Regardless of whether eating with new Japanese friends in a home or attending a business lunch, following certain simple rules of Japanese dining etiquette will make you shine. There’s no need to feel nervous as your hosts will understand that you may not be familiar with all of their customs.
It would be great if you read about Japanese etiquette regarding greetings and removing shoes, and then use these tips for Japanese dining etiquette and table manners to show a genuine interest in the local culture.
Also, knowing how to use chopsticks is essential when it comes to Japanese dining etiquette, especially in formal occasions.
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 pass food with your chopsticks! By doing so you’ll remind 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 – which is 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".
- 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 actually 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, put 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.
- When dining in a restaurant, chances are that your host will pay to follow the concept of saving face. If you pay though, place your money on the small tray provided rather than handing it to the server or register attendant. In case no tray is present, use both hands to give your money and receive the change.
- Tipping is not common and is generally considered rude 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 just the meat touches the soy sauce. Leaving rice floating behind in your dipping bowl is bad form.
Japanese Dining Etiquette for Drinking
- Meals are frequently accompanied with drinks, either beer or sake - however 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, so 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. However 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.