Japanese table manners for beginners

culture ramen sushi travel

You probably know that in Japan people eat mainly with chopsticks. But do you know anything about Japanese table manners? In Japan, there are complex systems of rules for dealing with other people. Of course, cultural customs and polite manners differ all over the world - what we consider polite in Germany may be poorly received in Japan, and vice versa. What unites us, however, is that we love to eat together, at least when it's not pandemic. A little guide is here to introduce you to the subtleties of cultured dining, so you can avoid the riskiest pitfalls of Japanese food culture.

Japanese restaurant view in the evening

Before the meal

Before you get started, you naturally greet each other and bow instead of shaking hands. Entering the restaurant or host's home is often accompanied by removing one's shoes. At low tables, people then sit cross-legged, with women traditionally sitting on their heels. In restaurants, a damp towel is usually handed to clean hands. However, the towel is not used to wipe one's mouth, for example! That would be the first faux pas. Among young people in Japan, it is equally commonplace to take pictures of the arranged dishes before eating and to share them on social networks. 

The appetizer

If there are soups or ramen, they may be slurped loudly. This is a way to show that it tastes good. It also makes it easier to take in the hot broth. If you like, you can also use a spoon. Everything else is eaten with chopsticks. And that's where often the problems begin for Europeans: fortunately, Japanese are too polite to point out what you're doing wrong.


Eating with chopsticks

Holding chopsticks correctly must be learned and requires some practice. The chopsticks lie parallel to each other in the hand on the ring finger and between the index and middle fingers. As a general rule, do not play with chopsticks. If you want to talk or point at others, it is better to put the wooden cutlery to one side. Skewering food is also not a good idea, because it is also considered bad manners and even a symbol of death. Chopsticks are placed parallel to each other - crossed chopsticks are said to bring bad luck. Chopsticks should not be placed in empty bowls either. In Japan, by the way, people tidy up after eating. The chopsticks and the dishes are put back where they were found on the table before the meal.

Helping yourself together

In Japan, there are often various small bowls of goodies on the table for everyone to help themselves to. Here, too, the rule is not to let the chopsticks circle over the bowls. It is good manners to eat some rice after each side dish. By the way, to avoid spilling, you are allowed to hold your own rice bowl in your hand. If someone hands you a bowl, you put down your chopsticks and don't pick them up again until the china is on the table in front of you. Likewise, nothing is passed from chopstick to chopstick, because that also reminds you of death. When the meal is nearing its end, you should make sure that the rice, in particular, is eaten up, because it is sacred to the Japanese. By the way, it is not appreciated to put soy sauce or the like over the rice. It is considered a wasteful gesture.

food on table

Eating with the hands

In Japan, sushi is eaten without chopsticks. Fortunately, the delicious finger food is already served in bite-sized pieces. The only exceptions are nigiri and sashimi, which are eaten with chopsticks. Strictly speaking, there is also an order for eating the individual types of fish, but that would lead too far here and is not for beginners.

Drinking together

Japanese are often very concentrated on the delicious food and prefer to talk afterwards, when the plates or bowls are already empty. Of course, they continue to drink. In Japan, people start drinking together with the word "Kanpai". One pours to the table neighbors without being asked and cares for their well-being. When sake is served, a carafe made of porcelain or clay is often a wonderful eye-catcher. Incidentally, the so-called "tip" after the meal is not customary. If you want to say thank you for the meal, you invite the host or chef for a glass of sake, for example. With "Itadakimasu" one thanks for the meal.

MYCONBINI tip: For your Japanese dinner with friends, we have beautiful wooden sticks in triangle look in our assortment. If you like it extra special, we recommend the stainless steel chopstick.

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