How to Give the Right Impression When Dining in Japan
Certain dining etiquette is universal. It’s generally a bad idea to discuss unappealing or tasteless topics, and you should never just leave the table without first excusing yourself and thanking your host. However, most countries also hold their own unique customs – and in the case of Japan, a basic understanding of these is crucial if you wish to come across as a polite, respectful and grateful guest. Here is a quick guide to Japanese table manners, which should help you ensure that you’re giving off the right impression while avoiding all the common social blunders.
Japanese dining etiquette
Before you start the meal, say "itadakimasu" (I gratefully receive), and afterwards, "gochisosama deshita" (thank you for the meal).
How to eat…
- Rice – lift the bowl towards your mouth and eat it with chopsticks.
- Sushi – pour a small amount of soy sauce into a dish, and use chopsticks or your hands to dunk each piece of sushi in and bring it to your mouth. Avoid deconstructing your sushi on the plate so as not to visibly destroy its careful presentation.
- Sashimi – eat in the same way as sushi, but also add a tiny bit of wasabi before dipping it in your soy sauce.
- Miso soup – drink the soup out of the bowl as you would a beverage, fishing out the solid chunks with chopsticks.
- Noodles – use chopsticks to lift the noodles to your mouth. Don’t worry about slurping a little – this isn’t seen as bad manners in Japan.
- Pour soy sauce over your rice, and don’t give yourself more than you need as this is perceived to be wasteful (as indeed it is!) Go easy on the wasabi, too – using too much can insult the chef, and might just make your eyes water.
- Leave food on your plate. This is seen as wasteful and rather insulting.
- Plant your chopsticks in a bowl of rice. This represents the burning of incense sticks at a funeral.
- Blow your nose at the table (or in public at all, if you can avoid it).
If you want a drink, pour one for everyone else around the table, missing yourself out. Someone else should pour yours once you have finished. In order to make a toast, raise your glass and say “kanpai” (cheers). At all costs avoid saying “chin-chin”, as this means male genitals in Japanese!
It might help to practice your newfound skills in Japanese dining etiquette at home with your family before you go away. Get hold of some Japanese bowls, dishes and chopsticks and cook up a feast. You can find some tantalising Japanese recipes on this blog, and the BBC Good Food website has some great ideas. We also have some great Japanese tableware over at our website.
I hope this guide has given you an idea as to the basics of Japanese table manners. However, this is just a taster and there are many other areas that can also be addressed if you really want to wow your host. (A more comprehensive guide can be found here.) At the same time, don’t stress yourself out too much – so long as you are seen to be making an effort, your host will be suitably impressed.