Japanese have very elaborate rules for table etiquette. Here are a few practical tips you can use to enhance your Japanese dining experience in almost any occasion.
“Oshibori” Hand Towel
Oshibori is the little finger towel placed neatly next to your plate. It could be hot or cold, depending on the season. It is proper manner to place the warm or cool oshibori against your eyes or temples for refreshing yourself before the meal. While eating, use it for wiping food off hands and fingers. Roll your oshibori and place it back on its little holder tray before you leave.
It is proper to hold the rice bowl in your hand while eating. Hold the bowl in one hand and the chopsticks in the other. Bring the bowl near your mouth while eating. DO NOT pour soy sauce over cooked rice!
It is fine to pick up a sushi piece either by hand or by chopsticks. Sushi is supposed to be eaten in one bite. Breaking the sushi up into smaller pieces is considered as an offense to the chef!
Pour a little soy suce into the small “dipping” dish. Before adding wasabi to the soy sauce, check to see if the sushi pieces already contain wasabi. Although it is proper to “mix-in” the wasabi in the soy sauce, it is much more proper instead to pick a small amount of wasabi with your chopsticks and put it directly over your sushi. Put a little dab of wasabi on your sushi, and then dip the sushi into the soy sauce.
Pour a little soy sauce into the small “dipping” dish. Put a little dab of wasabi on your sushi, and then dip the sushi into the soy sauce. You can also use ground ginger instead of wasabi.
Pick up the bowl, and drink the soup out of the bowl as though if it were a cup. Use your chopsticks to eat the little pieces of solid foods such as tofu, etc. which come with your soup.
Contrary to Western etiquette, slurping the noodles in your mouth is acceptable and considered as proper table manner and evidence of enjoying your meal.
Lift the noodles and guide them into your mouth with your chopsticks. The noodles will be hanging from your chopsticks. Now you have to get everything into your mouth. Picking up the bowl to get it closer to your mouth will help.
Typically, there will be a large spoon for drinking the soup. But, if there isn’t then it will be OK to lift the bowl to drink the soup. You don’t have to drink the soup to the last drop though, since the important part of the meal are the noodles, not the soup.
Before you begin eating, say itadakimas (ee-tah-DAH-kee-mas). This is a very polite phrase which is roughly the equivalent of saying grace in the west before a meal.
After you finish your meal, the common exclamation to use is gochiso-sama! (goh-chee-so-sah-mah). It literally means “abundant” but it used to express your satisfaction of having had a hearty, delicious meal. And you can always say “Arigato!”