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Japanese Dining Customs & Etiquette You Must Know

Japanese food is known for being artisanally prepared and cooked and also for being exquisitely delicious. And it is true! But the best part of the meal in Japan is conducting oneself with the proper manners and respect as observed by others in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Floor Seating

To begin, many restaurants will feature floor seating. That’s right, sitting on the floor, with tatami or special straw mats. Other restaurants certainly have seating at tables with chairs, so no worries if you really don’t feel like sitting on the floor. Some restaurants will have both floor and chair seats as you can see in the picture below:

japanese restaurant with chair and floor seating

In regards to floor seating always keep your legs crossed or folded to one side, never spread out in front of you. Honored guests or the host will sit in the middle of the table, usually on opposite sides. The center of the table is the most honored spot. If you aren’t sure, simply wait for the the host and other guests to sit first and take the remaining spot. In some cases the host will tell you where to sit.

chinese tea

Before eating, you may be given a wet napkin or towel, this is called oshibori, and is used to clean the hands before eating. Cleanliness is very important in Japan, as you will certainly see when you visit! 

Do & Don’t During a Japanese Diner

Below we’ve listed some important do or don’ts when you attend a diner:

  • Next, when the food arrives, wait for the oldest or highest-ranking person to start eating first, they will usually begin by saying “itadakimasu” which means “I humbly receive”. This phrase has religious and spiritual connotations and is meant to show gratitude towards the people who prepared the food and any living creatures who were used to prepare it, too.
  • Feel free to leave some leftover food to show you would like another helping while eating all your food signifies that you are satisfied.
  • While dining, do not stab food with your chopsticks or stick your chopsticks into your rice. These both resemble rituals done for the deceased and are bad luck.
  • Do not point the ends of your chopsticks at others as this is seen as threatening, and do not rest your chopsticks on your bowl. Usually, chopstick rests will be provided instead.
  • When sharing food, pass food with the end of your chopsticks that you did not put into your mouth, and do not burp, blow your nose, or munch on your food.
  • However, slurping is permissible especially with noodles, and helps to enhance the flavor and show that the food is tasty.
  • When eating food from a bowl, like rice, lift the bowl with one hand to your mouth and use your chopsticks to eat.
  • When eating soup, use your chopsticks to eat any larger chunks of tofu or other food, and then lift and drink the soup broth from your bowl. 

After You Finish Dinner

Once the meal is over, put all the dishes back to their original places when they were presented, including utensils. The phrase “gochisōsama deshita” is a way of saying you ate well and shows gratitude to the chef and the people and animals who helped to prepare your food. It means “thank you for the feast”. 

And those are just a few things to keep in mind when dining in Japan. Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

Sources:

  • Author Logan, and Name. “10 Unique Japanese Eating Etiquette Rules – Nomiya Japanese Restaurant: Edmonton, AB: Ramen: Tapas: Sushi.” Nomiya Japanese Restaurant | Edmonton, AB | Ramen | Tapas | Sushi, 29 July 2016, nomiyarestaurant.com/10-japanese-eating-etiquette-rules/.
  • “Etiquette in Japan.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Jan. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_in_Japan#Greetings.
  • “Japanese Table Manners.” Japan Travel and Living Guide, www.japan-guide.com/e/e2005.html. 
About Author

Active traveller with a love for Asian food and Japanese anime.