When dining at a first-rate Japanese restaurant in the United States, or when traveling in Japan, you can enhance your dining experience by learning some basic Japanese words and phrases. In addition to basic greetings commonly used in Japan, the following Japanese terminology covers questions you might ask while dining, as well as some of the foods and items you’d find on the table during a typical Japanese meal.
Basic Japanese Greetings
Irasshai Mase (Welcome to the Store)
If you’ve ever walked into a Japanese restaurant and been greeted by the hostess with an enthusiastic “irasshaimase!” you’ll now know that they are saying “Welcome to the store!” This greeting can be used in both a retail establishment and a restaurant.
Konnichiwa (Hello)/Konbanwa (Good Evening)
Common ways of saying either hello or good evening. It is typical to respond with either one of these greetings following the greeting of irasshaimase.
Arigato (thank you)
Japanese Terminology Relating to Items on the Table
Gohan (gohan can literally mean cooked white rice, or the entire meal)
This one is a bit tricky since it has multiple meanings. The reason for the multiple meanings is that gohan technically refers to a meal (additions to the word, such as asagohan, refer to the type of meal—in this case, breakfast). Gohan is also one of the many words for rice, which can also be a meal.
Okazu (side dishes)
Any side dishes that are served and eaten with rice or soup are okazu. The dishes are usually a vibrant and flavorful array of color and texture.
Japanese Terminology Relating to Eating
There’s actually a lot of meaning behind this phrase, which has been compared to the custom of saying grace before a meal. The simplest translation of Itadakimasu is “I humbly receive” and saying it before a meal is a sign of gracious thanks and respect for all that was involved in the making of the meal.
The phrase has become part of Japanese etiquette in recent years—the proper way to use it is to put your hands together, speak the phrase, and give a slight bow. Then you can pick up your ohashi and begin eating!
Okawari (Can I have another please?)
When something is very good and you’d like some more, you should ask for “okawari.”
Oishi (This is delicious!)
Compliment your chef or host!
After you’ve finished your meal, you express your thanks and gratitude by saying Gochiso sama, which means “it was quite a feast!”
The simple, easy-to-explain definition of umami is something that is full of amazing flavor. But the real definition is something much more complex, as are the flavors the word describes. Umami is more than just a flavor—it is a feeling you receive when you consume a truly delicious meal that not only tantalizes your taste buds, but also elevates your senses and spirit.
With this simple guide to Japanese terminology, you’ll be able to elevate your dining experience in a Japanese restaurant or in Japan, as well as impress those who are dining with you!