Japan - Food for thought
Eating out in Japan is not just about refuelling, it’s an experience to be relished. And if you head to your chosen restaurant armed with a little know how about Japanese etiquette, you’ll enjoy it all the more.
On entering a restaurant you’ll be asked where you would like to sit. Be sure to choose wisely, as smoking is still permitted in many restaurants in Japan in separate areas known as Kitsuen. Non-smokers will not want to end up in the wrong section, or smokers for that matter!
Often there is a choice of table style – table and chairs are common but there’s also the chance to sit on cushions around a low table for a truly authentic dining experience. If you go traditional you’ll also have to leave your shoes at the entrance, as wearing them is seen as a sign of disrespect.
Avoid stepping on cushions other than your own, and be sure to sit the right way. In a casual setting men usually sit cross-legged and women sit with both legs to one side. Both genders may kneel, but this can quickly become uncomfortable.
Stick it out!
If you want to eat just like the locals, always go for chopsticks. They should be held towards their top end and it’s customary to hold small bowls of food close to your mouth. However, learning how to hold your chopsticks is the least of your worries as there are loads of rules to follow if you don’t want to appear rude! Do not stick them upright in your food, rice in particular, and definitely don’t spear morsels with them. Don’t leave them crossed and don’t pass food from one person to another using them. It’s rude, not to mention dangerous, to leave them in your mouth whilst doing something else with your hands. And never, ever take food from a communal plate with your own chopsticks.
Actually, maybe it’s best to ask for a fork!
It is good manners to empty your dish completely, but beware of making munching noises, which is frowned upon. The same goes for blowing your nose at the table – so if you suffer from hay fever or have a cold, maybe you should stay in!
Here’s a tip… don’t tip
Your bill will be presented either at the beginning or the end of your meal, face down on the table. It’s common to pay at a cashier next to the exit, rather than leave money on the table. Don’t be surprised if a member of staff gallops after you as you leave if you have left a tip. Tipping is not customary in Japan, all that’s required is a polite ‘gochisosama deshita’ – thank you for the meal – as you leave.
Don’t worry if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch, plenty of restaurants display plastic or wax replicas of their dishes in the window. That means you can just point out what you want.