In Japan, eating at restaurants can be very different from here in Australia. I’ve complied some simple information to make your trip a little easier on you (and your chef!)
It is considered rude to cross one’s chopsticks in an ‘X’ shape over the plate or meal, as it symbolises a dish not enjoyed. To show appreciation at the end of the meal, one should place chopsticks parallel to each other on one side of the plate/bowl.
Try not to eat food off someone else’s plate with your chopsticks, or to feed somebody else with them. This is considered a very intimate thing to do in public. There are also separate coloured chopsticks in restaurants – one for taking the food from the share bowl to your plate, and one for eating from your plate. Try not to confuse the two if dining out with locals.
Yes, it’s also rude to stab one’s food with a chopstick in order to pick it up.
Note: If a chef is waiting to hear your opinion on the meal, do not wait until the last mouthful to tell them! In Japan it is customary for you to tell them how it is after the very first bite.
Vegetarians – Be Warned!
Vegetarians account for under 1% of the Japanese population, and most restaurants may not understood your aversion to meat. Upon telling them, you may be told “It’s just fish” or offered a fish “substitute”, or they may simply give you less meat. They aren’t trying to be rude, it is just such an uncommon thing to be a vegetarian in Japan.
‘No Variety in Food’
There is a common misconception among foreigners that when you travel to Japan, you will only live on sushi, bowls of rice and slabs of raw fish. While you may choose to take this option voluntarily, it is not necessarily correct. Although the main eateries for budget travelers are noodle bars (which themselves have an array of varieties available), a fair portion of food in Japan has been ‘Westernised’, so you will easily find something to suit your palate. There are many chicken, salmon, prawn and other meat based dishes available… and they are all delicious! In worst case scenarios, you can simply live off ‘fast food’ – on every corner, next to all the Starbucks and vending machines, are Seven-Elevens and other convenience store outlets offering cheap and easy meals (many of them actually healthy options).
Note: One thing you’ll notice is the price of beef or meals that include beef. Japan easily remained Australia’s largest beef export market in 2012, taking 32% of all beef exported. Japan simply cannot produce beef like Australia can, so the price will be a little higher than you’re used to.
Be Messy… but not too messy!
In Australia and many other countries, it is considered rude to slurp, burp, lift the bowl off the table and shovel food into one’s mouth. Do not be afraid to do these things in Japan! It is considered good manners; it shows appreciation for the meal and the chef’s culinary talent. Even still, it may not be wise to shovel food while at a high-end fancy restaurant! If you’re not game to be a slop, the Japanese are very understanding when it comes to other culture’s eating habits.
Most tourists ask this of any country they intend to visit; “Is the water safe to drink?” My answer for Japan would be yes. I have drunk plain tap water many times, and I did not get sick or poisoned. Generally speaking, there is no problem with the water supply or how it is treated, although it is treated differently to water here in Australia. For instance, Japan does not fluoridate water. You may also notice it has a slight metallic or chlorine type taste, depending on where you are in the country. This has no health concern, only a taste concern. If you still feel unsure or don’t want to risk it, it’s quite simple; don’t drink it. Buy bottled water whenever you can and you won’t have any issue.
Any questions? Pop over to the ‘Contact’ page! 四季