What are proper table manners at a restaurant?

It is customary to say itadakimasu (lit. “I receive”) before starting to eat a meal and gochisosama deshita (lit. “It was a feast”) to the host after the meal.

Before eating, you will receive a damp towel (oshibori). This is for cleaning the hands prior to eating. It is inappropriate to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands. Soy sauce is not usually poured over food at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tofu and grated daikon dishes. In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or soup.

The proper usage of chopsticks (hashi) is the most fundamental element of Japanese table manners.

Some of the important rules to remember when dining with chopsticks are as follows:

  • Never stand chopsticks upright into your food, especially not into rice.  This is only done at funerals with rice that is put onto the altar.
  • Two people should never pick up the same food with chopsticks. This is also a funeral ritual in Japan.
  • Avoid putting your chopsticks directly on the table. Use the chopstick holder. Place pointed ends of the chopsticks on a chopstick rest when chopsticks are not being used.
  • When taking food from a communal dish, unless you are with family or very close friends, turn the chopsticks around to take the food with the opposite end as this is considered more sanitary.

Do not move plates or bowls around with your chopsticks.