Japanese Eating and Drinking Etiquette
Japan, the land of cherry blossoms, ultramodern technology, sake, and the world's most polite people, is a very civilized country and their citizens like to set up rules and follow them strictly. Eating and drinking etiquettes are typical examples of their rule-oriented living style. In addition, Japanese people create interesting eating and drinking rules which surprises many tourists.
Tables and Seats
Taku on Flickr
Besides Western-style tables, a lot of Japanese restaurants provide Japanese-style low tables and tatami mattresses. Tourists are expected to take off shoes and slippers before stepping onto the mattresses and avoid stamping on other people's mattresses.
Eating in Japanese restaurants, guests will be offered cool handkerchiefs to clean their hands before having meals. After making orders of food, everyone often waits until all of the dishes are served on the table and eat together by saying "itadakimasu" ("thank you for the delicious food"). As for the dishes which should be eaten as soon as being served, guests are expected to say "osaki ni itadakimasu" ("please allow me to eat first").
Jim Epler on Flickr
When eating with a small bowl, you should bring the bowl up close to the mouth and pick the food. When eating dishes shared with other guests at the table, you should use a private pair of chopsticks to pick the food. Blowing your nose or making noise while eating is considered as impolite behaviors. However, it's a proper behavior if you make noise when eating noodles. Instead of biting long noodles, Japanese people tend to suck them into their mouth and then chew them. It is said that the loud noise created in eating noodles is a compliment to noodle masters.
eltpics on Flickr
Also, guests are expected not to abandon the food. Japanese people consider the food saving as a beautiful characteristic. Dishes are often served in small portions so that guests can entirely consume them. If you are allergic to or do not like to eat some ingredients, you can ask chefs or cooks to change different ingredients.
After finishing the meal, you should arrange chopsticks and bowls as they have been arranged at the beginning. Chopsticks should be put on chopstick holders. Guests will end the meal with the saying "gochisosama deshita" (thank you for the meal) to express their gratitude to not only chefs but also delicious ingredients.
Raj Taneja on Flickr
Japan is certainly an alcohol-loving culture. When your drink is served, you are not allowed to drink right away but wait till every member at the table is served with their drinks, then cheer together. When drinking beer or wine, you should pour more to other guests than yourself. You need to pay attention to other guests' glasses. If the glasses are nearly empty, you have to add more to them. If someone would like to pour more beer to you, you should drink some sips before giving your glass to him.
Getting drunk at luxurious restaurants is considered as an impolite manner. In low-price restaurants, guests are allowed to get drunk as long as you don't bother other guests. If you do not drink alcohol, of course alternative beverages are ready to be served such as tea, soda, juice or alcohol-free beer which you can drink without worrying about stigma.
The Rules That Should be Followed:
ewan mcdowall on Flickr
1. Don't use your hands to catch the falling food. Such a manner is considered impolite in Japanese eating and drinking culture. Some tourists think that if they put a small plate (tezara) below to catch falling pieces of food but actually you should not do that. Please pay more attention to the pieces of food which you pick with your chopsticks.
2. Avoid biting the pieces of food into halves. Generally, you should eat full pieces and avoid biting the food into smaller pieces. Japanese food is often made one-bite sized and are not very big for you to bite them in halves. Putting a piece of food bit into halves is considered really impolite. You can cover your mouth when eating big pieces.
Hideya HAMANO on Flickr
3. I think this one depends on what part of the country you go to. But in my area, Tokyo, don't mix green horseradish (wasabi) with soy sauce. In Japanese restaurants, wasabi and soy sauce are separately put in the same small plate. Japanese people don't mix wasabi and soy sauce together. Instead, they will add an appropriate amount of wasabi on the food and then dip it into soy sauce. The taste of wasabi is very spicy, so if you mix all of the wasabi into soy sauce at the beginning, the taste of wasabi can less or more worsen the taste of food.
vui on Flickr
4. Do not put unwanted food on the cover of the bowl that is served to you at the beginning. For example, if you are served miso soup with shellfish, you should not put the shells on the cover of the bowl or another plate because it's considered as a impolite manner. Instead, you should put them onto a separate plate.
Chris Lewis on Flickr
5. Don't lift the food higher than your mouth because Japanese people think that it's an inappropriate manner.
Some of tourists feel that these rules are too bothering to follow but they really reflect sophisticated characteristics in Japanese eating and drinking culture. If you love Japanese culture, you feel these are intruiging, not annoying at all.