Slurp Your Soup, Yes! Share Your Sticks, No! Japanese Dining Rules

18 November, 2015

Almost anywhere in the world, people can find a Japanese restaurant.

Many walk by because they do not know the customs or the kinds of food. VOA Learning English writers want to take away that fear and explain what to do in a Japanese restaurant.

VOA producer Peter Musto, plus an exchange student from Colombia, Elena, and I, Haruka Takeuchi, went to Izakaya Seki in Washington D.C.

They experienced a Japanese-style bar -- called an izakaya -- for the first time. They also learned how to behave in the Japanese-style bar and how to use chopsticks. Let's see their surprising adventure!

An izakaya serves many kinds of food as well as alcoholic drinks. It is popular among office workers in Japan. Popular foods are raw fish, called sashimi, and soybeans, called edamame.

At an izakaya, Japanese pour alcoholic drinks in order of age. The younger people fill the glasses of the older people to be polite. Everyone raises a glass and says "Kampai!" before they start to drink. Kampai means cheers.

Chopsticks manners are different from country to country. In Japan, there are some taboos about how to use chopsticks.

For example, you should not stick your chopsticks into food like a spear. Instead, lift the food from the side. In Japan, little children tend to spear food because it is difficult to pick up with chopsticks.

Elena could not hold the raw fish, so she speared it.

Also, you should not wave your chopsticks above food.

You should be careful about the way you pass food. You should not pass anything from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks. That is the way chopsticks are used at a Buddhist funeral.

Do not scrape wooden, or one-use chopsticks together. When the chopsticks are broken apart, some loose pieces of wood might remain. But don't scrape them off. Taking them off by a hand is better.

On the other hand, making a slurping noise is acceptable when people eat hot soup and noodles. Japanese sip from the bowl and do not use a spoon when they eat miso soup.

It is fine to eat rice balls or onigiri with your hands. You don't need chopsticks or a fork and knife. Just grab a rice ball and bite it.

Although there are traditions and taboos about eating in a Japanese restaurant, non-Japanese diners should not be worried too much about them. Most Japanese do not criticize as I do in the video when people make a mistake. There is no shame. It is usual that people do not know foreign manners well. Most Japanese like me would welcome you to Japan and Japanese restaurants all over the world.

I'm Haruka Takeuchi.

And I'm Jill Robbins.

Haruka Takeuchi wrote it for VOA Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Now it's your turn. Have you ever been to Japanese restaurant? What are the table manners in your country? Write to us in the Comments section or on our 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

taboo n. a rule against doing or saying something in a culture or religion

spear v. to push or poke a pointed object into something

scrapev. to remove from a surface by rubbing an object or tool in one direction

slurp v. to eat or drink noisily or with a sucking sound