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Japanese Table Manners

Some restaurants in Japan have low tables and cushions on tatami floor instead of (or in addition to) Western-style chairs and tables. Shoes and slippers have to be removed before stepping on tatami. Also, avoid stepping onto cushions other than your own. See our sitting page for more details about sitting techniques and rules.

Wet towels (oshibori) are provided at the most restaurant to clean your hands before eating. After ordering, it is common to wait for everyone’s order and then to start the meal with the phrase “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”). If a dish is better eaten right away but others at the table have not been served yet, the phrases “osaki ni dōzo” (“please go ahead”) or “osaki ni itadakimasu” (“allow me to start before you”) can be useful.

When eating from small bowls, it is a correct manner to pick up the bowl with your hand and lead it close to your mouth when eating from it; however, larger types of dishes should generally not be picked up. When eating from shared dishes (as it is commonly done at some restaurants such as izakaya), it is polite to use the opposite end of your chopsticks or dedicated serving chopsticks for moving food.

Blowing your nose at the table, burping and audible munching are considered bad manners in Japan. On the other hand, it is considered appropriate to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice. If there are food items that you do not like or cannot eat, replacements may be available at restaurants or ryokan if you tell them in advance. Otherwise, it is advisable to leave the items on the dish.

After finishing your meal, it is a generally good manner to return all your dishes to how they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks back on the chopstick rest or in its paper holder. Conclude the meal with the phrase “gochisōsama deshita” (“thank you for the feast”) which includes gratitude not only towards the cook but also the ingredients consumed.

Rule of thumb: at the end of the meal, return all your dishes to how they were at the start of the meal (minus the food)

After finishing your meal, it is generally good manner to return all your dishes to how they were at the start of the meal

DRINKING

Do not start drinking until everybody at the table has a drink and the glasses are raised for a drinking salute, which usually is “kampai”.

When drinking alcoholic beverages, it is customary to serve each other, rather than pour your own drink. Periodically check your friends’ cups and refill their drinks if their cups are getting empty. Likewise, if someone wants to serve you more alcohol, you should drink some from your glass before holding it towards that person.

While it is considered bad manners to become obviously drunk in some formal restaurants, for example, high-end restaurants that serve kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine), the same is not true for other types of restaurants such as izakaya, as long as you do not bother other guests.

If you do not drink alcohol, it is not impolite to say so and request for other beverages instead. Non-alcoholic beverages that are usually available include alcohol-free beer, tea, juices and carbonated drinks.

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