Eating & Drinking Etiquette
How to eat politely in Japan
In Japan, you say "itadakimasu" ("I gratefully receive") before eating, and "gochisosama (deshita)" ("Thank you for the meal") after finishing the meal.
If you are not familiar with how to use chopsticks then dining at Japanese or other Asian cuisine restaurants may present a challenge at first. But once you have mastered them then eating with this simple instrument is a genuine pleasure.
Except in Chinese restaurants that provide plastic chopsticks, you eat with wooden chopsticks that come in a paper wrapper. Take them out, split them in half, and hold the two halves in one hand with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger, as if holding two pencils. Then let the middle finger slip between the two sticks. One stick will rest between the forefinger and middle finger, the other between the middle and ring fingers. Watch how other people manipulate the sticks to figure out how to pick up pieces of food correctly.
To deal with soup, pick up the small bowl with one hand and sip from the edge of the bowl. You can dip your chopsticks into the soup to pick up small chunks of bean curd or thin slices of seaweed.
Noodles served on a wooden tray are simply picked up in bite-size portions. If served in a hot broth, alternate between picking them up and lifting the bowl to sip the broth. Slurping is a sign of a good appetite and eating with pleasure, and is in this instance, perfectly acceptable.
Drinking etiquette in Japan
In cozy and friendly Japanese-style bars, customers often pour drinks for
each other from bottles of beer as a gesture of companionship. If you are a
fellow beer drinker, reciprocate with your own bottle. A whiskey drinker may
invite you to drink from his bottle and fix a drink for you. In this case, you
need not reciprocate unless you have your own bottle. (Many of these bars have
a bottle-keep system for regular patrons who buy a bottle from time to time as
it is less expensive than paying for single drinks over the long run.)
If with a group, do not begin to drink until everyone is served. Glasses are raised in the traditional salute as everyone shouts Kampai! (Cheers!)
If you drink sake, and someone offers a drink from his carafe, drink what remains in your cup before holding it out. In this case, too, reciprocate. But don't let it get out of hand. Pouring sake for each other at high speed can get you drunk much faster than you might imagine.
Excessive drinking is frowned on. But it happens. Rely on the bartender if someone close to you gets too boisterous.
Japanese students have three years of English-language studies in middle (junior-high) school. Many go on to become good or even fluent English conversationalists. You are likely to come across them in bars that cater to business people who work at general trading houses or other companies with international business dealings. Even small talk in broken English, with the aid of body language, can make the evening all the more enjoyable. Don't hesitate to jump in.
Japanese sake (rice wine) goes extremely well with a variety of Japanese dishes. Brewed with rice and water, sake has been a Japanese alcoholic beverage since ancient times. Because it can be drunk warmed up in winter it warms the body. When drunk chilled, good sake has a taste similar to fine-quality wine. There are local sake breweries in every region across the country, which make their respective characteristic tastes based on the quality of rice and water as well as differences in brewing processes.