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Japanese Food Culture and Manners

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Washoku, which is Japanese cuisine with a culture that has its own unique place in the world, was added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list in December 2013 as part of the "Traditional Dietary Cultures of the Japanese". Here are some descriptions of Japanese cuisine and manners to follow.

What is Japanese cuisine?

Whether it is popular dishes such as sushi or tempura, or kaiseki dishes, which are multi-course dishes, Japanese cuisine is prepared with seasonal ingredients and arranged beautifully. One characteristic of Japanese cuisine is in its use of dashi broth made with ingredients such as dried bonito flakes, kelp, or boiled and dried fish to produce umami, which is the basic flavor following sweetness, pungency, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness.

Manners for when eating Japanese food, which have been developed historically

Manners when eating Japanese cuisine were originally etiquette on the part of the guest to express gratitude for the host's providing an opportunity to enjoy a meal, efforts, and consideration for the guest. In other words, the Japanese dining experience is complete once the understandings of both the side providing the service and the side receiving the service come together as one.

Most restaurants today do not require an understanding of all of these fundamental principles, but because the primary concept is a part of the lifestyles of the Japanese people, you can have a deeper understanding and experience of Japanese culture just by learning the basics.

Basic don'ts of today when enjoying Japanese cuisine

- Disregarding how the dish is presented (such as eating stacked ingredients from the bottom).
- Bringing your mouth to your serving dish (please bring your serving dish to your mouth).
- Putting your elbows on the table.
- Eating directly from the platter when food is served on a platter (please place food on your own plate before eating it).

The development of eating utensils

In addition to the use of chopsticks, Japanese cuisine includes dishes where the eating utensils are lifted off the table when eating. The utensils have developed with full awareness of the designers that they are raised up to people's mouths. The fact that wood is carved, lacquered, and drawn on to make the utensils is the perfect example of this.

Phrases to use when eating

The Japanese say "itadakimasu" at the beginning of their meals. People live off of the lives of animals and plants. "Itadakimasu" is said to express gratitude for "receiving (itadaku)" the life of another entity.

"Gochisosama" is used at the end of meals. It is paired with "itadakimasu" and said to express gratitude to the party or parties involved in the preparing of the dish. It was originally a Buddhist term, but used by everyone regardless of their religious beliefs.

It is even more proper if you place your hands together and slightly bow when saying either "itadakimasu" or "gochisosama".

Three basic structure of Japanese cuisine

The conventional Japanese meal is of the "one soup, three side dishes" format, which includes the staple (steamed white rice), soup (such as a clear soup with fish or chicken, or miso soup), three side dishes, and pickles. The staple is always placed on the left side with the soup on the right side, and the side dishes behind them. This is because the Japanese people have placed high value on rice for ages, and in ancient times, the left side was reserved for the most important item.

How to use chopsticks

It is said that chopsticks are so distinctive that half of the manners in Japanese dining consist of their use. It is even said that the way you hold them reveals how cultivated you are.
*How to hold chopsticks
1: Hold the center of the chopsticks with your right hand.
2: Hold them with your left hand and bring your right hand towards the rear end.
*Major don'ts when using chopsticks
Yokobashi: Joining the two chopsticks together and using them like a spoon
Chigiribashi: Holding the chopsticks with one hand each and cutting the food like a knife and fork
Nigiribashi: Grasping the two chopsticks together
Mayoibashi: Pointing at the dishes with chopsticks while deciding what to eat
Mogibashi: Picking away at food such as rice that is stuck on the chopsticks
Awasebashi: Transferring food from one set of chopsticks to another
Yosebashi: Using chopsticks to bring utensils closer towards oneself


Bowls sized fifteen centimeters or below are made knowing that they are going to be held up while being eaten out of. Please hold eating utensils such as tea bowls, soup bowls, small pots, small plates, and donburi bowls up when eating out of them. When holding them up, do so as if wrapping them with both hands. Hold them with your left hand when later using chopsticks.
*Manners with bowls with lids such as soup bowls
- Hold the bowl with your left hand and remove the lid with your right hand.
- When the lid seems stuck and difficult to remove, it can be removed by adding a little pressure to the opening of the bowl and letting some air enter.
- Instead of completely removing the lid all at once, let some of the water droplets on the bottom drop back into the bowl and turn the lid over before placing it next to the bowl.
- Return the lid back on the bowl after finishing your meal.
*Manners with boiled foods
- Do not return foods that you have bitten out of.
- Break large-sized food items down with your chopsticks before eating them.

How to pour sake

Hold the bottle with your right hand and place your left hand on the lower part. This applies to all drinks you may be serving.
*Things to note on sake.
- "Thinly, thickly, and thinly" describes how to pour sake in Japan. It is poured slowly at first, then at a normal rate, and slowly again at the end until the cup is eighty percent full.
- There is also etiquette to be followed by those being served. Please hold your cup up when having sake poured into it. This is the opposite of when being served wine.
- When you have had enough, please say so as you place your hand over your cup. You can also leave your cup on the table without finishing it all.
*Things to note on shochu
- Pour the hot or cold water in first before the shochu. The convective flow lets it mix better and gives off a better aroma.
- Pour beverages such as wine and bottled beer with the labels facing up.
- Do not hold the bottle too firmly when pouring beverages such as wine or lager beer as doing so lets the heat of your hand transfer to the drink.