Etiquette Tips: Dining in Japan


If you’re on a business trip in Japan, one of the things which you have to expect is a dinner or two. Now, remember eating out in Japan is somewhat different.  There’s a unique set of rules, norms, and local customs you need to follow. Not knowing any of these things may dampen your excitement in going there and, yes, cause stress.

Be stress-free, we’re here to help! In this article, you’ll learn the must-knows of dining out in Japan. After reading, you’ll feel confident that you’ll somehow make it through the meal feeling relaxed, safe on the knowledge that you haven’t committed any embarrassing dining faux pas.

Mind your manners

The Japanese have a concept of ‘honne’ (true feelings) and ‘tatemae’ (what you let people see). Tatemae is considered very important. Thus, their culture promotes unity , discipline, and harmony, and you’’re expected to do your part, starting with your clothes.

Dressing the Japanese way

A rule of thumb: don’t underdress or overdress. Keep it simple, conservative and formal. For women, skirts are highly favored over pants. Choose a color that’s not too catchy- dark or formal colors are recommended to stay on the safe side. As for shoes, go for those with low heels.

Before Meal

Bowing: A business meal calls for a 45 degree bow. This is called ‘keirei’ or ‘respect bow’.  Stand straight first, then bend your upper body, torso until your waist, with your face parallel to the floor. Place your hands slightly above your knees.

Business Cards: After bows have been exchanged, Japan also adheres to exchange of business cards, or meishi. The card’s quality reflects on the type of person you are so make sure they’re in good condition. When a card is handed to you, receive it with both hands, thank the person and bow. Examine what’s written, before you put it in your case. If seated, put the card atop your case for the duration of the meal, with the subordinates’ cards at the sides. Never, ever, shove their cards into your back pocket/wallet -especially in front of them. It’s a sign of disrespect. It’s recommended too that you have a card with the Japanese as well as English translation. Present it with the Japanese side facing up.

Removing Shoes: If you’re dining in a colleague’s house, remove your shoes upon entering. Wooden slippers are provided, but don’t go around barefooted. Bring a pair of socks, so your feet don’t touch the wooden slippers. When you’re about to sit on tatami mats, remove your slippers.

Wiping your hands: You’ll be offered a towel before the start of the meal- use it to wipe your hands, not your face, neck or any other parts of your body.

During and After Meal

At the beginning of meal, say ‘itadakimasu’’. It means something like ‘bon appetit’. After meal, it’s customary to say ‘gochisōsama deshita’, which means ‘thanks for the great meal’.

Avoid wasting food. If you’re slurping soup, it’s okay to do so loudly as this implies you are appreciative of the dish. Also, try to put back your plate or any bowl used for the meal back to their original position on the table when you’re done.

Don’t point out someone’s fault in front of others. This is in line with their culture of ‘saving face’.

Never blow your nose at the table, or in public as a general rule.

Guide to using your chopsticks: Do’s and Dont’s

Here’s a quick guide to how you should handle your chopsticks.

Do hold your chopsticks correctly.

Do place your chopsticks (parallel position) on their holder when not in use, so the food-stained ends don’t touch the table.

Don’t transfer food from chopsticks to chopsticks. This resembles a funeral ceremony. Of passing bones.

Don’t lick your chopsticks, nor use them to stir your soup.

Don’t put your chopsticks in any dish (or your bowl) where it is sticking upright. This resembles a burning incense during a funeral.

When choosing what dish you want, don’t hover your chopsticks over each one. This could be mistaken for greediness. And don’t dig into the dish! Just take what’s on top, as much as you can eat and put it in your bowl.

Don’t point your chopsticks to someone when making a point- this is considered rude.


Your drinking partner or your host will pour you drink- don’t pour it yourself. Instead, pour drinks for your companions. Make sure that everyone’s glass has been poured before you say ‘Kampai’, meaning ‘cheers’. If somebody wants to pour you another kind of drink, empty your glass first (by drinking) its content before lifting it up to be poured.

Paying for the Meal

Typically the host pays, though in some cases of business meals the one who ranks higher does so. To pay, put the money in the tray provided in the cash register, not hand it directly to the cashier.

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