Top 5 Tips for Dining in Japan

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While living in Japan I was lucky to learn about important aspects of Japanese dining etiquette from my Japanese work colleagues and friends. Although it may not be as necessary in casual dining situations having this cultural knowledge can really help while eating out and dining with work colleagues or customers.

1. Dining Expressions

Japanese cuisine is closely associated with nature and showing respect for food is very important. At the beginning of every meal Japanese people give thanks for the food they’re about to eat by saying ‘itadakimasu’, and at the end of a meal they show their appreciation for the food just eaten by saying ‘gochiso-sama’. If you’d like to compliment a dish you can say “oishii” or “oishikatta” (meaning delicious or it was delicious) and by adding “desu” at the end makes it more polite. If you are still waiting for your food but others have received their food then you can say “osaki ni doozo” (please go ahead).

2. Slurping

It’s ok to slurp! Most people are surprised that slurping is acceptable in Japan when eating certain types of food like noodle dishes such as ramen. The Japanese believe it makes the food taste nicer and also shows the chef that you are enjoying the food.

3. Pouring Drinks

When drinking with other people it is polite to wait for someone else to pour your drink and to be conscious to pour drinks for other people. If you would like your drink refilled, you can prompt someone by filling their drink and they’ll in turn fill yours!

4. Oshibori (wet towel)

It is custom in Japan for restaurants, coffee shops and bars to give customers a wet cloth before (and sometimes after) serving them. Depending on the season and place you can get a cold or hot cloth. The cloths are used to clean your hands, fingers and mouth. It is considered impolite to use the cloth to clean your face and neck.

5. Chopstick Etiquette

It’s advisable to learn how to use chopsticks correctly. When you are using chopsticks be careful NOT to do the following:

  • Sit the chopsticks upright in a dish, as this is associated with death.
  • Cross chopsticks: when you are not using chopsticks during a meal you should place them neatly alongside each other.
  • Play with chopsticks, point at people with them or wave them around in your hand when talking. They should only be used for eating.
  • Pick up food with chopsticks by sticking the chopstick into the food.
  • Pass food using chopsticks: if you want to pass food to someone simply hand the dish to them.
  • Use the end of the chopsticks that touched your mouth to take food from communal dishes. It is polite to turn your chopsticks around to take the food. However, in casual dining settings this is not necessary.

If you have any tips for dining in Japan that I haven’t covered please share with me. Thanks Fiona

Japanese food writer and author of “Japanese Food Made Easy”.
  • Danu says:

    Oishii desu ne nihon no tabemono wa,,kono mae wa beppu ni itta koto ga ari, sokode tabemoni igai wa onsen mo sugoi dane, uchi no bandung indonesia to onaji onsen ga oi, gaijin pot no articles nado mo boku ga suki desu. Atashi no site ni itte mitte itadaitai wa,,daftartulip.blogspot.com thaks

  • maulinator says:

    If you are out with your senior colleagues or clients, You should be pouring their drinks for them, regardless of if you are waiting. This shows respect to people of higher “status” than you.

    • Fiona Uyema says:

      Hello! Thanks for your comment. Yes you’re right it’s always good to pour drinks for senior colleagues and clients.

  • maulinator says:

    Another point about chopsticks, if I remember correctly one does not place the chopsticks with the points facing the person across from you when not in use. They chopsticks are placed perpendicular to you r line of sight so that the points face to your left (if you are right handed).

  • maulinator says:

    Also if you want to learn all the ettiquette rules for eating Japanese, see the Ogasawara-ryu ettiquette rules!

  • maulinator says:

    Good primer article. What is ironic though is that the photograph being used- the person holding the bowl is holding it wrong. The proper way to hold food bowls in Japan, such as rice is with a flat palm, balancing the bottom on the palm of the hand with the thumb balancing the side of the bowl by the lip, but the thumb does not go over the lip.
    Slupring is ok for soba, somen and ramen udon. Not so for soups (shiru mono) and western noodles (obviously). I have seen Japanese people slupr spaghetti thinking it was the same as soba- yikes!

    • Fiona Uyema says:

      Thanks for again for your informative comments and feedback. It’s always good to get people discussing these topics so we can learn more. Fiona 🙂

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