The Best 5 Tips When Eating Outside In Japan

September 21, 2023
Food
The Best 5 Tips When Eating Outside In Japan

The best thing about traveling to different places, especially in Japan, is trying the local cuisine. Japanese food is globally recognized as arguably one of the most varied and delicious. The options go way beyond well-known sushi. In this article, we will provide you with some tips whenever you are eating outside in Japan. Let’s get into it!

It is important for you to be aware of the basic etiquette rules for dining in Japanese restaurants, whether you're eating with new Japanese friends, doing so in one, or going out to lunch with a client for business. Remember that you might make other Japanese people uncomfortable if you dine outside without being aware of these rules.

These are our best 5 tips when eating outside in Japan:

1. Take off your shoes

Japanese-style room with tatami
Japanese-style room with tatami (source: matcha-jp.com)

There are restaurants in Japan with “zashiki” or “horigotatsu”. Zashiki is a Japanese-style room with tatami in addition to tables and bars. It is a typical seating arrangement prevalent in Japanese restaurants, with a low table placed on tatami flooring. A low-to-the-ground Japanese table style called horigotatsu has a recessed floor beneath it so that individuals can extend their legs. If a Japanese restaurant has zashiki or horigotatsu, you are expected to take off your shoes and place them inside a locker or near your seat. 

2. Use Oshibori before a meal 

Person using Oshibori to have meal
Person using Oshibori to have meal (source: taiji.co.jp)

In Japan, you will be given an "oshibori" if you visit a restaurant or a bar. It is a wet towel that you can use to clean your hands and the area around your mouth both before and after eating. Oshibori are provided without charge, so don't worry. Some restaurants offer them cold, while others offer them warm. 

3. Always finish your meal

Japanese meal leftovers
Japanese meal leftovers (source: livejapan.com)

In Japan, you are expected to finish your meal when dining out. In restaurants, especially those with buffets, leaving food on your plate is frowned upon in Japan. This is because it can be seen as a waste and it is something that the Japanese people dislike. In addition, leaving rice on your plate when dining at a restaurant that serves set-course meals might be considered impolite. They'll assume you're being picky about what you eat. They might even think that their rice wasn't properly made.

When eating at a restaurant that provides a buffet or eat-all-you-can services, you should not also leave food on your plate. It can be frowned upon pretty much all the time because you are in control of how much food goes on your plate. Restaurants that offer a buffet do not have predetermined food portion sizes, in contrast to those that offer set-course meals. Therefore, leaving food on your plate is just the result of you misjudging your appetite. 

4. Don’t ask for a takeout box

Japanese Food takeout box
Food takeout box (source: realestate-tokyo.com)

In Japan, takeout boxes are not that common. In almost every restaurant in Japan, you are not allowed to take leftovers home. The food servings are often smaller than those in most other countries. Therefore, there is never a situation where you will order way too much food. It is expected that you should be able to finish your meal because of the small servings. However, due to concerns about food safety in Japan, even if the meal is too large and you want to take the leftovers home, they typically won't let you. Japan is also very sensitive about wasting things. So, be careful when ordering at restaurants!

5. You don’t need to tip

Japanese receipt with coins and notes
Japanese receipt with coins and notes (source: livejapan.com)

You might be surprised to learn that tips are not expected in Japan when you visit. It is because giving tips can often be viewed as rude in Japan. Tourists are frequently confused by the no-tip rule. However, you have to remember that in general, employees don't accept tips and may even return them back to you.

Restaurants are the one place in Japan where giving tips are unnecessary. Most waiters and other restaurant employees believe that tips are not needed. Additionally, giving tips can be perceived as highly offensive. Japanese people place considerably higher importance on respect and dignity than on tips. Japanese people believe that you are already paying for a good service. Thus, tipping is not necessary as an additional payment. Just simply say "thank you" or "arigato gozaimasu" to express your respect and gratitude!

Conclusion

Japanese local restaurant
Japanese local restaurant (source: japan-guide.com)

There is an appropriate etiquette for almost every occasion in Japanese society because of its traditional, rich history, and meals, whether formal or informal, are no exception. If you intend to visit Japan and eat at several great restaurants, you will find it helpful to learn the 5 different tips mentioned above for eating outside in Japan. If you follow these tips, your and your companions’ Japanese dining experience will be even more enjoyable!

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