food

10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food

63 Comments
By Michelle Lynn Dinh

Japanese food, called "washoku" in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.

1) Never use your hand to catch falling food

Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Using tezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.

2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half

In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.

3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce

This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.

4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl

Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.

5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl

When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.

7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice

Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”

8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl

You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.

9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate

Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, "jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu" (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.

10) Never raise your food above your mouth

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, "itadakimasu" before eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.

Bonus

Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.

Some of these etiquette rules are unknown to many people in Japan, so don’t feel bad if you’ve accidentally committed any of the following Japanese-food-eating sins. But do keep them in mind; maybe you’ll impress your friends with your knowledge of the proper way to eat in Japan.

Source: Naver Matome

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- It’s Never Too Late to Change Bad Chopsticks Holding Habits -- Chopsticks: why every gamer should know how to use them -- Which is Considered Worse, Holding Your Chopsticks the Wrong Way, or Eating Noisily?

© RocketNews24

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63 Comments
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I wouldn't worry, obviously Japanese commonly violate all of these. Maybe it's important if you're dining with the Emperor.

21 ( +23 / -2 )

Pretty dull, pedantic trivia for pedants. Just don't eat like a pig, simple. My boss has come back from Yoshinoya with grains of rice stuck to his hair and eyebrows. That's when people should make a point of manners.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, “itadakimasu” before eating.

Many Huns and Vikings, maybe.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Little known because no one would care about any of these

12 ( +17 / -5 )

It is a little known fact that traditionally, Edo-mae style, "nigite" sushi is eaten strictly by hand, and for that reason in only the finest such sushi restaurants will you find there are no chopsticks at all.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Until every single Japanese person eating around me follows these inane rules, I don't believe I will either. We aren't living in the Heian period anymore. How about some new etiquette rules like: chew with your mouth closed? I think that is far more relevant today than chopstick hesitation. I can handle an ossan being unsure of what to eat, but the noises some of them make while eating are truly offensive.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Most guys shovel their food into their mouths so fast and so noisily that there is scarcely time to recognise etiquette. Mentioning any of these little known rules in Japanese company will serve only to increase my 'hen na gaijin'-ness.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

"My boss has come back from Yoshinoya with grains of rice stuck to his hair and eyebrows."

11) It is considered impolite to eat food you discover glued to your face after a meal.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

wasabi in soy sauce is awesome and you can't stop me! Besides I learned that behaviour in Japan

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This is why I dislike eating out.

5 ( +10 / -4 )

Some of these things I can understand, but many of them just seem arbitrary.

What's the point?

The purpose is to transfer food from the table to your mouth.

As long as that's done efficiently - without smearing it over other guests or dropping bits here and there, what does it matter?

5 ( +10 / -5 )

I just read this and realized I am a gigantic slob when it comes to any of these rules. How embarrassing..

5 ( +5 / -0 )

And here is one for Japanese people overseas; don't slurp your noodles. It is a disgusting practice.

5 ( +11 / -6 )

Plus: Avoid eating with your mouth closed. Never eat silently. Always start talking after putting food in gob. Never chew before swallowing. Spit everywhere. Smoke between courses, at the table, blowing smoke in people's faces. Never say please or thank you in a restaurant, or look waiters in the eye. Or leave a tip. ... etc etc.

I'm bringing up my kids to follow all these excellent civilized manners. (Irony alert. Duh)

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I'd be interested in the source for this information. Number 3, about wasabi, and Number 9, about using the opposite end of the chopsticks for communal dishes, is exactly the opposite of advice given in other places.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

As long as that's done efficiently - without smearing it over other guests or dropping bits here and there, what does it matter?

It doesn't matter. It only matters if you are moving in circles where etiquette is highly refined, not among working-class people who do almost all of the things listed (and worse--depending which culture you're judging from).

One of my J-friends was incredibly helpful when I asked what I need to do after one of my accidental faux pas. When he had told me what I needed to do, he added this: Let me give you some good advice. Don't have such rich friends.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

One of my J-friends was incredibly helpful when I asked what I need to do after one of my accidental faux pas. When he had told me what I needed to do, he added this: Let me give you some good advice. Don't have such rich friends.

Some problems have a way of taking care of themselves.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@StewartJG adn @ CGB Spender

Right there with you... so annoying when people slurp spaghetti like ramen or they just talk with their mouths full. Nasty... But putting your hand below your chopsticks in case of a drop is a no-no... meh.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think I've been here too long! Funny article but interesting! NONE of the above apply in Okinawa!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have broken and oft break some of these 'rules', but all of that rule-breaking was taught to me by Japanese people at their homes or in restaurants. As one poster hinted at, until you're dining with the emperor this list can be largely ignored.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

So Japanese food manners and Western foof manners are diff. That's fine with me but, It bothers me when they are mixed. Slurping spaghetti or chcken noodle soup, picking up a plate of curry rice or fried rice and shoveling it in... Another thing sort of irks me is the way people load their plates at tabehodai (all you can eat/buffet style) places. They don't seem to realized that there really is no reason to get everything you want to eat that night onto one tray.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

... no. This is up there with "Japanese toothpaste has no flouride". Manners change, cultures change. These may have been bad manners 50 years ago, but right now they're fine. Of course there's the old Japanese gender gap, so guys can get away with some things that girls can't.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

"Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce"

I routinely ignore that rule.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

1, people often do

2, 3, 6, 8, 9 people always do

4, 5, 10 never seen anyone do

7 part one, fair enough. people observe that. 7 part two, people never observe

bonus, fair enough. people observe those

2 ( +3 / -1 )

But do keep them in mind; maybe you’ll impress your friends with your knowledge of the proper way to eat in Japan.

Hmm... if they're "little-known", then the odds of you actually impressing someone seems remote. More likely, you'll just come across as a "know-it-all" regarding things that have little relevance.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hmm, I think I'll just stick to eating alone, as always. I'm uncomfortable with people watching me eat, so I avoid eating in public. Unless I'm going to pass out otherwise, or if I was unable to get out of going to a restaurant.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Paulinusa....u made me laugh!!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

Oh my, I've always done that. It's the only way to eat the tiny asari from the asari miso soup. It think this is not so impolite than the "polite" people throwing them away uneaten.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

BTW, Japanese can't use a fork correctly. It should be face up, without the tips ever touching the plate or table. It's also balanced that way so it DOESN'T fall off a plate when lifted. Saw a table placesetting for a wedding and laughed at ALL the forks upside down.

I want to stop the guy who is going around and telling people the opposite of how things are used. Please help stop him

1 ( +5 / -4 )

it's hard to take eating etiquette seriously if people can't even use a fork correctly, and refuse to change when pointed out the error. This ends up being hypocritical.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I'm sorry, but all this talk about etiquette is rubbish ... in general Japanese table manners are atrocious. All that slurping, smacking your lips, eating with your mouth full and talking whilst eating.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I find these rules quite cool. Although I cannot say I broke many of them lol, I guess when I am in Japan I will make sure to remember these.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The origin of "itadakimasu" was lifting one's rice bowl above one's head as a display of humility. One common practice I don't like in Japan is children and fathers demanding "okawari" whenever they want Okaasan to fetch them more rice.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As a list of trivia, it's interesting, but as I and others have already stated, not many people abide, or need to, by them. As for the 'no biting' rule but trying to put a whole piece of sushi or other food in your mouth in one shot, it's just not practical in many cases. I mean, look at all the old people who choke on mochi around new years because it's not cut up into smaller pieces.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

PULEEZE - from the slurping of spaghetti, to the vacuum like sounds of inhaling the rice all the way to the sucking of the teeth afterwards. i never do these things. oh, that`s right, i am not japanese.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Talking when mouth is filed with rice or other food would probably make rule number 11.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Clearly 90% of Japanese oyaji never got the memo on this because I see them doing all of the above all the time.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I'd only been in country for 3 years, and I don't eat Japanese food 90% of the time. My father-in-law commented when we first ate together 7 years ago that "he has better manners than my son", guess what, I put the chopsticks on top of the bowl. This is BS.

# 11

Don't eat it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

with grains of rice stuck to his hair and eyebrows.

Eh!?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Meh, thought there was actually going to be some useful info here. Nobody actually follows these "etiquette rules"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Crap! I haved lived in Japan for 3 years and now visiting for 2 months. All this time I must have looked like a fool! So this is why my friends stop letting me eat breakfast together with them. Could have used this article yeara ago JT.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If these are "little known rules" are they really rules? Or are they rules for some kind of limited minority?

For real clarity regarding the rules for eating at a sushi restaurant there is this old chestnut: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAJeUONc3b0

Is this article any less satiric than the video?

Philly 1 included the best advice in his comment about avoiding such rich friends. If I were eating at an elite, top-notch eating establishment or if I were attending a super high-class private meal those 10 rules above kind of make sense. But there is no chance of that ever happening so I will ignore these rules as I choose. Speaking of such high-caliber banquets and such I wonder if pres. George H.W. Bush was cognizant of the little-known rule admonishing against puking under the table at state dinners.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm quite certain all of these "rules" were violated at my 忘年会 last night. And at lunch, breakfast too, now that I think of it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japanese food ? ...but I was always told that "Tempura" is Portuguese...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Mentioning any of these little known rules in Japanese company will serve only to increase my 'hen na gaijin'-ness.

I totally agree. Abiding by these so-called rules will only make you look strange and robotic.

I have a Japanese friend who could've invented the term "gaijin complex," so determined is she to out-gaijin the foreigners in the table manners' stakes. Dining out with her in French restaurants is an extremely uncomfortable experience, because she insists on doing everything so formulaically and precisely that it's hard not to burst out in laughter. I've never seen a foreign woman dab delicately at her mouth with the corner of her napkin between courses. Heck, sometimes I'm tempted to tie the darn thing around my neck.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

****absurd rules never communicated to me by my Japanese mentors in 40 years of following Japanese culture and martial arts etiquite studying Aikido and Judo

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Don't mix your rice into your miso soup.

I had actually learned of this bad manner from a book called "inspector Imanisi Investigates" by Seicho Matsumoto. One of the detectives did this when he went home for lunch. He had always did this because it tasted really good.

So the next time out to lunch with my wife I did this for two reasons.

The book made me curious. I couldn't finish the rice by itself since it was getting too dry.

Result? It tasted really good, but I found out that's it really rude and considered muck that is usually fed to stray cats. I got an ear full , but I still do it when nobody's around, it's a really good way to eat lots of leftover rice. Just don't get caught doing it!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about some real "manners"...

NO SLUPRING. That goes for soups, noodles, any drink or even solids (eg. sandwiches). It doesn't "improve the flavour" - it's just bad manners and straight-out lazy. Chewing with the mouth CLOSED. Do not engage in conversation with a mouth full of food. No sucking / strange noises from the mouth (you know who you are). No burping / flatulence (again, you know who you are).
0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese food ? ...but I was always told that "Tempura" is Portuguese...

It is actually possible for food to travel beyond its point of origin. Tempura has been eaten in Japan with no Portuguese input at all for several hundred years, and in the versions served in Japan can now be considered Japanese food, especially as no one really attempts to hide its historical origin.

This commonly happens with other dishes: pizza can be American, chips can be English. Neither originated in those countries. There is no need for "pure" Japanese food and the ingredients used in it to be frozen in some (usually phony) vision of the past. Like most cuisines, it has been influenced from outside.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rule #1 should be, "NO SMOKING INDOORS". Thanks to "sushilover" for picking up on that.

After that, all the rules are actually a very pretty way to eat. Don't know why so many Comments are reflexively offended by these rules. I quite like them.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Frungy: It's not so much as a "gender gap"; that makes it sound sexist...it's hard to explain clearly in English...it's like how girls shouldn't sit with their legs so wide open, or shouldn't pass gas around others, or burp loudly. Things like that. It's to stay cute and things like that. It's kind of hard to explain. It's not meant as a double standard like maybe some people will see it(if you see it that way I respect why you feel that way, but I promise it's not like that). As for the rules: I have personally done things with Japanese family and friends like take big wide bites out of food and stuff, and no one was repulsed, so it's okay. You can eat relaxed. <3

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's nice to know that you should never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bow. You talk about how this is a breach of etiquette, so it's important that you don't do this! There are little things that you wouldn't think about because it's not a practice dominate in your culture, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still respect it. The next time I go to a Japanese restaurant, I'll make sure to use the proper etiquette. http://www.tanpopojapaneserestaurant.com

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm visiting Japan next month, so this was article was really appreciated haha. I am so clumsy, I wouldn't hesitate to try and catch food.. I certainly won't be doing that now! I've v<>isited my local Japanese restaurant Rofuto so many times and can confirm I'm guilty of breaking all the rules, my bad!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What I can't stand is the chopsticks go into your mouth and then you go into a communal plate with said chopsticks. That's as gross as sticking your fork into the communal dish of green beans. Absolutely grosses me out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not all of these are true, at least not anymore, you should keep up with the times japantoday.com; because you are not representing your name at all. There are literally studies and research papers which designate current cultural norms and accept abilities and such and most these are no longer relevant, nor have then been for decades or centuries even. Very few of these hold any relevance to modern Japanese culture. Although a few of these are actually more like someone just not using their brain, such as using the opposite end of the chopstick; disgusting, are people really that brain dead?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Rools shmools. Just eat yer food, will yer!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Food is food. Japanese food is also food. I eat it any way I feel like.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

My father-in-law commented when we first ate together 7 years ago that "he has better manners than my son", guess what, I put the chopsticks on top of the bowl.

That's no surprise. A great deal of "education" and training in Japan is done through embarrassing and shaming others over hundreds of such rules. It's the culture. Make a reasonably nice calligraphy and the teacher will red over top of it to show you how wrong it is. No child will be taking that home with a "look what I did" smile. Do something as little as putting your chopsticks on the bowl and a reprimand arrives.

In a culture more sensitive to the feelings of others, the father-in-law would have taken his daughter aside and asked her whether she should bring her husband up to speed on social niceties (picky as they may be). For the sake of future grandchildren, at least. But some people need to consider themselves superior to others on account of how conventions are observed--their own families included.

Hmm... if they're "little-known", then the odds of you actually impressing someone seems remote. More likely, you'll just come across as a "know-it-all" regarding things that have little relevance.

Exactly. Especially if they are inaka. Plus, outside of circles of peers, there is very little reward for knowledgeable people in any culture. (Even then there are petty jealousies and political machinations.) But in a culture where you must negate your skills by insisting that you are not skilled, it's pointless to bother.

Know what you know and observe it, but don't flaunt it. Quietly go about your business and mind your own manners--and theirs (at least the ones you know).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I don't know, I think Japanese sushi is smaller than the ones I find here??? I cannot eat a whole sushi piece without biting down/chopping it in half, unless it is small maki sushi. It is very embarrassing, and therefore I have to eat sushi alone at home. Whenever I'm unlucky enough to eat sushi at the restaurant, there is always some Japanese guy staring at me (I don't know if it is disgust or actually admiration) while I'm trying to chomp down on the sushi..making me a slob at using chopsticks and frequently nearly chocking on my sushi. Of course my friends just enjoy seeing me turn bright red and ending up not eating at all.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Just a heads up for all those arguing about rules and which of them to follow and which not.

Why should any of you actually care? As long as you do not intrude upon your fellow eaters, as has been pointed out already, it's nobody's damned business what kind of table "manners" you have. You go out to have fun and some good food - so enjoy the food and have a good time! Otherwise you become slave to Japanese convention and you perpetuate everything that's wrong with the nation. These "table manners" above don't make or break a relationship or a good night out. So simply ignore them. And if they do.. well that is not your loss!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Don't smack like a pig while eating your food! (Something I observe far too often in Japan).
-2 ( +4 / -6 )

rules are there to be broken!

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

12) Don't vomit if some of the culinary delights that you have just managed to transfer to your mouth make you feel queazy...

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

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