Manners in Japan can be a mine field difficult to navigate with specific conventions associated with specific parts of the meal. In Japan, you say "itadakimasu" ("I gratefully receive") before eating, and "gochisosama (deshita)" ("Thank you for the meal") after finishing the meal.
In Japan, some restaurants and private homes have low tables and cushions on the floor, rather than Western style chairs and tables. These are usually found on tatami floors. You can visit this website for more information on sitting techniques and rules
It is not uncommon in private households and in certain restaurants (e.g. izakaya) to share several dishes of food at the table rather than serving each person an individual dish. When eating from shared dishes, move some food from the shared plates onto your own with the opposite end of your chopsticks or with serving chopsticks that may be provided for that purpose.
The proper usage of chopsticks is the most fundamental element of Japanese table manners. Please remember some important rules when dining with chopsticks:
- Hold your chopsticks towards their end, not in the middle or the front third.
- When you are not using your chopsticks, or have finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tips to left.
- Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. This is only done at funerals with rice that is put onto the altar.
- Do not pass food directly from your set of chopsticks to another's. Again, this is a funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body.
- Do not spear food with your chopsticks.
- Do not point with your chopsticks.
- Do not wave your chopsticks around in the air or play with them.
- Do not move plates or bowls around with your chopsticks.
- To separate a piece of food in two, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other in order to tear the food. This takes some practice. With larger pieces of food such as tempura, it is also acceptable to pick up the entire piece with your chopsticks, and take a bite.
- If you have already eaten with your chopsticks, use the opposite end to take food from a shared plate.
Knives and forks are used for Western food only. Spoons however, may be used with certain Japanese dishes such as donburi or Japanese style curry rice. A Chinese style ceramic spoon is sometimes used to eat soups.
Some Table RulesEdit
- Blowing your nose in public, and especially at the table, is considered bad manners.
- It is considered good manners to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.
- Talking about toilet related and similarly unappetizing topics during or before a meal is not appreciated by most people.
- Unlike in some other parts of East Asia, it is considered bad manner to burp.
- After eating, try to move all your dishes back to the same position they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks on the chopstick holder or back into their paper slip.
When drinking alcoholic beverages, it is customary to serve each other, rather than pouring your own beverage. 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 quickly empty your glass and hold it towards that person. But be warned this can quickly turn into a recipe for a drunk disaster as you are constantly trying to finish that never ending glass of beer.
Japan is a huge drinking society and nearly every celebration will present an oppurtunity to get inebriated. If you don't want to drink, politely refusing at the beginning of the meal is also OK.
Do not start drinking until everybody at the table is served and the glasses are raised for a drinking salute, which usually is "kampai". Avoid using "chin chin" when drinking a toast, since in Japanese this expression refers to the male genitals (yikes, quite embarassing!)
How to eat...Edit
Hold the rice bowl in one hand and the chopsticks in the other. Lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating. Do not pour soya sauce over white, cooked rice (blasphemy!).
Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. It is considered bad manners to waste soya sauce, so try not to pour more sauce than you will use. You do not need to add wasabi (Japanese horseradish) into the soya sauce, because the sushi pieces may already contain it, or may be eaten plain. However, if you choose to add wasabi, use only a small amount so as not to offend the sushi chef. If you do not like wasabi, you can request that none is added into your sushi. In general, you are supposed to eat a sushi piece in one bite. Attempts to separate a piece into two generally end in the destruction of the beautifully prepared sushi. Hands or chopsticks can be used to eat sushi.
- In case of nigiri-zushi, dip the piece into the soya sauce upside-down so that the fish enters the sauce. A few kinds of nigiri-zushi, for example, marinated pieces, should not be dipped into soya sauce.
- In case of gunkan-zushi, pour a small amount of soya sauce over the sushi piece rather than dipping it into the sauce.
- Sashimi: Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. Put some wasabi on the sashimi piece, but be careful not to use too much as this will overpower the taste of the fish. Dip the sashimi pieces into the soya sauce. Some types of sashimi are enjoyed with ground ginger rather than wasabi.
Drink the soup out of the bowl as if it were a cup, and fish out the solid food pieces with your chopsticks.
Using your chopsticks lead the noodles into your mouth. You may want to try to copy the slurping sound of people around you if you are dining in a noodle shop. Rather than being bad manners as Westerners are often taught, slurping noodles is considered evidence of enjoying the meal.
- In case of noodle soups, be careful of splashing the noodles back into the liquid. If a ceramic spoon is provided, use it to drink the soup, otherwise, lift the bowl to your mouth as if it were a cup.
Kare Raisu and other dishes in which the rice is mixed with a sauce Kare Raisu (Japanese style curry rice) and other rice dishes, in which the rice is mixed with a sauce (for example, some domburi dishes) may become difficult to eat with chopsticks. Large spoons are often provided for these dishes.
Big pieces of foodEdit
(e.g. prawn tempura, tofu) Separate into bite sized pieces with your chopsticks (this takes some exercise), or just bite off a piece and put the rest back onto your plate.
A Guide to Food Buying in Japan by Carolyn R. Krouse is a useful guide that has been written to take the mystery out of shopping for food in Japan. It includes photos, Japanese script and useful phrases. A good place to learn Japanese recipes is www.Japan-guide.com (Click on Food Section).
You can read shopping adverts, online, for the major stores near where you live at Shufoo.net. It's all in Japanese but all you need to do is type in your postal code and click a search button and you will be presented with a list of stores near you and links to view their adverts.
If you're interested in finding stores that sell food from back home, you have multiple options to choose from:
Foreign Buyers' Club (FBC)Edit
You can buy almost anything from this store: salsa, olives, blueberry pie filling, lentil soup, cheese, contact lens supplies, condoms, cold medicines, vegemite...and so on. They have-mail order catalogues, and a good on-line site from which you can order, or you can journey out and visit their store on Rokko Island in Kobe. Also, they give JETs a discount.
URL: www.fbcusa.com 9:30am - 5:30pm, Monday - Thursday
9:30am - 7:30pm, Friday & Saturday
Costco is a large wholesale store located in Kishiwada. You need to buy a membership card to shop there (about 4,000 yen a person), but if you buy enough you soon get your money's worth. Their website it www.costco.com/Warehouse/LocationTemplate.aspx?Warehouse=861
Reasonable prices on imported groceries and general merchandise in Japan? When pigs fly! But that was before Costco Wholesale opened its doors here. Afterwards, there were only two problems left: not everyone can get to a Costco warehouse very easily, and Internet ordering isn't available. In a nutshell, TheFlyingPig.Com was launched to overcome these issues. (Please note that TheFlyingPig.Com is an independent entity, and is not owned or controlled by Costco.)
Tengu Natural FoodsEdit
Organic food home delivery service. They sell natural goodies such as bagels, herbal teas, vegetarian chili beans, whole-wheat bread, granola, tortillas, etc. Most orders are received within a week. Call the number below to receive a free catalog.
The Meat GuyEdit
Providing meat to all Japan.......http://www.themeatguy.jp/
Kintetsu Department Wakayama storeEdit
The Kintetsu Department store in Wakayama City has a variety of foreign foods found in the basement section of its supermarket. Just exit the JR Wakayama station through the Central exit and turn right, the Kintetsu Building will be directly in front of you.
The two most important words you need to know are 食べ放 題 and 飲み放題. The first one, pronounced tabe-hodai, means "all you can eat". The second word is pronounced nomi-hodai, and means "all you can drink." Eating and drinking out in Japan can be extremely expensive, especially for you heavy drinkers out there. Look for restaurants and snacks that have these words on their windows.
When you walk into a restaurant, you'll first be asked how many people are in your party: 何名様でしょうか？ (Nan-mei sama desho ka). You will then be asked whether you want smoking or non-smoking seats: おタバコは？ (o-tabako wa?). If you want non-smoking, say: 禁煙席 (kin-en-seki); and if you want smoking, say: 喫煙席 (kitsu-en-seki). When you order something at a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop, they will usually ask you before you order whether or not you will be eating there: こちらでお召し上がりでしょうか? (Kochira-de omeshi-agari desho ka?).
Finally when asking for the bill (a) O kaikei onegai shimasu. (お会計お願いします) or (b) O kanjou onegai shimasu. (お勘定お願いします) are commonly used.
For more restaurant vocab, see the "Food & Nutrition" section of your JET Diary.
Types of RestaurantsEdit
Conveyer Belt Sushi (回転寿司 Kaiten Zushi)Edit
Sushi travels around the restaurant on a conveyer belt. This is a great way to eat sushi because you know what you're getting. According to some paper writing, there will usually be color-coded plates, each color representing a different price of sushi. Average prices range from ¥100 to ¥600 per plate. Expect to pay ¥1,000-2,500 per person.
Sushi Bars (寿司屋)Edit
Somewhat more pricey than Kaiten Zushi, but the sushi is usually higher quality. You can order sushi by the plate (usually two pieces per order) or buy a sampler set (盛り合わせ Mori-awase). Average prices range from ¥300 to ¥800 per plate. Expect to pay ¥2,000 + per person.
Yakiniku literally means "grilled meat." In addition to various cuts of beef, they usually have chicken, fish, vegetables available as well. And no night at yakiniku is complete without a nice cold 生ビール (draft beer). It can be a bit pricey. Expect to pay between ¥2,000 and ¥4,000 per person.
Okonomiyaki is often described as a Japanese pancake, but don't be fooled, it is nothing of the sort. What it is, in reality, is a surprisingly delicious patty made of cabbage, batter, and either seafood or pork, covered with sweet brown sauce (somewhat similar to A1 steak sauce), mayonnaise, fish flakes and ground up sea-weed. Trust me, it's good. Okonomiyaki is often cooked at your table on a small skillet inset into the table top. They also cook yakisoba, teppanyaki and takoyaki in this way and you can usually order these other choices anywhere they serve okonomiyaki. You can find okonomiyaki shops all over the place in Kansai.
Teppanyaki literally means “iron skillet grill”, and as you can guess, involves grilling various meats on an iron skillet. Like okonomiyaki, teppanyaki joints are quite prevalent in Kansai.
Takoyaki literally means "octopus grill." They are little round balls of dough filled with octopus, and are considered one of Osaka/Kansai's representative food. In addition to takoyaki restaurants, you can usually find takoyaki stands all over the place in the summer months, especially at festivals.
Family Restaurants (ファミリーレストラン)Edit
Large, sometimes giant restaurants with padded seats featuring predominantly steak and burger based menus. These restaurants are often open 24-hours.
- Gusto: Affordable, tasty food and an all you can drink soft drink & coffee bar
- Royal Host: A bit pricey but they have a good drink bar with soft drinks, coffee, espresso, etc. Try their delicious Italian course meal (イタリア定食 Itaria tei-shoku)
- Volks: Despite specializing in steaks, good for vegetarians due to its all-you-can-eat salad bar
- Bikkuri Donkey: Giant menu (size rather than selection) and interesting decor. Actually pretty delicious.
- Tomato & Onion: Common chain in Wakayama.
- Also watch out for Joyful, Big Boy and many others!
Izakaya are all over the place in various forms. They're a good place for drinks and a wide variety of traditional Japanese foods. There are traditional types (occasionally a little challenging in the menu-reading department) and several chains, all of which have pictorial menus.
Gyudon Shops (牛丼)Edit
A knowledge of eating chains means that you can find a basic place to eat almost anywhere you go. Dining on your own isn't against etiquette in Japan - provided that you do it in the right place. One of the best places for this is what you might call gyudon (meat over rice) shops. The cheap and filling beef bowl is the basic dish on their menu, however there are reasonably priced and delicious alternatives. There are three main chains:
- Yoshinoya (吉野家): Most famous of the genre; considered by Japanese to be the superior choice. However, it's marginally more expensive, and has a limited menu. Look for black writing on an orange sign (the name is usually in Japanese and English).
- Matsu-ya (松屋): Good for the beginner, as it uses a ticket machine rather than direct ordering (hint: first button is about eat-in or take-out). The menu is broader than Yoshinoya's, with bowls of salad for 100 yen. No English sign - look for blue writing on a yellow sign.
- Suki-ya (すき屋): Basic gyudon restaurant, very cheap. Pictorial menu ordering system makes it easy. Look for yellow writing on a red sign.
Dining options abound in Japan, and the efficiency of fast food shops holds particular appeal for on-the-go salarymen and the domestically un-inclined. McDonald's and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) are the favored Western imports, and Subway has begun making appearances in major cities (the one in Shirahama went out of business though - sad day for us all). In addition to Western fast food chains, there are 3 Asian fast food joints you may want to check out:
- Mos Burger: Apparently it means Mountain Ocean Sky burger (I kid you not), and as such it's a little pricier than elsewhere. However, the quality is good, and everything is served in cute little baskets, suggesting pretensions beyond a burger-chain. Vegetarians can order surprisingly tasty rice-burgers.
- Lotteria: A Korean food chain. Prices are inexpensive and there are some vegetarian meal choices.
- First-Kitchen: Highly-spoken of chain, with decor similar to Lotteria's. Shortened name fa-kin sometimes raises a smile.
- Mr. Donut: Popular chain found all over the place selling what you'd expect along with Chinese noodles and dumplings. The best part is that you get unlimited coffee refills (\250 for American coffee). To get your refill, say O-kawari Onegaishimasu or if all else fails just gesture at your cup.
- Doutor: A more up-market type of chain. The walls are beige and background music in understated and classical. Good sandwiches and reasonably priced coffee. The only branches in Wakayama-ken can be found in the city.
- Starbucks: A haven in Japan for the dedicated consumer of caffeinated liquids, poppyseed cake, and anybody that appreciates a real non-smoking section. There are 4 branches in Wakayama: 1) Wakayama Palm City , 2) Garden Park Wakayama , 3) Wakayama Medical University Hospital -near Kimiidera station 4) TSUTAYA WAKAYAMA TAKAMATSU.
The Japanese Vegetarian Society (JPVS) provides information on vegetarians in Japan and JPVS events, such as lectures and cooking classes. This site is a great resource for information links, recipes, and restaurants. It is in English and Japanese.