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This section of our site aims to familiarize you with the nuances of etiquette and manners in the context of Japanese dining. We cover everything from the correct way to use chopsticks, the tradition of saying 'itadakimasu' before a meal, to proper behavior at an izakaya or a high-end kaiseki restaurant. Japanese dining etiquette is deeply rooted in respect - for the food, for the host, and for fellow diners. By understanding and practicing these customs, you can deepen your appreciation of Japanese food culture and ensure a respectful and enjoyable dining experience. So come join us as we navigate the important, yet fascinating world of Japanese dining etiquette.

Essentials of Japanese Dining Etiquette for Travelers

Table of Contents

When it comes to dining in Japan, it's essential to understand the cultural significance of table manners. Japanese dining etiquette is deeply ingrained in the country's culture, and travelers are expected to observe these customs. Whether you're visiting a sushi restaurant in Tokyo or a traditional izakaya in Kyoto, knowing how to behave at the table will make your dining experience more enjoyable and respectful.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about Japanese dining etiquette, from chopstick usage to seating arrangements and ordering food. We'll also provide tips on how to express gratitude and show respect to your hosts and servers. So, let's dive in and learn more about the do's and don'ts of dining in Japan!

Understanding Japanese Table Manners

japanese table manners

When dining in Japan, it is essential to understand the intricate table manners and etiquette that are deeply rooted in Japanese culture. By observing these practices, travelers can show respect for the culture and the people they are interacting with. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Topic Etiquette
Chopstick Usage
  • Do not spear food with your chopsticks
  • Do not use your chopsticks to pass food to someone else
  • Do not point your chopsticks at others
  • Do not wave your chopsticks around as you speak
  • Do not place your chopsticks on the table or bowl once you have started eating
  • Do use the back end of your chopsticks to pick up food from a shared plate
Proper Use of Chopsticks
  • Hold the chopsticks towards the top with your thumb, index, and middle fingers
  • Avoid using your ring and little fingers to grip the chopsticks
  • Practice using chopsticks before your trip to Japan to become comfortable with them
Placing Chopsticks on Chopstick Rest
  • When not using your chopsticks, place them on the chopstick rest (hashi-oki) or on a clean surface
  • Do not stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, as this is reminiscent of a funeral ritual

Additional Considerations

It is important to note that slurping noodles is considered acceptable and even encouraged in Japan, as it is a sign of enjoyment. Additionally, it is courteous to finish all food on your plate and to say 'gochisousama deshita' (thank you for the meal) once you have finished eating.

“By observing the table manners and etiquette in Japan, travelers can show respect for the culture and the people they are interacting with.”

By keeping these key points in mind, travelers can confidently navigate Japanese dining establishments and properly observe the table manners and etiquette that are intrinsic to Japanese culture.

Seating Arrangements and Protocol

seating arrangements

Japanese dining establishments often have traditional seating arrangements, with some restaurants offering both Western and Japanese seating options. It's important to know the proper protocol for sitting and interacting with others at the table.

If you're seated at a Western-style table, the basic etiquette is the same as in other countries: sit with good posture, use utensils appropriately, and keep your napkin on your lap. However, at a traditional Japanese restaurant, you may be seated on tatami mats, a type of flooring made from woven straw. Be sure to remove your shoes before stepping onto the tatami, and sit cross-legged or with your feet tucked under you.

Tatami Seating

When sitting on tatami, it's important to know the proper way to bow and show respect to others at the table. Sit with your legs folded under you and your back straight, and avoid slouching or leaning against the walls. If you need to get up or leave the table, be sure to bow to your fellow diners before doing so.

It's also important to know the proper order of seating. The place of honor is at the center of the table, and the guest of honor (if there is one) is usually seated opposite the host. In general, the most senior member of the group should be seated closest to the host.

General Seating Protocol

Regardless of the type of seating, it's important to be aware of the space you're occupying and be considerate of others at the table. Avoid stretching out your arms or legs, and keep your belongings out of the way.

If you need to get a server's attention, simply raise your hand and say 'sumimasen' (excuse me). And when leaving the restaurant, be sure to thank the staff and say 'gochisousama deshita' (thank you for the meal) as a sign of gratitude.

Ordering and Paying in Japanese Restaurants

Ordering food and drink in Japan may seem daunting at first, especially if you don't speak Japanese. However, many restaurants have English menus or picture menus to help travelers navigate the ordering process. If you're not sure what to order, try asking the server for recommendations.

When ordering, it's important to note that customizations are not common in Japan. This means that dishes are usually served as they are without the option to change ingredients or preparation. Additionally, it's considered polite to order a dish for everyone at the table, rather than having each person order their own individual meal.

When it comes time to pay, the server will typically bring the bill to the table. Unlike in many other countries, it's not customary to leave a tip in Japan. However, some restaurants may add a service charge to the bill, so be sure to check before leaving extra money.

Another important thing to note is that it's considered rude to ask for separate checks. If you're dining with a large group and need to split the bill, it's best to settle up with cash between yourselves before paying the entire bill at the register.

Dining Etiquette for Sushi Restaurants

sushi etiquette

Sushi is one of Japan's most iconic dishes, and eating it in a traditional sushi restaurant is an experience that should not be missed. However, it is important to be aware of the specific etiquette that comes with dining in a sushi restaurant in Japan.

Using Chopsticks

When eating sushi with chopsticks, it is important to use them correctly. Remember to never rub your chopsticks together as this is considered rude and implies that the chopsticks are of low quality. Also, never use your chopsticks to spear or stab the sushi, and don't mix wasabi with soy sauce in the dish as it is already done for you. Instead, you should dip your sushi lightly into the soy sauce, fish side down, and eat it in one bite.

Interacting with the Chef

If you are sitting at the sushi bar, it is common to interact with the sushi chef. However, it is important to respect their workspace and not disturb them unnecessarily. It is also considered polite to say 'Itadakimasu' before beginning your meal, and to express your appreciation to the chef after finishing.

Ordering Sushi

When ordering sushi, it is recommended to start with lighter fish and work your way up to richer, fattier fish. This helps to avoid overwhelming your taste buds. It is also important to be open to trying new types of sushi, as chefs often take pride in their unique creations.

Paying the Bill

When paying the bill, it is customary to pay at the cashier instead of giving money directly to the chef or waiter. It is also uncommon to tip in Japan, as good service is considered part of the job.

By following these tips and observing proper sushi etiquette, you can fully enjoy the experience of dining in a traditional sushi restaurant in Japan.

Drinking Etiquette and Toasting

drinking etiquette and toasting

Drinking alcohol is an integral part of Japanese dining culture. It is important to understand the etiquette and customs surrounding drinking in Japan to avoid any unintentional faux pas.

Pouring and Receiving Drinks

When pouring drinks for others, it is customary to hold the bottle or decanter with both hands and pour for others rather than pouring for yourself. It is also considered polite to hold your cup or glass with both hands when someone pours for you.

If someone pours a drink for you, it is polite to reciprocate by pouring a drink for them later. This back-and-forth exchange of pouring drinks is known as 'toriaezu nomi' and is a way to show hospitality and respect.

Making a Toast

Before drinking, it is customary to make a toast or 'kampai' in Japanese. When making a toast, it is polite to raise your glass slightly higher than others and make eye contact with the people you are toasting with.

When toasting with someone of higher social status, it is customary to hold your glass slightly lower than theirs as a sign of respect.

Sake Customs

Sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, is often consumed during meals and is an important part of Japanese drinking culture. When pouring sake, it is polite to pour for others before pouring for yourself.

It is also customary to pour sake into each other's cups, rather than pouring your own. If someone pours sake for you, it is polite to hold your cup with both hands and thank them before taking a sip.

When drinking sake, it is customary to take small sips rather than large, gulping sips. This allows you to fully savor the flavor of the sake.

By following these customs and showing appreciation for the drinks and the people you are toasting with, you can enjoy the full experience of Japanese drinking culture.

Mindfulness and Gratitude

mindfulness and gratitude

When dining in Japan, it's not just about the food, but also about the experience and cultural significance. To fully appreciate Japanese dining etiquette, practicing mindfulness and expressing gratitude is essential.

One way to show mindfulness is by saying 'Itadakimasu' before starting your meal. This phrase is a way of giving thanks for the food and showing appreciation to the chef or host. It's a simple gesture that goes a long way in Japanese culture.

During the meal, take the time to savor each bite and appreciate the flavors and textures. This is especially important in sushi restaurants, where the attention to detail and quality of ingredients is paramount.

Expressing gratitude towards your host or chef is also important. If given the opportunity, thanking them directly or sending a thank you note is a kind gesture.

Overall, practicing mindfulness and showing gratitude is not just good manners, but also a way of fully experiencing and appreciating Japanese dining culture.

Cultural Do's and Don'ts

Understanding Japanese dining etiquette is crucial for travelers, as it helps them show respect for the culture and avoid offending locals. Here are some cultural do's and don'ts to keep in mind while dining in Japan:


  • Do say 'Itadakimasu' before starting your meal as a sign of appreciation for the food.
  • Do use chopsticks to eat your food, but avoid sticking them upright in rice, as it resembles a funeral ritual.
  • Do finish all the food on your plate, as it shows respect for the chef and the effort they put into preparing the meal.
  • Do pour drinks for others first before pouring for yourself, as a sign of respect and hospitality.
  • Do express gratitude to the chef or host for the delicious meal and their hospitality, either verbally or with a small gift.


  • Don't blow your nose at the table, as it is considered rude and unsanitary.
  • Don't use your fingers to eat sushi, as it is customary to eat sushi with chopsticks.
  • Don't leave food uneaten on your plate, as it suggests that you did not enjoy the meal.
  • Don't tip waitstaff or leave money on the table, as tipping is not a part of Japanese culture and can be seen as insulting.
  • Don't be loud or boisterous while dining, as it is considered impolite and disrupts others' enjoyment of their meal.

By following these cultural do's and don'ts, you can ensure that your dining experience in Japan is enjoyable and respectful of the culture. Remember to be mindful and grateful, and you'll leave a positive impression on those around you.


In conclusion, understanding and embracing Japan's dining etiquette not only respects local customs, but also enhances your culinary experiences in this beautiful country. From mastering chopsticks to appreciating the nuanced rules of mealtime manners, every facet of Japanese dining etiquette contributes to a harmonious and mindful eating environment. So, as you embark on your gastronomic journey in Japan, remember, it's not just about the food, it's also about the rich traditions that frame every meal. Enjoy your travels and the unforgettable tastes of Japan. Itadakimasu!


In Japan, chopsticks should be held towards the end, not in the middle or the front, and used in a way that the tips are level. Never use chopsticks to skewer food or point at someone. It's also essential to never rest your chopsticks sticking upright in your bowl, as it's considered disrespectful.

Absolutely, it's not only acceptable but customary in Japan to pick up your bowl while eating. This practice is especially common when consuming rice and soup, making it easier to guide food to your mouth with chopsticks.

Yes, slurping ramen or other noodles is considered good manners in Japan. It's seen as a way of appreciating and enjoying the meal, while also serving to cool down hot noodles as you eat them.

When eating sushi, it's considered proper etiquette to lightly dip the fish side, not the rice side, into soy sauce. Overuse of soy sauce is seen as wasteful and potentially offensive to the chef, as it may mask the true flavor of the sushi.

At the start of the meal, your chopsticks should be placed on the chopstick rest (hashioki). If there's no rest, you can fold the paper holder into a rest. At the end of the meal, place them back on the rest or parallel on the bowl. Never rest them across the top of your bowl.

Sushi is traditionally eaten with your fingers, not chopsticks. However, both methods are acceptable in modern times. It's common to eat sushi in one bite, and when dipping in soy sauce, ensure it's fish-side down.

Yes, but don't use the end of the chopsticks that you've been eating with. Instead, use the opposite end to take food from communal dishes. This maintains hygiene and shows respect for your dining companions.

The one-bite rule is a practice where most foods, including sushi, are eaten in one bite to avoid making a mess. If the food is too large to consume in one bite, it's acceptable to hold it with your chopsticks and take multiple bites.

In general, it's considered good manners to avoid holding food above your mouth. Try to eat each piece in one bite if possible and avoid dropping food.

While this guide provides some basic rules, dining etiquette can vary depending on the situation and the level of formality of the meal. When in doubt, observe what others are doing and follow their lead.

Japanese dining etiquette is considered a significant aspect of their culture and reflects respect and appreciation for the food, the host, and the dining experience.

Some basic chopstick etiquette rules in Japan include not sticking chopsticks upright into your bowl, not passing food from one set of chopsticks to another, and not using your chopsticks to point at something or someone.

In Japanese dining etiquette, it is customary to say ‘itadakimasu’ before starting a meal. This phrase expresses gratitude for the food and acknowledges the efforts made in preparing it.

Yes, in Japanese dining etiquette, it is considered bad manners to hold a bowl to your mouth while eating. The proper way is to lift the bowl closer to your mouth, ensuring your face is not directly above it.

Yes, chopsticks are commonly used to eat most dishes in a traditional Japanese meal. However, it is important to note that certain foods, such as soup, may require the use of other utensils.

It is considered proper etiquette to place your chopsticks back on the chopstick rest or a designated holder when not actively using them. Resting them on the table or across your bowl is considered impolite.

No, in Japanese dining etiquette, it is customary for someone else to pour your drink. Likewise, you should also offer to pour drinks for others at the table.

Before eating, it is essential to say ‘itadakimasu’ to show appreciation for the food. After finishing the meal, it is customary to say ‘gochisousama deshita’ to express gratitude for the meal.

When dining with Japanese friends, it is important to be mindful of not crossing your legs, keeping them to one side. Additionally, try to match the pace of eating with the group and avoid wasting food.