Why are chopsticks placed horizontally and not vertically?
In Japan, chopsticks are always placed horizontally, with the pointed ends on your left so that you dont touch them when you grab the chopsticks with your right hand (and vice versa for the lefties).
However, you may notice that our neighbors, China and Korea place their chopsticks vertically.
So why do Japanese place the chopsticks horizontally when eating? There are two main reasons:
1) Its considered rude for the tips of the chopsticks pointing at the person sitting across from you, especially when the chopsticks have been used.
2) Chopsticks serve as a boundary between you the eater and the food in front of you. Ancient Japanese beliefs say that food is provided by the gods, and so chopsticks separate the food (pure) from the humans (impure).
(Note: the rules of chopstick placement become a little more complex at a Cha-Kaiseki , depending on which style of tea ceremony you are attending. Ask your peer diners or observe what the others are doing!)
Where should I place the chopsticks when theyre not in use?
If your chopsticks came on a chopsticks rest, place it back when not in use. If youre nifty with your hands, fold the paper chopsticks wrapper into a rest, like a mountain or a tie (look up YouTube videos for tips!)
Dont rest the chopsticks on any bowl or plate in front of you. If the chopsticks didnt come in a paper wrapper, lay it directly on the tray your food came to you, or on the table.
Once youre done eating, return the chopsticks back in the paper wrapper, or place on the chopsticks rest, or if none are available, directly on the table/tray.
What is the role of Oshibori and whats the correct way of using it?
You may have encountered Oshibori () at Japanese restaurants or on your flight to Japan. They are wet hand towels, either paper disposables or towels that may be piping hot or cold, depending on the season. Usually, they are unscented but some places may be lightly scented.
The word is composed of O (an honorific prefix) and the verb Shiboru (to wring out). Oshibori are used to clean your hands before a meal, or if youre in a high-end restaurant, may be refreshed with a new one at the end of a meal. While it may be tempting to use an Oshibori to wipe the sweat from your face or neck or to wipe off the food remnants on your chopsticks, this is considered inappropriate.
After using the Oshibori, fold it neatly and place it on your right (if right handed, left if left handed), or on the individual tray it came on. If you need to wipe your hands during the meal, feel free to use it again.
Unlike a napkin in a western meal that youll use to wipe your mouth or dirtied hands, your oshibori should always be kept clean. If you accidentally spill liquid or food on your table, do not use the towel to wipe it off. Instead, ask the waiter for paper napkins or if you have tissue paper on hand, use that instead.
Where should the bowls of rice and soup be placed?
In a Japanese meal, the bowl of rice will always be on the side opposite of your dominant hand, so on your left (if right-handed) or right (if left handed). The bowl of miso soup will be placed on the other side of the rice bowl.
There are several theories on why. The easiest one to remember is that your dominant hand (holding the chopsticks) should never hover above your rice bowl. Rice is the most respected food of all, that Japanese children are taught that leaving grains of rice will make them go blind, or that its rude to the rice farmers (I hear those other rice-eating countries such as China and Korea have similar sayings). The act of hovering/straddling is highly looked down upon, whether you hop over something respected and treasured such as kimono, a bag of groceries (see above on food being provided by the gods), or a sleeping person.
An anecdote: when I was younger, I stepped over a pile of stacked books at my grandparents house to get to the other side of the room. In my defense, the books were in the way but not stacked up too high, so stepping over was more convenient than going around them. My usually sweet natured and gentle grandmother was horrified of my act and gave me the scolding of a lifetime I will never forget. Even if it may seem convenient, never ever hop over people or things deemed respectable.
Whats the correct way to eat sushi: with your fingers or chopsticks?
The short answer: both are acceptable.
Some sushi masters are notorious for requesting their customers to eat using their fingers, believing that it tastes better. They say that using your fingers will prevent theshari(the rice) from crumbling, which happens sometimes when you pick up sushi with your chopsticks and squeeze too hard. However, this does leave you with sticky and fishy fingers (which is when you use your oshibori to wipe off).
So the verdict? Its a preference thing, so use whichever youre comfortable with!
When eating sushi, are you supposed to dip the fish in soy sauce or the rice?
The soy sauce is for dipping the fish, not the rice. The rice has already been seasoned with sweetened vinegar, and the soy sauce is for seasoning the fish. When picking up a piece of sushi, put it on its side, and lightly dip the fish into the soy sauce (which can be tricky!). Do not dunk the entire fish into the soy sauce; you are not drinking soy sauce. If youre worried about the sushi falling apart, you can always use your fingers (see above).
Listen to the sushi master or the waitress as there may be some sushi pieces that dont need to be dipped in soy sauce. Squid is sometimes given a sprinkle of salt and Anago (boiled salt-water eel) is sometimes given a soy sauce glaze. Listen to their instructions, and if unsure, ask!
Whats the correct way of putting Wasabi on your sushi?
Wasabi, the fiery lime green spicy condiment is grated Wasabi () root, a Japanese horseradish. As it can only grow in clean water environments, it is an expensive crop. The cheap stuff you find in tubes or tubs are made with horseradish with food coloring and has a burning and strong aftertaste.
If youre at a high-end sushi restaurant, never ask for more wasabi. This is a slap in the face for the sushi master, who has carefully grated the expensive produce by hand and has adjusted the right amount for each fish. By piling on the wasabi, you will break the balance between the fish and the wasabi, and the flavor of the sushi. Real wasabi is fragrant and delicate, and its not supposed to give you a fiery kick like chili peppers. (If youre seeking burning intense flavors, wasabi is not your answer).
If youre at a casual place or at home with supermarket sushi, do not mix the wasabi into the soy sauce to make a slurry. It looks messy. Although its a tedious pain, dab each piece with wasabi and dip into soy sauce.
When drinking alcohol, are you supposed to fill each others glasses but never your own?
This is more of a business rule than when with friends and family. The idea is that you should look out for each others glasses, and fill up if needed. However, dont lunge for the bottle whenever your dining colleagues are about to finish, ask first! She/he may not want another drink, so dont pressure the person into another glass. When getting your glass filled up with others, its okay to politely refuse someone from pouring you a drink after a few rounds and instead opt for filling your own. That way, you break down the formalities and give your colleagues a break from watching over each other.
When youre with friends and family, you may fill the glasses of the elders, but with friends, you may just pour your own to forgo the formalities. While you may jokingly pour and receive, keep it casual!
Confident to dine with Japanese friends or colleagues?
Japanese dining etiquette can be quite overwhelming, and frankly, sometimes pretentious!