Japanese Eating Customs

japanese eating customs top Japanese Eating Customs

There are a number of Japanese eating customs with which you should become familiar with prior to visiting Japan or interacting with Japanese. These uniquely Japanese eating customs relate to tipping, pouring drinks, using chopsticks, paying for meals, and ritual expressions that occur time and time again while eating in Japan. Familiarization with these will help you avoid committing an embarrassing faux pas and leave your guests impressed with your sophisticated knowledge of Japanese culture!

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Japanese Eating Customs – Ritual Expressions

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Itadakimasu! (ritual pre-meal expression)
Prior to every meal, Japanese people ritualistically say “itadakimasu!” (pronounced “ee-ta-da-key-mas”, and which basically means: “I humbly receive this food”) as an expression of appreciation for the food they are about to consume. Impress your Japanese companions with your politeness and knowledge of Japanese eating customs by using the word yourself!

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Kan-pai! (proposing a toast)
This is the Japanese word used when proposing a toast someone or something or saying “cheers!”

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Oi-shii de-su! (this tastes good!)
As in any culture, your host may ask you how you like your food. This is what you should say. (oishii is pronounced “oi-she”).

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Go-chi-so-sama de-shita! (ritual post-meal expression)
This is the Japanese expression used at the end of every meal to thank the host or cook for the delicious food you have received.

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Japanese Eating Customs – Chopsticks and Rice

Chopsticks and Rice

It is almost impossible to travel in Japan without finding yourself seated at a table with chopsticks and a bowl of rice in front of you. Here are some things you need to know.

First, it’s a good idea to learn how to use chopsticks before you go to Japan, because there will be times when forks and knives are not available.

Learn How to Eat with Chopsticks!

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Japanese Eating Customs – Table Manners

There are a number of important Japanese eating customs governing the use of chopsticks and rice which you should familiarize yourself with:

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs In some restaurant settings, particularly when you are sitting at a low table with a tatami mat, you may be required to remove your shoes.

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bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Prior to your meal wipe your hands using the oshibori hot (sometimes not) towel that is provided. In formal situations, the towel is not used to wipe your face, although doing so is generally acceptable in more casual settings.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Do not use chopsticks to pass food from one person to another.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs It is considered impolite to point with your chopsticks or wave them around.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs When using your chopsticks to take food from a shared dish, flip them around and use the wide end that you don’t eat with to transfer the food from that dish to your own plate or rice bowl.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, as this resembles the burning of incense at a Japanese funeral and in some cases is actually done as part of funeral rituals. Instead, rest them on your chopsticks holder, if provided, or lay them across the side of your rice bowl or plate. Do not place your used chopsticks directly back on the table.

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bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs You’ll never see a Japanese person dowsing his or her white rice with soy sauce. You shouldn’t either. Instead, use the little soy sauce dish that is often provided, but do not pour excessive amounts of soy sauce in the dish.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs Spoons are normally not provided with miso soup. Pick up and drink directly from the bowl, and use your chopsticks to eat the tofu and other ingredients.

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Japanese Eating Customs – Pouring Drinks

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When you’re out at a bar or restaurant drinking with Japanese friends or business associates, it is customary for drinking companions to pour drinks for one another. So never let your drinking partner pour his or her own drink. If you see their glass getting empty, simply grab the bottle and offer to pour. Likewise, don’t pour your own drink. Your Japanese companion will notice your empty glass and offer to pour for you.

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Japanese Eating Customs – Tipping and Paying for Meals

Tipping in Japan… Tipping is not one of the Japanese eating customs, and is neither required nor expected in Japan, so there is no need to tip. This is true for restaurants, as well as taxis, hotels, and other service scenarios where tipping would be customary in many Western countries.

Paying for Meals in Japan… Japanese customs associated with paying for meals are somewhat complex, but here is a general overview:

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs In most cases, your host will offer to pick up the bill. However, it is considered good manners to at least make an effort to pay, at least for your own portion. Make sure to offer two or three times, as Japanese ritualistically will refuse an initial offer or two. If the host still insists on paying, then you can accept it, thank him with a few times with the expressions “su-mi-ma-sen” and finally “go-chi-so-sama-deshita”.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs While as a guest in Japan you’re likely to find yourself treated to meals more often than not, there are times when you should be prepared to pull out your own wallet. If you’re considerably older than the person(s) you’re dining with or at an obviously higher station in life (such as an established businessman dining with college students), you might be expected to pay. Also, if a single host has treated you many times in the course of a visit, make an effort to insist on picking up the bill at least one time.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs If you’re dining with a group of close friends, it is common for everyone to split the bill. The Japanese phrase for splitting the bill is “wari-kan,” and it is a useful expression.

bullet4 Japanese Eating Customs And if you’re a man on a date with a Japanese woman, you should definitely offer to pick up the bill, although some women will insist on going “wari-kan.” As above, make sure to offer more than once to test the waters, and only relent when meeting with strong insistence.

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Japanese Eating Customs – Eating on the Run and on Trains

Another of the Japanese eating customs to know is that it is generally considered bad manners to eat while walking down the street. You may, however, stand and eat at special “tachi-gui” (stand and eat) shops that serve soba, udon, and even sushi!

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It is also generally a good idea to avoid eating and drinking on crowded commuter trains, although doing so is acceptable on longer train trips.

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If Japanese eating customssound rather complicated, well, they can be, but like other Japanese customs, with a bit of practice you’ll soon get the feel for how to do it the Japanese way.

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