Japanese restaurant and bar etiquette for dummies

  • Published
  • By Airman Kenna Jackson
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
As guests in Japan, people should practice and be knowledgeable in basic etiquette rules when visiting local restaurants and bars.

Similar to state-side dining etiquette, there are good table manners and bad table manners in Japan. Some of these etiquette rules are obvious and already looked down upon in the U.S., like blowing your nose, talking about unappetizing topics and burping at the table. However, there are other Japanese customs that are not as familiar to Americans.


In Japan, people who do not take the time to call an hour or two ahead of schedule to make reservation modifications are considered to be rude and ill-mannered.

"This etiquette rule is also used in the states," said Staff Sgt. Adam Wilson 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron operator records and licensing supervisor. "But, for the Japanese, not applying this rule is a sign of inconsideration rather than a slight inconvenience."

Another reservation courtesy is to show up on time or a few minutes early.

Punctuality is one of the many etiquette rules Japanese people value, said Mayu Aketo, 35th Force Support Squadron multi-cultural program manager.

Researching the dining environment for local restaurants is another way to avoid being thought of as impolite. There are restaurants children should not be taken to and some restaurants where the appropriate attire is not jeans and a sweatshirt.


Of course, the worst thing that could happen when eating at restaurants is not being able to pay the bill. Finding out a restaurant's methods of payment is the easiest way to prevent being wrongly labeled and more than likely, being arrested, said Aketo.

"In Misawa, there are a lot of family-owned restaurants, so many places do not accept credit cards and definitely do not accept American dollars," said Aketo.

Eating, drinking and using chopsticks

State-side visitors can avoid being bad-mannered by learning the appropriate way to eat sushi and noodles, share drinks at a restaurant and use chopsticks.

When eating sushi, it is rude to take more than one bite or unroll it to eat what is inside. Sushi is considered a culinary art, so attempts to separate sushi into two pieces or eat it in another way than it was presented is thought of as destroying the meal. To dodge being disrespectful, eat the sushi as it comes; it was made bite-size for a reason. Also, sushi should only be eaten using chopsticks or fingers.

Noodles and soup, are popular meals westerners order when visiting Japan. Sometimes, Americans do not know it is custom in Japan to slurp the noodles when eating the dish. In the U.S., a person is thought of as obnoxious if heard slurping their noodles. However, in Japan, slurping noodles is considered proof of enjoying the meal.

"Do not hesitate to make a big [slurping] noise when eating noodles or soup," said Aketo.

For ramen, or noodle soup, sometimes a ceramic spoon is provided. This is used to drink the soup, but it is not impolite to lift the bowl to your mouth as if it were a drinking cup.

When dining and drinking with other people at restaurants, it is customary to serve each other. A person should fill another's glass first when it starts to get empty.

Using chopsticks is probably the most important and complicated fundamental element of Japanese table manners, said Aketo. The incorrect usage of these simple-looking eating utensils is one of the easiest ways to offend the Japanese.

Some of the most important rules to remember when dining with chopsticks include:

1. Holding chopsticks towards their end, not in the middle or the front third.

2. Lay chopsticks down in front of you with the tips to the left when not using them or when finished eating.

3. Do not stick chopsticks into the food, especially not into rice, as this technique is only used at funerals when rice is placed at the altar.

4. Do not pass food with chopsticks directly to another set of chopsticks, as this is another funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body.

5. Do not spear food with your chopsticks.

6. Do not point with your chopsticks.

7. Do not wave or play with chopsticks.

8. Do not move plates or bowls with chopsticks. When dining, chopsticks are used for eating only.

9. Use the back end of the chopsticks to take food form a shared plate if already begun dining.

Of course, using chopsticks is not mandatory and the Japanese will provide forks and spoons if needed.

Drinking at bars

There are a number of drinking establishments surrounding the base and it is not uncommon to see Americans enjoying drinks with Misawa City residents. However, there are some bars whose staff do not speak English and cannot appropriately serve Americans.

"Signs will be posted on doors or employees may form their arms into an 'X' to get their point across," said Aketo.

Because of the unfamiliarity between the two cultures, it is imperative for servicemembers and their families to act as good ambassadors and follow all drinking rules and customs, said Aketo.

Knowing what the big 'no-no's' are when drinking at local bars will help shield patrons from being embarrassed and thought of as ignorant. Not bringing drinks from home or from other bars is one way to sidestep being rude to the establishment.

"When you bring in drinks from other places, it is like a slap in the face to bar owners. You are saying you do not like their drinks," said Aketo.

If their products are not being purchased, they face the threat of going out of business, Aketo added.

Another way to be considerate is to not take drinks outside of the bar. The last thing bar-owners want to deal with is people stealing their glasses.

Aketo said most Japanese people understand Americans will not know local etiquette rules as soon as they come to Japan, but making an effort goes a long way.

For a more information on Japanese customs seek out Mayu Aketo at 226-9365.