Photo: SoraNews24
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Is Japan’s custom of slurping noodles irritating, and why do people do it?

57 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Between the lifting of pandemic travel restrictions and the weakness of the yen against foreign currencies, Japan is seeing a huge influx of visitors from overseas these days. It’s great to see people from all over the world getting the opportunity to experience Japanese culture first-hand, but a recent TV interview showed that not every traveler enjoys every aspect of it.

Late last month, an episode of TV Asahi news program Super J Chanel included an interview with a French man who’d eaten at a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant in Japan, whose impressions of the dining experience included: “The sound of people slurping their noodles next to me was irritating.”

This had our Japanese-language staff here at SoraNews24 rethinking their eating habits. While none of them pledged to stop slurping their noodles, they wondered just how widespread this “slurping your noodles is gross” sentiment was in the international community, and whether it might be hampering foreign visitors’ ability to enjoy their time in Japan. So to get a clearer picture, we put the question to you, our readers, in a survey. We’ll get to the result later on in this article, but first, let’s look into the cultural background of Japanese noodle slurping.

For those who weren’t already aware, it’s the custom in Japan to audibly slurp soba. The same goes for udon and ramen, Japan’s other two domestic noodle varieties which also use much longer noodles than Western-style pasta dishes. Slurping is the standard eating method only for Japanese-style noodles, by the way. If you order a plate of spaghetti in a restaurant in Japan and start slurping that up, it’s considered poor table manners.

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Slurping might seem out of place for Japan, a country for which “quietly polite” is so often the gold standard for public conduct. There are at least three reasons why Japanese-style noodles get slurped, though. The one most commonly cited in cultural guidebooks is that slurping shows that the diner is enjoying the meal. Really, though, that’s more of a side effect than a deliberate attempt to convey your compliments to the chef. If anything, forcefully amplifying the sounds you make when eating is far more likely to have the restaurant staff asking “Are you OK?” than thinking “You’re welcome!”

The main reason people slurp their noodles is because it’s the easiest, safest, and arguably most delicious way to eat them. In Japan, Japanese-style noodles are always eaten with chopsticks. Unlike forks, chopsticks don’t have prongs, so you can’t easily twirl the noodles up into a circle for a denser, more compact bite. Trying to do so would bring the food up higher onto the sticks and require you to suck them off, but sucking or licking your chopsticks is a faux pas in Japanese etiquette.

Add in the fact that soba, ramen, and udon are most commonly served in a piping hot broth, and you’ve got another reason to slurp: mixing in some air with each mouthful helps cool the noodles down a bit and helps prevent you from scalding the inside of your mouth and searing your taste buds to the point where you can’t taste the delicious food. Speaking of taste, high-level Japanese noodle aficionados assert that when you slurp your noodles, some of the air you’re inhaling passes to your olfactory receptors, and since aroma can affect your sense of taste too, slurping enhances the flavor of the noodles and unlocks their full flavor potential.

Screenshot-2024-02-05-at-14.46.22.png

Put it all together, and slurping is so ubiquitous at noodle joints in Japan that most Japanese people think nothing of it, and even those who do usually see it in a positive light because it feels like something that should be part of the atmosphere, like the bubbling sound of a hot pot or the sizzle of a grill at a diner.

And yet, we can’t ignore the fact that for those from cultures where all food slurping is considered rude, there might feel irritated as their ears are assaulted with such sounds in a Japanese noodle restaurant. So we put the question to you, our good readers, in a survey on the SoraNews24 Facebook page, where we asked “Does the Japanese custom of audibly slurping soba and other noodles when eating them bother you?”, and you responded with 965 votes, and a pretty clear stance on the matter.

Does the Japanese custom of audibly slurping soba and other noodles when eating them bother you?

● Yes, it does: 11 percent of votes

● No, it doesn’t: 89 percent of votes

Now, we should point out that, as a survey of SoraNews24 readers, this doesn’t necessarily represent the international community as a whole. By nature of coming to a site that’s focused on Japanese culture and society, it’s safe to assume our survey’s participant pool is more attuned to Japanese behavioral norms, and probably more adventurous and culturally curious than average (we assume you all smell very nice too, but that’s unlikely to have had much effect on the survey results). Still, it’s put our Japanese-born coworkers hearts at ease to know that so many of you are so informed on and understanding of this aspect of Japanese culinary culture.

And just to clarify, we’re not trying to dunk on the French man in the TV interview for being bothered by the sounds of slurping, and to his credit, he wasn’t necessarily saying he thought people should stop, just that he didn’t like it. It’s good to know, though, that should the SoraNews24 staff find ourselves seated next to our readers while on a noodle run, we’ll probably be slurping side by side.

Photos ©SoraNews24

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japanese ad campaign shows how to stop babies crying – by slurping udon noodles

-- Nissin develops fork that covers up the sound of slurping noodles 【Video】

-- Japan’s hardest rice crackers, snacks of the shinobi, go soft, so do they have a reason to exist?

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

57 Comments
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To western eyes the slurping noises would definitely be irritating and bad manners, however different country -different manners.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

Isn't the Internet a wondrous thing? It wasn't too many years ago that someone could slurp up a steaming bowl of delicious miso soup in a small neighborhood noodle shop, without giving one thought to being judged by the never-blinking Internet presence. Now? We await our every move in public to be instantly polled, studied and critiqued.

What will it be next week? Four out of ten SMs think that Japanese families are holding their hashi (chopsticks) wrong while eating Udon in public. The horror!

2 ( +7 / -5 )

once you live here you get used to it. Not an issue.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Slurping is like saying “I am eating noodles” out loud without saying it.

For a culture so closed and private like Japan, why would you want to broadcast what you are eating?

-11 ( +3 / -14 )

But it's not even just Japan. Chinese do it too.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

"slurping" has a practical use. As you suck in the noodles into your mouth with air, the air cools the hot noodles. You mouth doesn't get burned.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Puts me off my appetite. I can barely stand to eat next to a slurper.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

In fact, beyond eating habits, if you spend much time around Chinese people you see that many things Japanese do are just the same.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Slurping noodles has a practical function as well. It cools the noodles a bit. I can't imagine, regardless, eating a nice big bowl of noodles without slurping them in. If one lives in Japan, the eating of noodles is part of the experience. I had a good teacher and can't eat them any other way. Does using chopsticks bother foreigners, too?

0 ( +5 / -5 )

As to whether certain customs are rude or not, from air-chopping for "let me by" to slurping or sucking teeth, they are all mostly done by older men and less so by young women and may even be considered gauche by younger women. Indeed, young women who do these things might be teased as resembling "ossan". What does that say?

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

That ramen pic is making me hungry though.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

an interview with a French man who’d eaten at a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant in Japan, whose impressions of the dining experience included: “The sound of people slurping their noodles next to me was irritating.”

Simple just don't go that restaurant and back to his home country, this is Japan. Don't tell Japanese how to eat their food.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Whether it is or it isn't, it's not up to foreigners to tell the Japanese how to eat noodles.

Personally, I think it's all for show. If it does indeed improve the flavour (and I haven't noticed that it has, although I'm not an aficionado so what do I know?), why not slurp karaage or tempura or whatever? Surely the same principal applies. And if it cools the noodles down, well, so does blowing on them, stirring them or waiting 2 minutes. These are questions that demand answers!

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Had a guy beside me slurping his Italian pasta like that.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It does not bother me, unless very loud. I don't do it myself.

How would you slurp tempura?

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

however different country -different manners.

However people from some country thinks that their manners is superior than others and also thinks that other countries should follow their standard.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I don't slurp noodles as it causes splashing and I don't want to dirty my jersey. Tea slurping can be annoying, as it seems to be continuous.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Many countries have different table manners. When in Rome.......

5 ( +8 / -3 )

How would you slurp tempura?

You don't slurp a tempura.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

sakurasuki

How would you slurp tempura?

You don't slurp a tempura.

Hawk

why not slurp karaage or tempura or whatever? Surely the same principal applies.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

You don't slurp a tempura.

That's what I though. But then thinking about it, if it is submerged in the だし it could go sloppy. It happens a lot with きつねうどん and so on.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Noodle splashing. Wear a napkin.

https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEiPwL4OAi_xIt91TfrsKSF5VJJOJ85CWor1Xj8z3YIi3KfvPVlCREbZK8HgHYGSrEduKFk79dufVSwKKm94YgEKdNL_SguxFWwOImk3JAxcc9egfkFYaZAjmiu5oLGjkFWNVDMlYgcDkPc/s1600/Henri+Brispot+Gourmand.jpg

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Yes, it’s irritating, annoying, disgustingbut my mom always told me to respect and accept other cultures—at the end of the day I choose not to be an ignorant a-hole. “Yes, that’s disgusting… but I hope you’re enjoying your noodles.”

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Noodle splashing. Wear a napkin.

Waste of paper. I usually use the table clothe.

I use the napkin to clean my glasses to remove the steam anyway.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

This came up again with Japanese friends a while back.

The common answer was it cools down the noodles sitting in hot stock.

I said then why do people continue slurping even if they are eating cold noodles - ざるそばそば?

Answer - was because....er..... it's a habit.

When questioned about why it bothers people esp "westerners", I said probably people were brought up to eat quietly with your mouth closed. Talk after swallowing. My grandfather used to say to us kids "You sound like pigs in a trough" - lol.

Personally I've become used to it and only annoyed when the slurping becomes sucking at jet engine decibels.

I agree with Moonraker's point that many women I know esp younger, think it's ダサい dasai, low class/manners and reminds them of old men.

But that doesn't stop my Lovely in-laws from slurping to their hearts content.

Even pasta gets a thorough sucking a la Dyson.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Slurping comes with the territory.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

To slurp, or not slurp, that is the question. Ear plugs anyone?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Slurping sucks. Pun intended. I've gotten used to it but I'll never think it's normal.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

How would you slurp tempura?

By eating it noisily with a sucking sound. As per the (American) definition of 'slurp.' And it's just an example. If sucking in air along with the food improves the flavour, why not suck air with all foods, not just noodles?

And, just between us, it's actually possible to suck in air along with your noodles without the accompanying slurpy noises.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Sucking in the air while eating is not good.

Aerophagia, or excessive swallowing of air, may cause bloating, belching, and discomfort.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

When I first heard the slurping I found it very queer. Don’t seem to hear so much of it these days, though I hardly ever eat that type of cuisine. Glad my partner doesn’t slurp that would be ruddy annoying.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Elvis is here

I don't slurp noodles as it causes splashing and I don't want to dirty my jersey. 

You mustn't be Japanese because they would never splash their spotless white shirts.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

You mustn't be Japanese because they would never splash their spotless white shirts.

Indeed. My Japanese is no waaay good enough. Speaking of sweeping generalisations; during the Edo Period, many people ate noodles at outdoor stalls. Historically, the noodles were eaten as quickly as possible, and then they would drink the soup, resulting in loud slurping.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

While it may bother me personally, I acknowledge and respect cultural differences as they are. In my observations, I've noticed that Chinese, Japanese, and especially Vietnamese individuals tend to produce more sounds while eating, each in their unique manner.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Slurp Nation.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I watch many (to many) K.dramas and Japanese serials on NtX and the worst thing about them is the almost constant drinking and noodle eating on them. In fact if one removed all the eating and drinking sequences on a 50 minute show, it would only last for about 15 minutes, but I digress, The very worst is watching the noodle slurping, it is so gross. I eat noodles almost every other day, (I am a European by the way), because I love them and can have different flavour ones, but I never slurp, OK I use a fork and a spoon, but I have seen Japanese and Koreans do the same as me. Having said this, if I was in any Asian country I would just accept the normal.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

during the Edo Period, many people ate noodles at outdoor stalls. Historically, the noodles were eaten as quickly as possible, and then they would drink the soup, resulting in loud slurping.

A quote from Tokyo Treat

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's their country so it's fine to do it here, but they should avoid it when traveling overseas.

I also believe when slurping you also get in some of the broth. In the states, as kids, we'd blow on the noodles to cool em off, but then they lose lots of the broth flavor.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

sucking in the air while eating is not good.

What? How is it not good? As you suck the noodles in, make sure you are drawing lots of air so that not only does some of the broth come up with the noodles, but the air also has a cooling effect on the very hot noodles.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

I watch many (to many) K.dramas and Japanese serials on NtX and the worst thing about them is the almost constant drinking and noodle eating on them. In fact if one removed all the eating and drinking sequences on a 50 minute show

We must watch different programs, as I see some adult dramas on cable around 10 pm almost every night there is a different kind of ahem "slurping" the sound of which does not bother me.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not something I do so much myself, despite perhaps being culturally inclined to. However, just blowing on boiling hot noodles isn’t anywhere near enough for me to be able to chug them down the moment they’re served (like I’ve seen people doing here no problem). Maybe I should try slurping more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has anyone said already that by slurping, the appropriate amount of noodle and soup comes into the mouse at the same time. Without slurping, not enough soup comes in. The difference is not much, but that makes a big difference. It's a necessity to appreciate noodle dish/bowl.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Onlooker - many may well believe that - me too to an extent.

But it's more the Volume of Noise than the actual slurping action that bothers some people.

The overly - exaggerated water pump sounds. Do louder sounds make the noodles more delicious.

I can slurp, as many others can, with a level of decorum regarding the sound.

Serious but Soft Sucking can result in Softer Sounds, without missing out on all the "said" benefits.

And I reiterate - does pasta taste better being loudly slurped? A number of people must think so.

I've even encountered a guy slurping loudly his fried eggs in the hotel for breakfast. Like I mean really sucking them up. He was my wife's friends husband - nice guy. He must believe it fits into the "deliciousness model" mentioned by many above.

As I noted earlier, I think it's more out of habit than anything deep.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't like the sound of slurping, but it's not that big of a deal.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have found that there is a big difference in the taste when you slurp or don't slurp your noodles. The noodles, to me, taste much better when you slur!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

as someone noted earlier, its not that irritating if done with some discretion.

Some Japanese men, though, slurp with such force that its pretty disgusting for anyone to have to listen to.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

The noodles, to me, taste much better when you slur!

Drunkenly or insultingly?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

They slurp only in Asia. in other countries this is not acceptable and not beautiful. In Germany, passing gas from your ass at the table is normal.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I don’t mind the slurping of noodles at all as it’s the custom here. However there’s a certain subset of people that slurp EVERYTHING which is irritating. They will be eating a bowl of rice or anything for that matter and loudly suck each bite into their mouth no matter the food.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@nik

Good that you wrote in Germany and not among Germans. There's clearly a difference nowadays or let's say especially since 2015. In the latter case you would be wrong. German natives don't do such a thing at the table.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Slurping is ok while eating but burping and passing gas after eating is a no no

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Chopsticks are the best tools to shovel delicious ramen, soba and udon into the mouth. Japanese slurp cold noodles so there goes two of the proposed theories.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

burping and passing gas after eating is a no no

Holding those in isn't very good for you either. Just excuse yourself to somewhere private if you're in company that you aren't comfortable farting in front of.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If one lives in Japan, the eating of noodles is part of the experience. I had a good teacher and can't eat them any other way.

You had to be taught how to eat noodles? As an adult?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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