Traditional Dining on Japanese Tables

Written by melissa sherrard
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Traditional Dining on Japanese Tables
Certain aspects of etiquette are practised at virtually every traditional Japanese dining table. (Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The Japanese are known for their reserved, respectful nature, and traditional dining customs and etiquette are no exception. Having a meal at a traditional Japanese table is a humbling experience you share with your fellow diners, be it for a quick lunch or a multicourse dinner that will last as long as the guests. If you plan on throwing or attending a traditional Japanese meal, ensure that certain aspects are present or acknowledged to stay true to life.

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Seating & Salutations

Traditional Japanese dining tables are low-standing and use cushions, rather than Western-style chairs, to accommodate guests. After all the guests have been seated, it is customary to say "itadakimasu," which means "I gratefully receive," before eating and "gochisosama (deshita)," which means "thank you for the meal," at the meal's end. Dinner guests in Japan have traditionally kept each other's glasses full, rather than their own, and they won't begin drinking alcohol until "kampai," a toast, has been shared by all.

Chopsticks

The traditional use of chopsticks in Japan comes with its own rules of etiquette, as the proper use of these utensils is fundamental in good table manners. Traditional Japanese diners will never point or play with chopsticks, move plates or bowls with them, pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another pair or stick food with chopsticks, as these acts are reminiscent of a common funeral practice. Laying your chopsticks in front of your with the tips pointing left is the traditional sign that you are done eating, and you should use the opposite ends of these utensils to take food from a common plate if you have used them.

Dining Etiquette

Certain dining customs will only be seen at Japanese tables, such as that each morsel should be followed by a mouthful of rice or that bowls and dishes are typically held in the diner's left hand to make eating easier. Traditionally, meals are either served together on communal plates for diners to choose from, or more formal meals are served separately for each guest on small, raised meal-trays. Other Japanese dining traditions include the use of personal tissue paper or handkerchief rather than napkins supplied by the meal's host, the exclusive consumption of either rice or sake, a rice wine, and it is perfectly acceptable for diners to slurp their soup and noodles.

Proper Conduct

There are several general rules of conduct diners should follow when attending a traditional Japanese meal. Unacceptable behaviour at a meal includes blowing your nose, discussing unappetizing topics and burping. It is acceptable, and sometimes expected, for diners to eat every last grain of rice, replace lids on communal dishes and move every piece back to the position where it started at the meal's end.

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