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A look at the Japanese lifestyle and customs

Customs surrounding eating differ extremely in different countries. And of course there are different ways of eating foods from other cultures to make sure you get the tastiest experience possible. Let's take a look at the general meal style in Japan and some of the most common ways of eating Japanese food.


Meal etiquette

One Japanese traditional meal format is the "ozen." The ozen is a mealtime table for one person, and is basically a tray with legs attached. They are lined up on top of straw "tatami" mats, and diners eat directly atop the mats sitting in the "seiza" position with legs tucked under the thighs. Recently people tend to sit in chairs and eat at tables, but the convenience of the traditional ozen format has kept it in use at some "ryokan" inns even now. Another feature of Japanese food is that it can all be eaten with chopsticks. Portions are served in edible sizes, and it is considered polite to finish every dish that you touch with your chopsticks. Soups like miso soup come in bowls large enough to hold in one hand. The bowls are generally brought up directly to the mouth with the left hand. You lift the rice bowl with your left hand as well, and etiquette calls for you to eat every single kernel of rice in the bowl before finishing.

Japanese chopsticks

Chopsticks are used widely all over Asia, but the material quality, shape, and method of manufacture seem to differ for each country. Japanese chopsticks are made from wood and feature a tapered tip. Family members each have their own chopsticks and bowls, and children use short chopsticks that fit the size of their hands. Chopsticks are placed to the front of each place at a table or tray, pointed to the side instead of straight up and down. Knives, forks, individual soup ladles, and spoons are not needed for Japanese food. Even soups can be consumed in this manner by lifting the bowl directly to the mouth to drink.

Using the "oshibori"

When you sit down at a restaurant, the first thing that a wait staff will bring to your table is an "oshibori." This is a wet cloth that has been firmly wrung out, and it is used to wipe your hands. If it is in a plastic wrapper, simply rip open the wrapper and take it out to use. In addition to cleaning your hands before the meal, it can be used if your hands get dirty during the meal in the same manner as a finger bowl at a restaurant. Some places, like sushi restaurants, will bring you a new oshibori if you go to the restroom.

Eating sushi

Sushi restaurants are generally divided into two types, the "kaiten-zushi" restaurants and counter style sushi restaurants. In kaiten-zushi restaurants, sushi is placed on a conveyor belt that circulates the sushi around in front of the customer seating, and customers can select whatever they want to eat from the conveyor belt. Prices are determined based on plate design, and when you are finished eating the bill is totaled by counting the number of plates. One of the defining characteristics of kaiten-zushi is its relatively low price.
In counter style sushi restaurants, customers order directly from the wait staff. Delicious freshly prepared sushi is served.
Follow the following guidelines at sushi restaurants.

  • Eat sushi with your hands. It is not rude to eat sushi with your hands.
  • Put your own soy sauce serving into a small plate. Most kaiten-zushi restaurants have "gari" (pickled ginger slices) and tea available on a self-service basis.
  • When eating nigiri-zushi, turn the sushi over so the "neta" (topping) is facing downwards, apply soy sauce, and put it in your mouth without turning it back over.

This method of eating keeps the rice from getting wet and falling apart and places the neta directly onto the tongue, giving a better sense of the topping flavor.

Eating soba and udon

Making slurping sounds while eating Japanese udon and soba noodles is common and not considered rude. Some people even say that making a slurping sound when eating soba or udon noodles is the secret to getting a better flavor experience. Take a bite sized amount of the noodles with your chopsticks and slurp it up energetically. For "zaru soba" and "zaru udon" noodles, dip a bite sized amount into the sauce and slurp into your mouth.
Some people are allergic to the buckwheat flour used to make soba noodles and "soba yu" (the leftover water that soba noodles was cooked in). The flour can cause anaphylactic shock (anaphylaxis), which can be possibly life threatening. Be careful if it is your first time to eat something made from buckwheat flour.

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