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International Dining Etiquette

japan

Dining etiquette for toasts. The toast in Japan is kampai which means "bottoms up" or "drain the glass." An honored guest should make a toast soon after the host does or at the end of the meal.

dining etiquette for tea ceremonies

The tea ceremony requires strict adherence to rules designed to promote tranquility. Remove your shoes upon entering. You will probably be seated on a tatami flooring or a zabuton (a cushion or pillow). Once your shoes are removed, never step down on the genkan in your stockinged or slippered feet, but instantly step up onto the tatami. This way, you avoid bringing whatever dirt there may be in the genkan area into the house.

Once you have entered the tatami room, greet the guests who are already there with a slight bow, and sit down in the place indicated. Do not talk or shake hands. Stay in your place, bow, and then be seated silently.

First, you will be served a small cake (o-kashi) on a small plate. Pick up the plate with one hand and hold it at chest level so that crumbs fall on the plate. Crumbs must not fall anywhere on you or the tatami. Eat the cake in several small bites, then put the plate back down in the place from which you originally picked it up.

After you have eaten the o-kashi, the tea will be served. Before you pick up your cup, bow to those guests who have not yet been served tea (they will be served, as you are served, individually, and in order of status, after each individual has performed this ceremony), pick up the cup with your right hand, bring it to chest level, and hold it there with both hands for a moment. Now turn the bowl clockwise two quarter turns, and drink the tea completely in several sips. When you are finished drinking, turn the bowl counterclockwise in two similar quarter turns back to the original position and place the bowl down in front of you on the tatami just inside the seam. Make a formal bow to the hostess when you are finished drinking and have set the bowl down. Tea bowls and utensils must be handled with great care. If there are many others to be served, polite conversation with those either waiting or finished drinking is acceptable. Take special care not to be loud, too talkative, or disruptive of anything that could break the peace and harmony of the event. Once everyone has been served, everyone makes a bow of gratitude to the hostess and then departs.

Tea at a Japanese home or office is a casual event, at which a tray will be brought out with a cup of tea, a small plate with a cake, and a hot, viet cloth (an o-shibori).

Dining etiquette before the meal. The custom of o-shibori. Wipe your hands with the towel provided, not your face, and you do so before you touch any of the food, not after the meal.

Dining etiquette for seating.

Traditional Japanese meals are taken sitting on the tatami, a reedlike mat inset in the top part of the floor.

At formal traditional Japanese dining events, you may be sitting in a seiza position (on one' s heels with the legs tucked underneath the buttocks), which can be uncomfortable. Your hostess may suggest that you "get comfortable"; when she does, you may sit cross-legged (if male), or with your legs tucked to one side (if female). Never spread your legs directly out in front of you.

The most honored position is at the middle of the table, with the second most important person seated next. The host sits at the middle of the table on one side, and the honored guest in the middle on the other side, opposite the host. The honored guest sits on the side of the table farthest from the door.

Dining etiquette for beginning to eat. In Japan, it is expected before you begin eating or drinking anything that you say "itidakimasu" (basically "bon appetit") and that after the meal you say "gochisosama deshita" (basically. "thanks for a great meal") to the host or hostess. Do not to drink or eat until your Japanese host does and, throughout the meal, try to follow the cues of your colleagues in terms of when they drink, eat, and toast.

Dining etiquette for chopsticks (o-hashi).

Japanese chopsticks differ slightly from Chinese chopsticks (Japanese chopsticks are typically slightly shorter, with squared-off edges; Chinese chopsticks are typically longer and rounder) and need to be more formally handled: no waving chopsticks around aimlessly over different dishes trying to select what you want (mayoi), and no drawing the bowl or plate nearer to you with your chopsticks (yosi). You might also note that pickled vegetables (tsukemono), a common accompaniment to the main dish, usually served in a small dish or bowl on the side, will often come with their own pair of serving chopsticks. Use them to transfer the tsukemono onto your plate: this way, the strong flavor of the pickles does not affect the other food you might pick up with your chopsticks.

Dining etiquette for chopsticks in a paper wrapper. Slide the chopsticks out, and lay them carefully on the right side of your plate, north-south, blunt connected end facing north. Now get to work on the paper wrapper: fold it horizontally in half, so that you have a long, thin, rectangular ribbon of paper. Holding both ends of the ribbon, tie it into a knot Place the knotted paper to the right side of your plate (near the two o'clock position), and rest the mouth end (the rounded end) of your chopsticks on the paper knot. You have just made a rest for your Japanese chopsticks. Now the food-stained ends of your chopsticks never have to touch the table while you dine. The Japanese do this all the time (unless they are provided with chopstick rests). An important point about using Japanese chopsticks: they first need to be separated at the connected blunt end. So once you've created your little paper chopstick rest, pick up your chopsticks and, holding them over your lap (this is important, because little splinters of wood may break away, and you don't want them to land on your plate and eventually in your food), snap them apart like a wishbone. Then gently rub the separated ends a few times together (again, holding them over your lap), as if sharpening a knife, the idea being to whittle any wooden splinters away. Now they're ready to use, and you can place the food ends down against your paper rest (food ends facing north, blunt ends facing south).

Don't just reach over and grab your chopsticks. With your right hand held hovering over your chopsticks, push your elbow out to the right and rotate your hand counterclockwise so that the fingers you will use to pick up your chopsticks land with your thumb on the right side of the right chopstick, and your index and middle fingers on the left side of the left chopstick. Pick up the chopsticks from the blunt base end this way, and as you lift them off their rest, bring your elbow back in toward your body, rotating your hand clockwise and upward, so that you can see the tips of your fingers. The chopsticks swing elegantly in an arc, and are ready to be used.

Use chopsticks with soup, for grains of rice, little peanuts, almost everything on your plate, no matter how small, round, or difficult. Never use your fingers. [Sushi is the only exception. If you pick up sushi with chopsticks, it is impossible to dip the fish-side into the soy sauce. Pick up the sushi with your hand and dip it, fish-side down, into the soya sauce.]

Hold the first chopstick horizontally in your hand as you would a pencil, the bottom of the chopstick resting on the top side of your thumb, and the top of the chopstick being controlled by your index and/or middle finger lightly pressing down on it. A little loophole is created by your thumb and forefinger.

Holding the second chopstick with your other hand, slip the second chopstick through the loophole starting from the inside of your palm, until it is parallel to the first chopstick. Always hold both chopsticks so that the pointy end is the end you'll use to pick up the food with, and the blunt end is pointing back at you. Use either your middle or third finger (or both) to hold down that second chopstick against the inside of your thumb. That’s it. The "pencil" chopstick moves up and down, while the second chopstick remains stationary. The latter is the one against which the food is scooped, picked up, and eaten.

Chopsticks should always rest together parallel to each other, most preferably in a north-south line along the right side of the plate on a chopstick rest or on the plate itself. In Japan, and throughout all chopstick cultures, never cross your chopsticks like an X, never rest them on separate sides of the plate, and never ever use them to point at things. Never use them to spear food. Never stick your chopsticks into your rice so that they stand upright.

Dining etiquette for eating soup with chopsticks. Use the chopsticks to lift solid foods out of the soup bowl and into your mouth. When you are finished with all the food pieces, drink the broth straight from the bowl. Hold the bowl close to your mouth, scooping the food pieces with your chopsticks directly into your mouth. When nothing but the broth is left, rest your chopsticks, hold the bowl with two hands at your lips, and drink the broth like a cup of tea.

Dining etiquette for eating rice with chopsticks. The procedure for soup is also used with rice, minus the drinking. Rice is most often served in individual small rice bowls, to be eaten all at once after the main dish has been eaten, or you can:

  • pick up some food with your chopsticks in your chopstick hand
  • then, with your other hand, pick up your little rice bowl and hold it up to your chin
  • then, holding the food in your chopstick over the rice bowl, put it in your mouth, and quickly scoop in some rice from the bowl as a follow-up.

Eat every grain of rice in your rice bowl. Rice is never mixed with food or sauce: it is always eaten plain.

Use your chopsticks to cut up pieces of food, if necessary; remember, the meat or fish is marinated before cooking, so it will be easy to break up the flesh with the chopsticks: there will be no need for knives. Certain foods, like soups, are served in bowls with lids on them: it is important at the end of the meal to place the lid back on top of the bowl when you are finally finished.

Dining etiquette for soya sauce. Pour out only the amount you will use into the shallow, empty little bowl brought out to you with your meal. Leave just a trace of soya sauce in your bowl when you are done.

Dining etiquette for sushi. When eating sushi, mix a little wasabi-a pungent green herb that tastes like horseradish-into your soya sauce bowl with your chopsticks, and stir a bit, slowly so it does not splash. No soya sauce should stain the tray, the tablecloth, or the mat, and wasabi should never be eaten by itself, or spread directly onto the fish.

Dining etiquette for paying the bill. Usually the one who does the inviting pays the bill. Sometimes other circumstances determine the payee (such as rank).

Dining etiquette for tipping. Tipping is usually not done-but if there is a tip, 10 percent is sufficient.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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