food

Why appetizers are giving tourists and restaurant owners in Japan a headache

19 Comments
By Shannon McNaught, RocketNews24

If you’ve been to a bar or a restaurant in Japan, you may have noticed that: 1. You were served a small but delicious dish at the beginning of your meal; 2. Your bill at the end was a bit higher than you figured it would be; and 3. That extra yen coming out of your pocket was marked with the mysterious characters お通し ("otoshi") on your receipt.

"Otoshi" is, in simple terms, an extra fee that takes physical form in a tasty dish served at the beginning of your meal. Think of it as a delicious table fee. The problem with this fee is that you’re typically not warned about it beforehand. It’s not written anywhere on the menu or anywhere in the restaurant, really.

So, what exactly is the purpose of "otoshi?" It’s actually meant to tide you over between the time you put in your first order until your order arrives. And, no, you typically can’t refuse it. At the end of your meal, this stomach-filler is added onto your bill and typically comes out to a few hundred yen. For instance, even when super sweet all-you-can-eat deals like in this restaurant are advertised, there’s probably an "otoshi" fee tacked on.

it’s not surprising that this has become an increasing problem with tourists visiting Japan. It’s particularly headache-inducing in Okinawa, where non-Japanese speaking visitors abound. The Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB), an organization that offers bilingual support in these situations, has been called in more times than they can count by visitors and restaurant owners alike. The visitors are taken aback by the hidden fees, while the restaurant owners are struggling to overcome the language barrier and explain the concept of the fee. That’s why there’s been a call to encourage more restaurant owners to provide English explanations of "otoshi," since many restaurants are lacking in them.

So, if you ever find yourself in Japan and you’re served a dish right off the bat that you didn’t order, prepare yourself for a little extra "otoshi" fee tacked onto your bill. It’s served with good intentions, and good flavours. Don’t dread it; look forward to it! It’s all part of the authentic Japanese restaurant experience.

Sources: Ryukyu Shimpo, Japaaan

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- The “doya-gao” phenomenon and where you’re most likely to see it -- There’s a restaurant in China where all the food is prepared and served by robots -- You’re under arrest! Mongolian beauty serves and protects【Photos】

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19 Comments
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All they need to do is to explain to people that this is a Japanese custom.

There is no tipping in Japan.

It's like a tip except that you get something for your money.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Not even that needs to be done Bertie. Instead, simply amend the prices on the English/non-Japanese menu to reflect the true price. Surely the OCVB has considered this.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

no, you typically can’t refuse it.

Actually you can. I used to have a friend who always refused it, and always checked the bill afterwards to ensure that he wasn't charged for it.

In the end it was way too much of a hassle for me though - it's something they just don't due here (refuse it), so it always caused a problem, and having to argue over it at the register was a pain in the butt.

For people living here, they should be planning out this cost, and for people visiting, they should accept that sometimes things are going to cost more than expected, same as in any country.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Strangerland: for people visiting, they should accept that sometimes things are going to cost more than expected, same as in any country.

"More than I expected to pay" is different than "mandatory hidden cost." Even though I'm used to it now, otoshi never stops feeling sneaky and dishonest to me. Just put a notice on the table or menu - it's not that hard.

restaurant owners are struggling to overcome the language barrier and explain the concept of the fee It doesn't need to be conceptualized. Just transparent and upfront.

You were served a small but delicious dish... a tasty dish served at the beginning... It’s served with good flavours... Don’t dread it; look forward to it!

I'm noticing an agenda here.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I wonder if the people who complain about this 200 yen "surcharge" ever take up being overcharged by the airline they use to get here.

otoshi never stops feeling sneaky and dishonest to me

uh huh?

I'm noticing an agenda here.

That's interesting. So am I, but not the same one as you.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

lived in japan over 15 years and never recall any problem with the bill except at a few bars where I lost count of where I was, who I was, and why I was there.

In Korea, I recall trying to pay for a yakiniku meal which should have been 50 bucks and getting no change on a hundred. Mexico is sketchy as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The only time the otoshi has irked me is when I went somewhere for lunch in Izu with my Japanese wife and kids, the place was very busy with Japanese customers coming and going, I was the only foreigner in there and we were the only people to be given otoshi, without being asked. It wasn't about the extra money on the bill but the same rule should apply for all or not at all and I told them so.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think it's mainly bars that have these charges; I can't recall going to a restaurant that has one. You can choose a "no charge" place if you just want to get boozed up and go to a normal restaurant for meals.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Even though I'm used to it now, otoshi never stops feeling sneaky and dishonest to me. Just put a notice on the table or menu - it's not that hard.

Japan is a high-context society. Everyone already knows the otoshi is there. It doesn't need to be explicitly spelled out the way things need to be in lower-context societies.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Strangerland, what you said completely true. However, the practice of mandatory otoshi isn't universal. If every restaurant had one, we'd be more in agreement. The fact that this restaurant does, but that one doesn't, makes it hard to do as Scrote suggested and to choose one rather than the other if you're so inclined.

sourpuss: I wonder if the people who complain about this 200 yen "surcharge" ever take up being overcharged by the airline they use to get here.

Airlines give you the full price before you decide whether or not to purchase their tickets. If there was a smiling JAL representative standing at the Narita Airport arrivals gate demanding a surprise 30,000 yen from each passenger as they got off the plane, your point would make sense.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Dirk T, that would be worse. Would need to then explain why the English language menu is more expensive, which may come across as discrimination.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You were served a small but delicious dish at the beginning of your meal;

Hahahaha right.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Strangerland

Japan is a high-context society. Everyone already knows the otoshi is there. It doesn't need to be explicitly spelled out the way things need to be in lower-context societies.

No, not everyone does know. The article specifically mentions the tourist which for obvious reasons, 'does not know' For tourists,being from a 'lower context society' then there should be an explanation.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Everyone already knows the otoshi is there

No, not everyone does know. The article specifically mentions the tourist

Tourists are not part of the society. They are external.

For tourists,being from a 'lower context society' then there should be an explanation.....

Maybe if the restaurant is catering to tourists specifically.

But when it comes down to it, it's how things work here, and it's only a few hundred yen per person. No biggie even if someone doesn't know about it.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Never been to a place where they served this.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Two things I never ate back home but now a must for any BBQ, eggplant and squash, both inspired by otoshi.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My feelings on the otoshi vary greatly depending on how tasty (or not) I find the particular selection that night.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am not a fan of otoshi but I understand it works as a kind of cover charge. It ensures that even if a patron isn't drinking, they will have to pay for using the space. It makes sense in busy pubs where a non-drinking cutomer is taking the place of a potenially high paying customer. I think a simple solution would be to put a small message on English menus that states that the OO yen table charge includes a free small snack. Of course, this wouldn't work everywhere but if there are some areas constantly having to deal with the issue, this is a simple fix.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think a simple solution would be to put a small message on English menus that states that the OO yen table charge includes a free small snack. Of course, this wouldn't work everywhere but if there are some areas constantly having to deal with the issue, this is a simple fix.

Excellent idea! Cover charge is something people in the west understands and it will create less confusion. If someone can provide that suggestion to the OCVB, I'm sure that it would help them out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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