Inside a Japanese House
your tour with Japan Roads you may be staying at a Japanese house and/or a 'ryokan' (Japanese inn). When entering a house or ryokan, you may be asked to take off your shoes in the genkan (entrance). Either leave them on the floor facing out or put them in the shoe box or shoe shelf. After you take care of your shoes, change into a pair of house slippers. It is customary to wear these slippers throughout the building. The only time you should take them off is when you enter a tatami mat room, bathroom or restroom. On tatami mats please wear your socks or your bare feet. In the restroom, change into the restroom slippers which you will find when you open the restroom door. Please do not forget to change back into your house slippers when you leave the restroom.
Many Japanese homes and ryokans have tatami mat rooms. In the tatami mat room there is usually a low table used for dining. In some homes and ryokans low-lying chairs are provided for guests to sit around the table. However, if no chairs are available then zabuton or cushions are provided. When sitting on a zabuton, the formal way of sitting is called seiza, a kneeling style of sitting which can be very difficult for Westerners (your legs may turn numb very quickly!). An alternative for men is to sit cross-legged and many women sit on their knees with both legs lying to one side. The sitting rules are not strict however and you can sit any way you feel is most comfortable.
It is popular for everyone to share food from common dishes when dining together. Dining is an important part of socialization in Japan and sharing food is a way to break down the barriers and bring people closer together. Use the opposite end of your chopsticks to transfer food from the shared dishes to your plate. Alternatively, serving spoons or chopsticks may be provided.
Here are some basic table manners to remember:
- Before eating say 'itadakimasu' (ee-ta-da-kee-maas) which means 'I humbly receive this food' and at the end of the meal say 'gochisosama deshita' (go-chi-so-sama-deshi-ta) which means 'thank you for this food' or literally 'I have feasted'.
- Blowing your nose or burping at the table or in public is considered rude but slurping your noodles is OK.
- If you are drinking alcoholic beverages, it is a Japanese custom to serve
other people and let others serve you. It is polite to periodically check
other people's cups when they are getting empty and refill them. If you do
not want to drink any more just leave your cup full. Do not start
drinking until everyone's glass is full and then say 'kampai',
Japanese word for 'cheers'.
- Do not stick your chopsticks into your food or pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. These techniques are only performed at funerals.
- Do not point at someone with your chopsticks or wave them around in the air.
Use them quietly and discreetly.
- If you are taking a break during eating or if you are finished eating, lay
down your chopsticks with the tips pointed to the left.
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