When dining in Japan, it is customary to say “itadakimasu (translated as “I humbly receive”) before eating, and “gochisosama (meaning that was a feast) once you finish your meal. Since it is almost impossible to pronounce itadakimasu clearly on an empty stomach, say “eat a mickey mouse” real quickly and you’ll probably get away with it.


When first ordering at an izakaya, Japanese people often say “toriaezu nama (literally a draught for now, but this line implies that while beer may not be what I really want to drink, I’m ordering it to get things moving… and you should as well.) Since Japanese will never start drinking until everyone gets their drink and you perform a proper glass-clinking cheers, ordering something complicated will make everyone wait. Draught beer can be ordered in a jokki (mug) or a bin (bottle) and is available in dai (large), chu (medium) and sho (small) sizes.




Over-soying your sushi is a clear sign that you don’t belong. Only lightly dip the neta (fish) in shoyu (soy sauce), never the shari (rice). Also, at revolving sushi shops the green powder on the table is NOT powdered wasabi. It is green tea for making yourself. There is a dispenser for hot water and the tea is free.


Having trouble using chopsticks? Feel free to eat the sushi with your hands! Sushi is actually one of the few Japanese foods that is common to eat with your hands, even at expensive restaurants.


Sushi restaurants are weird places in that they feature a lexicon all their own. Using these exclusive sushi terms will make you look like a pro. Agari : means to finish but is also the way to order green tea). Murasaki : means purple but is what we call soy sauce at sushi shops. Gari : the pickled ginger you eat between different types of sushi to cleanse the palate.

It is said to be the onomatopoeic for the sound it makes when chewed. And namida : literally means “tear” and refers to wasabi have a spoonful and you’ll understand where the naming came from.




Sake is enjoyed as atsukan (hot) or hiya (cold). Atsukan is served in a decanter known as a tokkuri from where you pour the sake into a shot glass called an ochoko . Hiya (also known as reishu ) is poured into a glass that sits in a masu , a wooden box. Generally at your table, the waiter will fill until the glass overflows into the box. Though there is no set way to drink, you want to be careful not to spill any. Remove the glass and drink half way. Fill the glass with the sake from the box and use the box as a coaster. It is fine to drink from the box as well.


Sake is ordered according to size: ichigo (a small decanter) or nigo (a large decanter)


When with company, particularly Japanese businessmen, it is good manners to fill people’s glasses but not your own. People will often refill your glass even when it is not empty. There is no need to empty it for each refill. If you’re empty and thirsty, try filling someone else’s glass so they will fill yours.



Japanese love noodles. Soba, thin buckwheat noodles, and udon, thick white wheat noodles, are both served either chilled with a soy-based dip or hot in the form of a noodle soup depending on the season or region. The chilled noodles are called zaru soba or zaru udon , which are served in a flat bamboo basket. Do NOT pour the sauce over the noodles as it will end up all over the table and on your lap.

With your chopsticks, take some noodles and dip about half way into the sauce. Do not soak them. Then quickly bring the noodles to your mouth and suck them in! Start with small bites until you master the art of slurping.

Two of the most popular hot varieties of soba and udon are interestingly named kitsune (fox), which is topped with sweetened deep fried tofu pockets, and tanuki (raccoon-dog), which features deep-fried pieces of flour batter. Don’t worry; fox or raccoon-dogs are not eaten in Japan!



A traditional Japanese noodle soup dish introduced from China, ramen has become one of Japan’s most recognizable and loved dishes.

Japanese people are so infatuated with it that they see nothing strange about waiting in line for hours for a meal that ends in minutes.

Such is the lure of tasty ramen that there is even a term for a person that spends most of his days off traveling around the country searching for quality ramen: Ramen otaku . Japanese are particular about their noodles. A ramen order is often followed by the words katame or yawarakame , meaning hardish and softish. For big eaters, you can enjoy a free second helping of noodles in certain places by saying kaedama .



Though frowned upon in the west, it is normal to slurp (susuru ) when eating noodles in Japan as it is widely believed to make them taste better. So slurp away! And remember, the louder the better!

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