Japanese Table Manners for Beginners
Japanese table manners may seem difficult if you have never thought about them before, but once you know them, they're actually fairly simple. This level of etiquette is suitable for casual situations, so please try them when you get a chance!
Jul 31 2017 (Sep 09 2020)
Want to know more about table manners in depth? Here are some explanations for many of the actions taken during a Japanese meal!
Before you begin eating, say “itadakimasu.”
As a general rule, Japanese people always say "itadakimasu" before they eat. It literally means "I partake," and there are many stories and legends behind it, but it is considered to be a way of expressing gratitude to the chef, the people who grew/raised the ingredients that make up the meal, and the ingredients themselves since everything on one's plate was once alive.
In restaurants, it's OK to not say it loudly so that everyone can hear it, but if you're invited to someone's home, please say it audibly so that the chef and/or the person who invited you can hear it as it is considered rude not to say it. Please try to remember this.
If the chopsticks are disposable chopsticks, first take them out of the paper bag.
Disposable chopsticks will always come in a paper envelope-like sheath, so first you must slide them out.
Next, break the chopsticks by pulling them apart vertically.
Proper etiquette states that the chopsticks should be held horizontally, and pulled apart vertically over your knees.
Do not pull your chopsticks apart horizontally.
While it’s a very common practice, breaking your chopsticks by pulling them horizontally is actually considered poor etiquette. You may hit someone next to you if you pull them apart this way.
It’s also poor etiquette to rub your chopsticks together to remove any splinters.
Rubbing your chopsticks together to remove splinters is signifying to the restaurant staff that you think their chopsticks are cheap. If your chopsticks have splinters that bother you, please manually remove them in an inconspicuous manner.
If there isn’t a chopstick rest, make one with the paper your chopsticks came in.
Since it is rude to place your chopsticks over your bowls when you're not using them, if there isn't a chopstick rest, please make one using the paper sheath.
1. First, fold it in threes.
2. Fold it in half again to make a little mountain.
Please use that folded paper as a chopstick rest during your meal.
Please do not rest your chopsticks directly on the table or luncheon mat.
When you’re eating rice, hold your rice bowl in front of you in the opposite hand you use for chopsticks.
When you eat rice, make sure to lift your bowl in front of you. Not lifting your bowl is considered poor etiquette.
The same rules apply to soup bowls.
When you’re eating soups like miso, you also hold the soup bowl in front of you in the opposite hand you use for chopsticks. When you do this, use your chopsticks to push the ingredients in the soup out of the way and just drink the broth. Please use your chopsticks to eat the ingredients in the soup.
There are actually more rules regarding this for formal situations, but simply raising your bowl is perfectly suitable for casual situations.
Please clean your plate.
Most places in Japan will not let you take food home for hygienic reasons, so please clean your plate. If there are reasons that you can't finish it, you don't have to force yourself, but please try. You can also ask the staff about the size of their portions, especially their rice, and ask to get a smaller portion if you aren't a big eater.
When you finish eating, put your chopsticks back in the paper and fold the end.
After you finish eating, slide the chopsticks back in the sheath and fold the bottom third over so that the staff knows that the chopsticks were used. However, if you have a chopstick rest, you can just leave them on the rest.
After meals, please say “gochisousama deshita.”
"Gochisousama deshita" literally means "I feasted." The word "chisou" means "feast," and is written with two characters that mean "to run," as it implies that the meal was created as the result of many people running around and working together. "Go" and "sama" are honorifics that take the phrase to politer level that implies thanks to the many people that came together to create this meal. Please say "gochisousama deshita" with gratitude.
While many people say "itadakimasu" and "gochisousama deshita" with their hands put together as though in prayer, it's not required and is often a regional behavior. Saying "gochisousama deshita" to the staff when you exit a restaurant is considered to be good manners as well.
Please try utilizing these manners when you eat in Japan. This level of etiquette is suitable for casual meals, so please be aware that different situations such as high-class sushi restaurants or kaiseki ryori course meals require a higher level of detailed etiquette that build upon these rules.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.