As a country, Japan is known for having a rich and unique culture. However, there is one thing that tends to puzzle most westerners and that is slurping.
Slurping in Japanese culture is considered to be extremely polite but is the exact opposite in the west.
We understand how you may be confused about this and don’t want to make a fool of yourself when you are visiting Japan.
You must know how and why slurping is important in the Japanese culture and how it actually makes a difference to your meal.
Slurping in Japanese Culture
There are primarily two reasons the Japanese prefer slurping their noodles.
To Enjoy the Noodles' Flavor
Slurping is known to enhance the food’s flavor because it allows you to take the noodles and air at the same time in your mouth.
This works well together to bring out the flavor of the noodles. For instance, consider wine tasting.
It is recommended that the wine is swirled in the glass to give it more contact with air and increase its fragrance which can be enjoyed by sniffing with your nose.
To Eat Quickly
Noodles have peak springiness when they are just boiled and they tend to lose their springy texture over time.
As such, the Japanese have developed the habit of eating their noodles as quickly as they can before they become soft in the soup.
It is believed that slurping the noodles came about because of this desire.
What Is Considered Rude in Japanese Restaurants?
On the other end of the scale, certain things we do in a restaurant in the west that seem completely normal can be considered rude in a Japanese restaurant.
The next time you are dining in a restaurant in Japan, we recommend following these simple rules so that you don’t appear rude to your hosts.
Drinking Before Anyone Else
Alcohol has a special social status in Japan. In the west, it may seem natural to grab your drink from the bar or your table before everyone else does.
In Japan, the Aisatsu (opening remarks) of appreciation or congratulations for the occasion are ended with a kanpai (toast).
You do not want to be caught sipping your drink before the initial cheers.
Even if you don’t consume alcohol, simply holding a glass of beer pretending to drink by bringing it close to your mouth is considered proper etiquette.
Beginning to Eat Without Saying Grace
Now, let’s be clear. We don’t literally mean reciting the grace before meals as we do in the west.
The Japanese will bring their hands together, recite a short prayer, and end by saying Itadakimasu before eating.
This Japanese word is the humble form of the verb “to receive."
By doing so, you are acknowledging your gratefulness to the person who has cooked the meal, the one who is serving, and the Japanese Shinto Kami or the God you believe in.
Likewise, when you are done with your meal, the phrase gochiso-sama is uttered to express appreciation.
Direct this phrase to the restaurant staff or the host to pay them a compliment.
Abusing the Chopsticks
There are quite a few taboos in Japan when it comes to etiquette for chopsticks.
Some of these may come to you as a surprise even if you are a pro in the west, so simply follow the rules below to avoid appearing rude.
Scraping or rolling your chopsticks, wooden or disposable ones, against each is considered to be extremely rude in Japanese culture.
If there are splinters in your chopsticks, simply ask for a new pair.
Never leave your chopsticks stuck in your bowl of rice and pass food from a pair of chopsticks to another, as it echoes the steps of a Japanese funeral service.
Doing this is not only rude but can also offend someone or, worse, it can trigger grief over a recent loss.
Additionally, never use your chopsticks to push, drag, or move dishes. Just use your hands instead.
Drinking With One Hand
If you are in a tea ceremony, the tradition there dictates how you should be holding your bowl of matcha green tea and this is always done by using both your hands.
This rule can also extend to other warm beverages such as coffee.
The idea behind this is to keep your hands warm while at the same time looking refined.
Similarly, you should be holding your glass with two hands when someone is offering to refill your drink or when you are listening to a speech.
Leaving a Tip
Surprised to see this? Unlike in the west where tipping is almost mandatory, Japan doesn’t have a tipping culture.
In fact, leaving a tip behind after your meal can even be taken as an insult.
Your bill will include a service charge. Even the taxi drivers in Japan will refuse to have the fare rounded off.
Leave behind a few coins on your table and don’t be surprised to see the waiter run behind you to return your forgotten change.
Pouring Soy Sauce on Rice
In Japan, you should not be pouring the soy sauce directly on the rice. The restaurant will provide you a small dish especially for this.
Pour the soy sauce into this small dish and then use the chopsticks to dip the sashimi or sushi in the sauce.
Is It Rude to Use a Fork in Japan?
No, it is not rude to use a fork in Japan if you are in a restaurant, especially if you are a foreigner.
While asking for a fork may not be much of an issue, the restaurant itself having one is what you need to worry about.
It isn’t uncommon to find restaurants in Japan that only offer chopsticks and not forks, especially the smaller local restaurants.
If you don’t want to eat with chopsticks, stick to restaurants in the more touristy part of town that will definitely carry western cutlery.
You can also carry your own set of western cutleries while you are there.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between Chinese chopsticks and Japanese chopsticks. The latter is fairly easy to use.
Is It Rude to Finish Your Plate in Japan?
No, in fact, it is the very opposite. In Japan, leaving behind the food on your plate whether you are in a restaurant or someone’s home is considered extremely rude.
Japan is an island nation with a high population. Throughout its history, the country has always had a limited number of resources.
Despite modern Japan’s obvious wealth, it continues to have a limited number of resources of its own.
This explains one of the Japanese culture’s fundamental concepts: Mottainai.
This is considered as a sense of regret after having wasted something.
This can be loosely translated to “what a waste!”
The Japanese are known to go out of their way to avoid wasting anything.
This is why it is considered extremely rude to waste food in Japan.
Why Is Slurping Polite In Japan?
Slurping in Japanese culture may be common, but as a tourist, it can be challenging.
However, we highly recommend partaking in this and slurping your noodles and soup the next time you are there to fully immerse yourself in their culture.
The Japanese not only find slurping noodles and soup socially acceptable but also consider it very polite to do so.
The Japanese believe that slurping your noodles is a sign that you are enjoying your meal.
We can assure you that this will be one of your amazing experiences in Japan!