Here are our tips on mannerisms and etiquette to follow when eating Japanese cuisine in Japan.
It begins before you’ve even completed your order. While elsewhere in the world we’re accustomed to asking for variations and custom orders in a restaurant, in Japan it’s ill-mannered to ask for alternatives, and regarded as an insult to the chef. Prior to starting a meal it’s a custom to say Itadakimasu, which translates as “I gratefully receive”, and to conclude a meal Gochisosama-deshita, “Thank you for the meal.” Be sure to say both to show your respect for the chef and your dining companions.
In Japan there are several customs you need to be aware of when enjoying a meal – not following table manners can get you questionable looks from locals.
If like many people, you struggle to eat sushi with chopsticks, you’ll be grateful to know the tradition of eating sushi is actually with your hands. Attempt to eat Nigiri in one bite; separating sushi ruins the perfection of the carefully-prepared sushi. Upturn the sushi when dipping into soya sauce so the raw fish absorbs the sauce rather than the rice; this enhances the flavors without making it too salty. However, if you still want to use Western utensils, ask for Naifu (knife) and Supun (spoon) which will ensure you get hearty bites and nothing should fall out.
While it’s rude in the West to noisily slurp a bowl of ramen noodles or soup, the opposite is true in Japan – it confirms to the chef that the diner is enjoying the meal. To avoid dropping food, it’s courteous to lift the bowl of rice or soup and finish everything, even the last tiny grain of rice. Be careful not to place your chopsticks vertically in a bowl as it signifies a Buddhist funerary, and is disrespectful at a restaurant. Placing your chopsticks horizontally flat on your plate or bowl signifies you have completed your meal. Vegetarians should be cautious when eating food in Japan as many dishes are flavored with Dashi “stock”, made from fish oil. Eggs are also considered vegetarian so be careful when you’re ordering.
When indulging in alcoholic beverages, it’s the norm to first pour your acquaintance’s drink and then wait for your friend to pour your beverage. When you want to replenish your drink, hold your glass out to your friend. Prior to enjoying a drink it’s tradition to say Kampai (cheers). At the end of the meal, you don’t need to leave a tip – in Japan most people feel uncomfortable when being offered a gratuity.
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