15 Japanese Food Etiquette Rules

From chopsticks to saké, we guide you on Japanese food etiquette. We inform you where you should be sitting during Japanese business meals, how to use your towel, and when to partake in a drink.

teppanyaki suhsi chef performing live

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  1. How to Use Chopsticks

There are many Japanese etiquette rules about how to use chopsticks. First and foremost, they must be held correctly.

Secondly, when you have finished your meal, chopsticks should be rested on a “hashioki” – a chopstick stand. This is because chopsticks left at the side of your dish indicate to the chef that you are still hungry. Chopstick placement can also infer death if you leave your utensils sticking upwards from your food, or if you place them crossed over one another.

Chopsticks are never to be pointed at anyone or the tables sharing dishes, and above all are never used to pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks between people.

Of course, at Sapporo, we won’t hold it against you if you make a chopstick blunder, and we are more than happy to supply you with forks if you prefer.

woman covering her eye with piece of sushi using chop sticks

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  1. Seating Arrangements

The most important person at the meal must sit in the seat of honour. This tends to be farthest from the entrance to the room – something to bear in mind if you are having a business meal. If you are inviting guests, as well as being furthest from the door, they should be facing it, whereas the host should be sat opposite the guest, facing away from the door.

Japanese business meal etiquette

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  1. Wet Towel

Many Japanese restaurants provide hot towels on arrival to clean the individual’s hands. These should not be used for face wiping as this can be deemed disrespectful.

restaurant hand towel

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  1. Learn Your Lingo

In many cultures, there are certain phrases which signify the beginning of a meal: For example, in Italian culture, “Buon Appetito” means “Enjoy your meal”. In Japanese etiquette, “Itadakimasu” means “I humbly receive”.

After the meal, “Gochisosama-deshita” means “Thank you for the meal”, and is usually said to the chef on completion of the delicious food.

Asian chef showing okay sign over white background

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  1. Soy Sauce

A relatively unknown etiquette rule in Japanese food revolves around Soy Sauce.

Soy Sauce should never be poured directly onto your dish, but rather poured into a provided shallow dish, into which you dip the food. On completion of your meal, the dish should be near enough empty as to not waste any of the sauce.

Dip sushi into soy sauce

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  1. Soup

Whether you opt for miso or noodle soup, the etiquette rules are the same.

Rather than struggle with scooping the liquid out, don’t be afraid to pick up the bowl and drink the soup like you would out of a cup. This is not seen as rude in Japanese culture, but more flattering as you are showing that you are enjoying your meal.

young woman at a sushi restaurant slurping

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  1. Finish Your Plate

In a similar strand to the above, finishing your dish is important in Japanese food eating, as it signifies to the chef that you have enjoyed your food and have not wasted any.

Finish your plate

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  1. Who Pays?

The rule of thumb tends to be that whoever has invited you for food pays the bill. This is due to the pride and honour of the host, and payment is either made on a provided tray or secretly by the host near the end of the meal.a id=”title-9″>

paying for the bill at a sushi restaurant

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  1. Pouring

Whenever pouring a drink, care should be taken to ensure that the bottle is poured forwards as pouring backwards is considered insulting.

If it is alcoholic, it is customary to serve each other, rather than serve yourself, so be sure to keep an eye on your guests’ glasses because you should refill it when it gets empty.

serving saké to one another

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  1. We’ve Finished!

You should aim to finish your meal when you are around 80% full; this is known as “Hara hachi bun me” (more on that here) and the table should be left in the exact state that you found it on arrival.

hara hachi bun me

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  1. Wasabi

Contrary to popular belief, asking for wasabi in some Japanese restaurants can be seen as offensive to the chef. This is because a chef should take pride in their cooking and seasoning, so asking for extra seasonings could be upsetting. You should always try to taste a meal before you ask for seasoning.

a splodge of wasabi on a sashimi dish

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  1. Drinking

As previously mentioned, alcoholic drinks should be served to each other – your guest shouldn’t be left waiting with an empty glass for you to pour the next drink. In addition, you should aim to keep up with the host’s intake: if they finish their glass, you should try to also.

If you are the host, don’t drink more than the guests – be sociable, but remember that you should be looking after them.

Man pouring sake into sipping bowl.

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  1. Scallop Shells

With fish being a staple in Japanese food, scallops are often on the menu. If served with a shell, you should leave the shell in the bowl it was served in when you have finished.

Leaving the shells on another plate – or in the lid of a bowl – is considered impolite.

Grilled scallops shell with butter and cheese. Thai seafood grilled scallops on white plate.

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  1. Bring a Gift

In Japanese culture, when invited to a meal the individual is expected to provide a gift of thanks for the host.

Bring a gift for your guests

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  1. Eat at Sapporo

Where better to try out all of the above Japanese etiquette rules than at Sapporo Teppanyaki, where deliciously authentic Japanese dishes with a Western twist are prepared right before your eyes.

Sapporo teppanyaki chef entertaining guests

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Of course, we don’t expect you to keep all of these etiquette rules when dining with us – the most important thing is that you have fun! Although, if you want to try your hand at some traditional Japanese dining etiquette, give it a go at our sushi bar Liverpool or sushi bar Manchester