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A Quick Primer on Japanese Dining Etiquette

Japan is steeped in thousand-year-old traditions and customs. Keeping their culture alive is very important to the Japanese.

In this Asian country, manners are highly valued. The Japanese have basic etiquette rules for practically everything, from the proper way to greet others to how to behave in business. The list of rules governing table manners, in particular, can be quite extensive.

The next time you eat at a restaurant serving authentic Japanese cuisine, you may want to try some of the dining etiquette rules below.

Proper Manners for Tables and Seating Arrangements

1. Save the best seat for the most honored guest

The seat of honor is usually the farthest from the entrance. It should be reserved for any special guests. For instance, the birthday celebrant would sit in this spot during his/her party.

2. Use the wet towel for your hands

Guests are usually given a wet towel or oshibori before the meal at Japanese restaurants. Some people, unfamiliar with Japan’s customs, have used the towel to wipe their face or forehead. However, it is supposed to keep your hands clean throughout the meal, and nothing else.

Use the hand towel before the food is served to wash your hands. Then periodically wipe your fingers with it as each Japanese dish is laid out in front of you. You may use it a final time after you’ve eaten.

3. Say this phrase before eating

Before grabbing that crunchy shrimp tempura with your chopsticks, say “Itadakimasu,” which roughly translates to “I gratefully receive” in English. Saying this phrase out loud is a way of showing gratitude to your servers, the chef, and anyone else at the restaurant for the excellent meal they’ve prepared.

Common Mistakes People Make With Chopsticks

The correct way to hold a pair of chopsticks is near the base. Do not hold them a third of the way to the tip or close to it. While using these Asian utensils, try to avoid the common mistakes below.

1. Rubbing chopsticks together

It has become common practice with non-Japanese people to rub wooden chopsticks together before a meal. However, in Japan, this is considered very rude. As such, it should be avoided.

2. Sticking them upright or vertically in a bowl of rice

As is the custom, chopsticks are placed upright in rice bowls during funerals. As such, doing this in a public restaurant might stir some grim emotions and thoughts. If you are done using your chopsticks, place them in front of you with the tips pointed to your left.

3. Using chopsticks to point at people

Pointing at people with chopsticks is considered impolite in Japan. In the Western world, it is equivalent to pointing at someone with your finger.

4. Stabbing food with them

Chopsticks are not to be used like forks. Do not stab large pieces of food with them. Make sure to respect the utensils and the meal.

5. Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another

The Japanese usually pass bones from one set of chopsticks to another at funerals. This is reserved for these grim occasions only.

Despite this, sharing food is not shunned. You just need to do it properly. For instance, if you want to share that tasty karaage morsel on your plate, simply pick it up with your chopsticks and place it down on your friend’s plate. Then, your companion can eat that piece of chicken off his/her plate.

Rules of Conduct for Drinks

In general, you should always pour a drink forward. So the cup should always be in front of the spout or opening where the drink is coming from. It is considered rude if a drink is served backward.

Also, it would be best if you waited for everyone in the table to be served before you start drinking from your cup. After everyone’s glass has been filled, then you can all say “Kampai!” which is similar to “Cheers!” in English.

1. Rules when drinking alcoholic beverages

It is common practice to pour drinks for your companions in Japan. It’s important to pay attention to the glasses of those sitting next to you. If you notice the person on your right has an empty cup, fill it back up for them. They should do the same for you.

2. Rules when drinking green tea

Some basic rules for drinking green tea are as follows:

  • Only 80 percent of the Yunomi or traditional Japanese teacup should be filled.
  • Both the cup and the saucer should always face the person drinking it.
  • When drinking, you should pick up the saucer and the cup with both hands.

Specific Food Etiquette

There are some rules of conduct when it comes to eating specific foods. Remember the information below the next time you’re dining at a world-class Japanese restaurant.

1. How to eat rice

When it comes to eating white rice, there are two main rules to remember. First, it is polite to raise the bowl of rice towards your mouth with one hand while the other holds your chopsticks. Second, it is considered impolite to mix white rice with soy sauce.

You’ll also encounter curry rice when dining at a restaurant serving authentic Japanese cuisine. When you are served this dish, spoons are usually provided because it is hard to pick up the rice and sauce with chopsticks.

2. How to eat sushi and sashimi

There are different types of sushi and each one has its etiquette rules, such as: Never split perfectly made sushi into two because it could offend the chef. Another protocol is that it should always be eaten in one bite using your chopsticks or hands.

The rule about wasabi, however, is one that everyone should know. Some foreigners usually mix this ingredient with the soy sauce, which is a big no-no. Wasabi should be placed directly on the sushi or the sashimi.

Take note, though, that chefs will find it rude if you put too much of it on their dish. It is akin to you telling them that the food in front of you wasn’t prepared properly.

3. What to do with miso soup or noodles

When it comes to soup or noodle dishes, like ramen, slurp as loudly as you can. In the West, it may be deemed rude, but in Japan, it’s seen as the highest form of compliment. However, any other noises during a meal, like munching or burping, would be deemed ill-mannered.

How to Properly End the Meal

Once you’ve eaten your fill of delicious sushi, tempura, and other delights, it’s time to end the meal in proper Japanese fashion. Place everything (plates, bowls, cups, etc.) back where they were placed at the beginning of the meal.

Try the dining etiquette rules discussed above the next time you pay us a visit at Koi Restaurant so you can be sure to enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine in true Japanese fashion.