Having a Japanese dinner party is always a fun experience, but you can really enhance the entire event by knowing and practicing essential Japanese dining etiquette rules. And, of course, if you ever do travel to Japan, it would be very polite and courteous on your part (not to mention much appreciated by your hosts) to make sure you don’t commit any major dining faux pas!
Traditional Japanese Table Manners
A meal begins when the host or guest of honor indicates that you may start eating. The individual will say “Itadaki-masu,” which translates to: “I humbly receive”. After you finish the meal, you would say “gochisosama deshita,” which means “thank you for the meal.”
The small hot and damp towel you receive when dining in a Japanese restaurant is an oshibori and is meant only for cleaning your hands. When dining in someone’s home, you should wash your hands before the meal begins.
Soy sauce is often served with a Japanese meal. A small amount of soy sauce is to be poured into the small sauce dishes that are provided. Food is to be dipped into the soy sauce. The soy sauce should never be poured on top of your food, including plain rice.
Ramen or udon noodles are often served at a Japanese dinner. You can use your chopsticks to bring the noodles to your mouth, and it is customary to make slurping noises when consuming them, which indicates you are enjoying your meal!
However, you should never slurp soup, such as miso soup. You can use chopsticks to first eat the ingredients such as tofu, vegetables, and seaweed. Then, you can sip the broth, but shouldn’t slurp.
You should always try to finish your food at a Japanese dinner party. Clean your plate thoroughly. As several components often make up a Japanese dinner, you will select food from the various dishes and place what you intend to eat on your plate. You can always take more, but don’t take too much and then leave some left over.
If you are eating at a restaurant in Japan, it is traditional for the host to pay as a matter of honor. Tipping is also frowned upon in Japan!
Eating With Chopsticks
Of course, chopsticks are an essential part of any Japanese meal. Thus, there are a whole lot of different rules regarding them.
First, never play with your chopsticks. They are eating utensils just like a knife and fork, even by children (who often like to pretend they are drumsticks!).
If no serving utensils are provided for the many different dishes, you are to use the thick end of the chopsticks to take food onto your own plate. These ends of the chopsticks never touch your mouth and so are okay to use to serve yourself.
You should not stab food with chopsticks in order to lift it. It might be easier to do it that way if you aren’t so adept with chopsticks, but it is a big no-no in Japan. This includes sticking your chopsticks into a bowl of rice and leaving them standing vertically. This is a morbid symbol in Japan!
Do not point at other dinner guests or at dishes of food with your chopsticks. A chopstick rest is often provided at restaurants for you to lay your chopsticks on when not in use. If you are using disposable chopsticks, you can fold the paper wrapper into a makeshift chopstick rest.
Drinking at Dinner
The way to say “Cheers” in Japan is “Kanpai!” It is bad form to drink alone at a Japanese dinner. Wait until all of the guests have glasses with drinks (if they are drinking), and if your hosts empty their glasses, you should too.
Never pour your own drink, but strive to keep the glasses of others filled. They will, in turn, do the same for you.
With this basic guide to essential Japanese dining etiquette rules, you should be ready to enjoy a Japanese dinner party in your own home, at a restaurant and even in Japan!