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).
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