser.
Use your chopsticks, not your fingers, to enjoy sashimi.
Use your chopsticks, not your fingers, to enjoy sashimi.

Where possible, try to eat a piece of food with one bite instead of taking a bite then placing the morsel back on your plate. Avoid raising your food above your mouth, as it's impolite.

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8. Hold your rice bowl while eating

When eating dishes like rice and miso soup, it is considered the right manner to hold a bowl in your hand.

In order to maintain proper posture, hold your chopsticks in one hand and your bowl in the other while eating. Don't try to hold big bowls of ramen or udon, though, or flat dishes.

Hold your rice bowl while eating.

Hold your rice bowl while eating.

9. Try not to leave your food

Is it rude to leave food in Japan?

Only order the amount you can eat. Finishing your plate is considered an act of gratitude towards the ingredients and people who made your meal. If you have allergies or things you can't eat, let the staff know what they are when ordering. Some restaurants will remove those ingredients before serving you.

If you are so full that you cannot finish your food, please do not force yourself. Instead, it's best to express your gratitude to the staff by saying, “It was delicious (Oishikatta desu).”

Only order the amount you can eat, and try not to leave your food.

Only order the amount you can eat, and try not to leave your food.

10. Paying the bill

Most of the time, the person who made the arrangement pays, but occasionally other factors - like rank - dictate who does. Tipping is not customary, but ten percent is enough if it is.

Don't be discouraged if you've made any of these food-eating faux pas; not even Japanese people are likely aware of all of these rules. Remember a few of these guidelines the next time you visit a Japanese restaurant to wow your friends with your command of table manners in Japanese!

The person who made the arrangement pays the bill.

The person who made the arrangement pays the bill.

11. No tipping

Tipping is not necessary in Japan because the service charge is already included in the price of the food. However, there might be an additional service fee in some upscale restaurants and hotel buffets. They will include this fee in your bill, so you should pay accordingly. To know if there's a service charge, check the restaurant or hotel's official website or contact them directly.

Tipping is not necessary in Japan.
Tipping is not necessary in Japan.

Conclusion

What are your thoughts on the different table manners in Japanese? When comparing Japanese table manners to those in your own country, you might be surprised by some of them. For example, you might not realize that Japanese people actually tolerate the sound of slurping noodles. Try to use proper Japanese table manners when dining at restaurants in Japan. It will undoubtedly enhance the wonderful Japanese dining experience you have.

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