Knowing the local table manners will save yourself from embarrassment and make others feel comfortable while dining with you. There is no exception for that even in Japan.
Here are some table manners in Japan that we think you should know.
It’s quite embarrassing to admit it but I seriously have no table manners when it comes to Western style dining.
If you gave me a set of knives, forks, spoons and plates, I will randomly choose the ones that seem to be the most convenient!
On the other hand, maybe because I grew up in Asia, I have no struggle following Asian table manners. Many people may think Asians don’t need table manners but just try not to follow those in a family gathering…
you know what is waiting for you when you get home, alone with your parents….
Anyway, back to the topic!
Since coming here, I have found out that Japan has many different table manners compared to other Asian countries, and of course, the rest of the world.
It is expected you eat and chew quietly, especially if you are in a restaurant alone or with others. However, this rule is not applied when it comes to ramen, udon or soba!
I was very surprised by how quietly my friends usually eat all types of food, except for noodles! Slurping noodles demonstrate that your dish is very delicious. There is no need for words, the sound itself proves everything.
I was told by a Japanese colleague that soba noodles will taste better when mixed with air while slurping, same idea as “allowing the wine to breath” which is the face that wine tastes better after having some exposure to air.
Slurping noodles, demonstrate by our very-brave blogger
But be careful, slurping is not accepted while eating pasta. Perhaps it is impolite to slurp in Western culture, therefore, people need to obey the Western manners when it comes to Western food?
This is a unique manner since no other Asian countries (at least those that I have visited) would consider slurping while eating noodles is acceptable.
Saying Itadakimasu [いただきます] and Gochisousama [ごちそうさま] before and after the meal
These are the 2 phrases that you are expected to say before and after the meal accordingly.
“Itadakimasu” is probably well-known among foreigners. It is usually translated as ‘let’s eat’ (casually) or ‘please partake’ (a little more formal). This is similar to how Vietnamese kids are taught to say when eating with close family members. But I don’t recall that we need to say this to friends.
Well, we are expected to say things like ‘please eat’ when dining with business partners and such so maybe it’s kinda similar.
When finished eating, ‘gochisousama’ is used. This is to show your appreciation to the person who cooked the meal/ who paid for the meal. Although sometimes this phrase merely informs that you have finished eating. If you are in a small restaurant, try to say gochisousama deshita after your meal and I’m sure you will see a warm smile from the staff!
In Japan, chopsticks are used for almost everything from rice to meat. Even for some Western dishes such as pasta (considered a noodle) and steak if eaten with rice.
To me this is pretty normal since we do the same thing in Vietnam. But apparently, it is not the case for all Asian countries.
However in Japan, all washoku (Japanese-style dish) should be picked up with chopsticks. While sushi can be eaten by hand, when chopsticks are given, you are supposed to use them.
Soup with no spoon
Miso soup isn’t a strange dish around the world as most Japanese restaurants overseas serve it. However, I believe miso soup is served with a spoon in foreign countries.
During my first visit to Japan, I was surprised to see people drinking the soup.
For miso soup or other Japanese style soups, you simply drink it from the bowl. No spoon will be given unless you ask for it. Some restaurants don’t have spoons available. You can either use chopsticks for solid ingredients, or slurp them if you can.
Don’t pick up food using personal chopsticks for common dishes.
I guess among close friends in my generation, there is no need to worry about this. However, eating with business partners, you will have to for dishes to be shared. One should use the common chopsticks to pick up food and put it on your plate, then use personal chopsticks to eat.
Also, bear in mind that these universal manners are also applied in Japan: don’t speak with your mouth full and close your mouth while chewing (or cover it with your hand).
I believe there are more manners you need to be aware of, but at least these are the basic one for dining in Japan.
By Anh Le
Edited by monthly