There's more to Japanese table manners than just managing a pair of chopsticks!
Food is considered an important part of a national culture, but the tableware and implements used at mealtimes vary widely between regions and culture zones. For a profound cultural experience, discover the local eating styles and enjoy local food culture more intimately.
In Japan, Japanese food and chopsticks are inseparably linked. In Western countries, generally a knife and fork are used at mealtimes, but in Japan chopsticks are the norm.
Use of chopsticks is an essential part of dining, but to enjoy eating with other people certain rules should be observed. Here, we present a guide to table manners with chopsticks and at mealtimes that you should keep in mind!
Moving your chopsticks indecisively over the table while trying to decide what to eat next is a practice known as "wandering chopsticks" (mayoi-bashi) and should be avoided.
People who are not used to chopsticks may be tempted to use them to "spear" the food to transport it safely to their lips (tsuki-bashi), but this is also considered bad manners.
Allowing the tips of your chopsticks to linger on your lips in a sucking position (kuwae-bashi) is also poor etiquette.
Meals are often served in small dishes, so it may seem convenient to use your chopsticks to drag one of the dishes close to you (hikiyose-bashi), but this too is against good table manners.
Do not use the near end of your chopsticks!
When people want to divide up a piece of food, they sometimes turn their chopsticks around and use the end that has not been in their mouth. Although you may frequently see Japanese people doing this, you should not copy them, as it is considered bad form.
How to separate a pair of chopsticks
Disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be pulled apart not sideways but vertically. Hold them flat, not standing up, then separate them by pulling one side up and the other down. Disposable chopsticks are sometimes held together with a paper tie. Without tearing the paper, slide the tie off toward the tip of the chopsticks to release them.
Besides the rules on chopsticks, there are many other points of etiquette, but here we present two that will be particularly useful if you go to a Japanese eating place.
Do not mix the wasabi into the soy sauce!
When you eat sashimi, it is tempting to mix the wasabi paste into the soy sauce until it dissolves, but this is not considered a very refined way of eating. The right way to do it is to apply just a little wasabi to the fish and then dip it in the sauce before eating.
Hold the beer bottle with the label facing up
You will often see people in Japan pouring drinks into other people's glasses. It is also typically Japanese for everyone to start off by toasting each other with a glass of beer. In recent years, many people drink draft beer served in beer mugs, but at more formal celebrations, it is still largely the rule that beer is served in bottles. When pouring beer from a bottle, hold the bottle at the base with the label facing upward. Remember to use both hands to hold the bottle.
In Japan, the way people handle chopsticks is often thought to show how well they were brought up. The essence of Japanese table manners is maintaining a graceful appearance and showing respect for other table guests. These days, even Japanese people may sometimes seem unfamiliar with correct table etiquette. If you get it right, you are sure to make a good impression!
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