Japan is a country that’s big on manners, especially when it comes to eating and dining out. There a lot of things you should do and a lot of things you definitely shouldn’t do when eating out in public, and even at home, in Japan. To help you impress the Japanese with your excellent dining manners and to avoid any embarrassment, here a few simple rules on Japanese dining etiquette.
Oshibori is a hot, steamed hand towel that restaurants provide before a meal for customers to clean their hands. You must only use this towel to wipe your hands though! Don’t use it to wipe your face or anywhere else. Once you’ve finished using it, neatly refold it and place it on the table beside you; don’t just scrunch it up and throw it anywhere.
Always say “itadakimasu” before eating your meal. There is no direct translation or phrase in English so it is difficult to say exactly what it means, but it is a very humble and polite way of saying “I receive this”.
Flavouring the Bowl of Rice
Usually, in most restaurants in Japan, your meal will come with a small bowl of rice (ochawan). In Australia, I often see a lot of people putting soy sauce or some of their main meal on top of their little bowl of rice; this isn’t acceptable in Japan. Soy sauce and other food shouldn’t be placed on top of your bowl of rice. It will shock other customers in the restaurant and you will be seen as unsophisticated. If you want to eat a bit of your main dish with some rice than pick up some rice first with your chopsticks then pick up some of the main dish to eat it together. You can also dip something in soy sauce then eat it with some rice to get the rice and soy sauce flavour without pouring it on top.
Burping and Other Bodily Noises
Burping, blowing your nose, and loudly chewing with your mouth open should never, ever, be done when you’re eating out at a restaurant in Japan. It is extremely rude and shows you have very bad manners.
In Australia, and other countries, it is considered very rude to slurp your food but in Japan it’s the opposite! Slurping is not only acceptable in Japan, but it’s also encouraged because it shows that you are enjoying the meal. When you’re eating noodles, like udon or ramen, pick them up with your chopsticks then slurp them into your mouth. This is apparently quite tricky though for people who weren’t brought up in Japan. I was watching a TV show in Japan and a few Americans were asked to try and slurp ramen into their mouth but they just couldn’t figure out how to do it properly. So it may be quite tricky for you, but just remember it is acceptable in Japan and you should feel free to do it if you can because it shows your appreciation for the meal.
Hold Your Bowl
You should always pick up small dishes, like a bowl of rice, and bring them closer to you when you’re eating something out of them. Don’t leave the bowl on the table and lean yourself closer to it, in Japan this is seen as eating like an animal and it is considered impolite. Also don’t leave the bowl on the table and pick up something out of the bowl and bring it all the way up to your mouth, because you might drop some of the food. Always hold the bowl up closer to you to eat out of it, it is much more polite and you won’t drop anything anywhere.
Eat it All
When you’re eating out at a restaurant or at someone else’s house in Japan you should always eat everything on your plate (or at least try your best to). I know in some countries you should leave a little left on your plate because otherwise the host may believe they did not provide you with enough food, but in Japan it is polite to eat it all. By eating everything you show your appreciation to the chef or host. So only ever order how much you think you can eat or ask your host beforehand to give you a small amount to begin with; you can always ask for more later.
Using a Toothpick
At the end of the meal, it is acceptable to use a toothpick to clean out your teeth. But you must place one hand over your mouth to hide the other hand using the toothpick; that way your fellow diners don’t have to see you picking food out of your teeth.
At the end of the meal, put the bowls back on your tray the way they came or tidy them neatly on the table. Replace all the lids on any bowls and condiment jars, and neatly place your chopsticks on the table, with the eating end facing left.
Always end the meal by saying “gouchisousamadeshita”. Like “itadakimasi”, there is no direct translation for this in English, but it essentially means “thank you for the feast”. By saying this, it shows your appreciation for the meal.
If you need a quick guide on Japanese dining etiquette, here’s a few dos and don’ts of dining in Japan!
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