When visiting Japan, eating at a Japanese restaurant in your area, or dining with Japanese friends in their home, you want to show as much respect possible.
Eating in the incorrect way or failing to follow certain traditions may offend your servers or fellow diners, and leave you feeling self-conscious while you eat. Just as there are certain things we would and wouldn’t do while eating here in the West, Japan has its own fascinating dining etiquette.
To help you avoid any unintentional offense or embarrassment, we’ve put the following brief guide together …
Before the Meal
As many of us know, it’s tradition to sit at low tables in Japan, with a cushion placed beneath you. During formal dinners, all men and women at the table are expected to kneel, but during casual meals, both genders are allowed to relax a little. Men may sit with their legs crossed, while ladies can have both legs to one side for added comfort.
Generally, the person viewed as the most ‘important’ or highly-respected will sit at the ‘kamiza’, or seat of honor. This can be found at the farthest spot from the room’s entrance. Traditionally, the meal’s host will sit on either side of the table, in the middle spot.
Hot steamed towels will be provided in restaurants, for you to wipe your hands clean before you eat, while you’ll be expected to wash your hands in another’s home.
Before you start eating, you usually wait for a key guest, server, or relative to begin the occasion. They will say ‘I gratefully receive’ or another term of gratitude – your cue to tuck in.
During Your Meal
If you don’t know how to hold chopsticks properly, it’s best to get a little practice beforehand. You should try to hold them as well as you can, and never leave them upright in your bowl (this is usually seen at funerals!).
You should also put your chopsticks on a stand provided, and avoid talking with them in your hands.
If eating from a bowl, especially smaller ones, lift it to your mouth to minimize spillage. You want to avoid letting food fall from your mouth and catching it – this is generally frowned upon.
On a similar point, soup’s eaten with chopsticks because of the many solid ingredients. Spoons may be used, but this is rare. It’s also okay to slurp soup or ramen, as this is believed to make it taste even better (due to the air inhaled at the same time). This video offers an entertaining insight:
If you’re invited to a tea ceremony, be sure to take your shoes off when you enter the room, and greet your fellow diners or guests with a brief bow. Talking is usually kept to a minimum before tea ceremonies start.
After the Meal
After eating, you should make the table look just as it did before you dined. Be sure to leave your chopsticks on their stand or in their paper sheaths.
Regarding payment, whoever actually arranged the meal is expected to handle that, though this may not always be the case.
If you’re planning to cook a meal at home for Japanese friends or relatives, following these traditions and rules of etiquette can make a powerful impression.
Kamikoto Japanese kitchen knives are made with Niigata steel and are ideal for preparing your ingredients to perfection. Nothing will make as big an impression as delicious food well-prepared and well-presented!