Being brought up in Western societies, many of us might have been strictly taught the importance of one’s manners when eating. If you are from Europe too, then you have probably been taught that making noises while eating, or talking with your mouth full, are not only disgraceful, but also disrespectful towards the people who are dining together with you. Very different when considering that it is a cultural norm to slurp ramen noodles.
And while using forks and knives, having to follow all of the written and unwritten rules just to have dinner might seen extremely tedious, I assure you, chopsticks do not make the whole ordeal any simpler. The undeniable truth is that the number of the tools you use decreases dramatically, but the number of the rules to follow increases when you add the cultural aspect. In this article we will try to discuss and tackle some of the most important rules to be followed while dining in Japanese circles.
Especially when on a date, the first thing that will leave an impression on your partner will be your table manners. I am convinced that nobody, no matter their race, nationality or gender would like somebody who speaks and laughs while their mouth is full of food, and spitting it all around as a result. Thus, to avoid such mishaps in case of a date with a Japanese person, let’s discuss in more detail what the prefered table manners in Japan are.
Advice No.1: Good Posture
It is important to sit straight, holding your back and neck up, and keeping this posture throughout your dinner. Sitting with your back rounded, and eating in this manner is considered to be aesthetically displeasing. One should carry the food to their mouth without changing their posture.
Advice No.2: Chopsticks
Chopsticks should be held and used correctly. Otherwise the whole experience might look clumsy and awkward. Here is also a list of things which one should not do when using chopsticks.
- Do not lick off the things which are stuck to the chopsticks
- Do not pass food to someone else’s chopsticks (this is reminiscent of the ritual which takes place after a funeral).
- Do not stick the chopsticks in the food and eat it that way
- Do not hover over the food with the chopsticks, when unable to to decide what to eat.
- Do not point at people with chopsticks.
- Do not leave the chopsticks sticking vertically in a dish of rice, since this too, is reminiscent of offering food to the dead.
- Do not take food with your used chopsticks from the mutual plates: either use the specifically prepared chopsticks, or pick up the food with the back side of your chopsticks.
Advice No.3: Plates
While eating in Japanese style, we should keep in mind, that there are plates which one can pick up and hold in their hands, and at the same time there are other types of plates which shouldn’t be handled in a similar manner. To keep matters simple, it is enough to remember that you can pick up and hold plates which contain, rice, or any type of soup (misoshiru, tonjiru). Do not hold up plates that are bigger than your palm, which are for tempura or fish dishes.
Good table manners do not allow piling up empty dishes. By doing so the dishes can be scratched or even broken.
If the plates that have been served to you have lids, take them off and put them nearby upside down. When finished eating, make sure to return the lid to its original location. It is usually a nice gesture to return your plates to their original positions when finished eating.
Advice No.4: Leftover Food
Japanese people are very respectful towards the food they eat. This is exactly why they will eat all of the food they have in front of them, even if as a result they might end up vomiting. This is especially true, if somebody else, for example a senpai, is treating you. Leaving leftovers in your plates is simply disrespectful towards the person who is paying for your food. While this is a very good tradition and food should definitely be cherished, it might also put some pressure on you. So it might be a good idea to not order more than you can actually eat.
Oftentimes, when on dates, the girls might order too much and then ask their date to eat what they couldn’t finish. While the guys will eat the leftovers without complaining, they will probably be displeased with this kind of outcome.
Advice No.5: Eating with your Mouth Open
This might be quite obvious, but I think it’s an important detail that has to be mentioned. Seeing the insides of somebody else’s mouth while dining, is not exactly the most pleasing scenery. Sadly, it is very common in too many young men and women these days. If you do have to say something no matter what, or even laugh while food is still inside of your mouth, make sure to cover your mouth with your hand.
Advice No.6: When in a Restaurant
If you go to restaurants or cafes in Japan, you will usually be shown to where to take a seat. As soon as you take your seat, you will be served iced water or tea for free, sometimes even both. Together with your drink you will also be given an oshibori, a type of wet towel to clean your hands before you start eating.
When drinking, usually one doesn’t pour their own drink. Pouring the drink for your friends or colleagues shows good manners and respect towards them!
Also, keep in mind that some Japanese style restaurants, which have tatami floors, might ask you to take your shoes off before entering.
In conclusion, it doesn’t really matter if you are in Japan or in any given Western country. Good manners at the table will always help your image and the first impressions you make. By following the accepted norms we will not only appear more civilized, but will have shown our respect towards the people who are sharing the table with us. Bon appetit!