カテゴリーのアイコン Work Life in Japan
Japanese Business Dinner Etiquette: A Guide for International Residents
Mar 11, 2024
6 min read
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Did you know? Japan has some special manners. I will teach you some ways to avoid mistakes, especially at the dinner table. The etiquette I am about to introduce is very important to understand Japanese culture. Let's remember them!

Which Seat Should I Sit In?

When you go to a restaurant, you should wait before you go in. If there is a waiting room, you would wait there. If there is no waiting room and you are shown to your seat by the waiter, it is good manners to sit in the lower seat of the table first. In Japanese restaurants, the seat closest to the entrance is the lower seat, and the seat farther away is the upper seat. However, if there is an alcove with a hanging scroll or flowers, the seat closest to the alcove is the upper seat. It is complicated, isn't it?

In European restaurants, the upper seat and lower seat are the same, but in Europe, there is a "ladies first" culture, so it is proper manners for women to be seated before men. In Japan, it is not good manners for subordinates to sit before their superiors, so be flexible. In some restaurants, it may be difficult to tell which seat is the upper or lower seat, and sometimes the seat with the best view from the window is the upper seat. If you are not sure which seat is the upper seat, ask the waiter.

If there is a seat with a better view, you can let them know and ask your guests to sit there. You can say, "I was told that this seat has a beautiful view of the outside, so please sit here.”

Dress Code

At a dinner, be careful what you wear to some extent. Fashion that expresses your individuality is nice, but it is also good to dress appropriately for the restaurant so as not to embarrass the other party. If the restaurant has a specific dress code, it would be a good idea to check the atmosphere beforehand and ask someone you are going with about the dress code. Dress code also depends on the purpose of the event, whether it is a party or business entertainment. However, you should be careful not to dress too plainly, as there are some glamorous restaurants where you may not be able to stand out. Basically, I would recommend a suit or dress in a subdued color.

If you are a woman, you should also be careful not to expose yourself excessively or wear too much perfume. Especially since smells are a part of delicious food, it would be good if you can keep them to a minimum so that guests can enjoy the food.

Correct Use of Chopsticks

I am sure that Japanese eating manners are similar to those in other countries. First of all, using chopsticks is the most difficult part of Japanese food. Are you holding them properly?

How to Hold Chopsticks Correctly

Let me briefly explain the correct way to hold chopsticks.

The place to hold the chopsticks is about two-thirds of the way from the tip of the chopstick. The upper chopsticks are held like holding a pencil. The bottom chopstick is held firmly between the middle and ring fingers. When picking up an object, move the top chopstick with the middle finger, index finger and thumb, but not the bottom chopstick.

This is the basic way to hold chopsticks. Please practice it. In Japan, when you are little, you can practice by holding small beans and moving them from plate to plate, so if you want to practice the correct way to hold chopsticks, you may try it.

What Not to Do with Chopsticks

The way we use chopsticks is something that requires a great deal of thought, and even Japanese people often do things they shouldn't do. Here are some of the most common examples you should not do with chopsticks.

・Pointing at Someone With Chopsticks

It is impolite to point at someone with chopsticks. Pointing at someone with dirty chopstick tips is the same as pointing something unclean at them. It is a typical behavior that makes the other person feel uncomfortable.

・Sticking Chopsticks Into Food

Using chopsticks like a fork is also not very welcome. However, if you can't grab something, you may have no choice but to stick them into the food. Try not to do this if at all possible.

・Pulling the Bowl Toward You With Chopsticks

The act of inserting chopsticks into the edge of a bowl and dragging the bowl is also not very elegant. Even in Japan, this act is quite frowned upon when you are a child. And when you actually do it, it is not very pretty, either in terms of the sound or the action.

・Licking Something off the Chopsticks

Chopsticks are only to be picked up and brought to the mouth, and it is considered ungraceful to lick something off the chopsticks. So far, it is not that strictly considered at ordinary meals (it may depend on the family, right?), but when dining with guests, it is a good idea not to lick the chopsticks more than necessary.

・Keep the Chopsticks Floating on the Tabletop Without Purposeful Direction(Mayoi-bashi)

This is a very philosophical point, but it is said that once you start moving your chopsticks, you should not be in doubt about which plate to take something from. In Japanese cuisine, where many dishes are arranged on small plates, you must already have decided what you are going to eat when you start moving your chopsticks in this situation.

It is against the rules to move a piece once it has been touched in Shogi (Japanese chess), but it is a little like that. If you repeatedly move the chopsticks around the dining table, it is not a very beautiful gesture. If you can carry your chopsticks as smoothly as possible throughout the meal, you will be an amazing chopstick user, even for the Japanese.

If you would like to learn more about the rules of chopstick use, please check out this Japanese website.

Enjoy a Japanese Business Dinner!

Respecting different cultures and developing respectable manners will help you in your work. Remember to observe the customs of the region you are living in, not your own culture. People will take notice of your manners and your knowledge of Japanese culture. Your friends and colleagues will appreciate your efforts.

As more and more foreigners work in Japan, the culture itself may change little by little. However, Japanese culture is still male-dominated, and the younger generation is expected to respect their elders. So, for those who are used to a different culture, there may be times when older people may pick on you or offend you.

It may seem difficult, but learning these customs before a business dinner will influence your success. It might be a good idea to practice table manners with friends or even on your own time. So, take care of these manners and enjoy your business dinner in Japan!

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