【TRAVEL Q&A】A Guide to Dining at Restaurants in Japan – Chopsticks, Sushi, Drinking & More

12.October.2017 | SPOT

When eating at a restaurant in Japan, it’s important to be aware of Japanese dining etiquette before, during and after your meal. Here are 5 rules you should try to learn if you eat out in Japan.


1: Should I take off my shoes at restaurants in Japan?


If the restaurant has tatami booths, don’t forget to take off your shoes. Some Japanese-style restaurants, such as izakaya, will ask you to take your shoes off at the entrance. In restaurants like these, there will be a shoe box where you can store your shoes in. You can lock it with a key, so keep it safe as you’ll need it to retrieve your shoes when you leave the restaurant!


2: How should I sit when I eat at traditional Japanese-style restaurants?


The number of traditional restaurants in Japan is decreasing nowadays, but you should sit seiza style if you find that the restaurant does not have seats. This is a traditional form of sitting in Japan where you must kneel, keep your back straight and rest your buttocks on your ankles. It might be painful to sit in this position, so if it becomes uncomfortable then spread your legs out. The restaurant staff will generally be understanding.


3: I can’t use chopsticks! What should I do?


Most restaurants can provide knives, forks and spoons so you don’t need to worry if you can’t use chopsticks. But it’s generally better to use them when eating Japanese dishes.


Keep in mind the following:

– Observe other people using chopsticks if you’re unsure how to use them. It might take a while to get used to it but you’ll get the hang of it!

– Your chopsticks should be placed on a hashioki, or “chopstick rest,” when you are not using them. If the restaurant does not have a hashioki, then you can make your own chopstick rest with the paper packaging your chopsticks come in.

– It is impolite for two or more people to pick up the same piece of food at the same time.

 – Never stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice. This is because that’s the way bowls of rice are given as an offering to a deceased person at funerals.


As a side note, when eating a dish that can be shared among people, you should use the opposite side the chopsticks you have been using to eat. It is considered unhygienic and unwelcoming to take food directly with the side you have eaten with.


4: What rules should I remember when participating in a drinking party?


Japanese people tend to value the group rather than the individual. So, here’s a question! Which of the following responses is correct?

– Drink the beverage you ordered immediately upon receiving it.

– Wait until everyone else gets his/her drink before drinking.

Those of you who answered “2” might have a Japanese mind! It is common in Japan to wait until everybody else gets their drink before drinking. You can eat your meal when it is brought to you since they become cold easily but for drinks, you must wait. Take a sip after saying “kanpai!” (cheers!) with everybody!


5: How should I eat sushi?


There are some rules you should know when you eat sushi, one of Japan’s most traditional foods. Below are the procedures for how to eat sushi.


Makizushi (sushi rolled with seaweed)

– Pick up the seaweed roll with your fingers.

– Dip the rice into soy sauce

– Eat gari (ginger) after eating sushi. Some people eat sushi and gari together but it is better to eat them separately. The reason you should eat gari is because gari will make your mouth fresh so that you can enjoy the flavor of next sushi that you eat.


Nigirizushi (usual sushi)(vinegary rice topped with raw or cooked fish)

– Turn the sushi horizontally using your chopsticks

– Pick up the sushi with your fingers and dip the fish into soy sauce. (Don’t dip it too long into the soy sauce! If you do this, you can’t enjoy the fresh and sophisticated flavor of sushi).

– If you want an even more authentic sushi experience, place the sushi on your tongue so that the fish part is laid flat across it. You’ll be able to enjoy the flavour even more.


6: How should I eat Japanese noodles?


Do you like ramen? Did you know that it’s OK to slurp when eating Japanese noodles? It’s not rude if you make slurping noises in Japan when eating them. The sound actually shows that you’re enjoying your meal. Some people even say that the food is even more delicious when slurped. You can slurp soba and udon noodles, but slurping pasta is considered rude.


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