Japanese Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Mealtime

japanese etiquette

There are a few important things you should know when you sit down to a Japanese meal. So whether you’re visiting Japan or joining some Japanese friends for dinner, learn some basic Japanese etiquette with language tutor Emily G

Japan’s culture is very different from American culture, but perhaps the biggest surprise is how the differences touch even the most mundane parts of our daily lives. Meals in Japan, for example, can be very different from the typical American eating experience.

If you plan to visit Japan, you may want to be aware of some of these differences. Here are some  basic Japanese etiquette rules to keep in mind during meal times.

1. What to Say

There are a few Japanese phrases you need to know in order to be polite during a meal. If you watch a lot of Japanese TV programs, you may already be familiar with some of these phrases.

Itadakimasu

Itadakimasu is a very polite way to say that you’re about to eat.

You can say this at the beginning of a meal.

Gochisousama deshita

Use this expression at the end of a meal to show your appreciation for the food.

The phrase comes from the word meaning to treat someone to something, like a meal, so you’re basically saying, “thank you for treating me to this meal.”

The more vocabulary you know, the more comfortable you will feel. Learn basic Japanese mealtime vocabulary here.

2. What to Do

Japanese people are very serious about cleanliness, so be sure to wash your hands before you eat.

If you’re using chopsticks, make sure to rest them on the chopstick rest, if one is provided, when they are not in use.

If there is no chopstick rest, place them on a tray or in a wrapper, this keeps the table and your chopsticks clean.

If you’re a student and you’re using disposable chopsticks, take a look at them after you break them apart. Some Japanese say that if your chopsticks break apart evenly, you’re sure to graduate!

3. What NOT to Do

Do not use your chopsticks for anything besides eating food from your plate or bowl.

Don’t use your chopsticks to gesture or point. Sometimes, we’re tempted to place food from the serving dishes onto our plates using our chopsticks, but you shouldn’t do this either.

A separate set of serving chopsticks should be provided. Again, this is a cleanliness issue. Japanese people are careful not to put anything they’ve used, such as their chopsticks, on other people’s food.

You should also be careful not to stand your chopsticks up in your food or place them on top of your plate or bowl. If you stab your chopsticks into your food or balance them on top of your plate, you may accidentally flip them!

Sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice looks like a common funeral ritual, and is considered bad luck.

Lastly, when you’re a guest, don’t insist on helping with anything. You can offer, but if your host refuses, do not insist. Japanese people believe in social debts and can feel insulted if someone insists on doing their job for them.

You can help the host by placing your dishes in their original position (where they were at the start of the meal), this means you’re done and makes clean up easier.

Just do your best to be polite and thank your host for the food; he or she will feel very appreciated.

Japanese meal

SEE ALSO: The World’s Weirdest Food and Drink Superstitions

Japanese people are very kind, and they generally understand that visitors may not know all of their customs. Just do your best to be polite and cleanly, and make sure you know how to say onegaishimasu お願いします(please), arigato ありがとう (thank you), and sumimasen すみません (pardon me).

Keep these Japanese etiquette rules in mind and you should have no problem getting through your Japanese meal! 

Learn more Japanese vocabulary and etiquette, sign up for lessons with a Japanese tutor!

Post Author: Emily G.
Emily G

Emily G. teaches Japanese, Latin, and Greek in Montgomery, TX. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a Master’s in Ancient History. Emily has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Emily here!

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