Dining at home the Japanese way!

Asha Bogenfuerst Asha Bogenfuerst
KINOKI CHAIR, Setsu & Shinobu Ito Setsu & Shinobu Ito Other spaces
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Whether you're eating with some Japanese friends or attending a business dinner, learning about proper Japanese dining table wear and order can come in handy. If you've been invited to a Japanese meal by Japanese people, it is only polite that you take the effort to inform yourself about Japanese customs and etiquette. This idea guide will teach you basic Japanese table manners, and also how to set the table properly according to Japanese customs. 

Taking the time to inform yourself about a foreign culture and their traditional practices shows that you respect other cultures. It will also be a less awkward experience for everybody since you will not be completely clueless on how to behave. You wouldn't want to offend your hosts, even if it's by accident and unintentional. Hence, it is your responsibility to educate yourself on proper Japanese dining etiquette. Of course you may still be unfamiliar with a lot of Japanese customs, but even learning a few simple things is enough to make your hosts happy, so no need to be nervous. 

Main course is on the right side

The main course of a Japanese meal is always served on the right side. The most common dish to be served, especially at business meetings, is sushi. When eating sushi, the proper Japanese dining etiquette is to pour only a little soya sauce into the sauce bowl provided as you should not leave any soya sauce with pieces of food floating in them behind when you're done eating. 

Remember to be careful when you're dipping your food into the soya sauce bowl. Do not dip the rice part of the sushi into the sauce bowl as this will leave grains of rice behind, instead dip your food so that only the meat or fish touches the sauce. Generally, it is considered wasteful and rude to leave any food behind, even grains of rice. 

Place chopsticks in front of your body

The only cutlery you will be provided with at a Japanese meal is chopsticks, so it is important to learn how to use them properly. Here are some simple rules on how to use chopsticks according to Japanese dining etiquette. Firstly, chopsticks should always be placed in front of your body, and never across the bowl. Keep in mind that it is considered rude to point your chopsticks at someone while talking or hover your chopsticks around food without taking it. Do not play with chopsticks unnecessarily or stab food with them to lift food. Last but not least, never pass food around with your chopsticks as this is reminiscent of the Japanese ritual of passing cremated bones between chopsticks at funerals. 

Before you start your meal, wipe your hands with the towel provided and say, itidakimasu which basically means bon appetit. After the meal, it is polite to say, gochisosama deshita which means thanks for a great meal. Keep in mind that it is not customary to tip in Japan, so the waitress might try to return your money if you do tip. 

Rice on the left, soup on the right

When setting the table, always place the rice on the left and the soup on the right. Keep in mind that you can sip directly from the soup bowl, and slurping sounds are not only accepted, they are welcome as well because it is a sign that you are enjoying the food. 

For soya sauce and wasabi, you will be given a small bowl to pour the sauce into. Dip your food into the sauce bowl instead of emptying the sauce bowl onto your food. Rice is normally eaten plain, rather than mixed with sauces. 

The lovely wooden dining table set pictured here is designed by Setsu & Shinobu Ito, designers based in Milan and Japan. 

Japanese dining etiquette for drinking

Japanese meals are often accompanied by alcoholic drinks such as beer or sake (rice wine). Sake is usually served warm, while beer is served cold. Always wait for all the glasses to be filled up before toasting and drinking. The Japanese word for cheers is kanpai. 

If you have a chance, always be the first to pour someone else a drink. It is considered polite to top up the glasses of the people seated near you, while it is considered rude to fill up your own glass first and drink alone. 

Browse through dining room designs here on homify for more new ideas and refreshing inspiration. 

Dining etiquette for seating

Traditionally, Japanese meals were usually served on a tatami mat (reed mat) on the floor, however in most restaurants you are likely to find Western style tables and chairs. If you're sitting on the floor, you should sit in a 'seiza' position. This means you should sit with your heels and legs tucked underneath your buttocks. Sitting in the seiza position might be quite uncomfortable if you're not used to it, and your hosts might suggest that you get comfortable. It's best to either sit cross-legged or with your legs tucked to one side. Never spread your legs out directly in front of you. 

Keep in mind that the most honored seating position is in the middle. The hosts and the guests will usually be seated in the middle facing each other. Honoured guests will normally be seated the farthest away from the door. 

Things to avoid

There are a few things you should avoid doing according to Japanese dining etiquette. For example, if you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself and go to the toilet or outside, rather than blowing your nose at the table. It is acceptable to sniffle at the table if you're trying to avoid blowing your nose. While it is polite to bring gifts for your hosts, never bring any gifts in sets of four or nine. These two numbers are considered very unlucky according to traditional superstitions as they mean death and suffering in Japanese. 

We hope this idea guide has been informative and interesting. For more inspiration and ideas, have a look at tips to make your rental kitchen alive again

Do you have any other tips on proper Japanese dining table wear and order? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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