Japanese etiquette

Dining in Japan

In some of the smaller towns in Japan, which are not familiar with non-Japanese speaking tourists, here are some thoughts.

1. Ask for a cheque/check when you need the bill. In Hokkaido, we were given a break-down of the meals but no receipt (unlike in Tokyo or Kyoto when only a final figure is given). What happens when someone makes a mistake on the items ordered? (Did happen to us. In this case, we were not billed for the sake. Which makes you wonder. ) Its about trust.

2. Hokkaido Information Office has a map with recommended restaurants, and pictures of food e.g. ramen, sushi, yakitori. Bring it along and point at the pictures on what you want to eat. The service staff in Japanese restaurants (who mainly cater to Japanese tourists) speak very little to no English, and will not understand words like “Chicken or pork”. Eating outlets around the subway station have service staff who do speak some English.
3. At a sushi counter, shoyu (soy sauce) is put on the neta (fliing, meat) not on the rice.


He will make light conversations. But do not discuss other sushi restaurants with your sushi chef (not polite to talk about competitors).

Sashimi is about trust between customer and chef. What makes a good sushi chef is more than the preparation/cooking of fish, but

includes his network with the fish trader, the price he paid for the fish, which differs from restaurant. Seasonality of fish and skill in deciding on whether a fish is ready to be eaten, depending on size/ weight/ season of fish which affects the flavor.


4. Don’t stick chopsticks into rice. Japanese pick up rice and bring it to their mouth. Chinese bring bowl upwards and “coax” or “shovel” rice into the mouth. Japanese rice is sticky/glutinous and hence easier to pick up as tiny balls.
5. Money is placed on the little tray. Do not hand it to the cashier. Cashier patiently waits for you to dig out your coins, if you so choose. No grunts of impatience. This is an efficient system preventing misunderstanding more than about etiquette. I’ve caught myself putting 1000 yen instead of 10,000 yen on the tray. The tray system allows both to pause and realize the mistake. Cashier will return you the coins on your hand or tray.
6. If you need to exchange your item, keep the receipt religiously. Even if you turn away 1 sec ago, and return to the cashier, they do not recognize you despite the number of service-oriented communication they’ve just uttered.


Label faces upwards.

7. Do not pour sake for yourself. You may pour it for your friend.

8. Do not walk and snack, e.g. eat ice-cream.

9. Choose your sake cup. What does it tell of your personality?



10. Buy a drink for the sushi chef and toast him. At a little Japanese joint we went to in Kyoto, the patrons even offered the chef some beef with the wine.


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