Dining Etiquette in Japan
As a businessman or woman, you may have to travel to a foreign location from time to time. If you have to visit another country for business purposes, it’s important for you to be knowledgeable about that country’s food etiquette. It’s even more critical for you to be familiar with local dining etiquette if you’re going to discuss business during a meal.
The Basics of Dining Etiquette in Japan
When it comes to dining etiquette in Japan, your hosts will probably be quite forgiving if you don’t know every dining nuance. While that’s the case, you should still be familiar with at least the basics of food etiquette in Japan.
When you arrive for a meal in Japan, say hello in Japanese and then bow properly. Do not assume that you’ll be able to use Western utensils at the table. This means you need to master the use of chopsticks well before you dine in Japan.
If you can’t manage to eat a meal with chopsticks capably, it may instill doubt about your abilities in business in the minds of your dinner companions. Just because chopsticks may be different from the utensils you use in your home country, it doesn’t mean they’re toys. Never play with your chopsticks or use them to point at something. Avoid rubbing them together or using them to stab food as well.
The Do's of Dining Etiquette in Japan
If you’re going to eat in a restaurant, a waiter or waitress will often give you a wet towel. Use the towel to clean your hands exclusively and then fold it and put it to the side.
Before you begin to eat, it’s customary to say, “Itadaki-masu.” This translates to “I humbly receive” in English. If you know some other Japanese sayings, sharing them at appropriate times during your meal can help your dining companions have more confidence in you. If you’re going to eat ramen or soup, you can sip your food right from the bowl. Be sure you pick the bowl up in an empty hand so that you’re not holding your chopsticks and the bowl in the same hand.
Unlike other countries, it’s perfectly fine to slurp as you eat ramen or soup. In fact, slurping is a smart way to show your peers that you’re enjoying your food. Food etiquette in Japan mandates that you only put food that you intend to eat on your plate. Clearing your plate is a must in Japanese culture, and wasting food is frowned upon.
The Don'ts of Dining Etiquette in Japan
Food etiquette in Japan includes several big no-no’s that you should avoid at all costs, the first of which is passing food with your chopsticks. Using your chopsticks to pass food reminds many Japanese citizens of a ritual involving passing cremated bones using chopsticks during funerals, so don’t do it.
Sticking your chopsticks in a bowl of rice vertically is another macabre practice that can have a negative effect on a meal. Do not pour soy sauce on your food, including the rice that’s on your plate. Instead, pour your soy sauce into a small bowl and then dip your food in the bowl. Just as you shouldn’t leave food on your plate, you shouldn’t leave extra soy sauce or food remnants in your bowl.
If you’re going to pay for the meal, do not hand money directly to your waiter or waitress if there’s a small payment tray on your table. If there isn’t a tray on your table, be sure you use both hands when you give or receive money from your table’s attendant.
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