Japanese Dining Etiquette

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No matter if you are eating Japanese food at home, at a restaurant, or even in Japan, following these simple rules of dining etiquette can help you fully enjoy Japanese traditions.

Japanese people love to eat so it can be a good opportunity to show off your chopstick skills and knowledge of their culture. Just don’t make any of the following faux-pas! Below are some of the most important dos an don’ts by which we recommend to abide.
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DOs

- It is important to say “Itadakimasu” before you start eating. This translates as “I humbly receive” and is used in a similar fashion to “Bon appétit” or “Grace”. This is said to express one’s gratitude to anyone who was involved in the preparation of the meal.

- Similarly, once you have finished eating, it is customary to say “Gochisou-sama-deshita“. This shows your appreciation for the food and simply means “Thank you for the good meal”.

- It is polite to eat everything on your plate otherwise “Mottainai obake ga kuru yo“. This means that the ghost of wastefulness will haunt you if you fail to do so. This even means that you have to eat the very last grain of rice too!

- It is no problem to lift a bowl of food to your mouth to avoid spilling it. You can do this with soup or rice to help you get the last morsels and help save you from the ghosts! (See above)

- You are even allowed to slurp your soup should you wish. In fact, it is recommended as it helps to cool down the hot soups before eating. This also applies to any noodle dishes in soup.

- When you dip your sushi into the soy sauce dish, try to dip the fish into the soy rather than the rice. Having small pieces of rice floating in your soy sauce is considered to be a little unrefined.
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DON’Ts

- Never stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice! This invokes images of incense sticks burning in a bowl of sand at a Japanese funeral.

- You should never pass food to someone with chopsticks as this relates to another Buddhist funeral tradition of passing bones with chopsticks. The best method is to simply put the piece of food on to a separate plate and pass that.

- It is not common to pour soy sauce directly over your rice. Rice is usually eaten plain, or sometimes with some nori dried seaweed or other seasonings. Similarly, if you want soy sauce with your sushi, pour it into a separate dish and dip the sushi into it.

- Eating and walking in Japan is uncommon and as such eating in public or on a train for example is thought of as being rude.

- Blowing your nose in public is very bad manners in Japan, particularly at a dinner table. Excusing yourself to the bathroom is the best option.

- Do not lick or suck your chopsticks. When you’re not using them, place them gently on a chopstick rest.

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Categories: FOOD

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3 Comments on “Japanese Dining Etiquette”

  1. September 18, 2009 at 10:30 pm #

    This is very practical advice.

    Domo Arigato

  2. MB
    October 21, 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    ‘Eating and walking in Japan is uncommon and as such eating in public OR ON A TRAIN for example is thought of as being rude.’
    I saw lots of people eating on trains in Japan… in fact I saw lots of places selling take away fast food to travellers in the various train stations I happened to travel through, are you saying all these people (including many Japanese people) would be seen as ‘rude’??

  3. Mark | Japan Centre
    October 22, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Thank you for your insight. I think that it depends on the type of train and the food to whether it is acceptable or not. For example, it wouldn’t be uncommon to eat small biscuits and drink from a plastic bottle on a local train, but not a large food like a hamburger or sandwich etc.

    It is acceptable to eat on the bullet train, most likely a bento box, because they are longer journeys. However, it would be rare to see someone eating a bento box or fast food on regular trains!

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