10 Best Tips on How to Eat Japanese Food

  • 01 of 10

    How to Begin Eating Your Japanese Meal

    "Itadakimasu" How to Eat a Japanese Meal. Martin Irwin/Moment/Getty Images

    It is customary to begin your Japanese meal with the phrase "itadakimasu". This is especially true when dining amongst Japanese, or when dining at a Japanese restaurant, or traveling in Japan.

    Itadakimasu, literally means "to humbly receive" or "to thankfully receive food"; however, its true meaning more closer resembles that of "bon appetit!"

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  • 02 of 10

    How to Eat Steamed Rice

    How to Eat Japanese Steamed Rice. Absodels/Getty Images

    When eating steamed rice as part of a Japanese meal, the bowl should be cradled in one hand with three to four fingers supporting the base of the bowl, while the thumb rests comfortably on the side. Chopsticks are used to pick up a small portion of rice and eaten. The bowl should not be brought to the mouth, but held at a short distance to catch any rice that accidentally falls. It's considered poor manners to bring your rice bowl to your lips and shovel rice into your mouth.

    While it is appropriate to season plain steamed rice with dried rice seasonings (furikake), dried seasoned seaweed (ajitsuke nori), or other vegetable or protein based rice seasonings (tsukudani), it is not appropriate to pour soy sauce, mayonnaise, or chili peppers or chili oil directly over steamed rice in your rice bowl.

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  • 03 of 10

    How to Eat Miso Soup

    Miso Soup. Hana/Datacraft/Getty Images

    It is customary to eat miso soup, also known as "miso shiru" in Japanese, with chopsticks. The small bowl of soup is placed in one hand, with four fingers supporting the base of the bowl, while the thumb rests comfortably on the side of the bowl.

    When the broth is sipped from the bowl, it is not uncommon to support the bowl with your free hand, essentially using both hands to support the bowl. To eat the other solid ingredients of the miso soup, chopsticks are used, however, the bowl should still be cradled in one hand and lifted closer to your mouth, similarly to eating steamed rice. 

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  • 04 of 10

    How to Eat All of Those Small Japanese Side Dishes (Okazu)

    How to Eat a Japanese Meal with Side Dishes. Terje Langeland/Moment Open/Getty Images

    A typical Japanese meal often consists of a few different side dishes. Sometimes these side dishes are served in very small portions in individual plates per person. In this case, the side dish is eaten using your own chopsticks, referred to in Japanese as "jikabashi". The small dish is often left on the table, and there is no need to bring the side plate up to your mouth to eat the food. If there are any large pieces of food, they may be cut with your chopsticks and then enjoyed.

    Other times, side dishes will be served family style, in one larger bowl. If there are individual serving utensils for each side dish, use these to serve the food onto your own plate. When separate utensils are not provided, either the back or top ends of your chopsticks may be used to serve some of the food onto your plate (this is thought to avoid any germs from the bottom ends of the chopsticks that go into our mouth); or if ​it's family or close friends, "jikabashi" may be encouraged, or the use of the bottom ends of the chopsticks used to eat with.

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  • 05 of 10

    How to Eat Sashimi (Raw Fish)

    How to Eat Japanese Sashimi. Glenn Geanland/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    The proper way to serve sashimi is to serve the raw fish on a separate plate, along with a smaller empty dish for serving a small portion of soy sauce. Often wasabi, or Japanese horseradish, is mixed into the soy sauce.

    To eat sashimi, each piece of sashimi is dipped into the separate dish of soy sauce and wasabi, then enjoyed. There is no need to lift the soy sauce dish off the table. It is not appropriate to simply pour soy sauce all over the sashimi, especially when a small dish is provided for the soy sauce.

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  • 06 of 10

    How to Eat Nigiri Sushi

    How to Eat Nigiri Sushi. Alexander Spatari/Moment/Getty Images

    Nigiri sushi is often served on a separate plate, along with a small dish for serving soy sauce and wasabi. In Japan, a hot towel is often provided prior to the meal to clean your hands because nigiri sushi is traditionally eaten with your fingers as a one-bite dish. To eat nigiri sushi, simply pick up a piece of sushi, dip it in the soy sauce and then eat it in one bite if you can!

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  • 07 of 10

    How to Eat Tempura (Deep Fried Seafood & Vegetables)

    How to Eat Tempura. Mixa/Getty Images

    Tempura, or battered and deep fried seafood and vegetables, are typically served with either salt, or a tempura dipping sauce or "tsuyu" as it is known in Japanese. When a tsuyu dipping sauce is available, it is usually served with a small plate of grated daikon radish and freshly grated ginger.

    Add the daikon and ginger into the tsuyu sauce prior to dipping your tempura to eat. If salt is served with the tempura, simply dip the tempura into the salt or sprinkle some of the salt over the tempura, then enjoy.

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  • 08 of 10

    How to Eat Japanese Noodles

    How to Eat Japanese Noodles. Tetra Images/Getty Images

    In Japanese cuisine, there are several types of noodles and some are eaten differently than others. It is not impolite, and culturally acceptable, to slurp noodles so don't be shy!

    1. Hot noodles served in a broth are eaten directly from the bowl with chopsticks.  An oversize spoon, or "rengey" as it is known in Japanese, is often served to help lift the noodles and drink the broth with your free hand.
    2. Cold noodles served on a flat plate or over a "zaru" style strainer, with a separate small cup, either filled with dipping sauce or the sauce provided in a bottle, is meant to be eaten out of the small cup. The sauce is poured into the small cup and the noodles are dipping into the cup of sauce, one bite at a time and then enjoyed. If a small plate of freshly grated daikon radish, wasabi, and sliced green onions are also provided with the noodles, feel free to add these to the small cup of dipping sauce for added flavor.
    3. Cold noodles served in a shallow bowl with various toppings and a bottle of tsuyu, or noodle sauce, is typically meant to be eaten from the bowl. The tsuyu is poured over the contents and eaten with chopsticks. An example of this is hiyashi yamakake udon or cold udon with grated Japanese mountain yam (follow the link for recipe).
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  • 09 of 10

    Where to Place Your Chopsticks While Eating Japanese Food

    Where to Rest Your Chopsticks. DAJ/Getty Images

    A Japanese meal is often set on the table with a pair of chopsticks laid on a chopstick rest. If such chopstick rest is provided or if you pause to eat during your meal or enjoy your drink, place your chopsticks back onto the chopstick rest. That's exactly what they're for! If no chopstick rest is provided, simply lay your chopsticks together, and neatly across your plate or bowl.

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  • 10 of 10

    How to End Your Japanese Meal

    "Gochisou-sama" How to End Your Japanese Meal. Amanaimages/Getty Images

    At the end of your Japanese meal, return your chopsticks back onto the chopstick rest if one was provided. If no chopstick rest was provided, neatly lay your chopsticks across a plate or bowl.

    Say, "gochisou-sama" in Japanese, to indicate that you are full and have enjoyed your meal, and that you are all done! The translation for this Japanese phrase means: "thank you for this delicious meal" or simply, "I am done with my meal". The phrase may be directed to your host, your family member who cooked the meal for you, restaurant chef or staff, or even said out loud to yourself!