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Japanese dining etiquette - like many other facets of this fascinating culture's rules on etiquette like taking your shoes off, there are rules of etiquette for dining. But don't believe all the malarkey you may read on other sites where it is horribly complex. Truth be told it's by and far simply common sense for the most part.
Hand Towels or oshibori (おしぼり), literally translated as "wet wipe".
Grammar dudes and dudettes may be amused to know "shibori" is a nominal of "shiboru" which means "to wring out". You'll be handed one after being seated and before appetizers or the meal begins.
These are to be used to wipe your hands. I know, I know... it's hard to resist wiping your face with it especially if it's a cold winter night and you have a clean hot towel. However it is considered uncouth to do so. So fold it up neatly and don't leave it crumpled after you are finished wiping your hands.
An interesting point about the crumbling dining etiquette in Japan is that older people um... don't really follow the rules. You'll often see them practically wash up with Oshibori. But then again they are not seated with clients and students and have thrown in the towel (pun intended) on some points of etiquette
One thing that is as common as frowning when you feel disappointed is saying grace before you have a meal. In Japanese they say "itadakimasu" The direct translation in any dictionary will be "I humbly receive." Many Japanese will bow slightly and put their hands together in an extended gesture of thanks to the divine father for giving them some grub.
In short don't tip. I have seen it. A fellow teacher decided to give a Mr. Donuts waitress a 500 yen tip for bringing over some coffee and doughtnuts. Oh..the look of horror and confusion on her face. Tipping simply isn't part of the culture. Sometimes they will actually follow you out of the restaurant thinking that you forgot you left some cash on the table.
Actually a cool idea, since when do you tip the cashier at Walmart for ringing up your order? How about kicking out a tip to Jeff Bezos of Amazon every time you buy vitamins from him. Isn't that the job of the company to pay the employee?
Another big one right up there with the use of chopsticks which we covered in much more detail on our chopstick etiquette page. is drinking. When it comes to drinking it is considered in poor taste to take a sip of your drink before 2 things happen. One is that everyone has been served their drinks or has a drink in their hand and two a greeting "kanpai" or "cheers" is said. Then it is time to imbibe.
It is also in good taste to top off a person's drink or pour them a bit more if you notice they are "running a bit low". It is called banshaku. In general Japanese will reciprocate which winds up to be a pour-for-all festival. In general Japanese dining etiquette is heavily focused on being aware of how your students, co-workers or school heads of departments are doing rather than just getting wasted and busting lose.
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