Important table manners to remember in Japan

Important table manners to remember while travelling in Japan

There’s nothing more mortifying than finding yourself in a new country on holiday and realising that some of things you’ve said and done could be considered not only rude but downright offensive. If you find yourself in Japan and don’t want to offended or any the lovely locals you’re likely to encounter, then take a few tips. Here are some important table manners to remember in Japan, unless you want to become really, really unpopular.

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1. Where to sit

If you’ve been invited to join a group of people to dinner, then be aware of where you decide to sit. Some restaurants in Japan require people to sit on what are called tatami mats on the floor, if this is the case, make sure you remove your shoes and avoid stepping on any of the seat cushions as this will be seen as rude by your hosts.

2. Chopsticks

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There are quite a lot of informal rules and etiquette guidelines when it comes to using chopsticks. For example, it’s seen as bad etiquette to point with chopsticks and it’s also bad manners to rest your chopsticks on your bowl, or to stick it into your rice when not being used. Instead, the proper thing to do is to use a chopstick rest.

3. Soy sauce

While it may be a very popular seasoning, adding too much soy sauce to sushi can be an insult to the chef, as it could be a signal that you didn’t like the flavour of the sushi. If you do like your sushi, just be sure not to overdo it in front of your hosts or the chef, as it might be seen as rude or offensive.  

4. Drinks

When out with a group of people, especially at an Izakaya bar, it’s common for people to order drinks, usually beer, with their food. Instead of pouring your own beer, and expecting others to do the same, it’s customary for people to serve other’s drinks. So, if you see other people’s glasses becoming empty, top it up for them, and expect others to do the same for you.

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5. Dining out

You might find that warm towels are served before dining at some restaurants, these are used for wiping down your hands, not your face, before a meal. It’s customary for people to wash their hands before a meal when dining at home.

6. Gifts

You might like to bring your host a gift if you have been invited out to a meal with them. As the numbers nine and four sound like the words for suffering and death, try to avoid giving gifts that come in sets of either four or nine. For those who are particularly superstitious, it won’t be regarded too favourably and might be considered a bad omen.

Of course, people generally understand that foreigners aren’t going to know the ins-and-outs of the local dining etiquette, but they’ll be happily surprised to see that you’re making an effort to learn. 

Are there any other important table manners that you learned about while travelling through Japan? Let us know in the comments section below.

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