Try everything! You may never have the chance again. If you don't like it, just leave it on your plate.
Variety: Japan has a large variety of food, both Japanese and Western. Traditional Japanese food is often very well presented, with rice, vegetables, seafood, soya and seaweed. Japanese often use soy sauce, salt, vinegar and cooking sake to flavour their food. Japanese don't eat as much meat as Australians because it is expensive. They also don't eat as many desserts, sweets, bread or milk products as Western people do. Fruit is often expensive, especially when it is imported from another region or country - a few dollars for an apple for example, so regard it as precious. A visit to the local supermarket will be interesting.
Meals: Most meals include rice and miso soup - even the traditional breakfast. Try it! The Western style breakfast of toast and tea is popular too. Meals are usually served on many little plates, rather than one big one. Public elementary and junior high schools in Japan have lunch provided by the school. High schools have a school cafeteria or students bring their own lunch. The Japanese lunchbox (obento) is a favourite.
A full Japanese style meal has many possible components:
Western style food: A big variety of western style food is available. Italian pasta and pizza are particularly popular.
Chopsticks are used to eat most types of Japanese food. Knives and forks are used for western food. Spoons may be used with some Japanese dishes and soups. Some of the most important rules for using hashi are:
- Hold them towards their end.
- When they are not being used or you have finished eating, lay them in front of you with tips pointing to the left.
- Do not stick hashi into your food, especially not rice (that is done at funerals with rice put on to the altar).
- Do not pass food directly from your hashi to another’s (this is also a funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body).
- If you have already used them, you should use the opposite ends when taking food from a shared plate.
- Do not spear food with
- Do not point with them, wave them about or play with them.
- Do not move bowls or plates with them.
With larger pieces of food you can pick up the entire piece and take a bite or you can tear food using them by exerting pressure when pulling them apart.
- Only start eating when you are asked to or when everyone else starts to eat. It is polite to show some hesitation. Japanese people wait until everyone is ready and then say itadakimasu (I humbly/gratefully receive) before eating.
- After finishing or on leaving a table Japanese people often say gochisosama deshita (thank you for the meal/ I have feasted).
- Sharing food from common dishes is popular. It is considered good manners to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.
- It is considered bad manners to burp, blow your noise, or talk about unappetizing subjects.
- Slurping noodles, soups, etc is okay.
- After eating, try to move all dishes back to their original position. Place lids back on dishes and put chopsticks back on holder or into their paper slip.
- When drinking alcohol Japanese people serve each other rather than pouring for themselves. You should keep checking and refill friend’s cups/glasses if they are getting empty. If someone wants to serve you more you should quickly empty your glass (or at least take some) and then hold it towards that person. If you wish to stop drinking you leave your glass full and if someone offers you more drink only a small amount to be polite and allow them to pour some.
- For the first drink of the evening, do not start drinking until everyone at the table is served. Then everyone raises glasses and says kanpai (cheers).
How to eat:
Hold the rice bowl in one hand and the chopsticks in the other. Lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating. Do not pour soya sauce over white, cooked rice.
Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. It is considered bad manners to waste soya sauce, so try not to pour more sauce than you will use.
You do not need to add wasabi into the soya sauce, because the sushi pieces may already contain it, or may be eaten plain. However, if you choose to add wasabi, use only a small amount so as not to offend the sushi chef. If you do not like wasabi, you can request that none is added into your sushi.
In general, you are supposed to eat a sushi piece in one bite. Attempts to separate a piece into two generally end in the destruction of the beautifully prepared sushi. Hands or chopsticks can be used to eat sushi.
In case of nigiri-zushi, dip the piece into the soya sauce upside-down so that the fish enters the sauce. A few kinds of nigiri-zushi, for example, marinated pieces, should not be dipped into soya sauce. In the case of gunkan-zushi, pour a small amount of soya sauce over the sushi piece rather than dipping it into the sauce.
Pour some soya sauce into the small dish provided. You can mix some wasabi into the soya sauce or put some on the sashimi piece, but be careful not to use too much as this will overpower the taste of the fish. Dip the sashimi pieces into the soya sauce. Some types of sashimi are enjoyed with ground ginger rather than wasabi.
Drink the soup out of the bowl as if it were a cup, and fish out the solid food pieces with your chopsticks.
Using your chopsticks lead the noodles into your mouth. You may want to try to copy the slurping sound of people around you if you are dining in a noodle shop. Rather than being bad manners as Westerners are often taught, slurping noodles is considered evidence of enjoying the meal.
In case of noodle soups, be careful of splashing the noodles back into the liquid. If a ceramic spoon is provided, use it to drink the soup, otherwise, lift the bowl to your mouth as if it were a cup.
(and other dishes in which the rice is mixed with a sauce)
Kare Raisu (Japanese style curry rice) and other rice dishes, in which the rice is mixed with a sauce (for example, some donburi dishes) may become difficult to eat with chopsticks and a spoon may be provided.
Sitting on the floor
Many Japanese homes, ryokans and restaurants have tatami mat rooms. In the tatami mat room there is usually a low table used for dining. Sometimes low-lying chairs are provided for guests to sit around the table. However, if no chairs are available then zabuton or cushions are provided. When sitting on a zabuton, the formal way of sitting is called seiza, a kneeling style of sitting with legs tucked underneath, which can be very difficult for Westerners (your legs may turn numb very quickly!). An alternative for men is to sit cross-legged and many women sit on their knees with both legs lying to one side. The sitting rules are not strict however and you can sit any way you feel is most comfortable. Sometimes there is a cavity under the table for legs.