January 19, 2015

Japanese Eating and Drinking Etiquette

By Stuart Turner

Cultures vary hugely when it comes to eating and drinking, and although on most holidays all we need to worry about is if we are giving a standard tip, Japan's customs are much more complex.

If we're quite honest, if you're going on holiday to Japan you're not going to be berated for not having Japanese table manners, but this article might be useful if you're going on a Japanese exchange and staying with a family, going to a small town or village to stay, or going to quite a posh Japanese restaurant! 

It's also fun to learn, and knowing Japanese etiquette will show you have a greater respect for the culture.

Eating Ettiquette in Japan

  • While in Britain and America some of us might pray before eating a meal, or simply wait for everyone to be served, in Japan most meals start with the phrase 'itadakimasu!' which means 'I humbly receive'. It just expresses thanks to the host and cook.
  • You can also say gochisōsama-deshita after you have finished eating a meal, which translates roughly to 'you were a feast preparer'.
  • Many people believe than in Japan it is impolite and an insult to your host if you do finish your entire meal, but actually, it's usually taken that if you leave food on the plate, you are not satisfied and would like more. Conversely, if you finish all your food, you were fully satisfied and full.
  • Are you a messy eater? It's totally OK to lift a bowl of rice or soup nearer to your mouth in order to eat without spilling food in Japan.
  • Many of us might take our time to pull out just a mouthful of noodles before eating them, but you can actually slurp your noodles in Japan - let's face it, it's a lot simpler!
  • Unlike here in the UK, people might think you're a bit odd in Japan if you pour soy sauce directly on to sushi, rice or any other dish. Make sure you pour just the right amount of soy sauce into a dish in order to not be wasteful, and if you are dipping sushi, aim it fish or topping side down, not getting soy sauce in the rice.
  • In sushi restaurants it is generally seen as polite to use your fingers to eat sushi.
  • If you are served chopsticks, never rub them together. It might be habit for most of us, but it signifies to the host they have provided cheap chopsticks that are full of splinters!

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