10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food

Japanese food

RocketNews 24 (by Michelle Lynn Dinh):

Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.

1) Never use your hand to catch falling food

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Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Using tezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.

2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half

In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.

3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce

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This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.

4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl

Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.

5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate

shijimi clams

When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.

6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl

When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.

7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice

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Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”

8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl

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You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.

9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate

Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.

10) Never raise your food above your mouth

Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying, itadakimasu before eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.

***Bonus***

Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.

Everything you need to know about dining at a sushi restaurant—in handy infographics!

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RocketNews 24 (by Phillip Kendall):

Many of us dream of eating authentic sushi in Japan. But do you know the proper decorum for ordering? How about paying the bill? And what’s the difference between nigiri and narezushianyway?

The folks over at Swissotel Nakai Osaka have kindly shared with us a set of stylishly designed infographics designed to teach sushi newcomers everything they need to know about ordering, eating, and paying for Japan’s most well-known dish while in its homeland. Eating at a sushi restaurant isn’t nearly as complex as it may seem at first, but there are a number of dos and donts to be aware of, so it’s a good idea to study up before ducking beneath that noren curtain and stepping into a restaurant.

But before we order our first few morsels, let’s learn a little about the skills a sushi chef—or itamae—possesses and why they deserve our respect when we take a seat in front of them.

 

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Okay, so we know that the person behind the counter is not to be trifled with, but what to order when they ask what you’d like? The itamae will often recommend cuts of fish, or very often take the entire decision-making process out of your hands by serving up an omakase (lit. “leave it to you”) course, but you’ll still want to know what you’re dealing with. These are the main types of sushi you’ll encounter in Japan:

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So, you know what you’ll be eating, but you don’t want to unknowingly commit some sushi faux pas before you’ve so much as taken a seat. Here a few tips for entering and taking a seat at a sushi restaurant:

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Especially in pricier establishments, diners should also be aware that wearing strong-smelling perfume or cologne is a big no-no. People in Japan usually wear much less perfume than in the west anyway, but sushi is all about delicate flavours and balance—no one wants to have their unagi upset by the dude who doused himself in Nightswept, so think twice about going for sushi if you gave yourself a generous spritz before leaving the hotel.

Now for the fun part! Your sushi is right in front of you and you’re mouth is watering at the mere sight of it. But before you grab your chopsticks, take a moment to think about what you’re eating—if it’s sashimi chopsticks are of course required, but for most sushi it’s actually considered perfectly normal—and in some cases expected—to at with one’s fingers. Oh, and go easy on that soy sauce…

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What proper table etiquette looks like in East and Southeast Asia…

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Mashable (by Chelsea Frisbie):

Whether you’re planning an international trip or you’re headed to a local cultural experience, it’s important to learn about the eating habits of the folks you’ll be dining with. What might seem silly to you could be incredibly important to someone else, so don’t judge.

Langford’s silverware shop has compiled a collection of the dining “Do’s” and “Don’ts”…

Here is an excerpt of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries’ dining etiquette.

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Gaijin Tips: “Eat all your rice in Japan”

Check out this Gaijin Tip from video/blogger kanadajin3, who is actually named Mira and is “a girl who moved from Toronto, Canada to Tokyo, Japan.”

Eat all your rice in Japan. Leaving food behind is rude esp if it is rice bits. When you scrape food off your rice cooker, you need to take everything, leaving little bits is ruder than leaving a lot. If you just can’t finish your food that you got at a restaurant then you can leave some behind, but try to finish everything at home and at your friends house.

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The remarkable art of giving and receiving change in Japan

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RocketNews 24:

If you’re tired of receiving vacant smiles and flippant customer service at your local grocery store, you may want to make a trip to Japan, where the customer always comes first and every transaction is concluded with a graceful bow.

This remarkable attention to customer service even extends to the handling of cash transactions in shops around the country. Akin to an art form, a simple payment to a store clerk in Japan will inevitably set off a series of steps and precise movements to satisfy the needs of both parties and respectively complete the exchange. Come with us as we take you through the steps of a simple transaction in Japan. The attention to detail and the clever reasons for it will surprise you.

The easy-to-follow pictograph above was created by Twitter user @M_Shiroh, who was so impressed with the cashier’s skill on a recent trip to the supermarket that they decided to document the details of the exchange.

Next time you make a purchase in Japan, make note of the way the cashier handles your change. If they’re good at their craft, you’ll receive your money in the following order and with a sense of gravitas befitting royalty.

1. Counting your notes

In Japan, notes are adorned with portraits on one side. The cashier will hold out the notes with these portraits facing you and the notes will be parallel to a wall as opposed to the floor. Using two hands, the amount will be counted out verbally as they flick through each note.

2. Handing over your notes

The notes will then be handed to you in a neat stack with the largest one on the bottom. When you put them in your wallet, your notes will now be in order from lowest to highest, making it more convenient for you when it comes to paying for your next transaction.

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3. Handing over your coins and receipt

Next, the cashier will fold your receipt if it’s particularly long, and then place the coins neatly on top. By doing this, the receipt will protect the palm of your hand from coming into contact with any coins. You’ll then be able to slide the small change easily into your coin compartment and either return the receipt into the special box that’s often provided on the counter or slide it into your wallet. Cue graceful bow and you’re on your way!

Not only is this a wonderful way to treat the customer and ensure there are no mistakes or disputes, it’s also a great way to keep long queues moving quickly.

Top 10 puzzling things that Japanese people do

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RocketNews 24:

Wow you can use chopsticks?” “Your Japanese is really good!” “Geez, you’ve put on weight recently.” “It’s only 8:00 p.m., why are you going home?”

Anyone who’s been to Japan before has probably been bombarded by something similar to the above. Every country is going to have different cultural norms, but we decided to blow cultural sensitivity out of the water and just go ahead and list the top 10 things Japanese people do that puzzle us (but for some reason don’t stop us from thinking they’re still awesome to be around).

To create this list, we went through an extremely rigorous scientific process. Basically, we asked the non-Japanese staff at RocketNews24 to give us their opinions, and then we wrote them down and listed them. At some point numbers got put next to them. And now here they are:

#10. Japanese people are always taking pictures of food. Even airline food. Although I’ve started to do it myself too ever since I moved to Japan. (American male)

▼ To be fair, Japanese food does look like this.

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#9. They bring souvenir presents to everyone whenever they go to or come from anywhere. Americans sometimes give presents too, but the Japanese are on a different level. (American male)

▼ This isn’t a souvenir store, it’s my personal collection of souvenirs given to me by Japanese people.

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#8. In Singapore it’s pretty much summer all year round, so people go out shopping or whatever in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. But in Japan when I do that, I get strange looks. Here, even in the heat of summer, you’ll see housewives decked in layers of clothes and makeup out just doing their grocery shopping. (Singapore female)

▼ Ah yes, the usual group of ladies turning Sunday shopping into an outright fashion show.

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#7. Scrunchies are seen as kind of childish back home, or a relic from the eighties, but in Japan women wear them all the time, even at work or when they want to dress up.(British female)

▼ Well, I think she looks fancy in it.

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#6. They always take their trash back home, since there’s very few trash cans and they’d never litter. That’s a good puzzling thing though. (Singapore female)

▼ This picture is banned in Japan for having caused too many shock-induced deaths.

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#5. When Japanese women carry bags, they sometimes do it with their palms out and facing up. If you saw someone do that in England, you’d think they were trying to act like a princess or something. (British female)

▼ Don’t forget your three P’s: Palm up, phone out, put a mask on.

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#4. Japanese women cover their mouths when they laugh. Uh, why? (British female)

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#3. They’re extremely conscious of differences in age and the junior/senior hierarchy that goes along with it. They don’t mind just straight asking you your age, which doesn’t happen often in my home country. (Singapore female)

▼ “Woah wait you’re how old?!” Which leads us to #2…

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#2. Japanese people are pretty frank when it comes to talking about people’s appearances, both good and bad. They have no problem calling someone chubby even when they’ve lost weight, only calling one of two sisters beautiful, and so on. (American female)

▼ “These are my three daughters: Ugly, Not-So-Ugly, and The-Cute-One.”
“…well this got real awkward real fast.”

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And #1 is…

#1. They don’t accept any praise. Ever. No matter what. (Singapore female)

▼ “Oh no, I’m not smart at all. I’m really stupid. And I’m not cute either. At home my name is ‘Ugly.’”

View image on Twitter

Temple in Thailand plans separate toilets due to lack of bathroom etiquette by Chinese tourists

Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple, is one of Chiang Rai’s most famous tourist attractions

Bangkok Post: 

One of northern Thailand‘s most famous temples plans to build separate toilets for Thais and other non-Chinese tourists, officials confirmed on Saturday.

Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple, in Chiang Rai will add the new toilets as a solution to complaints about the lack of bathroom etiquette by Chinese tourists, temple officials told DPA.

Previously, the temple had banned Chinese tourists altogether after Chinese tour groups had left the toilets in a state of disrepair.

They had defecated on the floor, urinated on the walls outside and left sanitary pads on the wall of the bathrooms,” said an official who requested anonymity.

The temple’s designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, said in a television interview that it was “impossible” for other tourists to use the bathrooms after the Chinese tours, so he would build new ones.

Reports of misbehaviour by Chinese tourists have become an increasing source of concern as their numbers swell. Last year, 4.62 million Chinese visited Thailand, accounting for 18.7% of all international arrivals, more than any other nationality.

In another recent incident, a tourist identified as a Chinese national kicked a bell at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. A video posted anonymously online drew widespread condemnation.

In the short film, the man first posed for a photo with a row of bells before kicking one of them while laughing as he left the sacred grounds. Reports of tourists in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai relieving themselves in public have prompted further complaints.

In response, officials have come up with an etiquette manual in Chinese on how tourists should behave in Thailand.