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Japanese Dining Etiquette

A Step-by-Step Guide to Japanese Table Manners and Chopstick Etiquette


Japanese dining etiquette

Use Japanese table manners when enjoying delicious food such as this.

Foodie Photography / Getty Images

Whether eating with new Japanese friends in a home or attending a business lunch, following a few simple rules of Japanese dining etiquette will make you shine. No need to be nervous; your hosts understand that you may not be familiar with all of their customs.

First, go read about Japanese etiquette for greetings and removing shoes, then use these tips for Japanese dining etiquette and table manners to demonstrate a genuine interest in the local culture.

How to Use Chopsticks Properly

Knowing how to use chopsticks is essential for Japanese dining etiquette, particularly in formal occasions. Do not expect to find Western-style utensils.

First, start by lifting the chopsticks with both hands and follow the rules of etiquette; see how to use chopsticks politely.

If no serving utensils are provided during a family-style meal, take food from the bowls on the table by using the thick ends -- the end that do not go into your mouth -- of your chopsticks.

Observe These Rules for Using Chopsticks Properly:

  • Avoid pointing your chopsticks at someone while talking.
  • Do not wave your chopsticks around over food on the table.
  • Do not point your chopsticks to indicate dishes you think are particularly delicious.
  • Do not suck sauces off of your chopsticks.
  • Do not rub your chopsticks together or play with them unnecessarily.
  • Do not lift food by stabbing it with your chopsticks.

The Most Important Rule of Japanese Dining Etiquette

Never, ever, pass food with your chopsticks! Doing so reminds Japanese of the ritual of passing cremated bones between chopsticks at funerals. The same rule applies to sticking your chopsticks into a bowl of rice vertically -- another morbid symbol.

Japanese Table Manners

When first seated, many restaurants will provide you with a wet towel. Don't use the towel on your face or neck, instead use it to wash your hands then fold it and put it aside.

Begin your meal by saying “Itadaki-masu” which means “I humbly receive.” Learn more Japanese language basics.

Do not dump soy sauce directly on your food, especially plain rice; instead, pour a small amount of soy sauce into a bowl and dip your food into it. You can always add more soy sauce to the bowl, but avoid wasting any.

When eating ramen or soup, you can sip directly from the bowl. Lift the bowl to your mouth with your other hand; avoid holding chopsticks and a small bowl in the same hand. Don't be surprised to hear slurping noises from around the table. Unlike in the West, slurping your soup is not only accepted, it shows that you are enjoying the meal!

Cleaning your plate, even down to the last grain of rice, is considered proper Japanese dining etiquette -- never waste food that you have put on your plate.

After the Meal

When the meal is finished, offer a formal thanks by saying: “Gochisosama-deshita” or simply “Gochisosama” for less formal occasions.

If you ate with disposable chopsticks, place them neatly back inside of the small bag and fold the end. Otherwise, leave them sideways on your plate rather than pointing them at the person seated across.

If eating in a restaurant, chances are that your host will pay to follow the concept of saving face. If you pay, place your money on the small tray provided rather than handing it to the server or register attendant. If no tray is present, use both hands to give your money and receive the change.

Tipping is not common and is often considered rude in Japan. Read more about tipping in Japan.

Eating Sushi with Proper Japanese Dining Etiquette

Sushi is the default for many business lunches. When eating sushi, pour only a little soy sauce into the small bowl provided; leaving a small pond of dirty soy sauce behind is considered wasteful.

When dipping nigiri, turn it over so that only the meat touches the soy sauce. Leaving rice floating behind in your dipping bowl is bad form.

Japanese Dining Etiquette for Drinking

Meals are often accompanied with drinks, either beer or sake -- don't drink alone! Wait on all glasses to be filled, then someone will give a toast or simply say kanpai! which means cheers. Raise your glass, return the kanpai, and then drink.

Japanese often jump at the chance to pour drinks for each other; you should do the same. Top up the glasses of people seated around you, and never pour your own drink.

Things to Avoid in Japanese Dining Etiquette

  • Don't blow your nose at the table; instead, excuse yourself and go to the toilet or outside. Sniffling at the table to avoid blowing your nose is actually acceptable.
  • Do not point at people with chopsticks or your finger while making a point.
  • Although you should bring a gift if invited to someone's home for dinner, avoid giving anything in sets of four or nine. The two numbers sound similar to the words for death and suffering and are regarded with superstition.

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