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Dining Etiquette in Japan

Many foreigners who come to Japan for the first time know very little about the local dining etiquette. Although most Japanese people will forgive you for making a mistake, it is good to keep a few things in mind beforehand in order to leave an outstanding and lasting first impression.

Not sure what to do? Keep reading, and we’ve got you covered!

一. 正座 Proper Sitting

Traditional Japanese dining tables are placed on a tatami floor and in formal situations, men and women kneel (seiza 正座 せいざ) on the tatami but in more casual situations, men sit cross-legged and women sit with both legs to one side.

二. お絞り Wet Towels

In Japan, before a meal is served, a steamed wet towel (oshiboriお絞り おしぼり) is presented. Do not use it to wipe your face, it is only used for the purpose of cleaning one’s hands.

三. いただきます! Show your gratitude before a meal!

You may have heard people saying “itadakimasu”(いただきます)) before having their meal, but what does it mean? It can be directly translated as “I gratefully receive” to show gratitude to the food as well as the people who helped to make it. Therefore, don’t be shy to put your hands together, say “itadakimasu”, and slightly bow forward before digging in.

四. お箸 Chopsticks

For Gaijins (外国人 がいこくじん Foreigners), using chopsticks can be hard, but it is totally daijoubu(大丈夫 だいじょうぶ) if you cannot master the art of Ohashi(お箸 おはし).

However, there are two things never to do with your chopsticks.

1. Never leave them standing vertically in a bowl of food which resembles an offering to the dead.

2. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another which is a practice only performed during funerals.

五. お汁 Soup

Generally, chopsticks are the only utensils given at a Japanese restaurant, do not drink your soup with them. When drinking miso soup, hold it up, drink it as if you were drinking a cup of water, and then pick up the seaweed or tofu with the chopsticks.

六. How to “Kanpai“(乾杯 かんぱい)

When drinking in Japan, it is seen as a respectful gesture to hold your cup with both hands while keeping it lower than the cup of the person you drink with before you cheer “Kanpai“(乾杯 かんぱい)to each other. Keep this in mind, especially if the other person has a superior status. 

七. ごちそうさまでした Show your gratitude after a meal!

In addition to saying words of gratitude before every meal, Japanese people generally would also express their gratitude after they are finished. “gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)” is the phrase to say after every meal to thank the host for the delicious meal you have just received.

List of Japanese Vocabularies From the Article

 Japanese Words & Phases Pronunciation English Meaning
 正座 Seiza  Proper Sitting 
 お絞り Oshibori  Wet Towels
 いただきます Itadakimasu I Gratefully Receive
 お箸 Ohashi  Chopsticks
 外人 Gaikokujin Foreigners 
大丈夫  Daijoubu  It’s Okay
 お汁  Oshiru  Soup
 乾杯  Kanpai  Cheers
 ごちそうさまでした  Gochisousamadeshita  Thanks For the Food



About the Author – Coto Japanese Club:

Coto Japanese Club in Azabujuban is a Japanese language school which specializes in activity-based Japanese lessons. Flexible Scheduling and combination of outdoor and indoor Japanese lessons have made the school suitable for expat families living in Tokyo.

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