Japanese table manners are far more complex than Australia’s? It is common knowledge that Asian countries have very different ideology’s to Australia and Western countries. But how do us Australians eat compared with how the Japanese eat. While it’s quite common, in Australia, to completely disrespect basic table manners, in Japan it’s extremely frowned upon to be disrespectful at the dinner table. When I visited a very formal Japanese restaurant several weeks ago, the waiter spoke to us in Japanese and gave my family and me looks of disgust when we sat down “incorrectly”. The amount of rules that the Japanese expect westerners to know when visiting their country is unruly.
When going overseas, in this case to Japan, travellers often find themselves confused and disorientated in restaurants, especially more expensive ones, because they don’t necessarily know how to behave. In Japan their are lots little things that must be done at the dinner table, or a Chabudai (a traditional low lying table) that you wouldn’t find here in Australia. Japanese people may feel pressured when visiting Australian restaurants the same way we would feel in theirs, simply because they also aren’t accustomed to the surroundings and ideologies of Australians and Australian language and slang.
You would think that sitting down at a table is a hard thing to mess-up, but in Japan when you sit down on the tatami floor that is underneath the chabudai you have to be careful not to step onto anyone else’s cushion (everybody has a cushion to sit on, on a tatami floor). It is disrespectful to step on someone else’s cushion, even on accident. It’s even more disrespectful if your yet to remove your shoes or slippers, which should be removed before stepping onto the tatami floor. When seated, if you don’t use the wet towel called an “oshibori” that is provided by the host/restaurant you must first cleanse your face with it. But you have to wipe your face with your sleeve first then you can cleanse your hands. When done with the hand towel, you have to roll it up and place it back on the Chabudai. When I was at the Japanese restaurant I spoke of earlier I had stepped on my Sister’s cushion and that’s how we ended up on the bad side of the waiter.
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In Japan it is customary to not drink until everyone at the table has a had their drink served. When everyone is ready, the cups are lifted up for the “drinking salute” or “kampai” the drinking salute is Australia’s equivalent of the “Cheers”, were a group of people clink their cups together. When drinking alcoholic beverages, in Japan, it is customary to serve and refill the cups of the other people at the table rather than serve yourself. You’re supposed to check everyone else’s cups and refill them if they are getting low. I would personally love to be constantly checking the other peoples cups at the table, because I’d hate if they ran out of something to drink. It seems unnecessary and exhausting to be on the lookout constantly, add this to the language barrier and it turns into a war without sides.
There are several phrases that Kobe Jones, a native Japanese speaker, recommend to learn; itadakimasu, this phrase is said in unison after all orders have arrived for everyone at the table. It means “I gratefully receive”. Another phrase that Kobe recommends is: ‘osaki ni itadakimasu”, it means “Allow me to start before you”, this must be said if a dish is better eaten right away. If someone requests that they start before you, you must say something along the lines of: “please go ahead” or “osaki ni dōzo”. These three simple phrases are just a few of the need to know before dining with Japanese people formally.
Japanese think and act different to most of us, not because of race, but because of where they live and the culture surrounding that area. Some things are considered respectful and disrespectful in different places. And Japan is all about being respectful and kind. At the end of the day Japanese dining etiquette isn’t really all that different from Australia’s. It has the same key features like; be respectful, say things that are appropriate for the situation and the most universal and respectful rule; don’t chew with your mouth open. But you have to get over the first hurdles that dining with Japanese people presents. You have to adapt and understand.